Many are Invited, But Few are Chosen

Sometimes when I want to force myself to think a little more deeply in my study of the Bible, I will read from a translation that I am unfamiliar with. So many passages of the King James Version are like old song lyrics to me that I don’t have to look too closely to remember what is being said.

Recently, I’ve been reading from the New International Version, which has the twin benefits of being reasonably well-respected and having a nice free app. (I strive for “holy,” but “cheap” I have mastered). In doing so, I came across a different version of Matthew 22:14, which is the conclusion of the parable of the wedding feast or the wedding banquet. In the KJV, the parable closes with the familiar and oft-repeated: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” In the NIV, it is rendered: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

It’s a tiny little difference, but one that jarred me a bit because I know how that verse is “supposed” to read. Tripping on the one-word change forced me to consider whether it was a change that makes a difference.

When we talk of being “called”, it evokes images of an obligation, almost in the sense of being ordained or set apart. Maybe even drafted. The word “invited” suggests more of an opportunity than an obligation, the chance to participate in something unique and pleasant.

When I was little and heard my mother calling, or now when I hear my wife calling, I have a pretty good sense that there is going to be a task or duty at the end of the summons. By contrast, when I am invited to go somewhere or do something, the underlying implication is that there is a celebration or event that I want to attend, but can only do so with with the consent of the person in charge.

A “calling” is something imposed on you by a person of authority. An “invitation” is an open door to join someone else as a co-celebrant. You are “called to action,” and that calling asks for your service, effort and sacrifice. You are “invited to attend,” and the invitation expresses merely a happy anticipation of your presence.

Two very different words with distinct implications and assumptions, but which evokes the true nature of the Lord’s request to attend the wedding feast? I think the answer is that each of them highlights different aspects of the same event. When we are called to the Lord’s feast, it is not merely a passive gesture, but a call to change our lives and live in service to God and to one another. But the invitation to the Lord’s feast reminds us of how welcome and wanted our presence is and the celebration awaiting us as His disciples.

It assures us that the Lord is as anxious for us to be in His presence as we are to be there.

…and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness…

2 Nephi 26:33

Obedient or Faithful?

If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God…

Doctrine and Covenants 6:13

I just finished reading An Early Resurrection: Life in Christ Before You Die, by Adam S. Miller, and I probably will turn right around and read it again. I can’t recommend it highly enough. One concept presented by Brother Miller that particularly caught my attention is the idea that you can be obedient to the commandments of God without actually drawing closer to Him. The covenant path isn’t just about obedience. It is about faithfulness.

This brings to mind the religious culture at the time of Christ. We sometimes forget that the ecclesiastical elite who persecuted Jesus weren’t wrong in obeying the law of Moses. At that time, the law of Moses represented God’s covenant with His people. Jesus and His apostles also obeyed the law of Moses, even as they prepared their followers for a higher law and covenant.

The problem wasn’t obedience to the law. The problems was a mindset that was so slavishly focused on obedience to the law that it lost sense of the purpose behind the law. Thus, even though they were strictly obedient to the law, they were unable to recognize the very Messiah to whom the law pointed. Somehow, they had followed every direction given by the GPS and ended up in Tampa instead of Seattle.

Although we no longer have the law of Moses, we are certainly capable of being obedient without progressing spiritually. Utilizing the ever popular “checklist” approach to the Gospel of Christ, we can be diligent about doing everything we are supposed to do, but negligent in becoming was we need to be. Drawing closer to the Lord’s light requires not merely obedience, but faithfulness.

Faithfulness implies a harmonizing of our will with the Lord’s. It is about loving and trusting Christ so much that we want to be like Him. We want to live in a way that reflects His countenance. We are so committed to His cause and thankful for His redemption, that obedience is merely a secondary result of changed hearts. We obey not just to avoid punishment, but as a result of His guiding presence in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong: This is aspirational stuff for me, not experiential. Most of my life in the Church has been about avoiding getting smitten. I’ve read the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and there is a lot of smiting going on in those books that I want to avoid. I’ve gone to Church, fulfilled my callings, and served a mission mostly for the sake of not finding frogs or locusts in my kitchen.

