When Gordon B. Hinckley was about 14 years old, he had an experience in the Salt Lake Tabernacle that stirred him to make an important resolution. He later recalled:
“I [heard] President Heber J. Grant tell of his experience in reading the Book of Mormon when he was a boy. He spoke of Nephi and of the great influence he had upon his life. And then, with a voice ringing with a conviction that I shall never forget, he quoted those great words of Nephi: ‘I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them’ (1 Ne. 3:7).
“There came into my young heart on that occasion a resolution to try to do what the Lord has commanded.”1
Gordon B. Hinckley always carried that resolution in his heart. Years later, when he was President of the Church, his teachings hearkened back to the message he had heard as a young man. Speaking to a group of Latter-day Saints at a regional conference, he said:
“I have been interviewed by many [news] reporters. The one thing they say is, ‘Now what is going to be your theme during your presidency?’ I simply say, ‘The same theme which I have heard repeated in this Church by the presidents of the Church and the apostles for as far back as I can remember: Simply live the gospel, and every one who does so will receive in his heart a conviction of the truth of that which he lives.’”2
In his first general conference as President of the Church, President Hinckley issued a call for all to try harder to live the gospel:
“Now, my brethren and sisters, the time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of the grand millennial mission of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a season to be strong. It is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, the breadth, and the importance of our mission. It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences that might follow. It is a time to be found keeping the commandments. It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain. It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all of our relationships. In other words, to become more Christlike.”3
President Hinckley continued to emphasize this message. Ten years later he repeated these words in general conference and followed up by saying, “You must be the judge of how far we have come in realizing the fulfillment of that invitation given 10 years ago.”4
We are a covenant people, and that is a very serious matter. When this work was restored and the Lord set forth the purposes for that restoration, He said that one reason for the restoration was that His everlasting covenant might be reestablished. That covenant … was made between Abraham and Jehovah when the mighty Jehovah made a great and solemn promise to Abraham. He said that his seed should become as the sand upon the seashore, that all nations would be blessed through him. He made this covenant with him, that He would be their God and they would be His people. … There was established then a relationship that was of eternal consequence in the eternal lives of all who would enter into it. Marvelous are its implications: if we will act as the children of God should act, He will be our God to bless us, to love us, to direct us, to help us.
Now, in this dispensation, that everlasting covenant has been reaffirmed. We, in effect, made that covenant when we were baptized. We became a part of His divine family, as it were. All of God’s children are of His family, but in a particular and wonderful way there is a special relationship between God and the children of His covenant. And when we came into the Church, … we became a part of a covenant people; and each time we partake of the sacrament, not only do we do it in remembrance of the sacrifice of the Son of God, who gave His life for each of us, but there is the added element that we take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and pledge ourselves to keep His commandments and He pledges with us that He will bless us with His Holy Spirit.
We are a covenant people, and great are the obligations which go with that covenant. We cannot be ordinary people. We must rise above the crowd. We must stand a little taller. We must be a little better, a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more courteous, a little more thoughtful, a little more outreaching to others.5
We are a people who have taken upon us a solemn covenant and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us strive a little harder to keep the commandments, to live as the Lord has asked us to live.6
We live in an age of compromise and acquiescence. In situations with which we are daily confronted, we know what is right, but under pressure from our peers and the beguiling voices of those who would persuade us, we capitulate. We compromise. We acquiesce. We give in, and we are ashamed of ourselves. … We must cultivate the strength to follow our convictions.7
The way of the gospel is a simple way. Some of the requirements may appear to you as elementary and unnecessary. Do not spurn them. Humble yourselves and walk in obedience. I promise that the results that follow will be marvelous to behold and satisfying to experience.8
My great plea is that we all try a little harder to live up to the stature of divinity that is within us. We can do better than we are doing. We can be better than we are. If we would hold before us that image constantly of divine inheritance, of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man as realities, we would be a little more tolerant, a little more kindly, a little more outreaching to lift and help and sustain those among us. We would be less prone to stoop to those things which clearly are unbecoming [of] us.9
The religion of which you are a part is seven days a week, it isn’t just Sunday. … It’s all the time—twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.10
The Lord expects that we will keep our lives in order, that we will live the gospel in every aspect.11
The Lord told Elijah to go and hide himself by the brook Cherith, that there he should drink of the brook, and that he would be fed by the ravens. The scripture records a simple and wonderful statement about Elijah: “So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord” (1 Kgs. 17:5).
