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Insights Into How to Follow Jesus Christ During These Trying and Divisive Times

Following in His Footsteps

One of my favorite talks is by Elder Neal A Maxwell, Insights from My Life. The format and style of that talk is the format and style I have chosen to take today. I simply wish to share various insights that I have found helpful and pondered as I have tried to follow the Savior through these times of pandemic and divisiveness.

I ask that the Holy Ghost accompany my efforts as I discuss these various themes. I hope they are of some help to you, as they continue to be helpful for me.

The importance of living prophets

Living prophets are living oracles. They give us direction meant for our time and are more important for us than dead prophets.

The words of dead prophets are vital, but living oracles keep us balanced. For example, the revelations of Noah can teach us a lot, but the revelation to build an ark wouldn’t have much meaning for those who lived during famine under Joseph of Egypt’s prophetic time period.

This might sound like a simple thing to accept and believe in, but the Lord’s people consistently over time come to value the words of past prophets more than the living prophets that were right in front of them. The prophet Joseph Smith on a few occasions remarked that it was Jesus violating religious and revelatory tradition that caused the Jews of His day to crucify him.

During this time of pandemic and divisiveness, I have found spiritual safety in treasuring up the words of those who hold the keys of the kingdom today.

The living prophet dispenses the keys and blessings of the restored gospel. His station is not just ecclesiastical hierarchy. He democratizes the blessings, powers, and keys of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

"I do not care what office you hold in the Church -- you may be an apostle, you may be a patriarch, a high priest, or anything else -- but you cannot receive the fullness of the priesthood and the fullness of eternal reward unless you receive the ordinances of the house of the Lord; and when you receive these ordinances… and live faithfully and keep these covenants, you then have all that any man [or woman] can get." - Joseph Fielding Smith (Conference Report, April 1970, p. 59)

Living prophets need not be air brushed, but they are living examples of how the grace of Christ can work in our lives. Was it not Moses who declared that it was the Lord’s will for all His people to be prophets?

Joseph Smith commented on how having a Living Prophet does not negate our spiritual responsibilities to receive revelation:

Speaking of “the present state of the church... that they were depending on the prophet [and] hence were darkened in their minds of neglect of themselves... they are also subject to an overmuch zeal which must ever prove dangerous, and cause them to be rigid in a religious capacity...” (JS, Discourse, Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL, 26 May 1842; in Relief Society Minute Book, [50]–[54], see The Joseph Smith Papers)

“Every member of the Church, independent and irrespective of any position that he may hold, is entitled to get revelation from the Holy Ghost; he is entitled to entertain angels; he is entitled to view the visions of eternity; and if we would like to go the full measure, he is entitled to see God the same way that any prophet in literal and actual reality has seen the face of Deity.” - Bruce R. McConkie (New Era, June 1980, 46)

In our efforts to have zeal towards a living prophet, we might be coming up short in receiving our own priesthood privileges and revelation. Following the prophet means we are receiving the same spiritual gifts and powers that they enjoy in their lives.

Our times of pandemic and political tribalism beg for us to follow the living prophet in this sense.

Much of the time, standing up for truth and morality involves ministering to those who differ from us

In Matthew 25:31-46 the Savior paints an interesting picture of the final judgment of all nations. When he points to those who will be on his ‘right hand’ he speaks of them as giving him meat when he was hungry. He speaks of them as taking Him in even when he was a stranger; he was naked and they clothed him; he was in prison and they visited him.

Those on the right hand do not remember doing those things, but the Lord remembers and says:

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Those who will stand on the right hand at the last day will not necessarily be those who stood ferociously for what they think is true. Yes, there will be times we might have to stand alone for what is right. We find that obviously true in the life of the Savior.

The Savior has declared on many occasions that he is the truth and the life. He also stated that helping those who are misunderstood, those who did wrong (i.e. those in prison), and those who are disadvantaged is the same as serving Him. Could it possible, and we might even call it unfolding a mystery, that much of what standing for truth consists of is serving the Savior. For when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.

We need to be more willing to exercise what many students of the life of Jesus call “moral creativity”.

Too often we want to get trapped in ideologies which is a form of idolatry. Ideologies oversimplify things as it pleases the natural man in us. It allows us to set ourselves up as being morally virtuous compared to those we disagree with. It requires minimal effort and creativity to bless the lives of others.

In times of pandemic, we probably have seen many examples of people exercising this moral creativity. In times of divisiveness what really happens is that the hearts of men grow cold:

A faithful LDS scholar has written, insightfully, about what is meant by us become more morally creative:

“Moral creativity does not mean making up new morals. God’s law is God’s law. Rather, moral creativity has to do with the kind of creativity needed in order to be moral. It has to do with the kind of creativity needed to break bad habits. Or the kind needed to breathe life back into broken relationships. Or the kind needed to unbalance cycles of anger or violence. Or the kind needed to see past prejudices. Or the kind needed to be something more.” (Adam Miller)

Moral creativity comes more into focus when we settle on who Jesus Christ is and receive his grace and power into our life. It comes into focus as we serve in our discipleship, not necessarily because the Church is True, but more so because we are settled on the Savior. The power of the restored gospel will follow naturally.

