Good afternoon, brothers and sisters. Today I would like to address the life-changing and essential power of obedience. Now before you all go back to napping because you’ve “heard it all before,” I’ve been obedient in preparing this talk, so the least you could do is be obedient in hearing me out.
Obedience is the very root of our existence. I say this because our mortal existence began as a result of our decision to be obedient. Our Eternal Father laid out a plan for us to grow, to flourish, and to become like Him. Ever our perfect example, our Savior chose first to be obedient by volunteering to be our Savior, and to follow the plan our Father had laid out. His obedience wouldn’t have been obedience, however, if there had been no other choice. Lucifer also came forth, desiring to be our Savior, but instead fashioning his own plan which would rob us of agency, and thus of the opportunity to choose between obedience and sin. We were left with a choice, and the decision-making escalated into a war in heaven. The Savior’s followers argued that agency and obedience were essential to growth. Lucifer’s followers declared that saving everyone was more important than saving their ability to choose, since they could choose incorrectly. This was not right, and thus Lucifer and his followers were cast out of heaven.
If there was an entire war in heaven over whether or not we’d have obedience, it must be important. For one thing, as stated in Doctrine and Covenants 130:21, “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated.” Also, in Doctrine and Covenants 82:10, it says that “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” While these scriptures speak for themselves, allow me to elaborate. The Lord is ready and waiting to bless us. He wants nothing more than to give us strength, power, support, and guidance. However, all these things are dependent upon our obedience to His laws. This is not just some rule of His, nor is it because his opinion of us changes. No, obedience is an eternal principle, an everlasting law, which binds even the omnipotent God.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said “He that keepeth [God’s] commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” What an incredible promise! Obedience is a focusing lens, which can and will funnel the power and light of God into our daily lives. By our choice to follow His will, we show the Lord that we are prepared to receive greater light and knowledge. In John 7:17, John declares that “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak for myself. Obedience is the only true way we learn. However, if we choose only to obey some of the Lord’s commandments, we receive only some of that knowledge and power.
Concerning selective obedience, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “At times we may be tempted to practice what I call ‘natural man’s obedience,’ in which we disobediently reject part of God’s law in favor of our wisdom or our desires or even popularity.” He later said: “Some obey selectively because they cannot perceive all the reasons for a commandment.” Obedience, then is faith-founded. If we cannot trust that the Lord in His infinite wisdom knows better than we do, or if we are unwilling to do everything He asks, then He is unable to give us everything He has to offer. However, when our obedience becomes more mature, we come to know that obedience to God’s law provides the ultimate liberty. Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “God reveals to His prophets that there are moral absolutes. Sin will always be sin. Disobedience to the Lord’s commandments will always deprive us of His blessings. The world changes constantly and dramatically, but God, His commandments, and promised blessings do not change. They are immutable and unchanging. Men and women receive their agency as a gift from God, but their liberty and, in turn, their eternal happiness come from obedience to His laws. As Alma counseled his errant son Corianton, ‘Wickedness never was happiness.’” As we seek to understand the moral absolutes of the universe through God, we come to understand the necessity of our ability to choose, and of the importance of consequence.
Consequences are an essential, natural part of the Lord’s plan; every decision leads somewhere. Obedience, then, is a tool in the hand of the Lord in accomplishing His work and glory: namely, leading us back into His presence. As we come to understand the relationships between faith, obedience, and consequence, our love of righteousness and of the Lord will increase. This then increases our desire to obey His word, and the spiral continues upward. When we choose to ignore the consequences of our decisions, on the other hand, it comes back to bite us. Doctrine and Covenants 105:6 reads: “And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things they suffer.” Our Heavenly Father is not saying here that He will beat us into submission. No, not at all. He is rather warning us that the consequences of our decisions, if disobedient to His laws, will chasten us and will lead only to further suffering. While He does not wish it upon us, living with consequences is an eternal part of existence.
