Good Morning Brothers and Sisters,
I'm lucky to speak to you all today, In many more ways than one. But for one, I'm lucky enough to have my own father as the second counselor in the bishopric, and it turns out that he is in charge of talks at the present time. Youth beware. but this means that he was the one to assign me my talk, and He offered that I could do it on a topic of my choice, which I was happy to take. Later I had an opportunity to speak with Bishop Hawkins, and He directed my thoughts a little further on what I should speak on. I don't know if its just me, but I'm not a huge fan of giving a summary talk out of the ensign or new era (not that they aren't good subjects and material)....But this is a reason I really am glad that I get a chance to talk about what is important to me. As I am leaving on a mission, Bishop Hawkins asked me if I would speak to you (in part) about how I made the decision to go on a mission. So today I am going to speak about why I want to serve, and what helped me to get there, as well as what from my life and trials that I would want you to know. It might end up sounding a lot like all I'm talking about it myself, but thats not how it's meant to sound, I'm just trying to share things from my perspective, and I hope you understand that I want you to benefit from my struggle.
You all have probably been asked this question a million times, but rhetorically answer this yourself, "why are you here?" why are you here this very minute sitting in church early in the morning on a day where other people are prepping their boats, or buying junk-food for a football game? Obviously theres not a single answer why we're here. You could ask anyone in this room about it, and you would receive an absolutely different conversion story from every one of them! But one thing will remain constant, and that is: to some degree or another they have actually converted themselves to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. To be a truly converted member in our church you have to sacrifice your passions and carnal desires, weaknesses and impulsive nature, entirely to become who the lord wants you to be, to live up to a standard that is greater than what the rest of the world just accepts as normal. Now this is very idealistic. I know for a fact that you can truly believe in Jesus Christ, and the fullness of the gospel, and still break commandments. It would be beyond foolish to claim that anyone in this congregation is perfect, especially myself. But I do know that I have become converted to this gospel.
Now as for how all of this applies to why I want to serve a mission, I know that this personal conversion is the thing that drives me. I know that most of you in the ward know me, you see me at church and different activities. You know this and that about me, mainly from what my parents and family say. But I just want you to know my story, why I believe, and specifically what I've done up to this point that has helped me to gain a testimony of this church, and change my old habits and vices to become someone better than I was. I'd also like you to know what blessings I've received from my struggles.
I think one of the things that has helped me the most in my life is that I started off with a bit of an advantage in this world. I have a set of parents that are extremely faithful. From my birth they have always kept me pointed in the direction I should go. I know a lot better people than I have had to struggle with families that weren't always supportive of the church, as well as those who were strong enough to seek out and become converted to the gospel, even when it was completely new to them. I have had the easy path compared to them, for which I thank my parents. For those of you who don't know what to think about a mission, and those of you who don't think you can do it, just remember that others in your family, and this very congregation would be willing to do anything to help you achieve that goal. Don't give up on the lord, because not only he, but many other people in your life will not give up on you.
Now, with that being said, even with my parents testimony and support, I have still had a very rocky road. My whole life my family and friends have been saying "Oh I wonder where you will go on your mission," and "You are going to be a great missionary or whatever" as if everything were set in stone. For those of you my age who have heard similar things, you know this is anything but true. I have had many ups and downs in my life as I am sure all of you have too. I know for a fact that if it weren't for the atonement of Jesus Christ, and my personal experiences with repentance, I would be down a million different paths from the one I'm trying to stay on today. I believe Satan works on me with every bit of power he can use. I have often felt in the past like I was being split in half between my church and all of the wild temptations that Satan could throw at me. One of the strongest pieces of advice I would give to anyone who wants to serve a mission, as well as anyone in the world for that matter, is to take advantage of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is the center of all that we believe., It is the one thing that can take the carnal man, and if he is repentant and comes to Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and change him to a person who doesn't have to be troubled by sin and grief. I can personally Testify that I have felt the peace and joy that comes from being released from your contract with sin. Every one of you can have the same peace in your lives, and I urge you to take the steps necessary. The brethren have told us;
"Your bishop cares about your spiritual welfare. He wants to help you. You may feel reluctant to disclose your problems to him. You may feel embarrassed or unsure of what to expect. Do not allow your fears to deprive you of the blessings of repentance. Through the Spirit, your bishop can understand your concerns, and he will help you repent. He can become a great ally."
If I could only leave one thing with you that would help you as much as it has help me, it would be the words of that quote. I don't know if I can even put into words the esteem that I hold our bishop in. He has been one of the absolutely most important things that has led me to go on a mission. I know that he changed my life, the same as he can change yours, by helping you realize your potential, and helping you to let go of the problems of your past.
