Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Act in All Diligence

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Act in All Diligence, by President Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

I was recently asked to give a talk using this talk by President Eyring as a base. Here is my talk, if you're interested:

Opening Story
Picture in your mind the most perfect of summer nights: the temperature is moderate, the humidity is low, the sky is crystal-clear, and there is an unobstructed view of the stars. Can you see it? Have you experienced such a night, perfect for lying on the grass, looking at stars, quietly contemplating? As a teenager, I found this night—the perfect night—with my greatest friend.

In the—as the books put it—“comfortable silence” of star-gazing, we lay looking at the stars. You’ve experienced this, where suddenly everything big in life shrinks in comparison to the wonders of the night. You may find yourself feeling incredibly small. Well, this is where we were, when my friend, almost more to himself than to me, asks aloud, “Who am I? Why am I here? What happens after this life?”

Coming as a surprise to both of us was my reply, “You mean you don’t know?”

He thought I was making light of his openness. As I tried to explain that I wasn’t making fun, I realized for the first time that I knew the answers to his questions. I knew the answers!

If I had a colored lens, I could look through it and see things differently. I might see different patterns in the petals of an otherwise plain-looking flower; through a different lens I might be able to see through the reflecting light on the surface of a lake; another lens might magnify things allowing closer inspection.

Today, let’s look at life through the lenses of duty and diligence and see what stands out to us.

Now, I don’t expect much from this talk. I don’t really expect it to be remembered—do you remember what talks were given two weeks ago? Instead, my goal is for the Holy Ghost to whisper to you and to me things that we need to do to better learn our duty and act in diligence.

Much of my talk will be my response to President Eyring’s remarks in the last Priesthood Session of General Conference, from his talk titled, “Act in All Diligence.” That phrase, you’ll recognize, comes from D&C 107 (99-100):

Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.

Recall my friend’s questions: “Who am I? Why am I here?” and, “What happens after this life?” He wasn’t the first one to ask these questions, nor was he the last. I imagine many of us have wondered these same things.

Earlier I claimed that I knew the answers. Because of the blessings of the restored gospel, we all know the answers to these questions. Let’s step through them, one by one.

Who Am I?
What is the difference between the questions, “Who am I?” and “What am I?”

Scientists who deal in genetics may say that “what we are” is determined by our genetic makeup—a distinct code unique to each of us. Every child here will tell us that “what we are” is a child of God—they may even sing it to us. These two sources agree that “what we are” does not change.

Who we are, on the other hand, is the result not only of what happens to us, but more importantly, how we choose to react, and what we choose to do. You’ve probably heard someone say, “I’m not the same person that I used to be?” Why are they different? Because of distinct life choices.

As children of a loving Father in Heaven, we’ve each been given the light of Christ to guide us in our decisions. The light of Christ—or conscience—helps us to know what is right, and what is wrong. In addition, we, as members of the Church, do not have a monopoly on the Holy Ghost. Of course, it is only through the ordinances of the priesthood that we can receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost—which entitles us to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost—but all children of God can receive flashes of insight, instruction, and teaching from the Holy Ghost.

How we respond to these influences—the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost’s promptings—determines who we ultimately are and will become.

In summary, what we are never changes, but who we are never stops changing. Nevertheless, knowing what we are—a child of God—can and should influence who we are, and who we are trying to become.

Why Am I Here?
Once we understand who we are, we may be more equipped to answer “Why am I here?”

In addition to the familiar answers of “to get a body,” “to be tested,” and “to learn,” I would like to add the following: We are here to “learn [our] duty, and to act in the office in which [we are] appointed in all diligence.” This line of instruction comes from the 107th section of the Doctrine and Covenants—listed as a “revelation on priesthood”—where the Lord gives us a pattern for success, or guidance on why we are here.

If we believe that our Father in Heaven has a plan for us—and not just a general plan for all of mankind, but a distinct plan for each of us—then it is understandable that we be expected to learn of that plan and then do our best to accomplish His designs for us.

The scripture says that we are to “learn [our] duty, and to act in the office in which [we are] appointed in all diligence.” What is meant by duty? In the latest conference, Bishop McMullin taught:

The duty of which I speak is what we are expected to do and to be. It is a moral imperative summoning forth from individuals and communities that which is right, true, and honorable. Duty does not require perfection, but it does require diligence. It is not simply what is legal; it is what is virtuous. It is not reserved to the mighty or high in station but instead rests on a foundation of personal responsibility, integrity, and courage. Doing one’s duty is a manifestation of one’s faith.

President Monson said of it: “I love and cherish the noble word duty.” For members of the Church of Jesus Christ, our path of duty is keeping our covenants in daily life.

In conference we were reminded why the youth organizations use Personal Progress and the soon-to-be-released new Duty to God programs. Regarding Personal Progress, President Eyring taught:

President Monson put it this way: we must “learn what we should learn, do what we should do, and be what we should be.” The Personal Progress booklet for young women makes the purpose clear for them: “The Personal Progress program uses the eight Young Women values to help you understand more fully who you are, why you are here on the earth, and what you should be doing as a daughter of God to prepare for the day you go to the temple to make sacred covenants.”

Regarding Duty to God, President Eyring spoke of a “pattern from the new Duty to God booklet. It is to learn what the Lord expects of you, make a plan to do it, act on your plan with diligence, and then share with others how your experience changed you and blessed others.”

Can it really be that simple? Is what I’m claiming true? … that the reason why we are here is to learn our duty and act in diligence?


The scriptures are full of examples of righteous men and women who did just that:

Remember Nephi, who after learning of his father, Lehi’s, duties, prayed, received a visit from the Lord, learned his duty, and went and did many great things.

