Sunday, March 20, 2016

Talk - Developing Christlike Characteristics

Here is a talk that my son gave at church today.  He was the companion speaker for a high council speaker.

Today I will talk about how to develop Christlike characteristics.

In Preach My Gospel, there is a section titled “How Do I Develop Christlike Attributes.”  Much of my talk will come from this book. Writing this talk has been good preparation for my mission, since Preach My Gospel is an essential tool used by missionaries every day. I know it’s not a coincidence that I was asked to speak about this topic, and I’m very thankful for this opportunity to study about Christ and share my testimony with all of you.

At the beginning of His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and called out to two fishermen named Peter and Andrew.  He said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. The Lord invites each of us to follow His example and to become like Him. The restored gospel allows each of us to become like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The Savior has set the perfect example, and He commands us to become as He is. We can try hard to learn of Him and seek to incorporate His attributes into our lives. Through the power of His Atonement, each of us can achieve this goal and help others to achieve it also.

In Preach My Gospel focus there is a lot of focus on HOW to do things —how to study, how to teach, how to manage time wisely. Just as vital as what you do, however, is who you are.  Preach My Gospel says “You need to BE a Christlike missionary, not just DO missionary things.” This applies not only to missionaries but to everyone.  Each of us needs to learn to BE Christlike members of the church and not just DO Mormon things.

I looked up the definition of character online and one definition said “the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves.” This definition confirms that how we think and feel inside is just as an important part of our character as our actions and behavior is on the outside.

I really like this and believe in its truth. I agree that actions speak louder than words, but I also know that your actions need to be performed sincerely and for the right reasons in order to get the most out of what you’re doing.

For one Family Night last year, my parents had each of us do an “Attribute Activity” in Preach My Gospel.  The goal of this activity was to help us see which attributes we each needed to work on developing. It listed statements and we had to decide how true each statement was about ourselves.  We could respond with numbers 1 through 5, 1 meaning “never” and 5 meaning “always.”

Here are a few of the statements from the activity:
·         I believe in Christ and accept Him as my Savior.
·         I try to understand others’ feelings and see their point of view.
·         I am kind and patient with others, even when they are hard to get along with.
·         I am dependable—I do what I say I will do.
·         I study the scriptures daily.
·         I am able to wait for things without getting upset or frustrated.
·         I work hard until the job is completed successfully.

This activity helped each of us recognize our weaknesses and strengths.  We need Heavenly Father’s help to develop these attributes and He will help us when we ask Him.
There are 9 attributes listed in Preach My Gospel that we are encouraged to develop. These attributes are Faith, Hope, Charity, Virtue, Knowledge, Patience, Humility, Diligence, and Obedience.

The first attribute is Faith in Jesus Christ
You’ll notice that the attribute isn’t just plain old “faith” but rather “faith in Jesus Christ.” When you have faith in Christ, you believe in Him as the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the Flesh. You accept Him as your Savior and Redeemer and follow His teachings. You believe that your sins can be forgiven through His Atonement. Faith in Him means that you trust Him and are confident that He loves you.
Faith leads to action, including repentance, obedience, and dedicated service. When you have faith in Jesus Christ, you trust the Lord enough to follow His commandments—even when you do not completely understand the reasons for them. You accomplish what the Lord wants you to accomplish. You help bring about good in your own life and the lives of others. You are able to do miracles according to the Lord’s will. Your faith is shown by your actions.
Doubt and fear are opposed to faith.  In Doctrine & Covenants 6:36 it reads, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.”  We are living in a time when people have lots of fears and doubts.  I know that as we strive to increase our faith in Jesus Christ we can feel peace in our lives.

Our faith will increase through scripture study, prayer, service, and obedience to the commandments.