There was no arguing. There was no excusing. There was no equivocating. Elijah simply “went and did according unto the word of the Lord.” And he was saved from the terrible calamities that befell those who scoffed and argued and questioned.12
The whole story of the Book of Mormon is a story that speaks of the people who, when they were righteous, when they worshipped Jesus Christ, prospered in the land and were richly and abundantly blessed of the Lord; and when they sinned and went astray and forgot their God, they fell into misery and war and trouble. Your safety, your peace, your prosperity lie in obedience to the commandments of the Almighty.13
“Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive.” [D&C 25:15.] That was the promise of the Lord to Emma Hale Smith. It is the promise of the Lord to each of you. Happiness lies in keeping the commandments. For a Latter-day Saint … there can be only misery in the violation of those commandments. And for each who observes them, there is the promise of a crown … of righteousness and eternal truth.14
True freedom lies in obedience to the counsels of God. It was said of old that “the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light.” (Prov. 6:23.)
The gospel is not a philosophy of repression, as so many regard it. It is a plan of freedom that gives discipline to appetite and direction to behavior. Its fruits are sweet and its rewards are liberal. …
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Gal. 5:1.)
Our safety lies in repentance. Our strength comes of obedience to the commandments of God. … Let us stand firm against evil, both at home and abroad. Let us live worthy of the blessings of heaven, reforming our lives where necessary and looking to Him, the Father of us all.16
We have nothing to fear. God is at the helm. He will overrule for the good of this work. He will shower down blessings upon those who walk in obedience to His commandments. Such has been His promise. Of His ability to keep that promise none of us can doubt.17
There are those who say, “The Church won’t dictate to me how to think about this, that, or the other, or how to live my life.”
No, I reply, the Church will not dictate to any man how he should think or what he should do. The Church will point out the way and invite every member to live the gospel and enjoy the blessings that come of such living. The Church will not dictate to any man, but it will counsel, it will persuade, it will urge, and it will expect loyalty from those who profess membership therein.
When I was a university student, I said to my father on one occasion that I felt the General Authorities had overstepped their prerogatives when they advocated a certain thing. He was a very wise and good man. He said, “The President of the Church has instructed us, and I sustain him as prophet, seer, and revelator and intend to follow his counsel.”
I have … served in the general councils of this Church for [many] years. … I want to give you my testimony that although I have sat in literally thousands of meetings where Church policies and programs have been discussed, I have never been in one where the guidance of the Lord was not sought nor where there was any desire on the part of anyone present to advocate or do anything which would be injurious or coercive to anyone.18
I say for each and all that we [who sit in the general councils of the Church] have no personal agenda. We have only the Lord’s agenda. There are those who criticize when we issue a statement of counsel or warning. Please know that our pleadings are not motivated by any selfish desire. Please know that our warnings are not without substance and reason. Please know that the decisions to speak out on various matters are not reached without deliberation, discussion, and prayer. Please know that our only ambition is to help each of you with your problems, your struggles, your families, your lives. … There is no desire to teach anything other than what the Lord would have taught. …
Ours is the responsibility outlined by Ezekiel: “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.” (Ezek. 3:17.)
We have no selfish desire in any of this, other than the wish that our brethren and sisters will be happy, that peace and love will be found in their homes, that they will be blessed by the power of the Almighty in their various undertakings in righteousness.19
God is constantly making known, in his way, his will concerning his people. I give you my witness that the leaders of this church will never ask us to do anything that we cannot perform with the help of the Lord. We may feel inadequate. That which we are asked to do may not be to our liking or fit in with our ideas. But if we will try with faith and prayer and resolution, we can accomplish it.
I give you my testimony that the happiness of the Latter-day Saints, the peace of the Latter-day Saints, the progress of the Latter-day Saints, the prosperity of the Latter-day Saints, and the eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience to the counsels of the priesthood of God.20
I can describe a principle … which, if observed, will greatly increase the probability that our decisions will be correct, and consequently that our progress and happiness in life will be immeasurably increased. This great principle is keep the faith. …
I cannot tell you in detail how to decide everything. But I can promise that if you will make your decisions according to the standards of the gospel and the teachings of the Church, and if you will keep the faith, your lives will bear fruit of great good and you will know much of happiness and accomplishment.21
Many years ago I worked for a railroad. … That was in the days when nearly everyone rode passenger trains. One morning I received a call from my counterpart in Newark, New Jersey. He said, “Train number such-and-such has arrived, but it has no baggage car. Somewhere, 300 passengers have lost their baggage, and they are mad.”