But thanks to taking a deeper dive into the doctrine of Christ, I am gradually coming to learn that the Lord’s law is very different from the kinds of laws we establish in mortality. For us, laws are written to proscribe or require certain conduct on the pain of penalty if you are not compliant. At one level, God’s law can be seen the same way.

But what I am coming to understand is that the Lord’s law is more like a treasure map, laying out precisely what we need to do and where we need to walk in order to come to Him and be like Him. Sort of an Mortality for the Complete Idiot. Yes, there are laws and even punishments, but the underlying goal isn’t to control our conduct. It is to prepare our hearts for the grace He has given us.

Too often we think of obedience as the passive and thoughtless following of the orders or dictates of a higher authority. Actually, at its best, obedience is an emblem of our faith in the wisdom and power of the highest authority, even God.

L. Tom Perry

Look in the Direction You’re Going

And it came to pass that because of so much contention and so much difficulty in the government, that they had not kept sufficient guards in the land of Zarahemla…

Helaman 1:18

My parents weren’t much on giving advice, so I tended to remember those rare moments when they did give counsel, or at least something that could be used as counsel.

One of my mom’s go-to observations is that when she saw someone trip, she would say, “They should have looked in the direction they were walking.”

As far as wisdom goes, it seemed pragmatic enough. But I understood it to mean something more than just pedestrian advice (come back in the room, that’s the only dad joke I’m using today). It’s a motto that I’ve internalized in order to remember to stay focused on where I want to go, and not let distractions trip me up.

There are more than enough distractions to go around, and they compete mightily for our attention. We live in a time of societal ADD, with regular input coming at us in byte-size portions that individually take up little of our focus, but collectively lead to us having the attention of goldfish. Keeping “on target,” whether at work, school, or in our discipleship to Christ, requires significant effort.

The Book of Mormon prophet Helaman gives us an example of the consequences of distraction. In the first chapter of Helaman, the Nephites are on the verge of civil war as three separate factions are vying for political control by filling the vacant seat of the chief judge. These factions lead to unrest, political intrigue, and eventually murder.

While the Nephites are busy making enemies of one another, they lose their focus on their external enemies, the Lamanites, and failed to take adequate measures to guard themselves against them. The Lamanites take advantage of that distraction by invading, killing the chief judge, and quite nearly defeating the Nephites entirely until thwarted by Moronihah and some unanticipated bad luck.

The same is true of us as we fortify ourselves against the enemy of our souls. If our attention is diverted by other things–even good, but less essential things–we risk a breach in our defenses. Simply put, we need to keep our eyes on the things that are most important or we risk a painful stumble. We need to look in the direction we are walking.

Let us be careful and not casual in our use of technology. Continually seek for ways that technology can draw us closer to the Savior and allow us to accomplish His work as we prepare for His Second Coming.

Peter M. Johnson

Are You Feeling Less Active Yet?

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Hebrews 10:25

I’ve been blessed with a number of different callings in my home ward of 25 years, and cursed with a few others. When people ask what my favorite calling has been, there is no contest: Primary pianist. That surprises some folks, and when they ask for an explanation I always tell them the same thing: “All of the blessings of inactivity without any of the guilt.”

“Or,” my oldest daughter adds with a note of reproof, “the cookies.”

I feel much the same way about COVID-19’s impact on my Sabbath worship. While our stake has embraced “virtual classes” on Sundays (nothing new for me, because I’ve always considered the foyer to be “virtual” attendance at my second-hour meetings), this is still pretty low-level activity. I have yet to wear shoes in any Ward Council meetings or Sunday School classes. Button up shirts, cargo shorts, and flip flops are my new dress code (it’s a Joseph Smith meets Jimmy Buffett kind of thing). I wore a tie once, but decided that I was overachieving. I can participate by video or turn it off and just let my Rob-and-a-parrot avatar stand in for me. The Three Nephites have made more cameo appearances in the last four months than I have.

