As a former mission president, Elder Robert D. Hales remembers presiding over missionaries who sacrificed academic or professional interests to serve in that calling, including a prima ballerina, a concert pianist and a professional athlete.
Yet, as praiseworthy as sacrifice is, obedience is greater than sacrifice, said Elder Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in his address to 129 departing mission presidents and their wives during the 2014 Seminar for New Mission Presidents held at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
Elder Hales, who spoke in a June 24 session, took his theme from the wording in 1 Samuel 15:22, wherein the prophet Samuel chastens the Israelite king, Saul, saying, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.”
Elder Hales cited the testimony of Nephi in 2 Nephi 31:10: “And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?”
The passage illustrates the necessity of obedience, Elder Hales said, adding that obedience is necessary “so we can have the Spirit to be with us.”
“You’re going to find the most critical element for your missionaries is to be obedient and to be able to have the Spirit to be with them, and to work, as it says in Doctrine and Covenants 4, with all of their heart, might, mind and strength.
“This is not a journey for the weak.”
He went on to quote from 2 Nephi 31, which tells of the Savior being baptized and of the necessity to follow His example.
“I want to say something to you that is very important,” Elder Hales told the couples. “Baptism is not about numbers. Baptism is someone taking upon himself the name of the Savior.”
To underscore the importance of that, he cited 2 Nephi 31:14, which says that if someone has received the covenant of baptism and then denies Christ, “it would have been better for you that ye had not known [him].”
“As a mission president, that rang in my ears,” said Elder Hales, “and I made my elders and sisters know that one must be prepared for baptism.”
Citing New Testament and Book of Mormon passages about “entering in at the strait gate,” Elder Hales said that the word “strait” means narrow. He noted that 2 Nephi 31:17 defines the gate through which one must enter as being baptism.
He displayed a projected image of a diagram that resembles a temple. Across the bottom was a foundation bearing the words “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“It is the foundation upon which we have repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost,” he said, referring to other elements of the diagram.
Near the top of the diagram was illustrated a tower with the words “strait and narrow,” and at the top, the phrase “eternal life.”
On the top right was the phrase “press forward” above a list of words: “steadfastness, brightness of hope and love of God and all men.” At the top left was the phrase “endure to the end” above the phrase “feasting upon the words of Christ.”
The diagram illustrated the principles given in 2 Nephi 31 regarding the process of entering in at the strait gate, which is baptism, and continuing on to receive eternal life.
Elder Hales displayed another diagram titled “the Development and Progression of Eternal Conversion.” It showed two spheres, one labeled “world” and the other labeled “Kingdom of God.” Between them was a connecting bridge with the words “A Mighty Change of Heart.”
“The journey starts with finding and contacting,” he said. “After the finding, there is teaching by the Spirit, in which we ask them to read the scriptures, and we testify to them, and then they feel the Spirit.”
Eventually, said Elder Hales, the length of the bridge is shortened, and the kingdom of God is brought closer to the people in the world.
“It’s like an eclipse,” he said. “As they come closer, the kingdom of God takes over their life and who they are. Then, they are truly in the world, but not of the world.”
Elder Hales concluded by referring to an experience earlier in his life as a military pilot. On the side of his airplane was the motto “Return with Honor.” Applying that to missionary work, he said, “I ask the Lord’s blessings to be with you and each of your missionaries, that they might go into the mission field and that you might go and give all that you have to your Father, that you might be nurtured and blessed and that your families will be protected.”
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