As we seek to obey the word of the Lord, we are not just doing so for a mortal time before we attain some ‘true freedom.’ As aforementioned, obedience is an eternal principle. However, obedience in the eternities will not seem like a chore, as it can sometimes seem now. When we seek to gain a perfect knowledge of obedience, we will obey always the Lord’s commands, even if we do not understand the ‘why,’ because we will understand that all power and blessings depend on it. I am under the impression that the degrees of glory, rather than being measurements of mortal achievement, will be more related to our understanding of being obedient, and our willingness to do so.
Willingness is an important thing to discuss, though. If we cannot say, like Nephi, that “[we] will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” for the right reasons, our willingness is not true willingness. In Doctrine and Covenants 58:27, the Lord commands that “men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” If we obey the commandments of the Lord in the streets “to be seen of men,” we receive the glory of men rather than the glory of God, because our obedience, when motivated by something other than a love of the Lord, was not true. We often say to ourselves, “who would give up God’s glory for the fleeting approval of peers or strangers,” yet too often make exceptions for ourselves. When we are obedient because of our love of the Lord and of all things good, our desires bear the fruits of righteousness: an increase in love for God and in our emulation of Christlike attributes.
The scriptures contain countless examples of people who obeyed the Lord for the right reasons. Adam, our mortal forefather, made sacrifices unto the Lord on commandment, but did not even understand what they meant or why he offered them. His faith led to the revelation that a Savior would come to redeem him and all of his posterity from his fall and from further sin. What joy his obedience must have brought him!
Abraham is another, much more poignant example. After having his only son in old age, he was commanded of the Lord to sacrifice that son. Isaac was a gift from God in the first place, and I’m sure every parent listening can feel the anguish Abraham must have felt at the thought of losing his son. However, he obediently gathered the materials, built an altar, tied his son thereon, and raised the sacrificial knife before an angel of the Lord stopped him. His willingness to go so far indicated a love of God over all else, even a love for his family. After the Lord tested his obedience, He blessed Abraham with posterity “as the sands of the sea,” and with a sacred covenant which is still in force today. If the Prophet can be willing to sacrifice his own son for the Lord, can’t we at least be willing to sacrifice another hour of ‘phone time,’ or that movie that looked ‘mostly okay,’ or even that habit we secretly love but know we shouldn’t?
President Thomas S. Monson has said that “there are rules and laws to help ensure our physical safety. Likewise, the Lord has provided guidelines and commandments to help ensure our spiritual safety, so that we might . . . return eventually to our Heavenly Father.” Obedience, on top of everything else, is a safety railing, which if we cling to will never fail us. My dad, when speaking of obedience, always shares a simple story from when I was very young and we were living in Oklahoma City. One day, upon arriving home, he went to park his Jeep on the sidewalk where he usually did, so he could leave easily and so my mom’s car was accessible. However, he had the distinct impression to park the car in the driveway, behind my mother’s car. He moved the Jeep and didn’t think much of it. Later that day, a tornado went by the house, damaging the massive tree in our neighbors’ yard. A piece of that tree landed right where the Jeep would normally be parked. Many thanks were given to the Lord that day. Even though my father didn’t understand at the time why the Jeep needed to be elsewhere, his willingness to obey an impression, a commandment, from the Lord has always been a great example to me. I learned of obedience and its blessings mostly through the piano. Though I hated it so, my mother, in her wisdom, asked that I continue to study and practice the piano. Until I was 13 or 14, I HATED it. However, I slowly began to see the blessings of being obedient. I could learn to play hymns. I could play that one song I heard that one time, if I had the sheet music. I felt like I could learn anything, and I am ever grateful that my mother ‘commanded’ me to play the piano.
I am now readying myself to leave for the Dominican Republic to serve a mission for the Lord for two years. In being obedient to His call to serve, I know that I and my family will be blessed, and I am honored to have such an opportunity. Brothers and sisters, I want to bear to you my solemn witness that I know that Jesus Christ is our Lord, our Savior and Redeemer. I know that He lives, that He loves us, and that He stands at the head of His Church. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is led by a living Prophet, Thomas S. Monson, who cannot lead us astray. I know that our obedience, in combination with the Atonement, will allow us to return to live with our Father again. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.