The trouble is, Casual Sundays can get kind of…well, casual. I started off my quarantine (I’m one of those catch-it-and-die people who can’t risk being around the rest of you) with really good intentions. I was reading my scriptures more often. We were holding regular, structured Sacrament meetings at home. I started this blog. I was determined to show that what I always secretly hoped was true: I could do this Latter-day Saint thing without the need of actually going to Church. I could be a stalwart Mormon (sorry for the M-word…more on that in a later blog) without weekly walking the Green Mile from the parking lot to the chapel.

The beauty of it was that I could run this experiment without any fear of people showing up with reactivation treats at my front door (keep your coronacookies to yourselves, brethren) or giving me the “prodigal handshake” at the chapel door (two hands around yours for way too long, a sincere gaze into your eyes, and a softly spoken, “It is SO good to see you here”). I literally cannot go to meetings, so no one can treat me like the wayward child that I have so long threatened to be, but could never quite pull off.

The “less actively active” experiment was going fine, until it didn’t. Turns out that I don’t really have the religious chops to do things independently. Sunday services at home gradually were replaced by me asking my wife at 10pm, “Hey, was this Sunday?” Scripture reading went back to the inconsistent levels I exhibited before. I went from feeling a spiritual boost at the beginning of the pandemic to wondering what is going wrong.

Well, I can tell you what is going wrong. Our Heavenly Father is the one who set up this whole idea of gathering together and worshiping side-by-side, and God is consistently smarter than me. It would appear that I need those second hour classes that I typically find any excuse to avoid (including completely fictitious trips to the bathroom). Those talks in Sacrament meeting must have been doing me some good after all, because I am less firmly fixed in the gospel without them. Heaven help me, I need to put on a tie and go to Church.

Mostly, however, what I miss are my fellow travelers, the wonderfully flawed, imperfect, struggling, striving, and overcoming people who call themselves, with no apparent appreciation for irony, “Latter-day Saints.” I miss their sincere efforts to understand God’s will and implement it in their lives. I miss their stumbling efforts obey God’s great two commandments, and their ability to pull it off better than I do I miss the solid soundness of their testimonies, the fire of their faith, and the compassion of their hearts. I miss their companionship and their willingness to climb the mountains of mortality alongside me.

I love these people. I know that with almost all of them, you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to find gold Like me, they aren’t perfect. But they are trying their level best, and for 46 years of my life, I have been a better person as a result of rubbing shoulders with the Saints.

Curse this plague. I trained all of my life for this level of isolation, but I really need to be back among my family of the faithful.

Because I’m starting forget what those blessings of inactivity were supposed to be.

And I’m getting sick of store-bought cookies.

God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue “from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fullness” of all He can give. That requires more than simply being nice or feeling spiritual. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and of the Spirit, and enduring in faith to the end. One cannot fully achieve this in isolation, so a major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.”

Todd D. Christofferson

Following Impressions with Confidence

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

Moroni 7:13

I like to think of myself as a spiritual guy, but I’m a far cry from what anyone would consider a mystic. While I firmly believe in the reality of God and angels and their ability to communicate with us mortals, I can’t pretend to having participated in many of those conversations. For the most part, my experience with holy things has been firmly fixed on this side of the veil.

I sometimes feel a little insecure when I hear people talking about “The Spirit told me this,” or “The Spirit prompted me to do that.” Truth be told, I think the Spirit tends to leave me alone in favor of better receptacles for revelation. Like most people, I rely to a great deal on my judgment and experience to determine what I do on a moment-to-moment basis, with the occasional insight that I attribute to the Spirit because it was a better idea than I could have come up with on my own.

We refer to communications from the Holy Ghost in a number of different ways. People talk of feeling inspired, prompted, moved upon, etc. Each is a rough attempt to describe what I think of as “outside thoughts coming from the inside.” At least for me, I usually trust that a idea is from the Spirit when it pushes me towards doing something that I wouldn’t ordinarily consider doing on my own, but the idea still vaguely seems like it came from my own heart or head. It’s that sudden idea, insight, or understanding that doesn’t have a clear origin, but feels valid.

