As members of the Quorums of the Seventy, we have the wonderful pleasure and responsibility of testifying to the world that Jesus is the Christ. We work closely with missionaries, leaders, and members worldwide and are able to observe the exciting conversion process. When people come to understand the plan our Heavenly Father has prepared for their eternal happiness and come to know Jesus Christ, the central figure in that plan, their lives are changed and their souls enriched.
I am reminded of a little village called Panacaxtlan, situated where the coastal plains meet the mountains of central Mexico, just a few miles off the Via Corta (the short route) between Mexico City and Tampico, Tamaulipas. The village is situated in a lush, green, humid area known as the Huesteca, and the inhabitants are sons and daughters of Lehi. In 1979, while I was serving as president in the Mexico City North Mission, missionaries began proselyting in the Huesteca. Fifty-two people joined the Church in Panacaxtlan, along with about four hundred others in nearby communities that formed the new Tempoal District.
A short time later, a meeting was called in Panacaxtlan at which Church members were given the following options: denounce the Church, leave the village, or be killed (not an idle threat).
The members, particularly the women, said they knew the Church to be true and would not denounce it. They also indicated they had worked just as hard as the rest of the community to secure their homesteads, and they would not leave. Boldly stepping forward, they told their taunters if they were going to kill them, to get on with it. The moment grew tense as machetes were raised, then finally lowered while the Latter-day Saints stood up for that which the Spirit had testified to them to be true.
These Saints eventually learned, as most of us do, that it is harder to live the gospel day by day than to die for it in an instant, but their early commitment came because the Spirit had touched their hearts and changed their lives. Their conversion process had taken place as the Book of Mormon helped build their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They learned that Christ had visited their ancestors in the Americas after his resurrection, and they were grateful for the blessings available to all our Father’s children because Heavenly Father had sent his Son. Like the Saints of New Testament times, those members in Panacaxtlan had developed faith sufficient to withstand the persecutions of people whose minds were closed.
The New Testament is a testimony of the Savior, revealing to the world the purpose of his divine mission. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:27–28). Preceding these words of the Good Shepherd, we have one of the most generous declarations in all the sacred scriptures: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
This plan is simple, but from the beginning it has been understood only by those who have had sufficient faith. For example, it was with great difficulty that some of the disciples of Jesus Christ began to recognize the fact that he was to be taken from them. As he accomplished his work, delegating authority and setting the kingdom in order, the Savior spoke freely and often of his divine sonship and his impending death and resurrection. Most of his disciples stood firm in their faith, but others, lacking faith and offended by his bold teachings, “went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). The Jews of his day had come to believe that the Messiah would rule and bless them regarding earthly things. Although some had faith and knew that he was the Christ, some of them never understood the true meaning of his messianic mission until they beheld him as a resurrected being. Then the understanding of the faithful increased, a fuller comprehension of the Father’s plan of happiness came into their hearts and minds, and the intensive desire to spread the glad tidings, the “good news” of the Son of God, stayed with them through hardship, ridicule, and persecution, even as many of them went to their deaths.
It is exciting to realize that even though the Lord has all things at his disposition—including “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33) and the implied care and commitment that goes with them—his greatest interest is still the happiness of each of us. His arms are extended to us all. He truly wants us to return, and he really cares. He said: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). His availability is made clear: “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 88:63).
He has marked the path and made it available for our return to his presence, but an important question that we might ask ourselves individually is, How willingly do we accept his interest in our well-being and happiness? This question is at the heart of the following allegory.
William loved all of his many sons and daughters. Each was very special to him, and although he wanted them to stay close to him, he allowed them to leave home for a time so that they might answer for themselves as to who they were and what they were to be. He gave them instruction, blessings, and counsel. He pled with them to accept and keep the rules he had taught them so that they might be rewarded for their willingness to learn, to understand, and to act appropriately. He invited them to call often, telling them that he would always be there, excited to hear from them.
Having made careful and prudent investments in the past with his own time, intelligence, and resources, William had amassed wealth and influence that he now sought to share. He busied himself with carpenter tools, plants, and flowers in preparation for his children’s return. He began to prepare a place for each of them beyond their dreams or imagination. Everything around William glowed with warmth, love, and sunshine, and he couldn’t help but smile as he considered each child’s return and pondered the joy and tranquillity they would all share on his pleasant estate.
Finally the day came when the children began to return. First came Paul and Mary, then Kenneth and Sarah. William had never seen them so happy, and he wept as he took them into his arms and kissed them. Then, to their delight and joy, William gave them a glimpse of the great estate to which they were heirs and helped them realize that what lay before them was only a beginning, that its dimensions and beauty would increase according to their own vision and effort.
“But where are Charles and Thomas, Nancy and Clara?” asked William. The promise to them was the same. Did they not know that they had but to follow the simple signs and persevere?
