Obedience: A Lifelong Quest

God of Miracles - the returned missionary

Obedience is Fundamental in Performing Miracles

No principle receives more attention in the mission field than obedience. The words obedience and obey appear in the Missionary Handbook no fewer than twenty times. In Preach My Gospel they appear 95 times. A missionary zone conference that does not include some discussion of the principle obedience would be a rare thing indeed!

Why is the principle of obedience stressed so frequently in missionary training? Missionary work is a work of miracles: every conversion is a miracle. As a missionary, your job was to facilitate and perform miracles, and obedience is fundamental in performing miracles: “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but if ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10) Obedience unlocks the power of your mission. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin reminded us that “the windows of heaven are open wide to the faithful and righteous; nothing closes them faster than disobedience” (Ensign, November 1995, p. 75-76). “When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest,” said President Ezra Taft Benson, “in that moment God will endow us with power” (in Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Great Challenge,” Ensign, May 1998, p. 82).

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Obedience becomes our quest Ezra Taft Benson - Returned Missionary

For most missionaries, obedience means primarily obeying mission rules: getting up on time, leaving the apartment on time, coming home on time, not watching television or going to movies, staying with your companion, etc., etc. The Missionary Handbook and Preach My Gospel are brimming with lists of things you should do and should not do as a missionary, and learning to “obey…with exactness” (Alma 57:21) was a staple of your missionary training.

But now that you are home there are no mission rules, there is no white handbook, not even Preach My Gospel applies as fully and directly as it did when you were a full-time missionary. No handbook or manual dictates your daily schedule, your study times, you planning times. Television and movies are no longer specifically proscribed. You are not required to be with a companion at all times. So what does it mean to obey with exactness now that you are home?

The answer, not surprisingly, is found in the Missionary Handbook. On page one we read, “Use this handbook regularly. Strive to understand and live the principles and standards taught in it” (emphasis added). Standards are rules. The rules that apply to all latter-day saints are found in the scriptures and teachings of modern-day prophets. They include the obvious things – tithing, chastity, the Word of Wisdom, partaking of the sacrament weekly, honesty, and a host of others.

Strength of Youth – Also For Returned Missionaries

A good summary of some essential and important standards are found in For the Strength of Youth. Although directed specifically toward the youth, this little handbook contains rules that apply to all Latter-day Saints. For example,

  • Maintain modesty in… appearance. Be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior.
  • Choose appropriately modest apparel when participating in sports.
  • Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings.
  • Choose to date only those who have high moral standards and in whose company you can maintain your standards. Go only to places where you can maintain your standards and remain close to the Spirit.
  • Choose wisely when using media, because whatever you read, listen to, or look at has an effect on you. Select only media that uplifts you.
  • Do not attend, view, or participate in anything that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way (this excludes quite a few movies these days!)
  • Do not participate in anything that presents immorality or violence as acceptable. Have the courage to walk out of a movie, change your music, or turn off a computer, television, or mobile device if what you see or hear drives away the Spirit.
  • Choose friends who use good language. Help others improve their language by your example. Be willing to politely walk away or change the subject when those around you use inappropriate language.
  • Choose carefully the music you listen to. Pay attention to how you feel when you are listening. Some music can carry evil and destructive messages. Do not listen to music that encourages immorality or glorifies violence through its lyrics, beat, or intensity. Do not listen to music that uses vulgar or offensive language or promotes evil practices. Such music can dull your spiritual sensitivity.
  • Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous.
  • Do not participate in discussions or any media that arouse sexual feelings. Do not participate in any type of pornography.

These are just a few examples. For the Strength of Youth is, in large measure, the white handbook for real life. Every returned missionary will be blessed by reading it frequently and following its counsel.

But not even the white handbook and For the Strength of Youth contain rules that cover every situation. That is why they include not just standards but principles. A principle is a basic truth or idea that governs our thoughts and behavior. For example, the Missionary Handbook gave you specific instructions (standards) on dress and grooming, but then added this principle: “Never allow your appearance or your behavior to draw attention away from your message or your calling” (Missionary Handbook, p. 10).  For the Strength of Youth gives the following principle to help us understand what is appropriate in dress and grooming: “Ask yourself, ‘Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?’” (For the Strength of Youth, p. 8).

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As a returned missionary, you have no shortage of guidance – the scriptures, For the Strength of Youth, addresses at General Conference, and yes, even the Missionary Handbook, provide you with meaningful guidance. They are brimming with instruction on what to do and what not to do now that you have completed your full-time missionary service.

Exact Obedience is the Quest of a Lifetime

But they not only contain instruction about what you should do, they contain instruction on who you should be. What you do determines in large measure who you are, and who you are determines in large measure what you do. The essence of exact obedience is becoming – becoming a disciple of Christ. The Lord requires not just exact obedience, but obedience with “the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:34).  Obedience means yielding our heart and mind to Christ. The goal of obedience is to become perfect, even as Christ is perfect (see 3 Nephi 12:48). Such a lofty goal is not just something that full-time missionaries pursue with vigor and energy, it is a lifelong quest. For the returned missionary, obedience is more important than ever. Exact obedience is the quest of a lifetime, and it leads to Eternal life.  It is the key your happiness as a returned missionary today, throughout your life, and through all eternity.

 

avatar Clark Hinckley (1 Posts)

Clark B. Hinckley is a director of Zions First National Bank and retired Senior Vice President of Zions Bancorporation. Clark received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Brigham Young University and a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) degree from the Harvard Business School. He also graduated from the Stonier Graduate School of Banking (where he taught balance sheet management for several years). Clark has served as a bishop, high councilor, Blazer leader, Scoutmaster, Sunday school teacher and stake president. He presided over the Spain Barcelona Mission from 2009 – 2012. He currently serves as a gospel doctrine teacher and works in the baptistry of the Salt Lake Temple. Clark and his wife have six children and sixteen grandchildren.


4 Comments

  1. avatar Kelly Merrill says:

    Well written and clearly thought through. Especially for Youth works also for those of us who’s children have already grown and gone on to have their own families. The principles of worthiness don’t change with age or circumstance. Obedience and its requirements apply to all.

    Thank you for a great article.

  2. avatar Clark Hinckley says:

    Kelly, thanks for your comment. I agree that For the Strength of Youth is a somewhat overlooked resource!

  3. avatar Elvin Laceda says:

    This is an amazing article that encourage not only returned missionary but also current full-time missionary to keep and honor our covenants. Can we ask permission to make copies for our missionaries here in our mission? We’ll plan to distribute this this Christmas conference or to home-bound missionaries. Thanks and God bless Brother Clark Hinckley.

    – Philippines Cagayan de Oro MissionSecretariat

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