I have a little confession: I don’t always follow the posted speed limit when I drive. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a compulsive speeder, nor do I treat driving like I’m auditioning for the next Fast and Furious movie. It’s just that when I’m driving, I don’t always pay as close attention to the speed limit as I probably should. In fact, most of the time, I just match the pace set by everyone else on the road around me. I quite literally follow the crowd. And when I catch myself in the act—usually when I spot a police car up ahead and reflexively hit the brakes—it’s then I notice how fast I was really going, and that I could have gotten into trouble.
Thus, I recently conducted a little experiment. For a whole day, I consciously drove the exact speed limit on whatever road I was on. Whether on the open freeway, or on residential side streets, I did my very best to keep my car as close to the posted speed limit, and not go over even a little bit. The results were what you might expect: car after car quickly passed by me on the freeway, while on residential streets, cars stacked up behind me. A couple of cars honked at me, apparently wanting me to get out of the way. Some people were clearly angry, and made their anger known to me in no uncertain terms as they sped past me.
What I didn’t expect was how my own reaction to the speed limit began to change. At first, I chuckled to myself whenever another car would zip past me, wondering if they were aware of how fast they were going. But as the day wore on, and more and more angry drivers passed me, I began to feel more self-conscious about my rigid adherence to the speed limit. I began to feel stressed out, to the point where I started rationalizing that this was a dumb experiment, and that I should just hit the gas already. After all, I thought, going over the speed limit surely isn’t that big a deal, is it? (Hint: according to my good friends who are police officers, it actually is).
I decided I couldn’t be too upset with drivers who were upset with me because I totally understood how they felt. Many times, I have been cruising down the road at a good pace, only to have to slow way down for someone who is going much slower than me. In almost every case, it turns out that person is simply doing the speed limit. It’s in those cases, when the tables have turned, and suddenly I’m the grouchy driver muttering things under my breath like “Come ON! Hurry up! The gas pedal is the one on the right!” all while looking for a place to pass.
I’ve thought a lot about my driving experiment since (and, for the record, I’m trying to be more conscious of the speed limit). I wonder why it is we get so angry with people who are following the rules, especially when those are the same rules we all are supposed to obey? And yet, I am so guilty of feeling in those moments like the speed limit should apply to everyone except me. As if I’m somehow more special than everyone else on the road, because I’m in a hurry, don’tcha know, and this guy in front of me is going to make me late!
Just like when we encounter a slow driver, some of us have a similar reaction when we encounter someone who is trying to keep the commandments as best they can. Even if we normally agree that the commandments are good, and are designed to keep us safe and help us grow and be happy, some of us may see someone else who is trying to be obedient, and we might wonder about them, or even get upset with them. At times, we may even begin to rationalize, thinking that perhaps some commandments aren’t as big a deal as others, or that it’s silly or old-fashioned to think someone would try to be obedient to all the commandments all the time.
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Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Satan has changed the word “obey” into a negative idea, because he wants us to believe that to be obedient to God is a terrible thing. He’s like all those angry drivers, speeding past us, trying to make us feel bad about following the rules. Or, he will tell us that if we’re trying to be obedient, we’re nothing more than mindless sheep, without any individuality at all. Those arguments can be quite powerful and convincing, because none of us like to feel like we’re the odd person out in a group. The desire to fit in with the world can sometimes far outweigh the need to stand out.
Of course, we know obeying God’s commandments is a big deal. Obedience is often regarded as the first law of heaven. It’s at the heart of the gospel, along with love. In fact, you could say that obedience and love are different sides of the same coin, and that one cannot truly exist without the other. Love for God motivates our obedience, and our obedience increases our love for God.
Obedience is the very best protection we can have from the trials of this world. Jesus Christ likened those who “heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them” to the wise man who built his house on the rock, and was kept safe and sound when the storms came (see Matthew 7:24-27). Noah and his family were saved from the flood only because they obeyed God’s exact plans for the Ark. (By the way: can you imagine what would have happened if Noah had ignored God’s instructions and decided to just eyeball building the Ark instead? Bye-bye Noah!) It’s no wonder that James counseled, “be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). It seems to me that when it comes to obedience to God, talk is quite literally, cheap.
Think for a moment about people you know that you consider dependable, who say what they mean, and do what they say. I find that such people are among my favorites to be around, and it’s easy to be friends with them because I know I can trust them. My mother used to say, “it’s better to be trusted than to be loved,” and it took me years before I really understood what she meant. I have come to understand that it comes down to the difference between words and actions. Anyone can say they love someone else, but it is in our actions that we prove whether or not we really and truly do love them. When someone demonstrates through their actions that they mean it when they say “I love you,” then we begin to trust them. We know they’re being honest and true.
On the other hand, think about people you have known who say one thing, and then do something else. It’s not easy to have a genuine relationship with people like that, and we aren’t likely to trust such people. The Lord warned the prophet Isaiah about people who “draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). In His day, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for acting this way, calling them “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13-15). “Acting” is an appropriate word to describe them, because the word “hypocrite” comes from a Greek word that means, “to pretend or to play a role.”
This doesn’t mean that all actors are inherently liars, nor does it mean that you can’t try out for the school play and enjoy yourself. But it does give a really powerful warning to each of us to watch what we say and what we do. So much of the test of this life is for us to demonstrate to Heavenly Father whether we will do what He asks us to do, and whether we will do what we promise. In the Pearl of Great Price we read, “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25).
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Saying we will be obedient to God is simply not enough. James wrote, “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:17-18). In other words, the very best way to demonstrate how strong our faith is, and how much we truly love God, is by what we do, not merely what we say. So much of this life’s test is about making good promises, and then making good on those promises.