I will never forget a certain story that Bishop told us when we were on the lost coast hiking trip. It described my concept of sin down to the tooth, and the image of it is seriously burned into my brain . On the hike we were on the coast up in Northern California hiking in the sand and sleeping above the surf. Every night we would have a fireside, and this is the one that bishop told us. I don't know where he got it from, but it was about how some hunters in south America I believe, trap monkeys in the jungle. They get a jar, with a small mouth, only the size that a monkey can slip his hand into. And inside they drop some food like a banana. He explained that after that all they have to do is secure the jar and wait for a monkey to try and take the banana. Once the monkey grabs hold of that treat his fist becomes too large to remove from the jar, but because of his nature, he will not let go for anything, and rather than let go of the banana he will let the hunter walk right up to him and club him on the head. He explained that this is like us when we chose to give into Satan's temptations, they become binding habits, especially if we don't make an effort to confess and repent, the more we hold on to the stupid little banana the more we are trapped and unable to flee from oncoming danger. If only we could realize the danger we are putting ourselves in just for a little piece of mushy banana that we think we want. I don't know if that visual sinks into your head as much as it does mine, maybe it was just my wild imagination, but this analogy really hits home to me on how Satan works, especially on prospective missionaries! Please don't let yourselves become a monkey!
Well, once I had made a decision to go, and I had the bishop helping me, There were also a number of specific things that helped me to have a change of heart and really devote myself to going on a mission. When you are a kid you hear that you need to say prayers, and sometimes you figure its kinda included in your family prayer or whatever, but I guess I first started saying my own prayers at night when I was a deacon or so. I had always figured this was right, and didn't really think more of it. I had on and off tried to say morning prayers, but for some reason they have never seemed as important to me as night prayers, and during high school and seminary it usually wasn't my first thought in the morning. But when I got to the stake president's office with my missionary application, he asked me if I was saying my morning prayers, and I had not regularly been doing so. Here I am at 19 years old and I'm already breaking one of the primary answer rules. I hadn't really thought about it much, but president Westover challenged me to say my prayers, he told me that the way he does it is that every morning, he makes sure the first thing to hit the ground are his knees. So I tried this, and I can honestly say that the difference morning prayer made in my life is like night and day. And by the way I know there aren't a ton of occasions for us to meet personally with president Westover, but I have had the chance to meet with him at least 4 times in the last few months, and if you don't know him very well you should get to know him, I can testify that he is an inspired man, and he really holds the authority of his calling. In mission preparation class one week, President Hawks who is our Mission Prep teacher told us about getting down to the root of a problem. He showed us how most of the specific issues investigators bring up for some reason or another can be traced down to a more fundamental principal of the gospel that they either don't understand or don't agree with. President Westover is extremely good at applying this principal in diagnosing our spiritual problems! But back on my personal list, Next was daily scripture reading, I have tried several times in my life to do daily scripture reading, and It has always failed for some reason or another. But as I approached a mission I made the Decision to really make reading the scriptures part of my life. It has definitely made a difference. I know this all sounds so generic, but all you guys out there please listen to me, this actually works, it really does, you have to try it with an open heart and you will see results in your lives. please everyone here who wants to serve a mission start reading your scriptures every day, and have personal prayer morning and night.
The last major thing I would say that really allowed me to break free of things that were holding me back is probably also the single most important thing that has helped me to serve a mission and have the change of heart required. It is learning to control my thoughts. I am a firm believer that your possess all of your power in your mind, and spirit. When you think about it, every action in your life was preceded by a thought, (excluding automatic body functions) Every word you say, Every action you perform is dictated by your thoughts. If you don't have control over your mind, there is no way you will be able to really control your actions. Learn to control them! learn to value the good, and immediately at the lightest sign of any unworthy thought push it away with all the might of your being. There are several articles published about this subject, by various prophets and apostles. It is in my opinion the true test of this life, to gain control of yourself and master the impulsiveness of your carnal body. This really is the purpose for this earth in a very simplified sense.
I'm sure we have all heard the scripture that emphasizes this in Doctrine and Covenants section 121 verse 45:
"Let thy bowels also be full of charity toward all men, and let Virtue garnish they thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven."
Now I know that I ramble a little bit, but these things are extremely important to me. I know that I have a very very long way to go to become the kind of person I want to be, but so far in my life these are the principles that I can bear testimony have blessed my life more than anything else.
The leaders of the church have stated that all able men should strive to serve a mission. And every woman with the desire is also called to serve. They know that we have to be the ones to spread the gospel, as Jesus himself proclaimed after being resurrected to his disciples: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the holy ghost: Teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." (Matthew 28: 19) I know that we can all be missionaries, and especially the young men in our ward should definitely serve as full-time missionaries. Please make it your goal, let the bishop know of your desires, and don't let anything stop you from doing what you know is right. Even if you are concerned about money. I know for a fact that if you have righteous goals, and pay your tithing faithfully, the lord can and will provide a way for you financially.
I know that I look forward to serving a mission in El Salvador, I can't wait to get out in the field and share what we have to the people there. We are the only church that has the truth of the restored gospel. We are the only church that receives constant revelation from out father in heaven. We have the only thing that can fill the hole that no amount of Motorcycles and Boats, RVs or vacations can. The gospel of Jesus Christ allows people to change, and to be happy. I know personally that this is the true beauty of our church, and that we are the church that needs to be heard. I know that this is the truth, and I want to bear testimony of it to you. We have it all, and if you are willing to give yourself to the plan of salvation, the Lord is willing to bless you with with a peace that can't be found in the rest of the world. I look forward to seeing you all in another two years, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ amen.