Some of the greatest questions that we have in life don’t arise from an unknown piece of information, rather the choices we make in the direction of our lives. There is one choice that is so fundamental that it requires both ernest study, and a lifetime of reappraisal and recommitment to that choice. I speak of the choice of discipleship.
A disciple is a title given to followers of Jesus Christ. President James E. Faust defined discipleship this way in the October 2006 General Conference:
“The word for disciple and the word for discipline both come from the same Latin root—discipulus, which means pupil. It emphasizes practice or exercise. Self-discipline and self-control are consistent and permanent characteristics of the followers of Jesus, as exemplified by Peter, James, and John, who indeed “forsook all, and followed him.” The disciples of Christ receive a call to not only forsake the pursuit of worldly things but to carry the cross daily. To carry the cross means to follow His commandments and to build up His Church on the earth. It also means self-mastery.”
In D&C 41:5 God defines further what He considers to be a disciple, “He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you.”
In other scriptures are additional ways to describe the acts and therefore the character of a disciple. Sometimes this is further emphasized by stating behaviors that distinguish an individual as lacking the characteristics of a disciple. D&C 45:32 addresses the disciples choice to be steadfast and to be found doing the right things, in the right place, at the right time, “But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die.”
D&C 52:40 addresses the need to love and care for our neighbors, “And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”
D&C 103:27-28 speaks to the level of commitment that a disciple must have to the commandments and principles of Jesus Christ and His gospel, “Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake; for whoso layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again. And whoso is not willing to lay down his life for my sake is not my disciple.”
President James E. Faust also taught this the same October 2006 General Conference talk:
What is discipleship? It is primarily obedience to the Savior. Discipleship includes many things. It is chastity. It is tithing. It is family home evening. It is keeping all the commandments. It is forsaking anything that is not good for us. Everything in life has a price. Considering the Savior’s great promise for peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come, discipleship is a price worth paying. It is a price we cannot afford not to pay. By measure, the requirements of discipleship are much, much less than the promised blessings.”
As stated before, the choice of discipleship is a two part choice. First one must study and come to know the life of a disciple. The second is to remain true to that commitment and to that lifestyle unceasingly. The best source for studying the life of a disciple is to study the life of Jesus Christ. He is the example of who a disciple can and should become, and it is in His teachings that we learn how to act as he would act. A disciple must choose to follow the Savior’s example and teachings.
When a person is baptized into the church, this acts as a formal declaration of discipleship. Elder Daniel L. Johnson of the Seventy said this in the October 2012 General Conference:
“Those of us who have entered into the waters of baptism and received the gift of the Holy Ghost have covenanted that we are willing to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, or in other words, we declare ourselves to be disciples of the Lord. We renew that covenant each week as we partake of the sacrament, and we demonstrate that discipleship by the way that we live.”
Those of who have been baptized have made the choice of discipleship, but we have also promised to always keep true to that commitment. This choice does not come with an exist strategy, vacation days, or an expiration date. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said this in the April 2014 General Conference, “Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not an effort of once a week or once a day. It is an effort of once and for all.”
When placed up against physical or spiritual trials, maybe even those where we question our faith, or waver in our commitments due to feeling a sense of being overwhelmed, the choice to continue in discipleship can seem especially difficult.
When a person comes across a troubling piece of history, or social pressures to accept a lifestyle or practice that is contrary to gospel standards, one may begin to question that choice of discipleship. Other times we observe challenges in our life that are more situational, such as a loss of job, the death of a loved one, or pressing issues like experiencing same sex attraction, gender confusion, or mental health issues like depression or anxiety, and wonder if God is real, or even ask “for what evil am I being punished?” Another question that is commonly asked is, “Why should I be so committed to something that is hard to understand, or seems to conflict with what I now know?” I too, have had moments where I questioned my commitments in light of certain trials of faith, or due to the choices others have made that have had an adverse impact on my dedication.
In those times I try to remind myself that I am not alone in these feelings. Even the Savior’s chosen Apostles in the old world, often called disciples in the scriptures, had periods of wavering commitment.
Jeffrey R. Holland gave a powerful lesson in the October 2012 General Conference entitled The First Great Commandment. I encourage a weekly study of that talk as part of our sacrament preparation. In that talk Elder Holland recounts the story of Peter and the other disciples being called, ministering for three years with the Savior, then going back to fishing-back to their previous life. I offer this story because within its text is the key to self-appraising our level of commitment, but also the methods to finding the desire to re-ignite that commitment time and time again.
“There is almost no group in history for whom I have more sympathy than I have for the eleven remaining Apostles immediately following the death of the Savior of the world. I think we sometimes forget just how inexperienced they still were and how totally dependent upon Jesus they had of necessity been. To them He had said, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me … ?”
