The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a passive faith. It is an active one. Always has been. Always will be. And none of us get anywhere on our journey back to the presence of God by sitting back, going with the flow, or simply enjoying the ride. It requires faith, change, growth, and progression to be permitted into His presence.
Lehi said it this way:
[F]or there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon. . . .2 Nephi 2:14, 26
And because that [mankind is] redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon . . .
As God’s children we have been created to act for ourselves – not to simply go with the flow – and we alone choose the direction we go, the destination we are trying to reach, and the roads we take to get there.
For many of us that destination is eternal life – or an eternal existence with our Heavenly Father as He is – and He has laid out a straight road with clear instructions on how to get there.
As we journey this road each of us finds out it’s not always easy to stay on that “straight and narrow path,” or “hold to the iron rod.” It is easy to get distracted, leave the path, or even do a U-turn and go the other direction. How do we go about avoiding distraction and staying on the road to eternal life?
In his talk in last October’s general conference entitled “Look down the Road,” Elder Alvin F. Meredith III shares some insights into how we can stay on that road.
The foundational insight is expressed in the story of his first experience with learning to drive a car with his dad. After driving out to a straight, relatively unused road, switching seats with Elder Meredith (who was 15 at the time), and giving him some instructions his dad then said:
“Ease out onto the road and just drive until I tell you to stop.”Elder Alvin F. Meredith – Look down the Road
So he does! Here is what he said happened next:
I followed his orders exactly. But after about 60 seconds, he said, “Son, pull the car over. You’re making me nauseous. You are swerving all over the road.” He asked, “What are you looking at?”
With some exasperation, I said, “I’m looking at the road.”
Then he said this: “I’m watching your eyes, and you are looking only at what is right in front of the hood of the car. If you look only at what is directly in front of you, you will never drive straight.” Then he emphasized, “Look down the road. That will help you drive straight.”Elder Alvin F. Meredith – Look down the Road
Then he makes his point:
As a 15-year-old, I thought that was a good driving lesson. I have since realized that that was a great life lesson as well. Focusing on the things that are most important—especially those things “down the road,” those eternal things—is a key to maneuvering through this life.Elder Alvin F. Meredith – Look down the Road
This is absolutely true. If we do not look down the road of our lives to the destination we hope to one day arrive at, we will never be able to drive a straight course to get there. And we may even never get there at all.
There are so many things we could choose to look at and focus on as we drive down our road. How do we know we are focusing on the right one? And more importantly how do we know which one will keep us pointed in the direction of eternal life?
The answer is quite simple. Focusing on Jesus Christ will ensure we are always driving in the right direction. Elder Meredith points out:
Focusing on Christ can simplify our decisions and provide a guide for how we can best spend our time and resources.Elder Alvin F. Meredith – Look down the Road
He emphasizes this point using the experience of Jesus walking on the water and Peter jumping out to join him.
While he focused on the Savior, [Peter] could do the impossible, even walk on water.Elder Alvin F. Meredith – Look down the Road
When we exercise faith in the Savior Jesus Christ, we too can do the impossible, even walk into eternal life with God.
Elder Meredith continues:
Initially, Peter was undeterred by the storm. But the “boisterous” wind eventually distracted him, and he lost his focus. The fear returned. Consequently, his faith diminished, and he began to sink. “He cried, saying, Lord, save me.” The Savior, who is always eager to save, reached out and lifted him up to safety.Elder Alvin F. Meredith – Look down the Road
For us it is the same. Even when we are trying very hard to keep our focus and faith on Jesus the winds and the waves around us in our daily life are very distracting.
Elder Meredith suggests the following about distractions:
There are many things “in front of the hood” that can distract us from focusing on Christ and eternal things that are “down the road.” The devil is the great distractor. We learn from Lehi’s dream that voices from the great and spacious building seek to lure us to things that will take us off the course of preparing to return to live with God.
But there are other less-obvious distractions that can be just as dangerous. . . . For example, some things that are healthy diversions in moderation can become unhealthy distractions without discipline.Elder Alvin F. Meredith – Look down the Road
In a book he authored with two of his colleagues at the Harvard Business School entitled “How Will You Measure Your Life,” Elder Clayton M. Christensen discusses decision making strategies that can lead to success or failure. The premise of the book was inspired by a trend he saw among his classmates from the Harvard Business School and Oxford University who finished school with great ambitions and high hopes for their future careers, but many of whom ended up in very unhappy, unfulfilling, and even tragically disappointing life circumstances. He says:
“I know for sure that none of these people graduated with a deliberate strategy to get divorced or lose touch with their children – much less to end up in jail. Yet this is the exact strategy that too many ended up implementing . . .”How Will You Measure Your Life – pg 4
He then spends the rest of his book discussing business disasters and successes to help identify key ideas for developing good decision making strategies in our lives. One of the many ideas he shares sounds exactly like what Elder Meredith is pointing out here. He says:
“[I]f you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find a predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification over endeavors that result in long-term success. Many companies’ decision-making systems are designed to steer investments to initiatives that offer the most tangible and immediate returns, so companies often favor these and shortchange investments in initiatives that are crucial to their long-term strategies.”How Will You Measure Your Life – pg 68
It is so easy for us to feel like we are really making it in life when we are so myopically focused on the personally gratifying successes of the here and now, without realizing that we are in fact failing at the most important parts of life. The danger in focusing on what is only right in front of the hood of the car is that we can’t see our impending disaster until we are already at the precipice of the cliff about to drive over the edge. If we could only look past our distractions a little bit farther down the road on a regular basis we could see just how far off course we really are and begin steering ourselves back toward our goal of eternal life.
