I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to you at the beginning of this spring semester. Sister Clark and I love you very much.
One of the overarching themes in the Book of Mormon is captured in this remarkable promise the Lord made to Lehi and to all who come to the land of promise:
Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.1
In this verse the Lord teaches us that the opposite of prospering is to be cut off from His presence and, thus, from all of the blessings that flow from Him. To prosper in the land is to receive all the blessings that God has prepared for us.
Obedience connects us to the Savior and opens channels for His love and power to flow into us, much like life-giving nutrients flow from the trunk of a tree into its branches. The Savior said:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; . . .
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.2
The Lord gives us commandments so that we might have His love, joy, and power in our lives. When we disobey those commandments, we weaken our connection to Him. If we do not repent, we become cut off from the source of divine power and joy in life. But the more we obey His commandments, the more we draw near to Him, the stronger the connection becomes, the greater the joy we experience, and the more we become like Him. We abide in Christ, and we prosper in the land.
Once we see commandments as a blessing, our whole attitude towards obedience changes. Obedience stops being something that weighs on us because we are supposed to do it and becomes something we want to do because we know it brings blessings and joy, and we know it is the way to become more like Christ. The kind of obedience that connects us to Christ and brings divine love, power, and joy into our lives is not a reluctant, surface kind of obedience. It is obedience of the whole heart and soul. It is deep obedience.
President Ezra Taft Benson described that change of attitude and deep obedience in this way:
“When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power.”3
Brothers and sisters, I want you to prosper in this land. I want you to have every blessing God has prepared for you at BYU–Idaho and all through your lives. That is why I will speak today about deep obedience to the commandments of the Lord. I pray that the Holy Ghost will be with us.
Please turn with me to the 59th section of the Doctrine and Covenants given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Jackson County, Missouri, on August 7, 1831. Section 59 is a wonderful statement of the Lord’s hopes for, and promised blessings to, those who keep His commandments. In verses 1 through 4 the Lord addresses the revelation to those “whose feet stand upon the land of Zion,” and promises them wonderful blessings if they are “faithful and diligent before [Him].”4
We can liken this scripture to ourselves. We, too, have come to a place set apart for us where we seek to build Zion. And the Lord will bless us just as He promised to bless the Missouri Saints.
Brothers and sisters, this is an invitation from the Lord to rise up to the great privileges and responsibilities before us. Just look around at all He has prepared for us. Think of the temple on the hill, the opportunities in this university, and this beautiful new Center in which we gather. Think about why God would put all of this in one place and then bring us here to study, work, and learn together. We have been called to discipleship and leadership in the great work of the Lord in the last dispensation. And the way forward and upward, the way to prosper in the land, is deep obedience to the Lord.
As we read section 59 together, I will highlight five dimensions of deep obedience: (1) love God with all your heart; (2) walk the strait and narrow path; (3) bring to the Lord a sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit; (4) keep the Sabbath Day holy; and (5) do all these things with gratitude and a cheerful heart.
Let’s begin with the love of God in verse 5.
Love God . . . with all your heart
Wherefore, I give unto them [us] a commandment, saying thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him.5
Our Heavenly Father wants all we have to give—our physical and mental capacity, our attitudes and desires—totally committed to serving Him in the name of His Son. He wants to write the gospel covenants in our hearts so that the promises we make to Him become our deepest desires, our most important commitments.
As the Lord told Jeremiah:
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; . . . I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.6
To love is a verb; it is a principle of action. We love God with all of our hearts by acting on our righteous desires and keeping our covenants all of the time. To love God with all our hearts, we must have integrity of heart: a heart that is sound, whole, with no hypocrisy, no shortcuts, no conflicting commitments, and no competing desires. Our attitudes, desires, choices, and actions must be fully aligned with, and submissive to, the will of the Lord all the time. This is deep obedience. It is the same obedience that Christ gave to His Father. When we are deeply obedient to the Savior, we do what is right and we become what is right. We become more and more like Him.
This is a lifelong journey of the heart. It does not happen in a day or a week or a year. We strive to be deeply obedient, and step-by-step the Savior changes our hearts; He gives us new hearts. This is not something we can do by ourselves; there is no self-improvement plan, no six easy steps to a new heart. A new heart comes as a gift from the Savior. That gift is what Alma called the mighty change of heart that comes by the power of the Atonement of Christ through the ministry of the Holy Ghost to those who exercise faith in Christ and “walk in [His] statutes.”7 It is a journey of deep obedience in the strait and narrow path. Please read with me verses 6 and 7 about that path.
Walk the Strait and Narrow Path
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.
Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.8
These commandments of service, virtue, and gratitude—and others we could cite like the Word of Wisdom and the law of tithing—are familiar to us. They mark the path to exaltation and eternal life.
For just a moment, reflect on that phrase “and nothing like unto it.” It is deep obedience, brothers and sisters. Those of you who spend time playing video games where you kill other people ought to reflect on that scripture. As the Lord Himself taught, that path is strait and narrow. Strait is s-t-r-a-i-t. It means strict as well as narrow.
