Our teenage daughter Hazel has a poster on her bedroom wall that contains the simple, but vital, message “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” An obvious statement, perhaps, but one we could well examine and ponder in a gospel context.
Today is like a watershed, a crucial dividing point in our lives between past and future. If our past is out of harmony with the Lord, he will not remember it, providing we have repented and are changed people today. Conversely, should our past be full of good works—priesthood service, compassionate service, a mission—it will avail us nothing if we are not true today.
It is how we conduct ourselves today, in thought, word, deed, and intent, that determines whose side we are really on. The Lord has continually stressed this through both ancient and latter-day prophets. Through Ezekiel he proclaimed: “The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression. …
“But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.” (Ezek. 33:12, 19.) More recently, the promise was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).
Repentance, change, and conversion need to take place today. Are we not all sinners either by commission or omission? Do we not all fall short of the high expectations our Heavenly Father has for his children? What a great blessing to be able to start afresh, with the Lord remembering no more. The apostle Paul gave wonderful counsel concerning this when he exhorted the Saints at Ephesus to “put off … the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
“And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
“And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph. 4:22–24.)
Before my call as mission president in 1975, I was involved in the busy world of industry and commerce. My office overlooked the main gates leading into a large, 350-acre industrial complex in England. Frequently I would see long trainloads of oil and heavy truckloads of raw cellulose coming into the factory. Then, after a while, I would see vehicles laden with beautiful fabrics and useful plastics on their way to warehouse, store, and home. The miracle of conversion had taken place, and raw materials had been converted and transformed into beautiful products.
So it should be with each one of us, for we have been provided with precious raw materials. Brain and spirit, energy and talent, space and time are all within our stewardship. Our beneficent Father has not just provided these that we might bury them in the ground, but that we might improve upon them and convert them fivefold and tenfold. What will be the product of our lives? Perhaps our individual conversion process has been inefficient in the past. Let us make it more efficient and effective today, with less time and energy wasted and more productive use of talent, intelligence, and effort.
Each time I have seen the mighty Niagara Falls, I have marveled at the tremendous potential energy, waiting to be unleashed, as 35 million gallons a minute cascade into the gorge almost 200 feet below. Once harnessed, that potential of 5 million horsepower blesses the lives of many people with light and electrical power. Each one of us has similar power to bless and enlighten, to improve and progress, to develop talents and produce beautiful lives. What is the secret? It is conversion, change, becoming better, overcoming, starting afresh, lengthening our stride, making today better than yesterday. All this is essential to our eternal progression, and yet many of us tend to be somewhat apathetic or lethargic when it comes to spiritual progress and the attaining of Christlike qualities. Even when we set personal goals to acquire a particular attribute, we act as if we have all the time in the world to accomplish them.
We need to add a sense of urgency, a feeling of now, an emphasis on today. Over the years, and especially while serving as a missionary in Scotland, I have asked many people the question, “If today were the last day of your life, what would you do?” Whether we are investigating the Church or are members of long-standing, whether we are young or not so young, we should consider this question. It prompts us to ask ourselves, “What should I really be doing? What does my Heavenly Father expect of me? What will be the thing of most worth to me?” How important to prioritize our lives: “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; …
“… then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.” (Alma 34:32–33.) Time is running out.
One of the great pleas of the last two decades has been conservation, to use our natural resources wisely. Conservation of our scarce raw material—time—will be one of the great benefits of prioritizing the things we need to do. At the beginning of each day it is good to write out a list of ten things we need to accomplish that day. This, together with a striving for punctuality and reliability, will help us to waste less time and eliminate many frustrations.
Eighteen years ago, during my first visit to general conference as a new stake president, I learned a valuable lesson in punctuality. I wanted to visit all the Church departments, which at that time were spread over a wide area of Salt Lake City. Above all I had an earnest desire to meet President David O. McKay. I inquired whether it would be possible to see the prophet for just a few minutes and was delighted when I was told to return at 1:30 P.M. for this great privilege. My heart sang as I made other visits during the morning, and the time passed very quickly.
Suddenly I looked at my watch and was horrified to see that it was almost the appointed time. I literally ran to the Church Administration Building, arriving redfaced and breathless. Imagine my feelings when I was told, “By being one minute late you may have missed a golden opportunity.” Those words still ring in my ears, even though I was subsequently able to meet President McKay.
Sometimes there appears in my mind’s eye a church clock in my native city of Nottingham. Written boldly across its face is the invitation, “Time to seek the Lord.” The child looks at the clock and hopes the hands will never point to bedtime. The youth too often sets out to have a good time and finds he has a bad time. The hands of the clock do not worry him unduly, for there is plenty of time ahead, or so he thinks. The elderly person in the twilight of life hopes there is still time to do the things left undone. In reality we are all in the twilight of this life for the coming of the Savior draws near.
Yes, today is the first day of the rest of your life, but if it were the last day, what would you do?
(Hymns, no. 215)