Giving in to temptation and feeding the hunger to gratify our personal desires are tightly associated with focusing too much on the here and now. Let me be clear – we have to be aware of our current circumstances. Without an awareness of where we are now we can have absolutely no sense of direction at all. Then we stagnate and all progression stops.
But if all we do is focus on the now we have the same result – stagnation and disaster. Focusing too much on the now can lead us to act selfishly, seeking to gratify our personal desires at all costs. This is the very definition of wickedness.
By focusing on Christ we find that the true definition of righteousness is setting aside our personal desires to accomplish a greater good that is lined up with the will of God. This is after all what He did for us in the Garden of Gethsamane – He did not want to suffer as He did. He even asked His Father that if there was another way to accomplish the task which He faced please let it be so. “Nevertheless,” he said, “not my will, but thine be done.”
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we have made a baptismal covenant to be disciples of Jesus Christ – or individuals who strive to emulate Jesus and live our lives in the same manner that He did. If we focus on Christ in a way that not only allows us to believe and have faith in Him, but also leads us to become as He is – or develop the qualities He possesses – then we will finally be on the path to our eternal destiny as heirs of eternal life.
A friend of mine in London who was studying to be a concert violinist said it best when I asked her what her dream was as a musician. She said that her goal was to create the most beautiful sound she could each and every time she played. The reason for this was that if she had a goal of playing in Carnegie Hall or something similar, what would happen once she accomplished it? She would have nothing more to work for. By having the quality of her musicianship as the focus of her career she had a never ending goal to strive for: perfection. By having “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” or focusing on Jesus and developing His qualities in us as the goal of our lives we too will have the never ending goal of perfection.
And what happens when we do fall short, when we do get distracted and make decisions that take us off course and closer to disaster? Is all lost? Did we blow every chance of ever making it back to Heavenly Father? No.
Connecting the idea of Peter sinking into the waves of the sea with our own struggles in life, Elder Meredith concludes his talk with this thought:
Sometimes our sinking comes because of our mistakes and transgressions. If you find yourself sinking for those reasons, make the joyful choice to repent. I believe that few things give the Savior more joy than saving those who turn, or return, to Him.Elder Alvin F. Meredith – Look down the Road
And we all can repent. We can all change. Elder Clark G. Gilbert put it this way in his talk “Becoming More in Christ: The Parable of the Slope”:
Our future will be determined far less by our starting point and much more by our slope. Jesus Christ sees divine potential no matter where we start. He saw it in the beggar, the sinner, and the infirm. He saw it in the fisherman, the tax collector, and even the zealot. No matter where we start, Christ considers what we do with what we are given. While the world focuses on our intercept, God focuses on our slope. In the Lord’s calculus, He will do everything He can to help us turn our slopes toward heaven.Elder Clark G. Gilbert – Becoming More in Christ: The Parable of the Slope
And we can accomplish this little by little just as effectively – and maybe more so – by following the counsel given by Elder Michael A. Dunn his talk entitled “One Percent Better.” He said:
Rather than being stymied by the churn and dramatic swings between sin and repentance, what if our approach was to narrow our focus—even as we broadened it? Instead of trying to perfect everything, what if we tackled just one thing? . . .
Could aggregating small but steady marginal gains in our lives finally be the way to victory over even the most pesky of our personal shortcomings? Can this bite-sized approach to tackling our blemishes really work?
Well, acclaimed author James Clear says this strategy puts the math squarely in our favor. He maintains that “habits are the ‘compound interest of self-improvement.’ If you can get just one percent better at something each day, by the end of a year … you will be 37 times better.”Elder Michael A. Dunn – One Percent Better
Think of it! 37 times better at being like Jesus in just a year! And with a never ending goal of developing Christ-like qualities over goals focused on accomplishments we stand a better chance of living pure Christ-like lives than ever before. By relying on Jesus in this way as a measuring stick to compare ourselves against as well as asking Him to use His power to lift us out of sinking into the waves surrounding us in our lives we will ultimately be able to say as the young man in Brother Brad Wilcox’s talk, “These days I spend a lot less time hating myself for what I have done and a lot more time loving Jesus for what He has done.” We will be agents acting for ourselves to become something great: A person after “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.