Trying to describe a spiritual prompting is hard. Trying to distinguish inspiration from our own thoughts can be even harder. It is easy to dismiss the voice of the Spirit when we don’t like the message, or to imbue our own ideas with celestial authority when we do. When one of my daughters was at BYU, I had a t-shirt made for her that said, “I don’t care what the Spirit told you, I’m not the one.” Just a dad’s way of reminding young men that spirituality and chemistry aren’t co-equal.

Being able to distinguish between inclination and inspiration, whisperings of the Spirit from wishful thinking can frustrate and paralyze you with self-doubt. Fortunately, I’ve learned a principle over the years that has helped me a great deal:

It probably doesn’t matter.

It isn’t that I don’t care whether I am receiving revelation from God through the Holy Ghost. I most certainly hope that I am, and that I am cultivating a greater ability to receive, recognize, and act on such promptings. But from what I understand from the scriptures, as long as we focus on the direction the decision would take us, we don’t have to worry too much about the source of the idea.

Moroni explains this in the 7th chapter of his final entry in the Book of Mormon when he tells us that anything that invites and entices us to do good and serve God comes of God. That would include ideas and impressions. So if I have an idea or prompting to do something, and that thing objectively would be a blessing to someone else or would help bring someone to Christ, I can “go and do” without significant worry. The great likelihood is that the the idea came from my Father in Heaven and nothing but good will come of it.

This approach might be a little too pragmatic for some people, and it certainly compromises one’s ability on Fast Sundays to talk up how amazingly inspired he or she is, but I sincerely believe that our Father in Heaven is more interesting in us getting off our seats and doing good than having us agonize over whether we are oracles of revelation. Sorting out the source of an impression may well eat up valuable time that could be spent in the service of others.

Joseph Smith once observed that if we follow our first impressions, nine times out of ten we will do the right thing. If he was satisfied with a .900 batting average, I’m fine with it too.

Follow the promptings that you receive. Act upon them. Like the cairns on a trail less traveled, the Holy Ghost will show you all things you should do

Elaine S. Dalton

The Tutelage of Pain

If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern my infirmities.

2 Corinthians 11:30

I’ve told this story before, but good memories deserve retelling.

Mike caught my attention soon after we moved to the ward. He had a lot going for him: He was sitting in the overflow, had hippy-length hair, and he looked to be suffering in a tie almost as much as I was. Clearly someone I needed to get to know.

I called that one right. Mike ended up being a great friend. I learned that his long hair was a sign of defiance after having overcome leukemia and losing all of his hair during treatment. Mike was a unique soul: funny, intellectual, and eternally optimistic. And he was getting a degree in Russian, as part of his dream to be a diplomat or intelligence officer. My family knew that if he called me, my dinner should be put in the fridge, because it was going to be a while.

Mike continued to fight off and on with health issues, and after he moved away from Texas, the leukemia came back determined to even the score. It eventually did.

I remember one night on the phone with him, during his treatment, when he was telling me about some of the pain he was going through. I asked him how he endured it. He laughed and said, “If I wake up, and I’m hurting, I know that I’m alive.” I could hear the smile. As long as I was in the game, he was good.

Little did I know that years later, my wife would lean over my bed hundreds of times and tell me, “Mike said that if it hurts, you are still alive.”

I don’t recommend pain, although I have become more familiar with it than I like to let on. But years of chronic this-and-that has convinced me that pain is a powerful tutor, one that we can only experience as a result of living in mortality. It has helped teach me things that my stubborn soul would not be able to learn through other means.

Pain can overcome pride. No matter how little you like to ask for help (and I don’t like it at all), that pride has to be set aside when you can’t function without help. I learned to be humble enough to say “I can’t do this,” both to the Lord and to my family and friends.

Pain can magnify love. When people come to your rescue, you see something in them that you would not normally see, and it is unforgettable. There are times during a Sacrament meeting that I will look around the chapel and think about the help that these wonderful disciples of Christ have given to me and my family, and I nearly come to tears (it’s really just allergies, I swear). When you see people at their very best, you can’t help but love them. And you can’t help but forget all the other stuff about them.

