25901_000_003From a devotional address given at Brigham Young University on October 19, 1999.
My years as a college student were during the 1960s, a turbulent decade in the United States. There was much of dissension and protest and rebellion. Many began to question the legitimacy of authority—any authority. The words “the establishment” became a disparaging label for government and college officials and the institutions they represented. We were advised by some younger sages, quite full of their own wisdom, not to trust anyone over 30, including parents. By the way, these “wise men” are now over 30 themselves, so I suppose we can safely ignore their advice.
This opposition to authority did not fade away with the end of that decade. If anything, the tendency has intensified. Some claim that any exercise of authority is abusive and repressive, that it infringes on their rights. I am sure you have noted the persistent focus on rights and the scant attention paid to responsibilities. There are those today who challenge even the authority of God. Because it is now so pervasive, if you are not careful, something of that attitude could seep into and infect your own feelings. I want to reinforce in your mind and in your heart the love you feel for your Heavenly Father. I want to reinforce your allegiance to God and your desire to be a fit and loyal subject in His kingdom. Given His great goodness and mercy toward us, why should we not desire that He would rule and reign over us?
God’s Right to Rule in Our Lives
If we are honest, we must first acknowledge that God has every right to direct us. After all, we are His creation. King Benjamin makes this point with impeccable logic:
“And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
“And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?
“… Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; … ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you” (Mosiah 2:23–25).
Beyond our being His creation, made up of materials that He owns, there is the even more important fact that through His Son, He is the author of our salvation. Thus we are eternally indebted to both the Father and the Son not only for our mortal lives but also for our eternal lives. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has paid our ransom and satisfied justice. “He hath purchased [us] with his own blood” (Acts 20:28; see also 1 Cor. 6:19–20). In a very real sense, the Father and the Son can claim ownership of us.
Knowing these things, it is only with the most colossal arrogance that one could claim he or she owes no allegiance to God. There can be no argument, really. On what basis could we justify any resistance to His commandments? The case for disobedience simply does not exist.
A Blessing of Submission to God: Freedom
Even so, our submission to God is not simply a question of duty or obligation. The blessings that flow from welcoming God’s rule in our lives are so enticing, and the alternative so appalling, that if we see things in their true light, we cannot be kept from walking in wisdom’s paths. Among the greatest of the blessings that come from yielding to His will, though it seems ironic to some, is freedom. Let me explain.
First, we must recognize that there are only two options or paths available to us. Alma put it this way:
“Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
“And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this?” (Alma 5:38–39).
I particularly appreciate Lehi’s statement: “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne. 2:27).
There is no third or neutral way. Our choice in this life is not whether we will or will not be subject to any power. We will be. Our choice is, to which authority will we yield obedience, God’s or Satan’s? As Lehi stated, it is a choice between liberty and captivity. If it is not one, it is necessarily the other.
License is not liberty. Self-absorption and self-indulgence are not freedom. It is yielding to the discipline of God’s will and His love that brings true freedom—the freedom to excel, to create, to bless. The gospel, said President Gordon B. Hinckley, “is a plan of freedom that gives discipline to appetite and direction to behavior.” 1 This path is one of increasing knowledge and capacity, increasing grace and light. But for your freedom to be complete, you must be willing to give away all your sins (see Alma 22:18), your willfulness, your cherished but unsound habits, perhaps even some good things that interfere with what God sees is essential for you.
My aunt Adena Nell Gourley told of an experience she had many years ago with her father—my grandfather Helge V. Swenson, now deceased—that illustrates what I mean. She related:
“Last week my daughter and I were visiting in my parents’ home. Along about sundown my mother asked if we would like to step out on the back porch and watch Father call his sheep to come into the shelter for the night. Father … is a stake patriarch, and you’ll understand and forgive me when I say he is the personification of all that is good and gentle and true in a man of God.
“About a block and a half away from the edge of the back lawn, five … sheep were quietly grazing on the stubble of last summer’s wheat field. Father walked to the edge of the field and called, ‘Come on.’ Immediately, without even stopping to bite off the mouthful of food they were reaching for, all five heads turned in his direction, and then they broke into a run until they had reached his side and received his pat on each head.
“My little daughter said, ‘Oh, Grandmother, how did Grandfather get them to do that?’
“My mother answered, ‘The sheep know his voice, and they love him.’ Now I must confess that there were five sheep in the field, and five heads went up when he called, but only four ran to Father. Farthest away, clear over on the edge of the field, looking straight toward Father, stood [a] large [ewe]. Father called to her, ‘Come on.’ She made a motion as if to start but didn’t come. Then Father started across the field calling to her, ‘Come on. You’re untied.’ The other four sheep trailed behind him at his heels. Then Mother explained to us that some few weeks before this, an acquaintance of theirs had brought the [ewe] and had given it to Father with the explanation that he no longer wanted it in his own herd. The man had said it was wild and wayward and was always leading his other sheep through the fences and causing so much trouble that he wanted to get rid of it. Father gladly accepted the sheep, and for the next few days he staked it in the field so it wouldn’t go away. Then he patiently taught it to love him and the other sheep. Then, as it felt more secure in its new home, Father left a short rope around its neck but didn’t stake it down.