Remember another Nephi (the one who prayed in his garden tower and told the gathering crowd of their chief judge’s murder); he was recently released from prison after the whole chief-judge issue was sorted out and was on his way home when he heard the voice of the Lord. After receiving positive feedback for his “unwearyingness” and empowered with the sealing power, he was given a new duty to “go and declare unto [the] people” that they needed to repent. We read of his diligence:

And behold, now it came to pass that when the Lord had spoken these words unto Nephi, he did stop and did not go unto his own house, but did return unto the multitudes who were scattered about upon the face of the land, and began to declare unto them the word of the Lord which had been spoken unto him (Helaman 10:12).

Remember Abraham, who was “a follower of righteousness, desiring also … to be a greater follower of righteousness,” who wanted “to receive instructions [learn his duty], and to keep the commandments of God” [act in diligence] (v. 2). Because of this, he received the priesthood and survived an attempt on his life where wicked priests tried to sacrifice him on an unholy alter (where three young women had lost their lives earlier because of their virtue and refusal to worship false gods). (See Abraham 1)

Remember Joseph Smith, who three years after the First Vision, sought to learn his duty through repentance. This is when Moroni appeared in his bedroom and proceeded to teach him. You’ll recall that Moroni’s message was given a total of four times. Shortly thereafter, Joseph saw the plates of gold at the Hill Cumorah and began an extended time of training over the next three years before he commenced more fully with acting in his office in all diligence—through translating the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.

Remember Enos, who was a grandson of Lehi, a nephew of Nephi, and the son of the prophet Jacob. He was not unlike Joseph Smith, who sought repentance—but not for “any great or malignant sins,” no doubt. He received a remission of his sins, was worthy to hear the voice of the Lord, prayed for his people and the Lamanites, learned of his duty, and diligently acted. Enos is famous for his “wrestle… before God,” but perhaps more importantly is that he went among the Nephites, “prophesying of things to come, and testifying of the things [he] had heard and seen.” Through his diligent service, he, with the Nephites, tried to teach the Lamanites. His whole life was dedicated to teaching of Christ.

There are many others who likewise learned their duty and acted in all diligence. You may have thought of some yourself: Peter and Christ’s other apostles who were instructed to “Feed my lambs, … Feed my sheep, … feed my sheep.” Esther who saved an entire race of people because of her diligence. Or even Abish from the Book of Mormon who, with Ammon, played a role in the conversion of King Lamoni’s people.

Consider one final scriptural example of duty and diligence. Remember Samuel the Lamanite, who came to cry repentance to the Nephites. In speaking of the Lamanites’ present state of righteousness, he said:

The more part of them are in the path of their duty, and they do walk circumspectly before God, and they do observe to keep his commandments. … Yea, … the more part of them are … striving with unwearied diligence that they may bring the remainder of their brethren to the knowledge of the truth (Helaman 15:5-6).

Is there any more guidance in this pattern of learning our duty and acting in diligence? Let’s return to the Lord’s charge in the Doctrine and Covenants (107:99-100):

Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.

He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand.

Ooh… that second verse doesn’t sound very good! [repeat verse] How can we avoid the temptations and tendencies to be lazy? President Eyring has a suggestion:

We are to learn our duty from the Lord, and then we are to act in all diligence, never being lazy or slothful. The pattern is simple but not easy to follow. We are so easily distracted. Studying the daily news can appear more interesting than the priesthood lesson manual. Sitting down to rest can be more attractive than making appointments to visit those who need our [charitable] service.

When I find myself drawn away from my … duties by other interests and when my body begs for rest, I give to myself this rallying cry: “Remember Him.” The Lord is our perfect example of diligence in [charitable] service. He is our captain. He called us. He goes before us. He chose us to follow Him and to bring others with us. … The Savior’s example gives me courage to press on.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. This is a day when we remember. We remember those who died, striving to walk their path of duty in military service. Earlier I quoted Bishop McMullin, who said: “For members of the Church of Jesus Christ, our path of duty is keeping our covenants in daily life.” We just participated in the sacrament covenant. Elder Holland reminds that “as members of [Christ’s] Church, we pledge every Sunday of our lives to take upon ourselves His name and promise to ‘always remember him.’ So let us work a little harder at remembering Him.”

What Happens After This Life?
We now get to the third question my friend raised: “What happens after this life?” The answer to this question is dependent on the previous two. Who we are (or who we ultimately become) is the result of how well we diligently fulfill our duty. If our duty is to keep our covenants, and “keeping covenants is the safest road to eternal happiness” (Ballard) then we have some indication of where we will end up.

But first, and most importantly, let’s be clear: because of, and only through the Atonement of Christ, we can all qualify to be with, and be like Christ.

From the great chapter on the Plan of Salvation, we read:

For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice … and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel (2 Ne. 2:26).

In the intercessory prayer, Christ taught while praying to His Father:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3).

From the vision outlining the qualifications for exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom we learn of those who “[receive] the testimony of Jesus and [believe] on his name” [learned their duty] and “[keep] the commandments” through covenants [act in diligence]:

These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever (D&C 76:62)

Summed up in section 14, we find:

And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God (v. 7).

I’ll always remember when I realized for the first time that I knew the answers to my friend’s questions. I knew the answers! Because of the restored gospel, we all know the answers. We all know the answers.

In walking our path of duty with diligence, the Lord, in the Doctrine and Covenants, invites us to “walk in the paths of virtue,” “lay aside the things of this world,” “and cleave unto [our] covenants.” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:2, 10, 13)

As we always remember Christ, we can find the strength, courage, and fortitude to “learn [our] duty, and to act in the office in which [we are] appointed in all diligence.”

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