But, of course, to them He hadn’t been with them nearly long enough. Three years isn’t long to call an entire Quorum of Twelve Apostles from a handful of new converts, purge from them the error of old ways, teach them the wonders of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then leave them to carry on the work until they too were killed. Quite a staggering prospect for a group of newly ordained elders.
Especially the part about being left alone. Repeatedly Jesus had tried to tell them He was not going to remain physically present with them, but they either could not or would not comprehend such a wrenching thought. Mark writes:
“He taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. “But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.”
Then, after such a short time to learn and even less time to prepare, the unthinkable happened, the unbelievable was true. Their Lord and Master, their Counselor and King, was crucified. His mortal ministry was over, and the struggling little Church He had established seemed doomed to scorn and destined for extinction. His Apostles did witness Him in His resurrected state, but that only added to their bewilderment. As they surely must have wondered, “What do we do now?” they turned for an answer to Peter, the senior Apostle.
Here I ask your indulgence as I take some nonscriptural liberty in my portrayal of this exchange. In effect, Peter said to his associates: “Brethren, it has been a glorious three years. None of us could have imagined such a few short months ago the miracles we have seen and the divinity we have enjoyed. We have talked with, prayed with, and labored with the very Son of God Himself. We have walked with Him and wept with Him, and on the night of that horrible ending, no one wept more bitterly than I. But that is over. He has finished His work, and He has risen from the tomb. He has worked out His salvation and ours. So you ask, ‘What do we do now?’ I don’t know more to tell you than to return to your former life, rejoicing. I intend to ‘go a fishing.’” And at least six of the ten other remaining Apostles said in agreement, “We also go with thee.” John, who was one of them, writes, “They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately.”
But, alas, the fishing wasn’t very good. Their first night back on the lake, they caught nothing—not a single fish. With the first rays of dawn, they disappointedly turned toward the shore, where they saw in the distance a figure who called out to them, “Children, have you caught anything?” Glumly these Apostles-turned-again-fishermen gave the answer no fisherman wants to give. “We have caught nothing,” they muttered, and to add insult to injury, they were being called “children.”
“Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find,” the stranger calls out—and with those simple words, recognition begins to flood over them. Just three years earlier these very men had been fishing on this very sea. On that occasion too they had “toiled all the night, and [had] taken nothing,” the scripture says. But a fellow Galilean on the shore had called out to them to let down their nets, and they drew “a great multitude of fishes,” enough that their nets broke, the catch filling two boats so heavily they had begun to sink.
Now it was happening again. These “children,” as they were rightly called, eagerly lowered their net, and “they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.” John said the obvious: “It is the Lord.” And over the edge of the boat, the irrepressible Peter leaped.
After a joyful reunion with the resurrected Jesus, Peter had an exchange with the Savior that I consider the crucial turning point of the apostolic ministry generally and certainly for Peter personally, moving this great rock of a man to a majestic life of devoted service and leadership. Looking at their battered little boats, their frayed nets, and a stunning pile of 153 fish, Jesus said to His senior Apostle, “Peter, do you love me more than you love all this?” Peter said, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
The Savior responds to that reply but continues to look into the eyes of His disciple and says again, “Peter, do you love me?” Undoubtedly confused a bit by the repetition of the question, the great fisherman answers a second time, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”
The Savior again gives a brief response, but with relentless scrutiny He asks for the third time, “Peter, do you love me?” By now surely Peter is feeling truly uncomfortable. Perhaps there is in his heart the memory of only a few days earlier when he had been asked another question three times and he had answered equally emphatically—but in the negative. Or perhaps he began to wonder if he misunderstood the Master Teacher’s question. Or perhaps he was searching his heart, seeking honest confirmation of the answer he had given so readily, almost automatically. Whatever his feelings, Peter said for the third time, “Lord, … thou knowest that I love thee.”
To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”
Then, turning to all the Apostles, He might well have said something like: “Were you as foolhardy as the scribes and Pharisees? As Herod and Pilate? Did you, like they, think that this work could be killed simply by killing me? Did you, like they, think the cross and the nails and the tomb were the end of it all and each could blissfully go back to being whatever you were before? Children, did not my life and my love touch your hearts more deeply than this?”
My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back.”
If you want answers to questions about historical events, if you want answers on who to marry, if you want answers on wether or not to go or even stay on a mission, remembering and recommitting to your choice of discipleship will put you back in a mindset to feel and recognize the spirit. It is that spirit that will guide you into truth and will guide you to an exalted life. If we can answer that now famous question, “Do you love me?” with a “yes, I do love thee Lord,” we can feel of His love, we can be open to the promptings of the spirit, and we can find answers to difficult questions we may face. In essence we can feel peace. I have felt that peace in my own life and I can testify that this is true. I do love the Lord, and that choice to love the Lord is the choice of discipleship.