Because my family growing up was so serious about the gospel and because I never felt that I lived it as well as I should, the gospel of Jesus Christ felt like a burden to me. It accused me of my failings. It reminded me how far I fell short.
I didn’t understand the good news.
Many of us lose sight of the good news of the gospel. Maybe we worry that we aren’t “good enough.” Perhaps we experience the gospel as a collection of spiritual demands that wear us out and guarantee failure. Or perhaps we have experiences that create heartache—and God seems far away. All of this make the gospel demands feel burdensome. It doesn’t feel like good news.
But what if we can tell that we are living the gospel effectively when it brings us joy? When we are not feeling joy, we are not understanding God’s message. Maybe we need to think differently about God’s message.
The good news is that God sent us to earth knowing that we would makes lots of mistakes. “We are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). Our earth experience is an essential part of learning to know good from evil. God wants us to grow and learn. He doesn’t look over our shoulders with a checklist, awarding or deducting points based on our successes or failures. He invites us to make choices and learn from them.
The great news is that God sent His beloved son to rescue us from this mortal mess after we have gained the requisite experience. If we turn to Him, He will not only clean us up but will also change our very natures! He will give us a new heart and renew within us a right spirit! He will make us like Him!
We will one day join with Ammon in rejoicing:
“Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?” (Alma 26:17)
One day Jesus will present His merits to Father to gain me entrance into glory (D&C 45:3-5).
What was it I should have learned as a child and young man that would have helped me to see the gospel as the “merciful plan of the great creator” (2 Nephi 9:6) rather than the relentless plan of disappointment and failure?
1. Trusting Jesus.
I suspect that most of us admire and love Jesus. But do we trust Him? When all our hopes and dreams fall apart, do we with Job proclaim: “the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
I learned this lesson most powerfully when, despite fasting, prayers, and medical help, Nancy and I had another miscarriage. I was inclined to chastise God. “Why would You let this happen to us?” But something inside me invited me to a different place. I chose to praise His name. “I don’t know why another miscarriage is a blessing to us, but I trust You. Completely. ‘I adore all your purposes without knowing them.’ Thank You for this experience.”
Wow! I felt so much joy and peace! When we truly trust God with our lives, our histories, our hopes, and our pains, everything changes.
During times of challenge, doubt, or heartache, we can turn to Jesus trusting that He understands our situation and feelings. He offers us peace beyond understanding.
There is more.
2. Calling on Jesus to renew me.
I tried for decades to make myself a decent Latter-day Saint. I kept failing. Sure, I attended meetings, paid my tithing, and strenuously avoided murdering anyone. But try as I might, I still sinned. I would do stupid and evil things. And I regularly judged people and put my own interests first. I knew I was no saint.
When everything else failed, I finally tried the gospel. I repented—but not the usual half-hearted apology to heaven. I found a quiet place, laid face down on the floor, and cried Alma’s plea: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me” (Alma 36:18). I was dumbfounded by God’s response. Rather than give the expected parental lecture and consequences, He embraced me! He loved me! He encouraged me!
I realized that I had misunderstood repentance. It is not a self-improvement program. It is a heavenly renewal program. “There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8).
I have learned to call on Him every day to remove my sins, change my heart, and fill me with Himself. I know to what source I must look for a remission of my sins (See 2 Nephi 25:26).
We can experience the gospel as an endless set of exhausting demands. But that is not God’s way. Life’s yoke is easy, and our burdens are light when we partner with Jesus. His companionship, His strength and His goodness lighten our loads and fill us with purpose.
3. Drawing on the power (and people) of covenants.
Once we are on the path, Jesus does not leave us to our own devices. Every Sunday He travels across the universe to meet us at the sacrament table. Those encounters can transform us.
I have always loved Melvin J. Ballard’s description of one of his encounters with Jesus:
I found myself one evening in the dreams of the night in that sacred building, the temple. After a season of prayer and rejoicing I was informed that I should have the privilege of entering into one of those rooms, to meet a glorious Personage, and, as I entered the door, I saw, seated on a raised platform, the most glorious Being my eyes have ever beheld or that I ever conceived existed in all the eternal worlds. As I approached to be introduced, he arose and stepped towards me with extended arms, and he smiled as he softly spoke my name. If I shall live to be a million years old, I shall never forget that smile. He took me into his arms and kissed me, pressed me to his bosom, and blessed me, until the marrow of my bones seemed to melt! When he had finished, I knelt at his feet, and, as I bathed them with my tears and kisses, I saw the prints of the nails in the feet of the Redeemer of the world. The feeling that I had in the presence of him who hath all things in his hands, to have his love, his affection, and his blessing was such that if I ever can receive that of which I had but a foretaste, I would give all that I am, all that I ever hope to be, to feel what I then felt. (Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Service of Melvin J. Ballard, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1949, pp. 155-56)
Jesus is anxious to embrace us—in prayer, at the sacrament table, in our times of need and times of rejoicing. It turns out that He also has helpers. Not only all our ancestors but every person who has ever entered covenants with Jesus is looking after us.
When we finally embrace God’s great plan of redemption, we live with greater peace, purpose, and happiness. He takes our burdens and gives us His joy. He guides our lives to greater learning. And, when the time is right, He presents His merits to cover our debts and gain us admission to glory.
That is the inexpressibly glorious news of Jesus Christ. As we are filled with that truth, we will feel greater joy.
If you are interested in applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to finding greater happiness, a better marriage, or more effective parenting, I recommend my new book, Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships. See Deseret Book or Amazon to purchase a copy for you or someone you love.