Diligence in Keeping the Commandments: A Key to Blessings, Protection and Happiness
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
April 3, 2012
J. Alan Walker
Waipahu Hawaii Stake
Aloha. As I was pondering over what I should share with you today, my thoughts were directed to the occasional tendency some of us have to be casual in our observance of the commandments of God and casual in our adherence to the counsel provided from our Heavenly Father through his prophets, seers, and revelators. As I contemplated upon this concern the Spirit confirmed to me that this is what I should focus on during my time with you today.
First, let me start with the big picture. I always find it helpful to start with a macro view. Knowing the why's behind what we are asked to do can help inspire us to do that which is required.
We are all literal spirit children of a loving Father in heaven. We lived with our Father in the preexistence. Our Father is perfect in every way. We longed to be like him.
Our Father held a grand council in the preexistence. You and I were all there. At this council our Father provided a great and wonderful plan that furnished a way for us to become like him. The plan required we be separated from Him, receive a physical body, and prove ourselves so that we could progress and achieve perfect happiness, like our Heavenly Father. It would not be easy, but a way was provided for us to succeed. Heavenly Father promised a Savior to help us overcome two obstacles we could not overcome on our own; physical death and sin. Our eldest spirit brother, Jesus Christ, volunteered to fulfill the role of Savior. Sadly, one-third of our brothers and sisters rejected this plan and chose to follow Satan, but we accepted the plan and have this opportunity to come to Earth, receive a physical body, and start an eternal family. If we do all that is required of us, through the Atonement of the Savior and through his merits alone, we will qualify for and ultimately receive eternal life; life that our Father enjoys, and this includes the blessings of an eternal family. This is perfect happiness. It is for this pursuit of happiness that we are here in mortality.
Heavenly Father allowed opposition so that we could choose righteousness and prove ourselves. Satan and the evil spirits that followed him were cast out to this earth. They cannot have joy and are continuously miserable. Their only desire and purpose is to make us miserable. In 2 Nephi 2:27 we learn . . .
"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 Nephi 2:27)."
Satan and his evil followers can influence us if we allow them to. They are very clever and very real. Satan has found that he can keep us from our purpose of life if he can fool us into not doing the things required of us to achieve true happiness. When he succeeds in doing so Satan leads us down forbidden paths that result in misery not happiness.
We should frequently review the plan of happiness because doing so helps us keep an eternal perspective. When we know and remember who we are and why we are here, we are more likely to keep our focus on the true purpose for our mortal probation. It will help us see the devil's lies for what they are. It is that perspective that we must have to successfully keep the commandments and do all that is required to qualify for eternal life.
Heavenly Father has given us many helps to assist us along the path back to Him. We need all of the blessings and protections He is willing to bless us with to accomplish our mortal objective. During these latter-days prior to the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior it has become even more crucial to have those blessings. Wickedness abounds. The pace of preparation has been quickened. When I sit in church councils I can see and feel the change in the pace of the work. I do not know when the Second Coming will occur, but I do know that we are getting closer and I know that the prophesied calamities and difficulties prior to the Second Coming are real. It will get worse. We need to secure all the help we can to be victorious. In 2 Timothy 3:1 we are taught "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come."
Then, in D&C 39:21 we discover "For the time is at hand; the day or the hour no man knoweth; but it surely shall come."
I do not say this to be an alarmist. I share this only to emphasize just how important the protections and blessings of the Lord are to those who are faithful. It is my desire that you and I take advantage of those protections and blessings and it is with this purpose that I carry this message. We must not be casual in our observance of the commandments of God. We must not be casual in our adherence to the counsel of prophets, seers, and revelators. We must, instead, be diligent in this cause. This warning is found in D&C 97:25 -26, "Nevertheless, Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her. But if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire."
What do I mean by casual observance? The Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines the word casual as "occurring without regularity; occasional; feeling or showing little concern; and nonchalant." Meanwhile, the word diligent is described by Merriam Webster as "characterized by steady, earnest, and energetic effort." I testify that casual observance of the commandments will not bring about the necessary blessings and protections we so desperately need to survive spiritually. It is not sufficient to allow us to do what is required so that we can qualify for the blessings of Eternal Life, Exaltation, and Eternal Families. Casual observance is dangerous and will lead to forbidden paths and ultimately destruction. The Lord wants us to be diligent and he is not happy with a half-hearted effort as evidenced in this declaration in Revelations 3:15-16:
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."
Haphazard compliance to the commandments will result in rejection from the Lord if we do not repent. Now, I like to envision our loving Heavenly Father watching over us and anxiously observing us behind the windows of heaven. There He holds an abundance of blessings and protections that He desires to pour out upon us, but he will not unless we choose to turn the key and unlock those windows to allow our Father in Heaven to pour out those blessings. I liken the turning of those keys to the diligent keeping of His commandments. The Lord's promise to the diligent is clear in D&C 59:4 . . .
"And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time:they that are faithful and diligent before me."
We need to turn that key; we need to be more diligent in our keeping each and every commandment.
We sometimes have the tendency to think of commandments as restrictive; as a barrier to freedom. This is one of the lies the adversary employs to try and get us from taking advantage of what Heavenly Father has provided for us. Commandments are for our benefit. We secure freedom and we are blessed when we keep the commandments. Let me share with you an analogy.
Traffic lights; we are familiar with the frustration we experience while driving to a destination and we come to a red light. It is not fun to have to sit for a minute or so while we wait for that light to turn green. We might momentarily wish that the traffic light was banished forever. After all, we may think, without this red light I would be much further along in my journey. However, the reality is that traffic lights are for our benefit. If these stop lights are removed, pandemonium rules, traffic backs up, and our journey becomes much more dangerous and takes much longer. I experienced this exact phenomenon on the morning of the Hawaii earthquake in October 2006. You may recall that that earthquake took place on an early Sunday morning and set off a series of events that resulted in a power outage that lasted many long hours throughout almost the entire island of Oahu. This included a loss of electricity needed to run traffic lights. None of theses crucial traffic lights functioned throughout Oahu for most of that day. When the earthquake occurred I was attending our stake presidency meeting in the Waipahu Hawaii Stake Center. After enduring the shaking of the stake center, assessing the situation, and deciding to cancel church meetings throughout the stake on that day, we closed our presidency meeting and each member of the presidency began their drive back home. My drive was a relatively short 6-mile journey from the stake center in Waipahu to my home in Ewa Beach, but it required passing through a series of congested street crossings normally governed by a system of stop lights. That drive generally takes around 15 minutes, but can take up to 20 minutes if one is unlucky and catches several red lights. However, on this morning, without the assistance of stop lights, that drive took nearly an hour. Each intersection was backed up as vehicles from all four directions cautiously inched their way across each crossing street. Several cars refused to follow courtesy rules and this resulted in fender bender accidents. It was utter chaos. That day, I became very grateful for traffic lights.
So it is with the commandments of God. They exist to bless us, and they provide us with freedoms, but when we are not diligent or faithful in the keeping of commandments, we are on dangerous ground because we do not qualify for the fullness of blessings and protections that God promises us in turn for keeping those commandments. Remember the words of the Lord in D&C 82:10, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise."
The adversary desires that we be complacent and casual in the observance of commandments. He knows that will limit our blessings and protections and when we are in such a condition, we are in his power. Satan has found that he has more success in leading us down the path of destruction through the use of little lies. One of his favorite tools, especially when striving to thwart the progress of members of the Church, is to fool us in to believing that a casual observance of the laws, commandments, and counsels of our prophets, seers, and revelators is sufficient. He lulls us into thinking that "all is well" and then snatches us with his chains when it is too late. In 2 Nephi 28:21, 24, and 25, we are instructed: "And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well:and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!"
So what must we do? Since these blessings come as a result of strict, consistent, and diligent obedience to the laws and commandments of God we should be exact, faithful, and consistent in keeping all of the commandments to avail ourselves of these protections and blessings. Throughout the Book of Mormon, God promises that if we keep his commandments we will prosper.