I went immediately to work to find out where it may have gone. I found it had been properly loaded and properly trained in Oakland, California. It had been moved to our railroad in Salt Lake City [and had eventually arrived in] St. Louis. There it was to be handled by another railroad which would take it to Newark, New Jersey. But some thoughtless switchman in the St. Louis yards moved a small piece of steel just three inches [7.5 centimeters], a switch point, then pulled the lever to uncouple the car. We discovered that a baggage car that belonged in Newark, New Jersey, was in fact in New Orleans, Louisiana—1,500 miles [2,400 kilometers] from its destination. Just the three-inch movement of the switch in the St. Louis yard by a careless employee had started it on the wrong track, and the distance from its true destination increased dramatically. That is the way it is with our lives. Instead of following a steady course, we are pulled by some mistaken idea in another direction. The movement away from our original destination may be ever so small, but, if continued, that very small movement becomes a great gap and we find ourselves far from where we intended to go. … It is the little things upon which life turns that make the big difference in our lives.22
I approached a large farm gate one day. I lifted the latch and opened the gate. The movement at the hinges was so slight as to be scarcely discernible. But the other end of the gate cut a great arc sixteen feet in radius. Looking at the movement of the hinges alone, one would never dream of the magnified action that came as a result of that tiny movement.
So it is with the decisions in our lives. Some small thought, some small word, some small action can lead to tremendous consequences.23
You can make [the Church] stronger by the manner in which you live. Let the gospel be your sword and your shield. …
… How magnificent will be the future as the Almighty rolls on His glorious work, touching for good all who will accept and live His gospel.24
I see a wonderful future in a very uncertain world. If we will cling to our values, if we will build on our inheritance, if we will walk in obedience before the Lord, if we will simply live the gospel, we will be blessed in a magnificent and wonderful way. We will be looked upon as a peculiar people who have found the key to a peculiar happiness.25
Let every man and woman and child resolve to make the work of the Lord better and stronger and greater than it has ever been before. It is the quality of our lives that makes the difference. It is our resolution to live the gospel of Jesus Christ that makes the difference. This is an individual matter. If we all pray, the Church is so much the stronger. And so it is with every principle of the gospel. Let us be part of this great forward-moving cause that is growing across the entire earth. We cannot stand still; we have to move forward. It is imperative that we do so. The personal conviction that dwells in each of our hearts is the real strength of the Church. Without it, we have very little of anything; with it, we have everything.26
I invite every one of you, wherever you may be as members of this church, to stand on your feet and with a song in your heart move forward, living the gospel, loving the Lord, and building the kingdom. Together we shall stay the course and keep the faith, the Almighty being our strength.27
Why is it that we, as the Lord’s covenant people, “cannot be ordinary people”? (See section 1.) What are some ways the covenants you have made with God influence your daily living?
President Hinckley taught that “we must cultivate the strength to follow our convictions” (section 2). How do we sometimes compromise our convictions? How can we strengthen ourselves to resist temptation?
What applications does President Hinckley’s telling of the story of Elijah have for us? (See section 3.) How would you respond to someone who feels that the commandments are too restricting? How have you seen that obeying the commandments brings freedom, safety, and peace?
Review President Hinckley’s explanation of how Church leaders give counsel and warnings (see section 4). How have you been blessed by following the counsel of Church leaders?
What can we learn from President Hinckley’s story of the lost luggage car? (See section 5.) Why do small decisions or actions make such a big difference in our lives? What is a small decision that has made a big difference in your life? How can we better recognize small deviations that could lead us away from God’s path?
How can living the gospel help us cope with uncertainties in the world? (See section 6.) How can living the gospel simplify our lives? Consider how you could more actively strengthen the Church and help God’s work grow across the earth.
“Reading, studying, and pondering are not the same. We read words and we may get ideas. We study and we may discover patterns and connections in scripture. But when we ponder, we invite revelation by the Spirit. Pondering, to me, is the thinking and the praying I do after reading and studying in the scriptures carefully” (Henry B. Eyring, “Serve with the Spirit,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 60).