A talk by Pete Codella for high council speaking Sunday on June 8, 2014 (learn more here). Many ideas and segments of this talk come from the resources noted below.
The story the chicken and the pig
In the course of their travels, this chicken and pig happened upon a group of poor children who looked as if they hadn’t eaten anything for days. As they approached the children, they had compassion and wanted to help. “What can we possibly do to help these children?” asked the pig. The chicken thought for a moment and said, “I’ve got an idea! Let’s make them a wonderful breakfast.”
Pig thought this was a great idea and asked: “What should we serve them for breakfast?” Perhaps he was thinking of big and fluffy pancakes, a hot bowl of oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar, or maybe some muffins and juice.
But chicken had a different idea: “Let’s give them a wonderful breakfast of ham and eggs,” he said.
The pig thought about it for a minute and then replied: “Well, for you, this would involve a small sacrifice; but for me, it would take total commitment!”
Commitment = Happiness
Brothers and sisters: How committed are you? And, what are you committed to? How converted are we to the gospel of Jesus Christ?
It’s been said:
“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans” (source: Peter Drucker).
Our Father in Heaven is the perfect planner. He has provided what the scriptures call the plan of happiness or plan of salvation.
It is the greatest desire of Heavenly Father for each of us—all of His children—to be happy. The scriptures teach us about happiness, in many different places, like here:
“And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:10).
“…moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of neverending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41).
And also here:
“…men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).
Our existence—the purpose of life and all that’s around us—is to experience joy; to choose to follow the commandments that we may be happy and feel joy.
This isn’t a circumstance, happenstance or fate. It’s a choice. And commitment is at the very heart of this choice. Once we’ve gained a testimony of Jesus Christ, commitment is rooted at the core of conversion.
Commitment to our Father in Heaven leads to happiness.
Each one of us has already committed to following Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. We can’t remember it now because of the veil, but in the pre-mortal existence you and I stood with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to accept and sustain the perfect plan that was presented: That we’d come to earth to receive a body, experience mortality and prove ourselves in all things, that we could grow and develop to become like our Father and ultimately progress to inherit all that He has.
Our very presence on this earth is proof of our first commitment. So we have the reassurance of our own ability to commit to Heavenly Father. If any of us ever doubts or struggles with conversion or commitment, perhaps a broader perspective that includes our pre-mortal experience can help inform, inspire and motive us to press on, to continue our commitment even until the end.
This is the true test of life: to endure faithfully to the end. I like what Elder Bednar has said about endurance:
“Truly, brothers and sisters, in the strength of the Lord we can do and endure and overcome all things” (October 2004 General Conference).
Latter-day prophets have promised us that the result of personal commitment to the gospel will be happiness. For example, we’ve been told, regarding the For the Strength of Youth publication:
Great happiness will come to you in this life and eternally if you decide now to live after the pattern that is set forth in its pages.
That’s good counsel for youth, for children and adults — for all of us.
Popular culture teaches you can buy happiness, or eat yourself happy, or indulge in other physical pleasures to be happy. This is one of Satan’s great cover-ups.
The truth is: righteous choices lead to happiness.
And for our purposes today, those righteous choices mean commitment to the gospel and to our personal conversions, which leads to happiness.
Commitment: Just Do It
I ask again: How committed are you?
May we follow the admonition of the Apostle James to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
What good does it do us to come to church—either weekly or occasionally—politely listen to the speakers in sacrament meeting, Sunday school, priesthood and Relief Society, or primary, then continue on with our lives as if nothing happened; as if Sundays were just run-of-the-mill, go to church and try not to fall asleep or embarrass yourself days?
We need to be more committed than that.
As one former NBA player and coach has put it:
“There are only two options regarding commitment. You’re either IN or you’re OUT. There is no such thing as life in-between” (source: Pat Riley).
John, in Revelation, put it this way:
“…because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
Every commandment is designed for our eternal happiness and to help us become more like our Father in Heaven. We can be like Nephi of old, who was absolutely determined to “go and do the things which the Lord [had] commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7).
[Story] This was my mission scripture. The primary reason I went on a mission was because I knew a prophet of God said it was the Lord’s will for me at age 19. It wasn’t really my will. I was convinced my mission was to perform with the BYU Young Ambassadors—that was really the only reason I went to BYU. But I made a commitment with my Heavenly Father that I’d either perform with that group the year I turned 19, or I’d go on a mission. Guess which plan and path happened to work out? I went on a mission. And when I was 21, after returning to college from my mission, I had the opportunity to perform with the Young Ambassadors, which I did for three years across the country and around the world: in Russia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and in Spain, Morocco and Tunisia, all while working towards my undergraduate degree.
