Worthy to Serve
May 1994

“Worthy to Serve,” New Era, May 1994, 4

The Message:

Worthy to Serve

Go into battle poorly armed? You wouldn’t think of it. Serve a mission unworthily? That’s unthinkable too.

He let his personal worthiness take little detours, and that started the downhill ride. Lying about it only added to the momentum.

It is always far better not to sin in the first place. It is always better to get on the road to happiness at the beginning and to stay on that road.

You live in a glorious time—the last dispensation. This is the time when before long the gospel will be preached in every nation on the face of the earth. This is the winding-up scene, when all things will come together in preparation for the Second Coming.

What a time to receive a call from the prophet of the Lord to serve a full-time mission, to bring souls to Christ! No wonder the Lord says, “The thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my father” (D&C 15:6).

How important it is for you to be spiritually prepared, to receive the Spirit of the Lord so that you can render missionary service. I am sure every missionary hopes to have experiences like the sons of Mosiah (see Alma 23:5), or like Nephi and Lehi, who helped in the conversion of thousands (see Hel. 5:19). Stories of missionaries from the scriptures stir within us all a great desire to be better missionaries, to serve more worthily, to teach with power and authority—to truly serve as an instrument in God’s hands to bring about the salvation of many souls.

However, some do not realize that in order to go forward and serve in that manner, they must truly be prepared. They must be worthy in order to be part of a “missionary team,” with their companion, to serve in a district, in a zone, in a mission. They cannot go out to battle unprepared (see D&C 27:15–18).

In such a battle, we must take on the whole armor, not just part of it (see Eph. 6:11–18 and D&C 27:15–18). Can you see, my young friends, how, if someone were to go out to the battle unprepared, he would surely falter? He would subject himself to serious consequences and might also adversely affect the “team” with which he serves. He would not be able to fulfill the divine destiny the Lord has given to missionaries, to take the gospel to all the nations of the earth.

With good reason, the First Presidency in March 1993 said, “Full-time missionary service is not a right, but a privilege for those who are called through inspiration by the First Presidency. … We are grateful for the unselfish response of those who prepare themselves to be spiritually, physically, emotionally, and morally qualified to be called as full-time missionaries” (letter to ecclesiastical leaders, Mar. 4, 1993).

Full-time missionary service is not a right, but a privilege! Some of our young people have not properly understood that. They have thought they could become entangled in sin, a little or a lot, “sow their wild oats,” and then work it out in the mission field. One young man told me he figured he could probably “get the best of both worlds.” How foolish! How thankful we ought to be that the presiding brethren lead us in worthiness, and that the Church stands as a bulwark against the tide of immorality that seems to be sweeping the earth!

Why can’t someone go into a missionary training center or into the mission field, repent of sins, and fix the problems there? Perhaps the best answer to that question is “Because the Lord says you can’t.” The First Presidency has given clear direction that this will not be the case. If someone lies his or her way into the mission field, having committed serious transgressions, he or she will be sent home.

Is it not better in every respect to follow the counsel of the Lord? He said, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:42–43).

“And go ye out from among the wicked. Save yourselves. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord” (D&C 38:42).

What does it mean to be totally clean? It means that you would never be involved in the serious transgression of fornication or any other sexual activities, or even transgressions of perhaps a lesser degree, but still of great seriousness, such as petting, or pornography of any kind. It means we must shun immodesty, flee from bad thoughts, and avoid even the appearance of sin. The mission field is not a place to repent from such transgressions. The prospective missionary must have fully repented and prepared before coming into the mission field. He or she must be absolutely clean in order to serve.

Remember the counsel of the First Presidency that full-time missionary service is not a right, but a privilege. May the Lord bless you to go forward humbly, prayerfully, and worthily to the mission field and serve as instruments in bringing many souls to him. Know clearly that there are hundreds of thousands who have done so, who have served and are serving faithfully and worthily in the work of the Lord. While you are young, set a pattern of worthiness and faithful service. Do so with all of your heart, and the Lord will greatly bless you, not only in the mission field, but through the rest of your life, your temple marriage, and right into the eternities.

The Long Life of a Lie

Let me tell you of a young man I knew some years ago. He began dating long before he was 16. He took young ladies out alone, to places where he and a girlfriend ought not to have gone. He began going steady. Hand-holding led to kissing, kissing to more passionate kissing, then petting, and finally fornication a number of times in his later teen years.

