It is hard for me to believe it has been over thirty--five years since I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, in preparation for my mission to New Zealand. There was a hint of fall in the air as I arrived by plane in Salt Lake City a few days before I was to enter the MTC. My grandparents, who lived in Salt Lake City, met me at the airport and would have the opportunity to go with me to the MTC the morning I began my missionary service. It was a wonderful experience, and I felt blessed to have my grandparents there that day.
It was a big adjustment to go into a completely structured study experience. I had never studied and worked so hard in my life. My mind was full and seemed to overflow with all that was needed to be accomplished. In those days we had the "rainbow" discussions which were much more structured than those used today. The discussions needed to be memorized as closely as possible to the wording in the text. "Mr. Brown" became a friend to all of us. My MTC companion, Lynn Parsons, was from Washington and had a terrific memory. It seemed so easy for him to learn the discussions. He didn't seem to have any trouble learning the discussions and passing them off to the instructors. Me?--I had a little more of a problem. I would work and study and try and I would struggle, find myself exhausted, and fail.
The H discussion was a real challenge to me. The first time I tried to pass it off, I failed. As I struggled to review, I began to question my ability to learn it. The next day I made an attempt to pass it off again--and failed. After lunch I made a third attempt. I was unable to get through it again. Frustrated, I walked outside the building and set on the lawn out of sight from anyone--alone. The tears flowed freely and self doubt flooded my mind. I was extremely depressed and discouraged and wondered if a mission was really the right thing for me to do. When I walked back into the classroom a few minutes later, a very concerned instructor seemed relieved to see me. I continued studying and trying to concentrate on my task. That evening, I failed again to pass off the H discussion.
As I knelt in humble prayer that night, I opened my heart and soul to Father in Heaven. I pled for guidance and help in my studies, I pled for an increase above my abilities, I just pled for help. The next morning came very early, and I once again made an attempt to pass off the H discussion. Elder Moss was the instructor that morning, and he patiently listened to me struggle, but I was able to get through it. I had finally passed it off. Elder Moss and I walked outside the building for a breath of fresh-air where we had a fine conversation. The Spirit was present, a prayer answered. Feeling a great weight lifted, I returned to the classroom relieved, relaxed, and at peace.
In my life today, I often feel like that new missionary faced with a very difficult task ahead of me. I feel like the youth speaker in my ward who mis-spoke and said in life we are "tired and tested." I am convinced that I will succeed in life "if I only try harder." At times, I feel the same way about my eternal salvation and exaltation. I often lack a true faith in Christ and catch myself saying, "If I only do a little more I will then be able to return to live with Father." When I make a mistake, I am my worst prosecutor. I would pray asking for help to make my life better, to be strengthened against temptation and overcome the natural man, and then go about working like it is all up to me to do it. It is lonely and discouraging to keep trying and feel you are failing, much like my youthful experience at the MTC. It got so that I would cringe every time I would hear the words, "after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23). I would do and do and do and yet still fall short of what I knew to be right and true.
Then, in a testimony building moment when the Spirit reaches out and overwhelming testifies to you of truth and knowledge. Brother Hixson, an CES instructor of an Single Adult Institute class, helped increase my understanding and helped me feel more at peace with my life. In answer to the question "What must we do to be saved," we turned to 2 Nephi 25 and read verse 23. I again cringed and felt the pains of failure enter every fiber of my soul. The instructor gently, under the peaceful influence of the Spirit, then read verse 29. "I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not . . . wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out" (2 Nephi 25:29).
What must I do? I must humble myself before the Lord Jesus Christ and worship him with all my might, mind, and strength! Jesus Christ is the key---the difference, the reason! He is the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). We can not do it alone. As we bow down before Him in prayer, we must acknowledge him as our Savior, our Redeemer, our God. We must worship Him as the only one who has provided the way to return to Father's presence. He is "the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father" except through him. (John 14:6)
Over the years since that wonderful Institute class, I have come to understand a little more what Nephi was writing to us in our day. I have a feeling he saw our “success driven” lifestyle and knew in our sophisticated society Satan would use our culture, and the drive to individually succeed, to weaken our faith and trust and reliance on Jesus Christ. I can imagine Nephi sitting at his desk wondering how to help us, in our day, understand the plan of happiness in a more “success driven” way for us to understand.
“For we labor diligently (2 Nephi 25:23),” now that fits our day well. Nephi then shows that faith and trust in Christ brings reconciliation through His “grace.” He is basically saying, no matter what you do, how successful you are, how good you are, how much service you provide, it is through the grace of Christ ye are saved. But, we just can’t accept Christ and expect to be saved. There are things to be done, like obeying the law of Moses “with steadfastness” (2 Nephi 25:24). Nephi explains how the law of Moses points to Christ, but it isn’t the law that saves, it is Christ. So if the law is dead, why do it? Because the “law is fulfilled in Christ” (2 Nephi 25:27). The law points to Christ and reminds us who provides the saving grace that returns us to the presence of the Father.
So what do we do? “I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not . . . wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out” (2 Nephi 25:29). Complete commitment and dedication, that fits well into today’s “success driven” lifestyle.
Nephi completes his overview of the plan of happiness by explaining that after we have committed and dedicated our lives to Christ, “The words which he shall speak unto you shall be the law which ye shall do” (2 Nephi 26:1). The law of Moses is fulfilled and replaced with the teachings of Jesus Christ when He comes. That is for us, today, and gives us the directions to our “success driven” lifestyle.
So with three uses of the word “do,” Nephi explains that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can “do,” if we “do” dedicate our lives to Christ, and then “do” what He teaches us, we will be saved in the Father’s kingdom. Three “do’s,”for the “success driven” generation of the last days.
Nephi continues his discourse of what to “do” in Second Nephi 31 and 32. He quotes the voice of the Son telling him, “follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do” (2 Nephi 31:12). Repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, endure to the end—the plan of happiness tied to one simple word—“do.” The key, once again comes down to where our heart is, who “do” we trust, love and worship? Are we willing to “do” what Jesus asks of us?
It is only out of our love for Him that we strive to live the gospel and "keep the performances and ordinances of God" (2 Nephi 25:30). If we strive to live our life as Jesus lived His, we must fill our whole soul with faith, hope, and the love of Christ--acknowledge Him, trust Him, and rely on Him. His mercy and atonement provides "a way to escape" (1 Corinthians 10:13-16) when we fall short of the ideal. Then, with understanding of the Atonement and a peace given by the Spirit, we can face anything the Lord needs us to experience in this life with the sure knowledge that we will be able to return home—and that it is worth the effort—worth doing.
We must each desire true faith and trust in Jesus Christ, the faith that drives us to find out the will of God in our lives and then, with the help of the Spirit, to do it. By accepting Christ and desiring to be obedient to the will of the Father, we will understand what needs to be done and will be inspired on how to do it through the Holy Ghost. This gift of faith in Jesus Christ, through obedience, becomes the knowledge we need to be successful in all aspects of our life. Jesus Christ should be the cornerstone of our life. Worshiping Him in faith, with all our "might, mind, and strength, and [our] whole soul," and following the teachings of Jesus, is what we must do in order to return and live eternally with our Father and Savior.
The simple lesson taught to a young missionary in the MTC was a stepping-stone along the journey of understanding and testimony that continues today. My desire is to continue to do as Nephi directs, to strengthen my faith and trust in Jesus, and worship Him with all my might, mind, and strength–with my whole soul. Then with love, try to follow His teachings, for I know it is through Him that we are saved, "after all we can do."