In divisive times like these, it will go a long way to ask ourselves, “Is it I?” as a self-check on ourselves if we are still following the Savior as much as we could

Elder Uchtdorf explains:

“I wonder what each of us would do if we were asked that question by the Savior. Would we look at those around us and say in our hearts, “He’s probably talking about Brother Johnson. I’ve always wondered about him,” or “I’m glad Brother Brown is here. He really needs to hear this message”? Or would we, like those disciples of old, look inward and ask that penetrating question: “Is it I?”

In these simple words, “Lord, is it I?” lies the beginning of wisdom and the pathway to personal conversion and lasting change.

… If our weaknesses and shortcomings remain obscured in the shadows, then the redeeming power of the Savior cannot heal them and make them strengths. Ironically, our blindness toward our human weaknesses will also make us blind to the divine potential that our Father yearns to nurture within each of us.”

Elder Ballard recently gave us some council that ought to cause us to ask ourselves some pointed, “Lord, is it I?” questions:

“We need to embrace God’s children compassionately and eliminate any prejudice, including racism, sexism, and nationalism. Let it be said that we truly believe the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ are for every child of God.”

Do we get defensive when these things are brought to our attention?

We would do well to be patient with ourselves and remember that “any determination to seek greater consecration will soon expose what we yet lack, a painful but necessary thing.” (Neal A. Maxwell)

We need to tread lightly on the experiences of others

David Holland, the John A. Bartlett Professor of New England Church History at Havard Divinity School and the son of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shares a story of his father and Elder Maxwell that we would do well to remember:

“On one occasion, prior to a significant address my dad had been asked to deliver, he asked Elder Maxwell to read the talk beforehand. After reviewing the draft, Elder Maxwell offered some words of encouragement and then a kindly warning: “Jeff,” he said, “there is one place in the talk where you have been insufficiently careful of the pain in peoples’ lives. There are scars that go unnoticed, but you must see them. You must tread with caution on the hallowed ground of another’s suffering.”

In our divisive time, being mindful of the scars of others is one of the most Christ-like things we can do.


In conclusion, I will review some spiritual questions I ask myself routinely that I feel helps me to remain within the confines of a Christ-like life.

Am I willing to proclaim “forgive them, for they know not what they do” in the midst of those whom I feel mistreat me and others?

Is my gospel learning enriching? Do I seek hidden knowledge that can only be found in the scriptures? Do I really believe, in the words of President Nelson and Elder Maxwell, that God is “giving away the spiritual secrets of the universe”?

Am I avoiding the pitfalls of “presentism” or what C.S. Lewis called “Chronological snobbery”? To put it more plainly, do I believe that the continuing restoration partly unfolds as we follow the counsel of Mormon:

“Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, … but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.”

When I am fearful of the future, or in the dread of isolation due to a pandemic, do I remember the recent words by President Nelson? “I’ve learned that these emotions of fear, isolation, and danger are best handled by immersing oneself in the care of other people.”

When being persecuted or dismissed because of my religious or political beliefs, do I remember the words of 3 Nephi 6:13?

“Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God."

If I offend others through saying something that might be “true”, do I dismiss their offense too readily? Am I really standing for truth or am I being overbearing?

Elder Maxwell has taught, “... not only are the meek less easily offended, but they are less likely to give offense to others. In contrast, there are some in life who seem to be waiting to be offended… Meekness also cultivates in us a generosity in viewing the mistakes and imperfections of others”

To end, I ask this last question. What do I do when I get tired? What do I do when I just want to rest? With all the sickness and divisions in the world, how do I keep going? Faithful Latter-Day Saint scholar Dr. Spencer Fluhman gives a hopeful and invigorating response:

“I know some of you are tired. You are not sure you can keep at it. You go ahead and find some stillness today. Gather your strength today. Rest up today, because tomorrow we ride for Zion. And it is not quite Zion if you are not there. Remember, you don’t ride alone. Step back and consider the thousands around you. Consider the thousands who preceded you. Consider the unnumbered hosts yet to come. You don’t ride alone.

This path takes courage and vision, yes. It takes faith, and faith will always be counterintuitive in this world. So is love. Why believe or hope or care when the data seem so often stubbornly trailing in other directions? Faith, hope, and charity are audacious in such a world as this. But make no mistake, we will find the place that God for us has prepared, even if it seems far away today. Just when your strength is flagging, you will catch the glint of some gleaming tower off in the distance, and you will sense that God is there. He is. Keep going. God is playing the long game, and we should too, if we understand the scale of the struggle. The ride will not end and the Restoration will not conclude until every daughter and son of God who will come has been safely gathered into the Lord’s extended, covenantal embrace.”


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