“What I Wish Every New Member Knew—and Every Longtime Member Remembered,” Ensign, Oct. 2006, 10–16
When men, women, and children are baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they begin a wonder-filled journey marked (figuratively speaking) by majestic mountains, lush valleys, and beautiful vistas as far as the eye can see. It is at times a demanding journey but an absolutely essential one to make nevertheless, for this is the journey back to our Father in Heaven. Fortunately, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has promised to lead us on our way:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
“… Be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.”1
As members of the Church, we are all on this journey. Our age and experience will always be varied, as will our languages, cultures, and degrees of gospel understanding. But whatever your circumstances, we welcome you. As the Apostle Paul said, “Ye are … [now] fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God,”2 and that means we are in this together.
There are some things I wish you and every member knew, things that will provide spiritual strength for the road ahead. It is important to remember that we need to succeed—not just finish the course,3 but “finish [our] course with joy.”4 For a celestial reward, it is absolutely essential that we remain faithful to the end. There is nothing in the Church that is directed toward the telestial or terrestrial kingdoms. For us it is a celestial goal every step of the way. We cannot flag or fail or halt halfway. Christ Himself pronounced:
“Whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name … if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
“… Nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.”5
This way we each have chosen, the way along which our Savior assists us, is the way of the covenant. Beginning with our baptism, we make covenants as we follow this path to eternal life, and we stay on the path by keeping them. His light is one of the rewards of keeping covenants. “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life,”6 Jesus assured.
In His light we live spiritually and become more able day by day to discern that light and receive more of it. Furthermore, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost at the time of our confirmation, the first of many gifts reserved for members of the true Church. The promptings of the Holy Ghost will always be sufficient for our needs if we keep to the covenant path. Our path is uphill most days, but the help we receive for the climb is literally divine. We have three members of the Godhead—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—helping us because of the covenants we have made.
To remind us of those covenants, we partake of the sacrament each week. In the prayer offered on the bread, we “witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that [we] are willing to take upon [us] the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given [us]; that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us].”7
One of the covenants we make at baptism is to serve. Loving service and devotion to the needs of others was perhaps the chief characteristic of the Savior’s mortal life. It will always be a mark of the Master’s disciples. At the Waters of Mormon, that small band of believers clapped for joy when they were invited to covenant through baptism that they would bear each other’s burdens and comfort those who needed comfort.8
In our day the Savior Himself has counseled: “All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and … are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.”9
Service is our duty—but it is more than duty; it is Christlike opportunity. He bore our burdens, and in bearing one another’s burdens, we truly become more like Him. Service in the Church can be a burden of sorts, but it is a “light”10 burden—all because we are in shoulder-to-shoulder association with the Savior of the world.
If our covenant path has an earthly symbol of an eternal destination, it is the house of the Lord, the holy temple. There we make covenants that can bind us together with God and loved ones everlastingly. Outside of the temple we speak only sparingly of those covenants, but within its walls the Holy Ghost can testify of them to the pure in heart in a manner that is unrestrained. The blessing of receiving that sweet, affirming guidance of the Spirit as you go to the house of the Lord again and again is a blessing I long for all adult members to embrace.
From where you stand today as a new member, going to the temple might seem a distant goal, too difficult to reach, but truly it is not. We need not cover the distance to the temple in one great leap. Every act of faith, every step toward repentance, every quiet victory in keeping the commandments moves us closer to the temple monthly, weekly, daily, hourly. “Be not weary in well-doing,” the Lord has said, for “out of small things proceedeth that which is great.”11
Actually, the path to the temple will be easier than it might appear at first because you will find happiness as you move along it and you will also find help for the journey. Those of us who know the blessings of the temple will gladly—excitedly!—walk with you as you prepare to have your own experience there.
Members of your ward or branch may make the first move, reaching out to support you the way someone reached out to support them. But don’t let them be the only ones to make a move. Reach out yourself to make friends among the other members. Remember—you too have covenanted to serve, and you too can bring blessings into other lives, even in the very earliest hours of your membership in the Church.
Even better than having earthly help, you can have the generous assistance of heaven. Surely there is nothing that God or His angels are more eager to do than assist each of us to make and keep sacred covenants. In section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we are told:
“I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. …
“And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught.
“For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.”12
This promise is to you as much as to anyone in the Church. It is not only to those with an extensive pioneer heritage. This promise is to every faithful and obedient member, wherever you may live or however new to the fold you may feel.
Now that you have entered into this path lighted by our Redeemer and are being assisted by angels, avoid backward glances toward the darkness and remorse of the past.13 True repentance allows you to walk away from that darkness. One of the most encouraging scriptures I know says, “Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope.”14 So press forward. Leave the past in the past. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), twelfth President of the Church, taught: “The Savior urged us to put our hand to the plow without looking back. In that spirit we are being asked to have humility and a deep and abiding faith in the Lord and to move forward—trusting in him, refusing to be diverted from our course, either by the ways of the world or the praise of the world.”15 Or, we might add, by past experiences in the world.
