Self-Reliance Principle 3: Be Obedient—How Self-Discipline Improves Our Temporal and Spiritual Lives

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I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature. —John D. Rockefeller

OK, let’s admit it: we are human—we want to have it all. We want to eat what we want, work when we want, play more than work, and enjoy the perfect relationship. Unfortunately, life does not work that way; in fact, it was not designed that way. We didn’t come to this earth perfect, so we must learn and progress, and that’s not possible if we are not tried and tested. So what are the rules of progression?

Obedience: the first law of heaven

“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—

“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21).

Through obedience we can have the promised blessings, in this life and the next. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:

In obedience there is joy and peace unspotted, unalloyed; and as God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, He never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of his laws and ordinances. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 256–57.)

How do we become more obedient?

Obedience is a skill that needs to be developed through self-discipline. The Savior’s self-discipline was perfect. He submitted His will to the Father and was willing to suffer all things: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). With the Savior’s example as our guide, we can develop self-discipline and increase our ability to be more obedient.

Behavioral scientists will tell us that no change happens without motivation. What could be more motivating than seeing our eternal possibilities? Remember that within each of us is divine potential, the eternal possibility of being with our families forever. Keeping an eye toward the Savior’s example and developing our faith in Him keeps that image of eternal families foremost in our minds.

It will get rough out there. We will all have times when we are discouraged or overwhelmed, but our Heavenly Father hasn’t left us alone in the wilderness. He gave us a lifeline: the Holy Ghost. We can pray for direction, confirmation on our choices, the energy to perform the tasks at hand. But the answers will come only if we are being obedient to the commandments.

Next we need to learn the skills necessary to manage life effectively. Again, behavioral scientists will tell us in order to succeed we need to control the things we can control (to which we would add: have faith when you are in situations you can’t control). This is the art of developing healthy habits: going to bed at a decent hour, rising early and preparing for the day with scripture reading and prayer, and then organizing your day; being honest; being kind; making time in your schedule to practice good habits daily. As you do, you’ll find your self-discipline increasing, making it easier to be obedient. Some of the blessings of being obedient are contained in the Word of Wisdom:

And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.

D&C 89:18–21

Lastly, it takes persistence and the occasional course correction. Repentance is not only for the largest of sins. We can repent for not being as productive as we should and at the same time ask for the strength to improve. At the end of each day we can evaluate how we did—write down our accomplishments, the little successes that made us happy, even the relationships that improved or were meaningful. Make a quick note of any acts of service and how they made you feel, how you were blessed because of your efforts and obedience. This simple daily habit of interviewing yourself at the end of each day will help you see the progress you are making.

Change doesn’t come overnight, but if we persist, it will come, and God will bless us for it.

HAPPINESS is the purpose and design of existence. "Men are that they might have joy." Virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping the commandments of God lead to a happy life; those who follow that path are not longfaced and sanctimonious, depriving themselves of the joys of existence. (David O. McKay, Pathways to Happiness, p.xi)