This is what the Lord said:
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.9
Jesus Christ is the only name “given under heaven whereby man can be saved.”10 In that work of salvation “no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven.”11 Therefore, the Savior “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.”12 In the strait and narrow path, our obedience must be deep; it must be exact, disciplined, and complete.
Your BYU–Idaho experience is part of the Lord’s plan for you to learn to walk the strait and narrow path. In that experience the Honor Code is central. It is a protection against the forces of evil and a preparation for the higher laws, ordinances, and commandments that the Lord will give you.
Before you came to BYU–Idaho, each of you promised you would live by the Honor Code. Each person who works here makes the same promise. Keeping our promises and living the Honor Code requires deep obedience. I want to share with you three parables that illustrate this principle:
Number One: One day while working on a long writing assignment, a young woman finds an essay on the internet on her topic. Thinking “the internet is so great,” she copies two paragraphs and incorporates them into her first draft.
Later, the words “We believe in being honest” come into her mind. (She learned them in Primary.) She decides to make the paragraphs into quotes and include footnotes with the citations.
Number Two: A returned missionary catches himself starting to daydream about physical intimacy with his girlfriend. His first thought is, “I’m all right; she has things under control, and we haven’t crossed the line. But at that very moment a scripture comes into his mind (a scripture he taught his investigators on his mission):
. . . whosoever looketh on a woman, to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.13
He resolves to keep those daydreams out of his thoughts and to treat his girlfriend with greater respect.
Number Three: A sister stands in front of the mirror thinking about wearing an outfit to Church that she would never wear during the week: the top is a borderline low-cut blouse; the skirt is three inches above her knee.
As she looks at the outfit in the mirror, a thought comes to her: Isn’t it ironic that the day you would pick to break your promise to live standards of modesty would be the Sabbath Day? She puts the outfit away.
This is deep obedience: exact, disciplined, and complete. Each of these students was tempted to rationalize breaking their covenants. But each listened to the Spirit and chose to walk the strait and narrow path.
Living the Honor Code with deep obedience sets us on a course very different from the ways of the world. Modern society has become increasingly casual in its treatment of sacred things; in its approach to personal, intimate relationships; and, of course, in dress and grooming. In this context the word “casual” means without purpose, design, or intention; careless or indifferent. When we become casual in our approach to the gospel, we lose reverence for the sacred, decrease in personal obedience, and falter in purpose. We become prey to false ideas as Nephi prophesied:
And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little . . . ; there is no harm in this; . . . and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.14
Brothers and sisters, do not falter! Do not believe these false ideas. Please do not be casual in the way you treat the commandments and the promises you made to live the Honor Code. Strive to be exact in your obedience. Pray for help to be honest and virtuous in thought, attitude, and action.
I know the Savior will help you become deeply obedient to His commandments. In fact, there is divine help and support all along the path, even when we stumble. We gain access to that help when we come to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Let’s look at verse 8 in section 59.
Bring to the Lord a Broken Heart and Contrite Spirit
Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.15
Elder Bruce Porter explained the nature of this sacrifice:
When our hearts are broken, we are completely open to the Spirit of God and recognize our dependence on Him for all that we have and all that we are. The sacrifice so entailed is a sacrifice of pride in all its forms. Like malleable clay in the hands of a skilled potter, the brokenhearted can be molded and shaped in the hands of the Master.16
We all need the touch of the Master’s hand. The strait and narrow path is sometimes difficult, but the Savior is always there to strengthen us and pick us up when we stumble. Sometimes we choose poorly and sin. Sometimes we need help to overcome weaknesses and deepen our obedience. We all need the mercy and grace that comes through the Atonement of Christ. We all need to repent.
President Spencer W. Kimball said:
If we are humble and desirous of living the gospel, we will come to think of repentance as applying to everything we do in life, whether it be spiritual or temporal in nature. Repentance is for every soul who has not yet reached perfection.17
Elder Russell M. Nelson taught this broad view of repentance:
When Jesus said “repent,” He asked us to change—to change our mind, knowledge, and spirit . . .
. . . to change our ways, to come unto Him, and be more like Him. This requires a total change.18
This is the mighty change of heart that comes through the transforming power of Christ to those who feel godly sorrow and seek that mighty change with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
President Benson said:
Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance.19
How we keep His commandments expresses our feelings about the Lord Jesus Christ. The commandments are not a distant, impersonal set of rules. They are His. And He gives them to us because He loves us. He invites us to come to Him in deep obedience with a broken heart so that He may mold and shape us, strengthen us in keeping our covenants, lift us up when we stumble, heal us, forgive us, cleanse our souls, and redeem us with His almighty love and power. If we choose to disobey, we turn away from Him. But Jesus is infinitely merciful and kind. When we realize we have turned away, we can turn back to Him. The way back is repentance, forsaking sin, changing our ways, and opening our hearts to Christ. Think for a moment of His supernal gift to us. We are not trapped in our sins and weaknesses with no way out. We can change. We can have a new heart. We can become deeply obedient. If we will turn to Him with a broken heart, He will strengthen, forgive, bless, and heal as only He can. He is the Savior and Redeemer.
