Adapted from the talk I gave today in Sacrament meeting:
One of the clearest, simplest explanations of the Plan of Salvation is in the pamphlets distributed by missionaries to investigators of the Church. The doctrine is taught so directly that it is just about impossible to misunderstand what the Church teaches. This is especially true when we read about the doctrine of agency. This booklet teaches that agency is the power each of us has to make choices. Furthermore we read: “An important part of God’s plan was for you to come to earth to receive a physical body and to learn to make correct choices. You would not remember living in Heavenly Father’s presence, but He would give you the ability to know right from wrong. You would be able to recognize His love and truth. Through your experiences and trials, you could learn to make right choices consistently. With the help of Jesus Christ, you would be able to return to live with Heavenly Father when your life on earth was over.” (Plan of Salvation Pamphlet pg.3)
There is a sentence in that paragraph that sticks out to me every time I read it: “Through your experiences and trials, you could learn to make right choices consistently.” One of our main purposes in this life was to learn not just how to make choices, but how to make the right choices.
So here is the question: how do we make sure we are making the right choice? Because just like actions bring reactions, choices bring consequences, and we are looking for eternally happy consequences. How do we properly exercise our free agency, and bring ourselves closer to Heavenly Father?
An incredible example of inspired decision-making is Nephi. It is no mistake that the Book of Mormon starts with Nephi’s compelling and powerful testimony. From the very beginning we know that all of Nephi’s decisions, or at least the ones he felt were important enough to engrave on metal, were influenced by what he had been taught about God by his father and spiritual leader, the prophet Lehi. In 1 Nephi 3:7 he tells his father “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” The first rule in choosing happy eternal consequences is to keep the commandments. Nephi knew that. Even when his brothers were conspiring to kill him because of his righteousness in the face of their wickedness, he knew that. In the end, he was blessed for his faithfulness. His family reached the Promised Land and flourished.
Nephi teaches us another important principle concerning correct use of agency when he decides to learn the truth about what his father taught him. In 1 Nephi 11 we read about his encounter with the Spirit of the Lord. In verse one, he says: “after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord [...].” Now, Nephi obviously makes many decisions in this process, but I want to point out a couple of the really important ones. First, he seeks out truth. He decides that he wants to know what is true, what is not, and what he should do as a result. Then what he does is remarkable: Nephi’s first action as a result of this decision is to ponder and study the words of the prophets. He thinks on the words of his father as he prays to the Lord for an answer. The result of Nephi’s thoughtful study and prayer is one of the most remarkable and beautiful visions recorded in scripture. Rule two of choosing happy eternal consequences is to study and pray, allowing the Spirit to help you learn and make choices.
Another remarkable thing we learn from this encounter is just how much Nephi trusts the Lord to steer him in the right direction. The Spirit inquires as to Nephi’s desire and to his belief – when Nephi explains that he believes and wants to better understand the words of his father, he does not tell the Spirit how he wants to learn about these things. Instead, he trusts that the Lord will help him understand. There are even some parts of the vision where Nephi seems a bit confused as to what he is seeing. He is asked questions he doesn’t understand, and he is okay with replying that he does not know the answers to everything. This leads to rule three of choosing happy eternal consequences: trust that the Lord knows what He is doing, even if you don’t right away.
These three rules, keep the commandments, study and pray, and trust the Lord, will help us as we exercise our agency and make the most important decisions of our lives.
This is not to say that every decision we make will be easy. Sometimes the Lord lets us make choices without clear guidance. This is normal! Just because you don’t feel like you are receiving clear revelation on what to do, don’t worry! This is okay! In many cases, this is a sign that the Lord trusts you to make the right choice, or that there is more than one right decision to be made, and really you just have to pick something to get the ball rolling. As long as your decision will lead you closer to Him, it is hard to go wrong.
My last thought I want to share with you is what happens when our decisions lead us away from Heavenly Father. It happens. It is a part of life that we sin and make mistakes. The Lord knew that from the beginning – it is why from the foundation of the world He provided a Savior for us to atone for our sins, giving us a way to return to Him. We shouted for joy when we found out we had the chance to come to Earth and have a body of our very own – I can’t help but think a part of that joy was related to the fact that we would also have a chance to return to Heavenly Father and live in a perfect version of that body forever. If you have done something that will prevent you from having that happy consequence, remember that you still have a choice, even now. Use your incredible gift of free agency and choose to repent. Alma teaches us that there is nothing quite so wonderful as repentance. In Alma 36:21 he says: “Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” What a difference a choice can make.
Agency is an incredible gift. Use it for good.