Pain can draw you closer to God, even though there are times when, as the Willie Nelson song describes it, we’ve been “too sick to pray.” Pain can reduce us to silent groanings of our spirits that are more powerful than mere prayer and etch in our minds our complete dependence of God. I have learned that only in times of extremity can you accurately measure your faith.

Pain has taught me gratitude and has helped me find joy in the spaces between trouble. It has made me grateful for the essential stuff in life: The touch of my sweetheart’s hand; the laughter of a grandchild; the presence of my wonderful daughters. Pain teaches you that you don’t need much to be well and truly happy.

Pain has been my least favorite professor, but I know I’m a better person for attending its classes. And if a little discomfort wakes me up at night, I just listen to a wise friend and remember that I’m alive. Still in the game. All good.

No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God,

Orson F. Whitney

Our Souls are Here to Grow

Behold, ye are little children, and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.

Doctrine & Covenants 50:40

I came across a sentiment from Vishen Lakhiani today that I thought was worth meditating upon: “Your soul isn’t here to achieve. Your soul is here to grow.”

Winning used to be a big deal for me. I was a fiercely competitive in speech and debate in high school, and I relished every medal and trophy, nearly to the point of obsession. I liked being good at something, but I liked even more being better at it than other people. It spilled over into my personal life. I was so competitive that Scrabble has been banned from our home because it almost led to a divorce. No joke: Our thirty years of marriage would have never happened if we let that game back into the house.

Injury and illness cured me of the drive to be number one. After a brush with the Reaper, I spent over six months at home recuperating. I was able to do virtually nothing but lie on the couch with my head in my sweetheart’s lap, binge watching Netflix. (We were getting down to Lone Ranger reruns before I was able to get back up and running…well, waddling). I learned that if I never had more than that, the presence of my wife, I could be completely happy. It was growth–the growth of my love for my better half–that made me happy. “Achievements” weren’t even on the radar screen, unless you counted “going to the bathroom unaided.”

Even if we aren’t A-type personalities, all of us want to feel like we have made achievements in our lives. We are proud of those moments when we surface to the top in something and people take notice, even if just for a moment. We maintain our own mental–if not physical–trophy cases and we take the time now and then to polish our awards and relive our better moments. Some of us, like Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite,” do little else.

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with that. Heck, I have an actual folder in my desk at work labeled “I Love Me,” in which I store notes of congratulations or appreciation. Teeny tiny little file, mostly with notes from my wife, but it gives me a boost when I am feeling down.

The trouble comes when we equate our earthly accomplishments with our eternal progression. Often, the things that will earn us accolades among our mortal peers are different from what develops our discipleship. There is no “race” to become like our Father in Heaven, nor any difference between the star quarterback and the water boy in the eyes of our God. We knew before we came to Earth that there would only be One who would actually ace every mortal test, and it wasn’t going to be us.

As a result, we don’t need to fret over how far we have come or what we have “achieved” in the gospel as compared to anyone else. Our challenge is to do a little better today than yesterday, and wake up tomorrow determined to grow a bit more. So long as we do that, we are promised that all of us–rich or poor, famous or unknown, apostle or ward employment specialist–will receive the same ultimate reward, and it will come as a gift of God: Received not because of accomplishment, but because of endurance.

Stand a little taller, rise a little higher, be a little better. Make the extra effort. You will be happier. You will know a new satisfaction, a new gladness in your heart.

Gordon B. Hinckley

Never Too Late

Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.

Jeremiah 18:6

It was truly a sight for sore eyes. An old piano, sitting abandoned on a sidewalk in Long Island, left to be taken, vandalized, or worn away by weather. Clearly an instrument well beyond its prime, having apparently outlived its usefulness. More valuable as kindling than for music.

Until something remarkable happens. A nondescript senior citizen stops his motorcycle, dismounts, and walks up to the piano. He places his hands upon it and begins to play. It’s a complicated, ragtime-style piece that is delightfully energetic and completely unexpected coming out of these eighty-eight keys doomed for the trash heap. This piano has made music before, but never like this.

