“It’s Your Choice,” New Era, Feb. 1998, 4
The restored gospel of Jesus Christ powerfully teaches that a loving Father in Heaven has placed us upon this earth to learn from our experiences, both good and bad. Our Father gave us the gift of agency. The power to choose, to control our own destiny, was so important that a war in heaven was fought to preserve it. Your choice to follow the Savior saved you from being cast out and brought you to this mortal probation.
May I suggest three simple guidelines, that although simple and familiar, will serve you as well as they have served your ancestors and as they will yet serve your descendants:
Follow the Christ.
Follow the prophet.
Follow the Spirit.
The Savior lovingly beckons to everyone, to all of our Father’s children everywhere throughout all time. His invitation to “come, follow me” (Hymns, 116) is universal.
Satan is the master of deception and the father of all lies. Only by exercising faith in the Savior and his atoning sacrifice and keeping all the commandments are you protected from Satan’s incessant, insidious efforts to lead you carefully into his power.
You cannot approach the gospel as you would a buffet or smorgasbord, choosing here a little and there a little. You must sit down to the whole feast and live the Lord’s loving commandments in their fullness.
You have been taught the commandments. You know what to do: pray, study the scriptures, fast, pay your tithes and offerings, attend your meetings, partake of the sacrament, magnify your callings and serve others, sustain your Church leaders, make and keep sacred covenants, share the gospel, be honest, true, chaste, benevolent, and virtuous.
The Savior has declared that whether we receive the word of God “by [his] own voice or by the voice of [his] servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). If we are to follow Christ, we must follow the prophet, the Lord’s mouthpiece on earth.
While serving as president of the European area, Sister Wirthlin and I traveled throughout Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway holding meetings and conferences with members and missionaries. As we neared the end of our travels, we arrived with President and Sister John Langeland in the small city of Alta, Norway. We were happy that we had made the extra effort to meet the members in such a remote place. But while chatting with the local Church leaders, we learned there was yet one more small branch even farther north in Hammerfest. Hammerfest is one of the world’s northernmost cities, making its tiny branch one of the most remote units of the Church.
To our surprise, we learned that several years earlier, Elder Howard W. Hunter had been the first General Authority to visit the Hammerfest Branch. The story of that visit says so much about the man whom the Lord would later choose as his prophet, seer, and revelator:
“Hammerfest is difficult to reach by normal transportation. It was originally planned that the visitors would fly … by seaplane. A change in the weather eliminated any possibility of using a plane, as is often the case. It was decided that they should travel by car from Alta, the closest city to Hammerfest with a commercial airport. Snow had started to cover the roads. Several times en route Elder Hunter and Pres. [Leo M.] Jacobsen had to push their car through the snow. When it seemed as if further progress was impossible, a truck towed the car over the summit to Hammerfest.
“They finally arrived at ten-thirty that night for a meeting that was to have started at seven o’clock, and found that most of the members had waited” (quoted in Eleanor Knowles, Howard W. Hunter, 1994, 175–76).
The members in Hammerfest, anxious to meet an Apostle and hear the voice of one called as a special witness, waited three and a half hours for Elder Hunter’s delayed arrival. Their faith, hope, and prayers were rewarded as he shared with them his powerful testimony of the Savior.
The day President Hunter was announced as the Church’s new prophet, he said, “Live with ever more attention to the life and example of our Lord, Jesus Christ, especially the love and hope and compassion he displayed.” In short, he was asking us to develop and demonstrate Christlike attributes in all our dealings with others. Today President Gordon B. Hinckley asks us to do the same.
On Church assignment in Hawaii, Sister Wirthlin and I visited the island of Molokai. As we walked back to our car after laboring up a trail in the mountains, we came upon a young man headed toward the overlook. I offered a polite greeting. From his answer, I could tell he was from Germany.
His countenance bespoke a sincere heart and an approachable personality. I spoke his language and understood his culture, having served a German-speaking mission. The Spirit prompted me to introduce the gospel to him. However, due to other people around us, our brief encounter was interrupted without my having said a word about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I failed to be the missionary that every member of the Savior’s Church ought to be.
As we drove away, I had the disturbing feeling that I had failed in my duty to proclaim the gospel. I was troubled while we drove around the island to see Molokai’s beautiful waterfalls. As we got out of our car, another car drove up and stopped. The young man we had seen earlier stepped out, smiled, and gave me a warm handshake. As I grasped his outstretched hand, I thought to myself, This time I will do my duty.
We introduced ourselves and I learned he was a university student in a small city south of Dusseldorf, Germany. We spoke of my fond memories of Germany, and of my admiration for the German people. Speaking of my work in Europe gave me an ideal opportunity to explain some of the basics of the gospel. As we parted, I asked for his address and telephone number, which he gladly shared. I felt he was truly a newfound friend.
Upon my return to Salt Lake City, I wrote to the Germany-Dusseldorf Mission and asked President John F. Charles to send missionaries to continue the gospel discussion. I don’t believe my wife and I met this young man twice by coincidence.
But the Lord doesn’t always give us a second chance to share the gospel. I failed to follow the Spirit the first time the still, small voice unmistakably spoke to my heart and mind.
We must act when the Spirit speaks. When I did, the young man responded positively to my message. It wasn’t really my message. It was God’s, brought to my mind by the Spirit of the Lord. I was but an instrument in the Lord’s hands.
The Spirit will always guide and direct aright. It will protect you from temptation, enlighten your mind, and comfort your heart. Follow the Spirit to focus your energies on that which matters most.
The truths of the gospel do not change. If you will follow the Christ, follow his prophet, and follow his Spirit, you will always choose the right. As a result of your wise choices, your testimony will grow stronger, and great blessings of joy, happiness, and peace will be yours.