But don’t be surprised if the pull of the past is great. It may involve old friends and old habits—strong habits that may have been deeply entrenched in your behavior, such as addictions to tobacco, alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, sexual transgression, or dishonesty, to name just a few. These things separated you from the influence of the Holy Ghost then, and they would be even more damaging if you were to return to them now. But the power of your covenants is greater than the power of temptation. Don’t let the fear of past transgressions weaken your resolve to repent and abandon them. Remember! God has promised to save you “from the hand of him that hated [you], and [redeem you] from the hand of the enemy.”16
You may feel entirely inadequate to overcome addictions or problems of the past by yourself, but you need not handle those problems alone. God has given to every member a priesthood leader with keys, or authority, to assist in the process of repenting and finding new strength. Seek that help. Go to those priesthood leaders—usually a bishop or branch president for matters of repentance and spiritual struggle—and they will put you on the road to healing, a healing that ultimately comes from the Savior. In matters not involving confession, others can help—a friend, a loved one, a home or visiting teacher, a competent professional, or a solid member—all depending on the issue. Again I stress that we are on this journey together, and “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”17
As you exert all your spiritual strength to overcome weakness, as you righteously seek the help of our Savior and your priesthood leaders, the Holy Ghost can help you feel again the spiritual certainty you had when you were baptized. He can fill your heart once more with the knowledge that the course you have chosen is the course our Father in Heaven desires for you in time and eternity.
Do you wonder if the Holy Ghost will really speak to you? Be reassured He already has—many times. We may be a little inexperienced at recognizing that guidance, but every member of the Church has the gift of the Holy Ghost and has had many promptings and help as a result of that gift—even if we didn’t consciously seek it. God is our Father, and parents do everything possible in righteousness to help children—including (sometimes especially) wayward children. These helps from heaven through the Holy Ghost will usually come as feelings more than as external sensory experience.
President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, described it this way: “The Holy Ghost communicates with the spirit through the mind more than through the physical senses. This guidance comes as thoughts, as feelings, through impressions and promptings. It is not always easy to describe inspiration. The scriptures teach us that we may ‘feel’ the words of spiritual communication more than hear them, and see with spiritual rather than with mortal eyes.”18
On this upward and sometimes hazardous journey, each of us meets our share of daily challenges. If we are not careful, as we peer through the narrow lens of self-interest, we may feel that life is bringing us more than our fair share of trials—that somehow others seem to be getting off more lightly.
But the tests of life are tailored for our own best interests, and all will face the burdens best suited to their own mortal experience. In the end we will realize that God is merciful as well as just and that all the rules are fair. We can be reassured that our challenges will be the ones we needed, and conquering them will bring blessings we could have received in no other way.
If we constantly focus only on the stones in our mortal path, we will almost surely miss the beautiful flower or cool stream provided by the loving Father who outlined our journey. Each day can bring more joy than sorrow when our mortal and spiritual eyes are open to God’s goodness. Joy in the gospel is not something that begins only in the next life. It is our privilege now, this very day. We must never allow our burdens to obscure our blessings. There will always be more blessings than burdens—even if some days it doesn’t seem so. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”19 Enjoy those blessings right now. They are yours and always will be.
Let me summarize only a few of those blessings. There are untold others.
Knowledge of the truth. In a world that wonders and speculates and drifts, we can be certain who our Father is, who we are, and what our destiny is if we follow the path that has been marked for us. We can enjoy the highest of all higher education—the learning that comes, in both spiritual and temporal affairs, when our spirits and our minds respond to the light that streams from heaven to the faithful.
Peace in daily living. We can walk our path day to day with comfort, hope, and direction despite the challenges and obstacles we meet along the way. We can have these blessings because of our source of strength—He who “descended below”20 all things and triumphed over all trials. When we center our faith in Him, we draw on His strength and our reward is, among other things, “peace in this world.”21
Strength in virtue and confidence in integrity. The world may wonder what the standard of moral behavior is, chasing here and there the driftwood of political correctness or the frivolous fashions of the day, but we have a sure rock22 on which to build and to which we cling, an absolute anchor to the certainty of our moral judgment. “Let virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly,” we are taught, and the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion. When our minds are so focused and our lives so directed, “then shall [our] confidence wax strong in the presence of God.”23
The fellowship of good people. Surely one of the greatest strengths and joys of membership in the Church is the fellowship of good men and women, new friends with whom we have so much in common. The Church is a community—a community of believers, a community of those striving to be faithful, a community of Saints. Association with people hoping for the same things we hope for brings strength for the journey and delight along the way. “A friend loveth at all times,”24 says the writer of Proverbs, and many of our dearest friends will inevitably be members of the Church.
Walk with us. Stay with us. We need your company and your unique strength. We welcome you to a fellowship based on covenants, with “a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable.” We pledge to be your friend, your brother or sister “through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all the commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever.”25
Welcome to the Church. Welcome to the blessings. Welcome to the celestial journey. Take courage and take hope. You have help from heaven and on earth. As the Lord told the missionaries (including the missionaries who taught you), so He promised us all: “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.”26
And remember, the most significant sign of your progress on this journey is not so much your location on the path at the moment, but rather the direction in which you are moving. When you come to the end of your time in mortality, you will not yet have completed the process of perfection—none of us will have done so—but if you have loved and served, sacrificed and stayed faithful to the end, you will hear those glorious words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: … enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”27 Your journey then will continue in unspeakable glory in the company of loved ones who have gone before you and the very angels of heaven themselves. Welcome to “the way, the truth, and the life.”28