Fifty years before the writing of these words, I was preparing to serve as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Having begun my mission on October 24, 1970, and following language training, I arrived in Paris, France, on the twenty-ninth of December.
Since my call to serve as a young missionary, more than 1,300,000 missionaries have been called and set apart to bear witness of the Savior, Jesus Christ, throughout the world, to share the message of His restored gospel, and to gather Israel in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is the greatest cause upon the face of the earth. The Lord told John Whitmer, an early missionary, “And now, behold, I say unto you, that 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.”1
Although the world has changed dramatically in the past fifty years, your preparation for your mission is probably quite similar to my preparation.
The Lord provided the qualifications for missionaries:
“Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work; For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul; And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work. Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”2
Like so many others who have prepared to serve, I wanted to strengthen my faith in the Savior, to refine my spirit, and to be even more careful in my behavior, my language, and my thoughts so that I could truly be the Lord’s representative. I was even more discerning about how I used my free time and more sensitive in my choice of friends. I remember reading and studying the Book of Mormon much more intently and praying more sincerely. I consciously wanted my mind and heart to be right before the Lord as I began His sacred work.
No different than others, I also needed to work to earn sufficient money for my mission. My nineteenth birthday (then the required missionary age for elders) was early in August, but I did not leave until late October because I needed to work through the end of the Idaho potato harvest and save every dollar possible.
Even with our very best efforts to prepare, a missionary rarely feels totally capable and ready. In 2008, I spoke in general conference of my insecurity and concern: “As I contemplated the challenge of a mission, I felt very inadequate and unprepared. I remember praying, ‘Heavenly Father, how can I serve a mission when I know so little?’ I believed in the [Savior and in His] Church, but I felt my spiritual knowledge was very limited. As I prayed, the feeling came: ‘You don’t know everything, but you know enough!’ That reassurance gave me the courage to take the next step into the mission field.”3
In all of your preparation for this sacred responsibility to be a servant of Jesus Christ, a most crucial and essential matter for a missionary is to be worthy and clean before the Lord. The Apostle Paul said: “The Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live the gospel.”4 In our dispensation, the Lord said: “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.”5
You will be on the Lord’s errand every day and every waking hour. You will need the gift of the Holy Ghost to always be with you,6 to guide you, protect you, and bring to your mind the words you should speak.7 You will be teaching others about increasing their faith in our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, helping them to repent and prepare for baptism, and sharing your testimony of how the Savior’s Atonement can lift the burden of sin and sorrow from their lives.
Every Missionary Needs to Be Worthy
Of course, no missionary is perfect, but every missionary needs to be worthy. Worthiness is a vital—an absolutely necessary—quality in being the Lord’s instrument in sharing these eternal truths.
To be worthy, all of us need to bolster our inner spiritual qualities while continuing on the path of keeping the commandments. For some, resolute and deliberate efforts will need to be made to repent for more serious sins, to become worthy, and to obtain the pathway to forgiveness. “Sanctify yourselves; yea, purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean.”8
Without the worthiness the Savior requires, a missionary will not only be less effective as the Lord’s instrument, but also, the guilt of unrepented sins, the personal disappointment of not being honest with the Lord and priesthood leaders, and the insecurity of trying to work without the confidence of having the Holy Ghost will be a constant weight and burden. Your prayers to your Heavenly Father will feel constrained, and your testimony of the Savior will not have the power you need.
We all require the strength and power of Jesus Christ and His Atonement in our daily repentance as we prepare for a mission. There are, however, some sins of such seriousness that you will also need the support and guidance of your parents, your bishop, and your stake president to help you become worthy and ready to serve.
Prior to receiving a mission call from the Lord through His prophet, each prospective missionary will have important conversations and interviews with his or her bishop, who has been given priesthood keys to be a judge and counselor in Israel.
I recommend that you read Alma 5:6, 14–19 carefully and answer the questions Alma asks in preparation for your discussions with your bishop.
These visits with your bishop will focus on the Savior, Jesus Christ, His holy work, your testimony of Him, and your desire to serve Him with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. Your bishop will also discuss your worthiness to serve as the Lord’s servant and representative.
Most young men and women preparing for a mission are aware of those things that need to be shared with the bishop to assure that repentance and the seeds of forgiveness precede a mission.
If you are unsure of or have a question about your worthiness or the gravity of your mistakes, share your concerns with your bishop in humility and honesty. Honesty is at the heart of spirituality. Have the courage and trust in God to freely share the things in your life that have not been in keeping with the commandments of God.
For those who are beginning the solemn yet liberating road of repentance, I give you my assurance that your Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, whom you seek to serve, will strengthen you in having the humility and courage to share the complete truth, in overcoming your fears of disappointing others, and in accepting the time it may take to complete your repentance. The Lord loves you! He is eager to forgive you. He rejoices at your desire to repent and come unto Him. He will help you to be worthy as you enter your service as a missionary.
He said to the people of ancient Israel, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”10
With the help of your priesthood leaders, you will want to do all you can to become worthy to serve. Your worthiness will be determined by the prayerful consideration of your bishop and stake president.11
Even after becoming worthy, a missionary may not feel completely forgiven upon entering his or her assigned mission. Forgiveness is determined by the Lord, and being totally forgiven may need the added time and diligence of missionary service. Your sacrifice in serving the Lord full-time will draw you closer to your Heavenly Father, to the Savior, and to the influence of the Holy Ghost. It will increase your faith in Christ and your spiritual understanding of His Atonement, and it will bless you in your desire to feel totally and completely forgiven.
I promise you that the Lord will strengthen you as you turn to Him. He will help you receive His divine gift of forgiveness.
3. Neil L. Andersen, “You Know Enough,” Ensign, November 2008.
6. See Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79.
7. See Doctrine and Covenants 121:45–46.
10. Isaiah 41:10.
11. See Marvin J. Ashton, “On Being Worthy,” Ensign, May 1989.
In this book, Elder Andersen writes especially to those who are "awakening" unto God—those who are just beginning to discover or who seek the divine gifts and power of repentance and forgiveness in their lives. The Divine Gift of Forgiveness is organized in such a way that readers can choose the section or chapter that applies most to them and study it without having to have read from cover to cover. Leaders can similarly recommend specific chapters to those with whom they work. Filled with powerful doctrine along with stories and experiences, this book will help all readers become more devoted disciples of the Savior. Available now at Deseret Book stores and DeseretBook.com.