Speaking of commitment, I’d like to share another set of experiences from my childhood and teenage years in Spring, Texas and Niskayuna, New York (near Albany).
[Story] The story of my Grandpa Codella. Another fine job by AMC! He was all-in; totally committed. To this day, when I finish a project, I say or at least think, “Another fine job by PJC2!”
It has been said:
“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permits. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results” (source: Art Turock).
“There’s no abiding success without commitment” (source: Anthony Robbins).
We should build a pattern of commitment in our lives, in the lives of our children and in our families. Consistent righteous choices build a strong foundation of commitment to withstand the trials and temptations of life.
As Helaman taught his sons, Nephi and Lehi:
“…remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation” (Helaman 5:12).
In Psalms David teaches:
“Trust in the Lord, and do good;…Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass” (Psalms 37:3-5).
Really, commitment is about putting your own will upon the altar of the Lord—seeking through study, fasting and prayer, to know and understand the Lord’s will for you, then submitting even as Abraham submitted: willing to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, until the Lord told him it wasn’t necessary, that he had proven himself, that his heart and mind were in the right place.
Luckily for me, I was taught in my youth to make and keep covenants with the Lord.
[Story] The story of my musical theater summer camp experience with keeping the word of wisdom. I was 17. At musical theater summer camp. Everyone was drinking and partying. I didn’t. I wasn’t tempted. A few days later a letter arrived from my friend, Evan, encouraging me to stay true to the principles of the word of wisdom. Because I had already made that commitment, I didn’t have to think about it. I just found something else to do.
The adversary has very little power to tempt us with things that we have never touched.
So make your commitment now, even if it’s to commit to stop or start doing something. Then draw on the strength of your conversion, and the conversion of those around you, to empower the Atonement of Jesus Christ in your life to change for the better.
Commit now to receive personal strength in the proper use of your moral agency. Commit now to follow President Thomas S. Monson, the living prophet; to accept his encouragement and apply his counsel.
Let us all commit to follow the Savior and accept his invitation to: “come follow me” (Luke 18:22).
When Thou Art Converted, Strengthen Thy Brethren
I ask again: How committed are you?
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord teaches:
“Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. I am Jesus Christ; I came by the will of the Father, and I do his will” (D&C 19:23-24).
We will have peace and joy in this life when we learn and do the will of the Father.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31–32).
Satan desires to have each one of us. But our righteous commitments can crush his desires as we choose to fulfill our eternal destiny as children of a loving Heavenly Father.
For the most part, conversion happens over a period of time as study, prayer, experience, and faith help us grow in our testimony and conversion.
Each of us is developing daily a deeper personal commitment, testimony, and conversion as we serve in our families, in our church callings, and in our communities. At least, that’s the plan, and hopefully we’re doing our part.
In fact, our obedience to the commandments leads us to service and sacrifice in accepting church callings. Honestly, when I was called as a high counselor before stake conference in March, I was first relieved that I wasn’t asked to be an elders quorum president for the third time. But then I was puzzled as to why this calling was being extended to me. There are so many very qualified men in this stake who could be serving in this position. But I settled on the belief that this calling is an opportunity for me to personally progress and grow in my priesthood knowledge and responsibilities. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be of service and hope to add something of value to our stake.
As our testimonies grow, they become a protection for us “that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds … it shall have no power over you” (Helaman 5:12).
Commitment in the face of conflict produces character.
As testimony grows, we become more and more converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we follow Him, we commit ourselves to serve Him by serving others. So again: When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
Personal conversion and commitment means we’ll reorder our life to reflect the Lord’s will.
To labor for the conversion of one’s self and others is a noble and joyful task.
Ammon, the Nephite missionary, provided an example for us. He had chosen to serve the Lamanite king and was sent to watch the flocks of Lamoni. When renegades attacked and scattered the sheep, Ammon’s fellow servants had fear and began to weep. What did Ammon say? “Be of good cheer and let us go in search of the flocks, and we will gather them together and bring them back unto the place of water” (Alma 17:31).
Now, we may read this as a story about some shepherds trying to round up some missing sheep, but the message is much more powerful and significant than that. Ammon was a missionary with noble intentions to bring the king and his kingdom back to the gospel, to the fold of righteousness. The challenge looked daunting to those who could see only, in everyday terms, sheep strung out on hillsides and not enough manpower to round them up. They were discouraged and fearful that the king would discover their loss.
Ammon not only led the force to recapture the sheep, he drove away the evil men who caused the problems; and his heroic efforts persuaded the king to follow him and to follow the Savior.