Keep the Sabbath Day Holy
We now turn to the Sabbath Day. Let’s read verses 9 to 11:
And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;20
Everything that the Lord commands us to do will help us keep the world out of our hearts. But to be more fully unspotted from the world, the Lord commands us to worship in “the house of prayer”21 and participate in the ordinance of the sacrament on His holy day. Please note the use of the words “offer up thy sacraments” in verse 9. When we participate in this sacred ordinance in the way the Lord intends, we make an offering of devotion to God: we partake of the emblems of the sacrament in remembrance of the suffering, sacrifice, and glorious resurrection of the Son of God. We witness to our Heavenly Father our willingness to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, to “always remember Him and [to] keep His commandments . . . that [we might] always have his Spirit to be with [us].”22
With these vows we renew our covenants and place Jesus Christ at the very center of our lives. He is the source of living water; He is the Bread of Life. As He taught us: He is the vine; we are the branches. On His holy day we commemorate three life-giving miracles—the Creation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection. The Sabbath is not a day for recreation, for work, or for worldly pursuits. What we do and say, where we go, and what we wear should reflect that it is the Lord’s day—a day of spiritual rest, renewal, and new life.
Please notice that in verse 11 the Lord commands us to offer up our Sabbath vows every day and at all times. The Sabbath, therefore, is not only a single day of rest, renewal, and new life. It should set the tone for our whole week, every week. In that sense the Sabbath is like the spiritual creation for the upcoming week.
Elder David A. Bednar taught this about prayer and spiritual creation:
Meaningful morning prayer is an important element in the spiritual creation of each day—and precedes the temporal creation or the actual execution of the day. Just as the temporal creation was linked to and [is] a continuation of the spiritual creation, so meaningful morning and evening prayers are linked to and are a continuation of each other.23
Think about the Sabbath Day and the rest of our week in this same way. The Sabbath Day should set the tone for the week ahead. It should create a spiritual framework that carries over into the week in our prayers, our scripture study, our temple worship, our service, and our covenant keeping every day. This is deep obedience that will keep the world out of our hearts and the Spirit of the Lord in them.
Be Cheerful and Grateful
I come now to the Lord’s command to be cheerful and grateful. Look at verses 15-16 in section 59.
And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances,
. . . the fulness of the earth is yours . . .24
This is the Lord’s invitation to do all He has commanded with an attitude of good cheer and gratitude. Gratitude and cheerfulness go together. They are companion feelings in the righteous heart.
The Savior often said, “Be of good cheer.”25 This was not an invitation to a kind of mindless, carefree, no responsibility happiness. It was an invitation to see things as they really are. His invitation to “Be of good cheer”26 was always accompanied by phrases reminding us of His presence, His power, and His love:
It is I; be not afraid.27
I have overcome the world.28
I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you.29
When we understand how richly the Lord blesses us when we obey, how merciful He is when we repent, and how generous He is when we seek His help, it is easy to be of good cheer. The gospel truly is good news.
Concluding Thoughts and Testimony
The Lord’s message of love and hope in section 59 comes with a warning in verse 21:
And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.30
Pride, ingratitude, selfishness, and unrighteousness mark those who enter in at the wide gate and walk the broad path that spirals down to destruction. In contrast, those who find the path which leads to eternal life love God with all their heart, walk the strait and narrow path, bring to the Lord a broken heart and a contrite spirit, keep the Sabbath Day holy, and do all things with gratitude and a cheerful heart.
This is deep obedience and it brings these marvelous promises:
But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward,31 [the good things of the earth;32 blessings from above, commandments not a few, and revelations in their time33] even peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.34
My dear brothers and sisters, if you will be deeply obedient to the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be connected to Him; you will prosper in the land; you will have joy and become more and more like Him through His mercy and grace and the supernal love of our Father in Heaven. I so testify.
I leave you with my witness that God lives. Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. He marked the path of deep obedience, and He led the way. The promises are true, and the promises are yours. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 2 Nephi 1:20
2 John 15:5, 10-11
3 In Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Great Challenge,” Ensign, May l998, 82.
4 Doctrine and Covenants 59:3-4
5 Doctrine and Covenants 59:5
6 Jeremiah 31:33
7 Leviticus 26:3
8 Doctrine and Covenants 59:6-7
9 Matthew 7:13-14
10 2 Nephi 31:21
11 Alma 11:37
12 Doctrine and Covenants 1:31
13 3 Nephi 12:28
14 2 Nephi 28:8
15 Doctrine and Covenants 59:8
16 Bruce D. Porter, “A Broken Heart and A Contrite Spirit,” Ensign, November 2007
17 Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 37
18 Russell M. Nelson, “Repentance and Conversion,” Ensign, May 2007
19 Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson
20 Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-11
22 Doctrine and Covenants 20:77
23 David A. Bednar, “Pray Always,” Ensign, Nov. 2008