Anxiously Engaged in a good cause
In Alma 47 of the BOM, there was a man named Amalikiah. He was very evil and very intelligent, and he wanted his civilization – the Lamanites, to go to war with the Nephites. However, there was a small group of Lamanites, led by a man named Lehonti, that did not want to fight, and so they fled into the mountains, determined that they would not be forced.
However, Amalikiah was wise, and he did not use force. Instead, he applied cunning persuasion and persistence and sent messengers to Lehonti asking that he come down from the mountain to have a simple meeting. After twice denying the request, Lehonti caved. At first, talking was all Amalikiah wanted to do. However, Amalikiah poisoned Lehonti little by little until Lehonti died, and Lehonti’s followers went to war after all, under the tyrannical reign of Amalikiah.
The Bible tells a somewhat similar story. Nehemiah, a native of the land of Jerusalem, had permission from the King to build back up the recently destroyed wall of Jerusalem to protect his city and his people. This wall was a threat to many of their enemies, and, when he could not be stopped by force, an enemy of Jerusalem, Sanballat, tried the way of Amalikiah – he sent messages up to Nehemiah, asking that he would just come down and talk. However, even after four messengers, flattery and persistence, his reply did not change.
His words are, “And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease, whilst I leave and come down to you?”
My topic today is found in Doctrine and Covenants 58, 26-27. “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”
To be anxiously engaged:
The differences in situation are fairly small between Lehonti and Nehemiah, but the end result lay in this – one was ANXIOUSLY engaged whereas one was you could call a mere casually engaged. Nehemiah had already decided firmly beforehand that his work was more important than any distraction, and he held to that.
It took only persuasion from men to make Lehonti falter.
In our lives, there are many distractions with the power, if we allow them, to, in a sense, make us “come down” from the great work. Laziness, excessive cell phone and media use, temptations in all areas and at all levels can serve as the distractions of Satan put in place to distract us from the work.
The differences lay entirely in these two men’s agency – the choices they made. Lehonti CHOSE to meet with Amalikiah against his better judgment, just as Nehemiah CHOSE not to meet with Sanballat.
We all have choices to make each day. We can choose to react to our circumstances with optimism or we can choose to victimize ourselves and make excuses for all the things we should be doing that we’re not. We can choose to act, or we can choose to do nothing. We choose whether or not to smile, whether or not to be kind. We will falter – it’s inevitable, but as long as we are working actively to improve ourselves each day, we are doing all right.
Albus Dumbledore once said, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we are far more than our abilities.”
True, we are all born with natural tendencies that can help or hinder us, but the decisions we make will make all the difference.
The poet, Henry Longfellow said, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
We cannot wait for our luck to be right, for our stress to be gone or for times to get easier. It will never be convenient for us to make changes or to serve someone else, to get up and do something.
Joseph Anderson, of the quorum of the seventy said, “All men and women have the power to do good. Very many people not of our church are engaged in a good cause and are trying to bring forth much righteousness. Those who are endeavoring to improve mankind, who teach faith in God, and the living of a goodly life, are engaged in a good cause and shall not lose their reward therefore.”
I love the phrasing of the words in these scriptures – Words like “it is not meet that I should command in all things” and “do many things of their own free will.” In the adult session of stake conference last week, President Child used this scripture to emphasize the importance of recognizing that it is not only Ok if we are different, doing different, good things, but that it’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Throughout my high school experience, I loved English, and I had marvelous teachers. Of all the things they did right, the one that changed and improved my writing the quickest was that they gave guidelines, told us what they were looking for, but left the decisions on specific topic, method of presentation, etc. to us.
Though they had the authority to expect exactness from us, they didn’t want it. They gave us free reign because they recognized that each person’s interpretation of a piece of literature could be completely different, but equally as valid and beneficial. As a result, not only were they not stuck reading 150 identical papers, but we grew as students and writers.
Likewise, we need to recognize how vast the range of “good causes” is. We need to appreciate that everyone is at a different level, different place, different situation and of a different understanding than we are, and we need to realize that that is how it SHOULD be.
We need to not only to assume the best in others and to appreciate and love their differences, but to do the same for ourselves.
To not be anxiously engaged:
Oftentimes, I think that the problem isn’t that we are necessarily anxiously engaged in anything bad, but that we aren’t engaged in anything at all.
Sydney J. Harris said, “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time. It is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”
What is it that makes us fall into this trap of inaction? There are many possible causes – laziness, confusion, fear, anger or bitterness, sadness, selfishness, but perhaps none is as debilitating as apathy. We just don’t care. We don’t care to act, to serve, to become educated.
One of my favorite quotes – and I know, I use a lot of those – is from Elie Wiesel, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. He said,
“The opposite of love is not hate – it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness – it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy – it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death – it’s indifference.”
2 Nephi 1 says, “Oh that ye would awake, awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell … Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.”
This was the prophet Lehi speaking to his sons Laman and Lemuel just before he died. Of all the wickedness they’d committed, he chose to emphasize their inability to act – their indifference – or what he called the “deep sleep of hell.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, echoing this sentiment said, “Far more of us need to awake and arouse our faculties – each of us can do a little better than we have been doing we can put behind us our weaknesses of the past and go forth with new energy and increased resolution to improve the world around us. We have work to do, you and I, so very much of it. Let us roll up our sleeves and get at it with a new commitment, putting our trust in the Lord.”
Anxiously engaged in the cause of Christ:
In my life, the best way – in fact, the ONLY way to find any sort of permanent success in genuinely moving forward is in anxiously engaging myself to the cause of Christ. Too many of our goals are like the vast majority of all New Year’s resolutions – shiny and exciting for a moment, but too soon forgotten in our old habits.