Today, to help illustrate the importance of exact obedience to the commandments, I want to focus on a single commandment that the world, and even many in the Church, consider very lightly, and in many cases have completely forsaken. It is a commandment that has mighty blessings and protections associated with it, and it is precisely because of that fact that Satan attacks it with ferocious intensity. He despises this commandment and desires that no one qualify for the wonderful blessings and protections associated with the diligent keeping of this commandment. He has been so successful in his assault that most of the world no longer partakes of the blessings and protections that God desires to pour out upon us but that are conditional on our faithful observance of that law. What law is this? It is the Law of the Sabbath. Our first record of this commandment comes from Exodus 20:8: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy."
Here Heavenly Father set up the Law of the Sabbath not only as a commandment but as a symbol of His covenant people. This is shown in Exodus 31:13 and 16 "Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant."
There was a time not too long ago that most of Christianity was faithful in the observance of this commandment. It may seem strange to many of you here, but it was only a handful of decades ago that most businesses in North America closed on Sundays, and most Christians attended church. Today, that is no longer the case. Unfortunately, this same pattern can be observed within the membership of the Church. Many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are beginning to follow the ways of the world and becoming casual in their observance of this and many other of God's commandments. Some feel justified in their casual attitude toward this commandment by claiming that it is no longer applicable to us. Some believe that this is an outdated commandment associated only with the ancient house of Israel. However, this notion is false. In our times the Lord has once again emphasized the importance of keeping the Sabbath Day holy. Through the prophet Joseph Smith He has revealed that we are to keep that commandment.
"And the inhabitants of Zion shall also observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (D&C 68:29).
Furthermore, the Lord has revealed that there are wonderful blessings associated with the faithful observance of the Sabbath Day. In the 59th section of the Doctrine & Covenants we learn the following:
"And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
"For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;
"Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times;
" But remember that on this, the Lord's day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.
"And on this day thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full."
Then in verse 16 and 17 we are promised . . .
"Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
"Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;" (D&C 59:9-17).
This scripture reveals magnificent promises to those who keep this commandment. We are promised that we can be kept unspotted from the world. Our environment is becoming increasingly wicked. If we are to pass this test of mortality, we must remain clean from sin, or unspotted, but that is becoming so difficult to do with all of the evil that is rising around us. These scriptures promise that if we keep the Sabbath Day holy we will be more "fully kept unspotted from the world". That fact alone should be sufficient motivation to keep this sacred commandment. But, there is more. We are also promised that the fullness of the earth will be ours. We are promised that we will be granted what we need, "whether for food or for raiment, or for houses." We are also promised barns, orchards, gardens, and vineyards. Now, many of you may see no need for these things. However, please remember that when this commandment was given the primary source of meeting the physical and temporal needs for oneself and ones family was through farming. So, when I hear this, I hear a promise that God will provide us with the means to provide for our temporal needs. Today, we may not provide through family farms and fields, but I believe the observance of this great commandment could be the difference between being employed or being unemployed.
I came to realize the truth of this promise through personal experiences I have had through keeping the Sabbath Day holy. To illustrate the importance of diligence versus casual observance in keeping the commandments, let me share with you my personal experience with the Sabbath Day.