Following with an Eye of Faith
Being obedient to God can sometimes be challenging, because we may not always understand the reasons why. And to make matters more complicated, God isn’t usually in the habit of explaining Himself when He gives commandments. For instance, God didn’t immediately follow up the Ten Commandments with a lengthy speech about why they were good ideas, or what blessings the people would receive if they obeyed. He simply asked His people then to faithfully follow His word, just as He asks each of us today to do likewise.
Similarly, one of the very first commandments God gave Adam and Eve after they left the Garden of Eden was to offer sacrifices, without any explanation as to why. Adam and Eve didn’t argue with God, but instead did what they were commanded. We then read, “And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6).
Adam and Eve weren’t blindly following God’s commandments any more than Moses and the children of Israel were in the wilderness. What God asks each of us to do is to follow Him with the eye of faith, even when it might not make perfect sense, with the hope that further light will eventually come. I love the simple power of this statement from Elder Neil L. Andersen, who said, “You don’t know everything, but you know enough!” And as Moroni wrote: “wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6). Blessings always follow our obedience, like a rainbow following a brief thunderstorm.
One of the most profound songs that we sing is the simple yet powerful children’s song, “I’m Trying to be like Jesus.” He has always been our perfect example of obedience, going all the way back to the premortal world, where He said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). All throughout His mortal life, Jesus demonstrated His obedience to His Father in Heaven in every action, because of His great love for His Father.
Jesus’ love for His Father, and for all of us, was most vividly demonstrated on that singular evening in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He took upon Himself the sins of the world. He had overcome every challenge, resisted every temptation, and conquered every trial up to that point, but He had never faced anything as hard as what He was now being asked to do. It was more than anyone else could have borne, and for the briefest of moments, Jesus may have wondered if He could do it. He pled with His Father, “if thou be willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). In other words, Jesus was asking, “Father, is there any other way to do this? Does it have to be this way?” In that brief moment, which may have felt like an eternity to Him, the realization came, and what He already knew was confirmed: this was the only way to accomplish the Father’s plan and redeem all mankind. And so, in His very next breath, Jesus humbly submitted to His Father and showed His love and obedience by saying “nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Christ’s perfect love, obedience, and sacrifice are at the center of everything we do as we worship Him.
Obedience and worship are inseparable, because the word “worship” means, “to emulate or imitate.” We become like what we worship. We begin to think like what we think about most. We begin to talk like what we talk about most. We begin to love what we love the most. Every outward action that we perform is an expression of what we believe on the inside. Jesus Christ became like His Father because His Father was whom He loved the most. Every time we are obedient, we are saying to God, “I don’t want to be like who I was. I want to be like Thee and Thy Son.” Every time we repent, we are asking God, “Please don’t give up on me yet. I’m still trying.”
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Everything we do as members of this Church is designed to help us become more like Jesus. When we talk about Zion being “one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18), it really means that we are striving to have our hearts be more like His heart, and our minds more like His mind. We are trying to feel what He feels, to think how He thinks, and to love as He loves. In doing so, we are not giving up one ounce of our individuality. You’re still you, and I’m still me; we’re just trying to make our “me” more like Him. In fact, far from being the mindless sheep that Satan would have us believe we are, when we are obedient, we are choosing to have Jesus be our Good Shepherd. Those who are obedient to God know who they are, because we know whose they are.
Obedience is how we access blessings from God. The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “when we receive any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:21). And Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught, “[when] we walk in obedience to the principles and commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we enjoy a continual flow of blessings promised by God in His covenant with us.”
I love that image of blessings flowing continually, like water in a river to bring life, or electricity flowing through wires to bring power. The Lord has said that He is ready to open the very windows of heaven to us, and pour out more blessings than we know what to do with (see Malachi 3:10). It is our obedience to God’s commandments that determines how strong that flow is in our lives, and how freely and how far those windows of heaven will open.
Showing Our Love Through Repentance
So what happens when we are disobedient? If every action we perform is a demonstration of our love for Him, does that mean that every time we are disobedient, we are showing God we hate Him? Personally, I don’t think that is the case. When I choose to give into a temptation, it’s not that I’m saying “I don’t love you anymore” to God. What I feel I am saying to Him in those moments is more along the lines of, “I found something else I love a little more.” When I understand that, I naturally am filled with a desire to repent and return to God, not because I am afraid that He is going to stop loving me—because remember, nothing I can do will stop Him from loving me—but because I want to try again to show Him how much I love Him. I recognize that when I am disobedient, I stop the flow of blessings He has for me, and that it is only my sincere repentance and change which will reopen those windows of heaven.
Heavenly Father and Jesus don’t want us to repent because it is some sort of punishment, but because it is just the opposite: an opportunity to change and improve. Repentance is about restoring joy and rebuilding hope, not wallowing in shame and sorrow. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “Repentance is a divine gift, and there should be a smile on our faces when we speak of it. It points us to freedom, confidence, and peace.” It’s a daily chance for us to show Heavenly Father and Jesus how much we want to be like Them.
We face challenges, trials, and temptations every day as well, and we are often really clumsy at keeping the commandments. We make mistakes and stumble all the time. But so long as we are getting up one more time than we fall, we’re making progress. So long as we are sincerely trying to be good, we’re becoming more like Jesus. Elder Robert D. Hales said, “Obedience makes us progressively stronger, capable of faithfully enduring tests and trials in the future.” This is what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. The word “gospel” literally means “good news,” and the fact that we have been given this life to repent and improve is the best news of all.