“As Mother explained this to us, Father and his sheep had almost reached the [straggler] at the edge of the field, and through the stillness we heard him call again, ‘Come on. You aren’t tied down anymore. You are free.”
“I felt the tears sting my eyes as I saw [the sheep] give a lurch and reach Father’s side. Then, with his loving hand on her head, he and all the members of his little flock turned and walked back toward us again.
“I thought how some of us, who are all God’s sheep, are bound and unfree because of our sins in the world. Standing there on the back porch, I silently thanked my Heavenly Father that there are true under-shepherds and teachers who are patient and kind and willingly teach us of love and obedience and offer us security and freedom within the flock so that, though we may be far from the shelter, we’ll recognize the Master’s voice when He calls, ‘Come on. Now you’re free.’” 2
Another Blessing of Submission to God: Peace
Our yielding to God and His right to rule and reign over us brings other blessings. Among the foremost are the faith and confidence that permit us to live with peace.
If we “observe to do according to all the law,” we shall have the confidence of God being with us (see Josh. 1:5, 7). With the Psalmist we will be able to say, “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me” (Ps. 56:11). Has not the Lord promised, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”? (John 16:33).
Years ago I presided in a Church disciplinary council. The man whose sins were the subject of the council sat before us and related something of his history. His sins were indeed serious, but he had also been terribly sinned against. As we considered the matter, my soul was troubled, and I asked to be excused to think and pray about it alone before rejoining the council.
I was standing in front of a chair in my office pleading with the Lord to help me understand how such evil could have been perpetrated. I did not see but rather sensed an immense pit with a covering over it. It seemed one corner of the covering was lifted slightly for just an instant, and I perceived within it the depth and vastness of the evil that exists in this world. It was greater than I could really comprehend. I was overcome. I collapsed into the chair behind me. It seemed to take my breath away. I cried silently, “How can we ever hope to overcome such evil? How can we survive something so dark and overwhelming?”
In that moment there came to my mind this phrase: “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Seldom have I felt such peace juxtaposed to the reality of evil. I felt a deeper appreciation for the intensity of the Savior’s suffering, having a better, even frightening appreciation for the depth of what He had to overcome. I felt peace for the man who was before us for judgment, knowing he had a Redeemer whose grace was sufficient to cleanse him and also repair the injustices he had suffered. I understood better that good will triumph because of Jesus Christ, whereas without Him we would have no chance. I felt peace, and it was very sweet.
The Prophet Joseph Smith understood this when he said, “Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17). The promise to those who submit to God is that His arm, His power, will be revealed in their lives. Jesus said:
“Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
“And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost” (D&C 50:41–42).
Submission to God Must Be Voluntary and Wholehearted
Although it is God’s right to rule and reign over us, it is a right that generally He does not enforce. He accepts only voluntary obedience, only that which is unforced. Mormon observed:
“For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. …
“For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift. …
“And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such” (Moro. 7:6, 8–9).
We should not expect freedom, faith, peace, or any other such gift from our divine head if our acceptance of His leadership is lukewarm or grudging. A detached, aloof allegiance is, for Him, no allegiance at all. Our submission must be full, wholehearted, and unstinting. “See that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day” (D&C 4:2).
For God truly to reign, the great commandment—to love Him with all our heart, might, mind, and strength (see Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30)—must be first in our lives. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) said:
“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.” 3
This is not for the fainthearted or unstable. Our submission to His will can require some wrenching sacrifices. We do not know what may come. We must be able to say with the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Whatever God requires is right,” 4 and with the Savior, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).
As we yield our will to His, God will tutor us in the successful use of moral agency. We will find freedom to be, to feel, and to do. We will be supported in all our trials. Over time our prayers will become powerful, and we will come into God’s presence, through prayer, with confidence. Our lives, our personalities will take on the characteristics and qualities of Christ. As Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy (1857–1933) observed:
“The man who so walks in the light and wisdom and power of God, will at the last, by the very force of association, make the light and wisdom and power of God his own—weaving those bright rays into a chain divine, linking himself forever to God and God to him. This [is] the sum of Messiah’s mystic words, ‘Thou, Father, in me, and I in thee’—beyond this human greatness cannot achieve.” 5
I leave you my witness that through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we may become one with God, just as Jesus prayed we might be (see John 17:20–23). May your reverence for these holy beings and your allegiance to Them be the shining guide of your life forever.
Helps for Home Evening
Read Mosiah 2:23–25. What did King Benjamin teach about allegiance to God? What does Elder Christofferson say are the two paths we may choose to follow? How can we make the better choice? Invite family members to share experiences when they have made the better choice and how they felt in so doing.
Share or act out the story of the shepherd and the sheep. Discuss ways we can be like the shepherd or some of the sheep. Invite family members to share experiences of when they have submitted to God’s will. Ask them to tell about the impact submitting to God’s will has had in their lives.
“A Principle with Promise,” Improvement Era, June 1965, 521.
“I Walked a Flowered Path,” unpublished manuscript (1995), 199–200.
“The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 4.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 256.
“Brigham Young: A Character Sketch,” Improvement Era, June 1903, 574.