But the old man happens to be the Piano Man. Billy Joel, one of the most successful pop artists in the world, who can still command audiences of thousands on the other side of seventy years old. He has coaxed something out of this piano that no one would expect. He stops the music abruptly and tells an unseen companion that although the piano needs to be tuned, and the “finish is beat,” the mechanics are “perfect” and “it’s a perfectly good piano. Then he begins talking about where this piano might be put to good use. He has seen something in this piano, and its future, that no one else could see.

When I saw the video, posted on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7gR5sVm_ZY&app=desktop, I was immediately reminded of Christ healing the lepers and the power of the Savior’s touch to bring life back to something seen by everyone else as ugly, broken, and useless. Seeing what is hidden from the view of mortals, He could take the most shattered of people and make something divine out of them.

I’ve felt like that abandoned piano more than once in my life: Discarded, too far gone with mistakes and failures, useful to or wanted by no one, only to find that there was still something that the Lord could draw out of me, and places that he could put me in service so that I could be a blessing to others.

Watch the video. Listen to the music. And when you feel broken beyond repair, know that you are not a lost cause. You might need a little tuning, and your finish might be beat but the mechanics are all there to still be a blessing to others.

Wait patiently on your own sidewalk until the Master arrives.

Then give yourself to Him.

And let Him play.

If there are here some of you who have been tricked into the conviction that you have gone too far, that you have been weighed down on doubts upon which you alone have a monopoly; that you have had the poison of sin that makes it impossible ever again to be what you could have been, then hear me! I bear testimony that you cannot sink farther than the light and sweeping intelligence of Jesus Christ can reach. I bear testimony that as long as there is one spark of the will to repent and reach, He is there!

Truman G. Madsen

Preserving our Moral Agency

Abide ye in the liberty wherewith ye are made free; entangle not yourselves in sin, but let your hands be clean, until the Lord comes

Doctrine & Covenants 88:86

In recent years, we have seen far less use of the term “free agency” in the Church. The reason, roughly stated, is that the phrase reflects questionable doctrine. Even though God as given us the freedom to make choices, we are not free from the consequences of those choices. As I’ve told my children for years, when you make a decision to act, you pick up both ends of the stick: The action and the consequences. Thus, we now hear more about “moral” agency than “free” agency.

That certainly is more consistent with our understanding of our Heavenly Father’s Plan. At the core of our doctrine is the idea that God sent us to earth to allow us to make moral choices and to become more like Him. On the other end of the spectrum, Satan is the eternal enemy of agency. He would see us be slaves. Thus, it is not surprising that many of Satan’s most powerful temptations lead us to sins that can destroy our ability to exercise our agency. The adversary abhors agency and is sworn to destroy it.

In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are counseled to “abide” in liberty, and not become “entangled” in sin. The message, I think is clear: How we use our moral agency today can determine how much agency we have tomorrow.

Consider our modern “age of addiction.” Alcohol, drugs, nicotine, gambling, and pornography all have the effect of weakening our wills and dictating our conduct so that we act out of compulsive need rather than moral choice. The same is true of addictions that are not necessarily thought of as sinful, such as food (I have been known to willfully hand my moral agency to Hostess and Nabisco), gaming, or social media. Anything that can lead us to acting because we have to instead of because we want to, is destructive of our agency. We become literally entangled in the weeds of addiction.

We also can surrender our agency through sins that are not typically addictive. Any time that we make a decision against the counsel of God, we distance ourselves from the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. With diminished light comes poorer vision and an inability to see things as they really are. When our vision and understanding are compromised, we cannot intelligently exercise our agency. We find our direction dictated more by chance than choice.

We can even compromise our agency by not taking care of our physical bodies. I was counseled once that there is no more difficult time to resist temptation than when you are tired. Exhaustion, illness, even depression weaken our resolve and our ability to do good. None of us can avoid such conditions completely, but taking steps to care for our physical bodies can help strengthen our spirits as well. I know from experience how hard it is to think through options or make good choices when illness has reduced you to something unable to act, but only to be acted upon. If we can avoid such challenges, we should try to do so.