From the earliest parts of that downhill road, his parents and priesthood leaders fervently counseled him to turn away from bad practices. He always dismissed the counsel.

“I never planned on going all the way,” he said once, “I thought a little involvement with the world would give me experience.”

When it was time for his missionary interviews, he made matters worse by lying to his bishop and stake president. I was amazed to learn later that he’d even transgressed morally after he had received his call and been to the temple. How disappointed the Lord must have been to see one of his servants take a call so lightly. How much more disappointed the Lord must have been to see him set aside his temple covenants.

In the Missionary Training Center, this young man felt great agony. He couldn’t sleep most nights. The Spirit of the Lord came strongly upon other missionaries, but he felt miserable. His leaders asked if there were transgressions that had not come to light. He kept on lying.

In the mission field, the intensity of the Spirit increased. The other missionaries began to have spiritual experiences, to teach the missionary discussions with power and authority, to baptize, and to experience solid growth as they served the Lord.

Finally, this young man could go no further in deceiving his companions, his parents, his local leaders, and his mission president. Several weeks into his mission, in total agony for his sins, he confessed them to his mission president.

What a sad experience! He felt greatly relieved that he’d finally confessed, but with all his heart wished he had done so four or five years earlier. With great sadness for all, the young man was sent home. One can only imagine the pain, humiliation, and regret. How his parents and family wept! How the heavens must have wept!

He told me that in the beginning it was hard to lie, but it became easier as he went along. The Lord told us that in the telestial kingdom, the lowest of the three kingdoms of glory, will be found the murderers, the adulterers, and the liars. Lying is that serious! We may temporarily deceive our fellowman, but we will never deceive the Lord. We will suffer agony and misery until the truth is finally known. However smart, educated, or talented you may be, you cannot fool the Lord.

As the years have gone by, this young man has faced serious trials as a result of his sins and lies of his youth. He was finally married and had children, but later separated from his wife. Because of additional transgressions he was excommunicated.

Now this man is at last back in the Church, reunited with his wife, and trying his best to raise up his family to the Lord. But it has been a long, difficult road. As a young man, he never would have believed how serious the consequences would be for having transgressed and then not corrected the situation when he was young. He has learned through bitter experience that those transgressions tend to follow one through the years and affect parents, spouses, and children.

An Unarmed Warrior

If the Lord allowed the unclean to go out to battle, they would put themselves, their companions, and the entire army of the Lord in jeopardy. What the Lord is telling us is that if we go into the mission field unclean, we go without the Spirit, and then the following immediately occurs:

  1. The missionary condemns himself because he is lying to God. He brings down serious consequences upon himself, his family, his loved ones, even upon the Church.

  2. He ends up having such a terrible lack of self-esteem that he cannot relate well with others.

  3. He may inadvertently lead astray his companion and affect other missionaries or members he ought to be strengthening and building.

  4. He is a very poor example for the Church and to the world. “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

  5. He lacks converting power. Conversion to the Lord can only come through the Spirit of the Lord, and an unworthy individual cannot have that Spirit. He who has not the Spirit of the Lord will not prosper in the work of the Lord.

  6. He has difficulty hearing the promptings of the Spirit. He has hardened his heart and thus cannot hear the still, small voice providing him personal direction, personal protection, and revelation for others for whom he might have responsibility.

  7. He is more vulnerable to sinning in the mission field. It’s difficult enough to make the transition from the world to the mission without carrying added burdens.

A Better Way

Yes, it is possible to repent. But how much better to have never sinned! Remember the great counsel given by President Spencer W. Kimball:

“Another error into which some transgressors fall is the illusion that they are somehow stronger for having committed sin and then lived through the period of repentance. This simply is not true. That man who resists temptation and lives without sin is far better off than the man who has fallen, no matter how repentant the latter may be. God will forgive—of that, we are sure. How satisfying to be cleansed from filthiness, but how much better it is never to have committed the sin! Even though one may have the assurance that God and all other have forgiven him, will a man ever totally forgive himself for gross sin? How splendid for one to be able to stand tall and look straight and honestly to affirm that, though he may have committed some follies and lesser errors, he has never broken the major laws!” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 357).

Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh