“We Must Raise Our Sights,” Ensign, Sept. 2004, 14–19
The world in which young people live is changing rapidly. When their older brothers and sisters return to visit the same schools and campuses they attended, they find a radically different moral climate. The language in the hallways and the locker rooms has coarsened. Clothing is less modest. Pornography has moved into the open. Not only has tolerance for wickedness increased, but much of what was called wrong is no longer condemned at all and may, even by our Latter-day Saint youth, be admired. Parents and leaders have in many cases bent to the pressures coming from a shifting world to retreat from moral standards once widely accepted.
The spiritual strength sufficient for our youth to stand firm just a few years ago will soon not be enough. Many of them are remarkable in their spiritual maturity and in their faith. But even the best of them are sorely tested. And the testing will become more severe.
The youth are responsible for their own choices. But as faithful parents, teachers, leaders, and friends, we shore up the faith of young people. And we must raise our sights.
The place to begin is with our aim, our vision of what we seek in the lives of our young people. As teachers, we have always sought to inspire the young people in our classes. As parents and leaders, we have always had a goal that they will qualify for the mission field and for temple marriage and then remain faithful. Those are lofty, difficult goals, but we must raise our sights.
Too many of our young people want the blessings of a mission and the temple and yet fail to meet the qualifications to claim them. For many of our youth, next year is a long way away, and beyond a year looks like forever. To them, missions and the temple are far distant, in some future time when the joys of youth have flown away. Those goals are distant enough that too many, far too many, say to themselves: “Well, I know I may have to repent someday, and I know that a mission and temple marriage will require big changes, but I can always take care of that when the time comes. I have a testimony. I know the scriptures. I know what it takes to repent. I’ll see the bishop when it’s time, and I’ll make the changes later. I’m only young once. For now, I’ll go with the flow.”
Well, the flow has become a flood and soon will be a torrent. It will become a torrent of sounds and sights and sensations that invite temptation and offend the Spirit of God. Swimming back upstream to purity against the tides of the world was never easy. It is getting harder and may soon be frighteningly difficult.
The pure gospel of Jesus Christ must go down into the hearts of young people by the power of the Holy Ghost. It will not be enough for them to have had a spiritual witness of the truth and to want good things later. It will not be enough for them to hope for some future cleansing and strengthening. Our aim must be for them to become truly converted to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ while they are young.
Then they will have gained a strength from what they are, not only from what they know. They will become disciples of Christ. They will be His spiritual children who always remember Him with gratitude and in faith. They will then have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. Their hearts will be turned outward, concerned for the temporal and spiritual welfare of others. They will walk humbly. They will feel cleansed, and they will look on evil with abhorrence.
The Book of Mormon describes such a change and testifies that it is possible. The accounts are found everywhere in the book. One evidence is the experience of the people of King Benjamin, the master teacher:
“And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them.
“And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.
“And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things.
“And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.
“And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.
“And now, these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them; and therefore he said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant.
“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:1–7).
That mighty change is reported time after time in the Book of Mormon. The way it is wrought and what the person becomes are always the same. The words of God in pure doctrine go down deep into the heart by the power of the Holy Ghost. The person pleads with God in faith. The repentant heart is broken and the spirit contrite. Sacred covenants have been made. Then God keeps His covenant to grant a new heart and a new life, in His time.
Whether the miracle comes in a moment or over years, as is far more common, it is the doctrine of Jesus Christ that drives the change. We sometimes underestimate the power that pure doctrine has to penetrate the hearts of people. Why did so many respond to the words of the missionaries when the Church was so young, so small, and seemingly so strange? What did Elders Brigham Young and John Taylor and Heber C. Kimball preach in the streets and on the hills of England? They taught that the Lord had opened a new dispensation, that He had given us a prophet of God, that the priesthood was restored, that the Book of Mormon was the word of God, and that we had a glorious new day. They taught that the pure gospel of Jesus Christ had been restored.
That pure doctrine went down into the hearts then, as it will now, because the people were starved and the doctrine was taught simply. The people of England, and our young people, were seen long before by a prophet of God named Amos:
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
“And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
“In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:11–13).
Most of those early converts in England had known they were hungry for the true word of God. Our young people may not know that they are fainting from famine, but the words of God will slake a thirst they did not know they had, and the Holy Ghost will take it down into their hearts. If we make the doctrine simple and clear, and if we teach out of our own changed hearts, the change for them will come as surely as it did for Enos. Listen to his account, so similar to the others:
“Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it—
“And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
“Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
“And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens” (Enos 1:1–4).
And then the miracle came:
“And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
“And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
“And I said: Lord, how is it done?
“And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole” (Enos 1:5–8).
Then Enos describes the first effects:
“Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them” (Enos 1:9).
He ends with a description of the lasting effects:
“And it came to pass that I began to be old, and an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem.
“And I saw that I must soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.
“And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. Amen” (Enos 1:25–27).
What we seek for our young people is this kind of change Enos experienced. We must be humble about our part in it. True conversion depends on seeking freely in faith, with great effort and some pain. Then it is the Lord who can grant, in His time, the miracle of cleansing and change. Each person starts from a different place, with a different set of experiences, and so a different need for cleansing and for change. The Lord knows that place, and so only He can set the course.
But for all of our youth, we can play a vital part. Enos remembered the words of eternal life that he had been taught. So did Nephi, and so did the people of King Benjamin. The words had been placed in memory in such a way that the Holy Ghost could take them deep into the heart. Our charge is to place those words so that when the young person chooses and pleads, the Holy Ghost can confirm them in the heart and the miracle can begin.
Much of the power of the Book of Mormon is that it presents the pure doctrine so plainly. For instance, as if He were speaking to us, the Lord through prophets gave us these words in 2 Nephi:
“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen” (2 Ne. 31:21).
And the Lord repeats Himself, as if we might misunderstand:
“And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
“And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
“And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Ne. 11:32–35).
And He goes on to say it yet again:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
“And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
“Therefore, go forth unto this people, and declare the words which I have spoken, unto the ends of the earth” (3 Ne. 11:39–41).
We can raise our sights by adding greater faith that the change promised by the Lord will come to our youth and that more of them will make the choices that lead to true conversion. The Lord always keeps His promises. We can exercise our faith that He will keep His word for our young people and for ourselves.
As a witness of Jesus Christ, I testify that the promises are true. Our Heavenly Father lives. Jesus is the Christ. By having faith in Him and keeping His commandments, we and our young people can have eternal life. I know that the word of God can be carried into the hearts of men and women by the power of the Holy Ghost. And I know that the blessing the Lord has given so freely since the world began, of a new heart, unspotted and filled with His pure love, is still offered in His true Church. I testify that He invites all to become His true disciples, His sons and His daughters.
There is great safety as the young people of the Church accept the gospel into their lives. There will be safety even in the times of great difficulty that are coming. There is a protection that they will have—because of the mighty change that has come in their hearts. They will choose righteousness and find that they have no more desire to do evil. That change will come. It will not come in an instant; it will come over time. And there will be a fortification created by the gospel of Jesus Christ through your faith and through your great efforts.
Invite family members to share examples of temptations faced today. How might they be different from those of 20 or 40 years ago? Discuss today’s changing moral climate (see the first two paragraphs of this article). According to Elder Eyring, what must be the aim or purpose in teaching? How can this be accomplished?
Draw a target with “Truly Converted” written at its center. Using the ideas in this article, discuss what it means to be truly converted. Invite family members to write a doctrine from this article on a paper arrow. Attach the arrows to the target. Testify of our need for the Savior in becoming truly converted.