Ammon teaches us that no matter our circumstances, we can be an example to others, we can lift them, we can inspire them to seek righteousness, and we can bear testimony to all of the power of Jesus Christ.
Ammon took to heart the counsel: When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. His missionary example is exemplary.
The Consistency Principle
Once you make a commitment, there’s a strong psychological desire to be consistent with that commitment. Psychologists call this the consistency principle.
An example is the racetrack bettor who puts money on a specific horse. In the bettor’s mind, the prospects of his horse winning the race improve significantly once the ticket has been purchased. This mindset of being even more sure of your horse winning has been proved in several scientific studies.
Apparently, as humans, we have an obsessive desire to be, and appear to be, consistent with what we have already done or said.
So consider your commitments. If you have committed to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, you’re actually more likely to remain consistent to that course and its outcome because of your personal commitment and innate desire to be consistent with that commitment.
Can Ye Feel So Now?
We read in the scriptures about seeds and about the sower of seeds (see Matthew 13; Alma 32). We are taught that a seed can grow, become a tree, and bear fruit. But we have to have good soil to accept the good seed, and that is one of our roles in the church—that we provide the soil which nurtures the seed so it can grow and bear fruit and that the fruit remains (see John 15:16). This takes commitment.
“And now behold I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).
As members of the Church we commit to do many things. We agree to serve one another, to mourn with those that mourn, to comfort those that stand in need of comfort. We promise to visit each other. We make covenants. We agree to share the gospel and do vicarious work for the dead. But we don’t always do what we have committed to do.
When we don’t do the things we have committed, and even covenanted to do, we can often come up with good justifications. We say we’ll do it later. We have something more important to do right now. We don’t feel well, we don’t feel qualified, or we don’t want others to perceive us as too fanatical about living the gospel.
What is it that causes us to come up with these justifications? Why do we sometimes fail to do all that we have committed to do? Is it that our conversion ebbs and flows, that sometimes our commitment is weaker than at other times? There’s danger in abundance, even danger to one’s very soul.
The problem could lie in a lack of conversion: conversion to Christ, and His gospel. The fruits of conversion are commitment to the covenants and individual callings we have received to serve and strengthen others.
President Harold B. Lee said:
“Conversion must mean more than just being a ‘card carrying’ member of the church, with a tithing receipt … [or] a temple recommend.” One who is converted “strive[s] continually to improve inward weaknesses and not merely outward appearances.”
President Hinckley said:
“When there throbs in the heart of an individual Latter-day Saint a great and vital testimony of the truth of this work, he [or she] will be found doing his duty in the Church. He will be found in his sacrament meetings. He will be found in his priesthood meetings. He will be found paying his honest tithes and offerings. He will be doing his home teaching. He will be found in attendance at the temple as frequently as his circumstances will permit. He will have within him a great desire to share the Gospel with others. He will be found strengthening and lifting his brethren and sisters. It is conversion that makes the difference” (Regional Representatives’ seminar, 6 Apr. 1984; emphasis added).
Let’s evaluate our present state of conversion and commitment.
Returning to Alma’s question:
“Have ye spiritually been born of God?” It is noteworthy that Alma concluded his admonition to the people of his day by bearing testimony of how his personal conversion was obtained: “Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me” (Alma 5:45–46).
Elder Holland has warned us to be more committed and vocal about our testimonies:
“I think some parents may not understand that even when they feel secure in their own minds regarding matters of personal testimony, they can nevertheless make that faith too difficult for their children to detect. We can be reasonably active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints, but if we do not live lives of gospel integrity and convey to our children powerful heartfelt convictions regarding the truthfulness of the Restoration and the divine guidance of the Church from the First Vision to this very hour, then those children may, to our regret but not surprise, turn out not to be visibly active, meeting-going Latter-day Saints or sometimes anything close to it” (April 2003 General Conference).
President Hunter said it this way:
“Ultimately, what our Father in Heaven will require of us is more than a contribution; it is a total commitment, a complete devotion, all that we are and all that we can be” (Hunter, Standing As Witnesses of God, April 1990).
You can locate these talks by searching on lds.org.
Commitment to the Lord, John Dickson, April 2007 General Conference
When Thou Art Converted, Strengthen Thy Brethren, Elder Robert Hales, April 1997 General Conference
How Is It With Us?, Elder M. Russell Ballard, April 2000
The Word Is Commitment, Elder Marvin J. Ashton, October 1983
Standing As Witnesses of God, President Howard W. Hunter, April 1990
Conversion and Commitment, Elder W. Mack Lawrence, April 1996