“Father,” said Kenneth, “they understood in part but really couldn’t see. Some things blinded them. Thomas said he wanted to come, but he was a little too busy, didn’t even have time for his children. Charles is building an estate. It has a modest beauty, and between that and a booming business, he has time for very little else. Nancy said she’s confused and disoriented and it’s not her fault, but she won’t be coming. Clara’s case is another matter. She said she’d kept the rules long enough; she asked that we please leave her alone and said that she just wants to be free.”
William sorrowed over these words, for the gift he had offered seemed as marvelous as all eternity. Said he: “How will they enjoy or even begin to comprehend the blessings of this great gift that I have prepared if they receive it not and reject me as the giver? What great joy will have slipped from me, and from them!”
The following scripture speaks of gifts offered and ofttimes not accepted: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33).
Of all the gifts and blessings our Heavenly Father has made available to his children, the greatest would be that of immortality and eternal life through the atoning sacrifice of his Only Begotten Son, even the Lord Jesus Christ, who came “that [we] might have life, and that [we] might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Yet to lead and guide us to that great gift of eternal life, there is another gift, even that of the Holy Ghost.
Earthly parents rejoice with their offspring in the giving of a birthday or Christmas gift, watching the children smile and have fun as they enjoy the gift. To have a child reject something so lovingly given, casting it aside, is painful to the parent. Likewise, our Father takes pleasure, with his children, in the gift of eternal life through his Son’s atonement, watching joyfully as his children take those steps necessary to receive the gift. And he sorrows more than we can know when some of us refuse it. He knows that when we refuse to receive the promptings of the Spirit and partake of the fruits of the Atonement, we will eventually frustrate our own potential and deprive ourselves of the joy, happiness, and eternal blessings he so willingly and lovingly offers.
In 2 Corinthians 9:15 [2 Cor. 9:15] we find the words, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve explained that this unspeakable gift is “the gift of the Holy Ghost in this life, and eternal life in the world to come; one is the greatest gift obtainable in mortality, the other in immortality” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–73, 2:435).
For the greatest gifts, I believe we should show the greatest gratitude. Gratitude for the gifts of the Atonement and the inspiration and direction of the Holy Ghost is shown first and last by our acceptance of these gifts. The way to show our acceptance has been made plain through the scriptures and the living prophets.
First, we must have faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, take upon ourselves his holy name, strive to follow his example, and try to possess his attributes. “Behold, Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby man can be saved;
“Wherefore, all men must take upon them the name which is given of the Father, for in that name shall they be called at the last day” (D&C 18:23–24).
There is a very powerful scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants that helps us understand that the requirement of having faith in the Savior and taking upon ourselves his name is more than a short-term commitment; instead, it is literally the heart and soul of our mandate to endure to the end. “And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (D&C 20:29; emphasis added).
Second, we must repent of our sins. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
“For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.
“And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.
“And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!” (D&C 18:10–13).
Third, we must receive the saving ordinances and covenants. How comforting it is to know that with the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, keys have been passed and authority given to make all the saving ordinances, from baptism to the eternal sealing of families, acceptable in the eyes of God when sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.
Fourth, we must serve one another. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40; emphasis added). The parable of the sheep and the goats (see Matt. 25:31–46) helps us understand that an important prerequisite for returning to our Father is that of rendering service to our fellowmen. This closing verse of that parable points out that when we serve our neighbor, we are really in the Lord’s service. Ideally, this service would begin with those neighbors who are closest to us—those within the walls of our own homes.
The greater our understanding of the Father’s love and concern for us, the greater the significance of the oft-repeated words, “It might have been.” This is especially true when the opportunity to change our lives and repent is not taken seriously after we have used poor judgment and made imprudent decisions with their potentially tragic consequences. On the other hand, lasting happiness comes when we make and keep personal commitments to live by gospel principles we have been given. I once heard Sister Barbara Christensen, the wife of Elder Joe J. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy, tell a group of missionaries at a conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina: “Soon the only thing that you will be able to take home with you will be the memories, whether they be good or bad. You can make the decisions that will make the memories” (emphasis added). This truth applies to the whole span of our lives just as certainly as it does to a full-time mission.
The Lord spoke of eternal consequences, the effects of decision making, and the danger of putting off repentance when he referred to those who will not inherit a kingdom of glory: “And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received” (D&C 88:32; emphasis added). Paying the price to enjoy that which the Father would have us receive begins with constancy in matters such as offering personal and family prayers, being available to our children and spouses, reading the scriptures, paying a full tithe and generous offerings, serving our fellowmen, taking care of assignments and callings, and worthily partaking of the sacrament every Sunday.
We are children of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to return to him. May each of us be willing to enjoy that which he wants us to receive, even the type of life that he lives. To that end, may we understand the full truth and import of the words we often sing: “God loved us, so he sent his Son” (Hymns, 1985, no. 187). It is perhaps the most sacred and important message in the history of this world.