Ultimately, how we use our moral agency will determine the degree to which we are able to continue to use it. This is what is meant by the truth making us “free.” Wrong conduct in the name of “freedom” is not liberating. Only through proper use of the divine gift of choice can we abide in liberty.

Yes, moral agency allows you to choose what you will, but you cannot control the outcome of those choices. Unlike the false creations of man, our Father in Heaven determines the consequences of your choices. Obedience will yield happiness, while violation of His commandments will not.

Richard G. Scott

Who Is Our Champion?

And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight this Philistine.

1 Samuel 17:32

I have loved the story of David and Goliath since I first heard it as a boy. It appealed to me, this idea of a young boy staring down and killing a giant. All that “love one another” stuff is fine, but David kicked butt for God. He’s the closest thing to a Marvel superhero that the Bible has to offer. It’s a great story and a wonderful source of self-help inspiration.

As I’ve grown older, I still love David and Goliath, but the more interesting story to me is David and Saul.

Goliath was sent out by the Philistines as their champion. Your champion represented your army in one-on-one battle with the enemy’s champion. So, rather than have two armies maul each other, you send out your baddest dude and he fights with the other side’s baddest dude. Winner take all. And if you have an eight-foot guy with a surly disposition on your side, you can feel pretty confident about sending him out as your champion.

At some point it occurred to me to ask, “Who was supposed to be Israel’s champion?” Who was their Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown?

Turns out, it was Saul.

We learn in the 9th chapter of Samuel that “from his shoulders and upward, [Saul] was higher than any of the people.” The next chapter repeats this description. Saul, who stood head and shoulders above anyone else and was an accomplished warrior was the closest thing to Goliath that Israel had to offer. But when he saw Goliath and heard the giant’s threats, Saul was just like everyone else. He was petrified by fear.

David? Not so much. From what we can tell, he almost immediately started asking why everyone was shaking in their sandals over one (really big) guy. When Saul heard about this defiant and inexplicably fearless shepherd, he called for him. David offered Saul that he would take the fight to Goliath. The king, no longer head and shoulders above Israel, even less so this shepherd, accepted and sent a boy to fight his fight.

The source of David’s courage is explained a few verses before, when he responds to his brothers who want him to just shut the heck up, “Is there not a cause?” (Samuel 17:29). David’s courage came from knowing that he would be fighting for the true King of Israel. Moreover, he understood that he was not Israel’s champion at all. He tells Goliath, “I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts…and I will smite thee…that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” (Samuel 17:45-46). The difference between Saul and David was that David understood what Saul forgot: The Philistines have a Goliath. We have a God. Jehovah is the Champion of Israel.

Courage can be hard to come by, especially when we have a clear understanding of our own weaknesses. The self-help books tell us that courage comes from within, and that we can cultivate and develop courage to conquer our own Goliaths. As we stand up to one challenge, we will develop the ability to stand up to others.

What a bunch of hooey.

Courage is a gift of the Spirit, a dispensation of grace that enables us to take action in God’s cause. It comes not from learning to be a tough guy and swallowing your fear. It comes from having your fears swallowed up in faith and knowing that if your cause is just, Christ, the great Jehovah, will be your Champion. He will fight your battles. We’re just kids with a pocketful of rocks.

One of my favorite quotes from Shakespeare is “Screw your courage to the sticking place.” Unfortunately, it’s said by Lady Macbeth. But even murderous old hags can stumble across the truth now and then. Our courage needs to be screwed or fixed to a solid, unmovable place. The sticking place is our Savior.

If we stay close to the Spirit, we can face obstacles with courage and confidence, knowing that as we take action in furtherance of God’s plans, we never fight alone.

Have we not a cause?

The call for courage comes constantly to each of us. Every day of our lives courage is needed—not just for the momentous events but more often as we make decisions or respond to circumstances around us. Said Scottish poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson: “Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you and no crowds shout your name.”

Thomas S. Monson