President Thomas S. Monson said, “Those who have felt the touch of the Master’s hand somehow cannot explain the change which comes into their lives. There is a desire to live better, to serve faithfully, to walk humbly, and to be more like the Savior. How can we account for those miracles? Why the upsurge of activity in men long dormant? The poet, speaking of death, wrote, ‘God touched him, and he slept.’ I say, speaking of this new birth, ‘God touched them, and they awakened.”
I follow many great men and women who not only have been touched by the master’s hand, but are in the center of it. Many are here in this room, some aren’t. My grandparents – Mary and Bob Ellis and Carlos and Yolanda Gomez – the beginnings of generations of righteousness. My dad – Medardo Gomez – whose hours of service to our family and ward family are endless. My mom, Nancy Gomez, who does more for others in one day than I can manage in a month.
I see every day what it is to be engaged in the work of the Lord. And I can tell you, because of that with no reservation that the path of Christ is the path of joy. No matter what the circumstances are – no matter what difficult things come – and they will and they have come – there is joy in the journey when our lives are patterned after the Savior.
In the same address, President Monson continued, “We are on the Lord’s errand. We are entitled to the Lord’s help, but we must try. From the play Shenandoah comes the spoken line which inspires, ‘If we don’t try, then we don’t do, and if we don’t do, then why are we here?’”
In Doctrine and Covenants 4:2-4, the Lord said, “Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work; For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul.”
It is not only the happier way, but it is our responsibility.
“In one of those tedious nights in Richmond Jail, we had lain as if in sleep till the hour of midnight had passed, and our ears and hearts had been pained, while we had listened for hours to the obscene jests, the horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language of our guards… as they recounted to each other their deeds of rape, murder, robbery, etc. which they had committed among the ‘Mormons’ while at Far West … I had listened till I became so disgusted, shocked, horrified, and so filled with the spirit of indignant justice that I could scarcely refrain from rising upon my feet and rebuking the guards; but had said nothing to Joseph, or anyone else … On a sudden, he arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, or as the roaring lion, uttering as near as I can recollect, the following words:
‘SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still. I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die THIS INSTANT.’
“He ceased to speak. He stood erect in terrible majesty. Chained, and without a weapon; calm, unruffled and dignified as an angel, he looked upon the quailing guards, whose weapons were lowered or dropped to the ground, whose knees smote together, and who shrinking into a corner, or crouching at his feet, begged his pardon and remained quiet till a change of guards.
“I have seen the ministers of justice, clothed in magisterial robes, and criminals arraigned before them, while life was suspended on a breath, in the courts of England; I have witnessed a Congress in solemn session to give laws to nations; I have tried to conceive of kings, of royal courts, of thrones and crowns and of emperors assembled to decide the fate of kingdoms, but dignity and majesty have I seen but once, as it stood in chains, at midnight, in a dungeon in the obscure village of Missouri.”
Joseph Smith spoke with the power and majesty of Heaven. We are not always called to face down vile guards in a prison – we are not often called to place our life in danger or to starve for days shackled in chains, but I testify that we have been called to fight for the Savior. And I testify that when we do, we are entitled to His choicest blessings and His help from on high.
D&C 84:88 – And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
I know what it feels like to have slowly, bit by bit distanced myself from His influence by slacking in my good habits, and I can say with absolute certainty that it was ALWAYS my choice. He never once left my side, and the moment I turned to Him again, He was right where he had always been – on the other side of the door, anxiously awaiting my welcome.
From the moment the Lord confirmed to me that he needed me in the field, I have truly felt “his angels round about me” and they honestly have “born me up.” It is impossible that I should be standing before you today, ready to leave my home for a year and a half, confident in His purpose for me, but I am.
Verse two of one of my favorite hymns, We are all enlisted reads, “Hark! The sound of battle sounding loudly and clear; come, join the ranks, come join the ranks. We are waiting now for soldiers. Who’ll volunteer? Rally round the standard of the cross. Hark ‘tis our Captain calls you today – lose not a moment, make no delay. Fight for our Savior, come, come away. We’re joyfully, joyfully marching to our home.”
I want to point out three of my favorite phrases – First, “lose not a moment, make no delay.” The Lord is hastening His work NOW and we are needed NOW. Then, “joyfully, joyfully.” We are not asked to give up happiness in favor of working for the cause of Christ. He is the only way, in fact, to true and lasting happiness. And finally, “Marching to our home.” The fight we are engaged in now is not a fight to gain new territory – we are fighting to return to a home that was already ours, and to invite as many of our brothers and sisters to join us as possible.
A quote that’s probably familiar to many of you was originally written by a man in Rwanda told to renounce Christ or face death. In his papers, found the day before he refused and was killed for his commitment to Christ, he wrote,
“I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The dye has been cast! I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made; I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tainted visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need pre-eminence, positions, promotions, plaudits or popularity. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk with patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor with power. My face is set, my gait is fast, and my goal is Heaven. My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my guide is reliable, my mission is clear! I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, divided or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up and paid up in the cause of Christ. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till I know, and work till He stops me. And when he returns for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My banner will be clear.”
It is my prayer that every day, my colors will be clearer and clearer. For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is my Savior. I testify that He lives. He lived for us, died for us, and He lives again. I testify that His way is the way to happiness, His way is the way to success, and it is our responsibility to be anxiously engaged in it. His cause is the one that, in the end, will triumph, and I am so grateful to Him. I love Him – I love all of you, and am so grateful for you. The Savior lives! I close in His name, Jesus Christ, Amen.