Following my graduation from BYU Hawaii in 1991, and after a one-year period of full-time work experience at the Polynesian Cultural Center, I decided to pursue a Masters degree in Business Administration. I applied and was accepted into the Business School at the University of Hawaii Manoa. I commenced my master's studies in September 1992. The MBA program at Manoa is tailored for those with full-time employment. Classes were held in the evenings Mondays through Thursdays from 6:00 pm until 8:30 pm. When I started this two-and-a-half year program, I decided that I would try to continue to work full-time as a sales manager for the PCC while studying as a full-time student. I had classes every evening Monday through Thursday. After class, I would study at home, study all evening on Friday after work, and I studied most of Saturday and on Sundays after I completed church meetings. My schedule was extremely demanding. I can remember feeling tremendous pressure and struggling to keep all of my commitments at work, school, church, and to my wife. I had very little time for anything else and my only "personal" time was watching sports on Sunday after church and before studying. At that time, you could clearly classify my observance of the Law of the Sabbath as casual and not diligent. While growing up, television had been a part of my Sundays. I learned to really keep the Sabbath Day holy while serving a full-time mission, but soon after my return I found television once again entering into my Sabbath Day patterns. You see, I loved to watch sports and especially football. I thought of it as a way to let go of steam; a method of relaxation, and hey, there a plenty of Mormons in the NFL right? Surely God is a fan too? So for this first semester in the master's program at Manoa, when I wasn't sleeping or eating, I was either at work, in class, studying, in church, or watching sports on Sunday. Well, I struggled tremendously in my classes that first semester, and my grades were not what I wanted them to be. I knew that something had to change. It just was not working. So after counseling with my wife I decided to approach my boss at work and ask if I could change from full-time hours to part-time hours at least until I completed my studies at the University of Hawaii. I thought that by reducing my work load I would have the additional hours of study needed to bring up my grades to where I wanted them to be. So with that mindset I approached my boss with my request. He told me he was willing to accommodate my schedule by changing my status from full-time to part-time, but before so doing wanted me to make another try at one more semester as a full-time employee and full-time student."Just give it one more shot," was his challenge." If it does not work, then we will make the change to part-time status." It was not the answer I had hoped for but I promised to try to make it work for at lease another semester. One Sunday, shortly thereafter, things changed forever. My first semester had just ended, and I was relishing the freedom from classes and studying that came with Christmas break. Yet I knew that a new year and a new semester was just around the corner. I was not looking forward to another round of full-time work and full-time school. Well that Sunday after church, I enjoyed some exciting football games on television. After the games ended, I made my way from our bedroom to the living room of our apartment to find my wife behind one of her softback Japanese mystery novels. This is what she likes to do when I watch football. I don't know what took a hold of me, but suddenly I found myself in a "preaching" mood and I quipped, "You know, you really should not be reading books like that on Sunday." There was a pause, and then my wife peered up at me from the pages of her book to reply, "Well, you know, you really should not watch football on Sundays." When she said those words something happened to me. I was stunned. It felt as if she had take a wooden board and wacked me over the head with it. How dare I tell her what to do on Sundays when I was not even doing what I was suppose to do. Something stirred within me. I pondered on what I was doing. I then said something that even surprised me. I told my sweetheart, "Alright. I will give up watching football on Sundays if you give up those books on Sundays." Apparently, this also surprised my wife, and her first response was something like, "yeah right!" But, to this I stated, "No, I mean it; I will give it up." She could tell I was serious and responded, "Well, then, if you give up football on Sundays, I will give up these books on Sundays too." And so it began. It was not easy for me, but with my wife's help we made the effort to fill Sundays with activities that uplifted and inspired; that showed respect for the Lord, and that directed our thoughts toward Him. As winter break came to an end I realized that if I was really going to make an effort to keep the Sabbath Day holy, I would also need to give up studying on Sundays, and I decided that was what I would do. With that determination, I would have fewer study hours and I knew that I would now have to certainly switch to part-time work. I had struggled tremendously during my first semester and that was with multiple hours of study on Sunday. So, to my boss I went, I explained to him my commitment to keep the Sabbath Day holy and once again pleaded with him to allow me to change to part-time. My courses would become increasingly more challenging, I explained, and I needed the extra hours each week for study. Part-time employment seemed to be the only answer. But, to my surprise I received the same counsel."No. I want you to try full-time employment and full-time student status a little longer." I knew it would not work. It could not work. It was impossible. But, once again, I obliged. 1993 began the same way 1992 had ended; a full course load at school and full-time hours at work. The only difference was that I was now keeping the Sabbath Day holy and doing so by eliminating Sunday study. I braced myself for the worse. But here is where the miracle occurred. Brothers and Sisters, I never did change to part-time employment. I continued with full-time course loads, and I did so without studying on Sundays. I kept the Sabbath Day holy. My wife and I strived to fulfill that commandment. AND, I do not share the following to brag. That is not my intent whatsoever. I only share this to show the blessings that come from God when we are faithful in the keeping of commandments. I want to show that when we do our part, we have promise. God will always come through. You see, from that semester forward until I graduated with my master's degree two years later in December of 1994, somehow, someway, I scored straight A's in every single class. How is that possible? I had much fewer hours of studying per week, and yet I found myself better able to comprehend the course study, better able to absorb class lectures, better able to study, retain, and retrieve what I had learned. My pen flowed when I wrote papers. My mind functioned clearly when I took exams. I knew it was because of the blessings of the Lord, because the Spirit confirmed to me that this blessing came not only because of diligent study, but more importantly because of faithful obedience in keeping the Sabbath Day holy. What a powerful experience. I truly came to know for myself the truth in the promise in D&C 59.
"Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
"Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;" (D&C 59:16-17).
This is not all. More important than success in school, I found a powerful change in my spirituality. Sundays became much sweeter to me. Where I had once loathed Sundays, knowing that I HAD to go to church, and knowing that I HAD to do this and do that, now, I looked forward to the Sabbath Day. I found myself much more spiritually edified, and I found myself much more refreshed and ready for a new week when Monday rolled around. I was reenergized and refreshed both spiritually and physically through obedience of an ancient but sacred law of God. Is this not in part what the Lord meant when He said in Matthew 10:39, "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."
To this day, I find that even when Sundays are very busy for me because of my current calling, as long as I keep the Sabbath Day holy, I find myself refreshed and ready for a new week when Mondays come. This is truly a blessing derived by keeping the Sabbath Day holy. Brothers and Sisters, this was a pivotal point in my life. Things changed dramatically for me. My priorities became more in line with what is required for me to return to my Heavenly Father. It has brought great blessings upon my family. Keeping this commandment has provided spiritual strength and spiritual protection. When I think back to that Sunday in late 1992, I can only but thank the Lord for that spiritual two-by-four over the head; and I thank the Lord for a wonderful sweetheart who was inspired enough to say what she did to wake me from my deep spiritual slumber. I am reminded of the following scripture in Jacob 3:11 . . .
"O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death."
When we are diligent in keeping God's laws we are immediately and abundantly blessed. In this wicked world we need every protection and every blessing God has in store for us. This example and my story illustrate the blessings of only one law. However, I remind you that the law of the fast, the law of tithes and offerings, the law of frequent heartfelt prayer, the law of daily scripture study, the law of the word of wisdom, the law of frequent temple worship, and all laws of God are also associated with great blessings and protections that we require to survive our probation on Earth. We need all of the associated blessing and protections that come via diligent observance of all of Father in Heaven's commandments. I warn you that Satan will use all of his forces to try and convince you that casual observance of these laws and the counsel of prophets will suffice. I warn you that this is a lie and that the casual following of Gospel principles will not be enough. I challenge you to put the Lord to test. Borrowing from Malachi 3:10, I emphasize the promise of the Lord that He will prove to you that those who are faithful will be blessed.
" . . . prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven , and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
I promise you that you can gain a personal testimony of each and every law. That testimony will come as you live the law and experience what Alma of old taught of feeling it swell within your hearts and experiencing the blessings that come. You will come to know for yourself that it is right and that it is good, and the Holy Spirit will confirm to you that those blessing come as a result of your diligent obedience. You will see the contrast between casual observance and faithful obedience. Diligent obedience will bless your life and lives of your family members throughout this mortal probation and in to the eternities. You will bless the day that you decided to put the Lord to the test. May you do that, and may the happiness that will result in this life and the life to come be yours is my humble prayer. I testify that these things are true. I know of these things myself because the Lord has shown it to me and because the Spirit has confirmed it to me. This witness is available to all. Let us always remember the Lord's counsel in D&C 30:8:
"Wherefore, give heed unto these things and be diligent in keeping my commandments, and you shall be blessed unto eternal life."
In the name of Him who we serve and to whom we owe all, the Savior of the World, even Jesus Christ, Amen.