Faith includes confidence in the mission and power of the Holy Ghost. I know that through faith in Jesus Christ I have received answers to my prayers.
The second attribute is Hope
Hope is an abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises to you.  When you have hope is shows through your confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, patience and perseverance. It is believing and expecting that something will occur. When you have hope, you work through trials and difficulties with the confidence and assurance that all things will work together for your good. Hope helps you conquer discouragement. The scriptures often describe hope in Jesus Christ as the assurance that you will inherit eternal life in the celestial kingdom.
President James E. Faust taught: “Hope is the anchor of our souls… Hope is trust in God’s promises, faith that if we act now, the desired blessings will be fulfilled in the future… “The unfailing source of our hope is that we are sons and daughters of God and that His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, saved us from death”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell encouraged us to reach out to all who, for whatever reason, have ‘moved away from the hope of the gospel.’  We should “reach to lift hands which hang hopelessly down.”  Helping others feel hope is something we can all do.

The 3rd attribute is Charity and Love

A man once asked Jesus, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” Matthew 22:36–39.

I remember learning about charity in a Sunday school class when I was a young teenager. My teacher told us that charity is “the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). My friends and I made the acronym TPLOC out of the definition, and it’s stuck with me ever since. Charity includes God’s eternal love for all His children.  He wants us to seek to develop that kind of love too. When you are filled with charity, you obey God’s commandments.  You also do all you can to serve others and share the happiness of the gospel with them.

Charity is a gift from God. The prophet Mormon said that we should “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love” (Moroni 7:48). As we choose the right and pray to have more charity, our love for other people will naturally increase.  You will come to feel a sincere concern for the eternal welfare and happiness of others. You will see them as children of God with the potential of becoming like our Heavenly Father, and you will work hard to help them. When you have charity, you avoid negative feelings such as anger and envy and you avoid judging others. You try to honestly understand them and their points of view.  Charity, like faith, leads to action. You will develop charity as you look for opportunities to serve others and give of yourself.

The 4th attribute is Virtue
Virtue starts in your innermost thoughts and desires. It is a pattern of your thoughts and behavior based on high moral standards. In order to be guided by the Holy Ghost we need to be virtuous because the Spirit does not dwell in unclean tabernacles. What you choose to think and do when you are alone and you believe no one is watching is a strong measure of your virtue.
Virtuous people are spiritually clean and pure. They focus on righteous thoughts and put unworthy thoughts that lead to inappropriate actions out of their minds. They obey God’s commandments and follow the counsel of Church leaders. They pray for the strength to resist temptation and do what is right. They quickly repent of any sins or wrongdoings. They live worthy of a temple recommend.
In Preach My Gospel it says, “Your mind is like a stage in a theater; in the theater of your mind, however, only one actor can be on stage at a time. If the stage is left bare, thoughts of darkness and sin often enter the stage to tempt. But these thoughts have no power if the stage of your mind is occupied by wholesome thoughts, such as a memorized hymn or verse of scripture that you can call upon in a moment of temptation. By controlling the stage of your mind, you can successfully resist persistent urges to yield to temptation and indulge in sin. You can become pure and virtuous.”
The 5th Attribute is Knowledge
The Lord commanded, “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” It is important to seek knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge. Each of us should study the scriptures every day, and also study the words of the living prophets like in the General Conference talks. Through study and prayer, you can find answers to specific questions, challenges, and opportunities. The Holy Ghost will enlighten your mind, teach you, and help you understand the meaning of the things you study personally or that you learn at church.  The Holy Ghost can also help you as you strive to learn at school.  I have seen this happen in my own life.

The 6th attribute is Patience
Patience is the capacity to endure delay, trouble, opposition, or suffering without becoming angry, frustrated, or anxious. It is the ability to do God’s will and accept His timing. When you are patient, you hold up under pressure and are able to face adversity calmly and hopefully. Patience is related to hope and faith—you must wait for the Lord’s promised blessings to be fulfilled.
You need patience in your everyday experiences and relationships.  Some of you parents of toddlers or teenagers may really agree with me on that one.  We need to be patient with everyone, even ourselves, as we work to overcome faults and weaknesses.
President Monson said, “Life is full of difficulties, some minor and others of a more serious nature. There seems to be an unending supply of challenges for one and all. Our problem is that we often expect instantaneous solutions to such challenges, forgetting that frequently the heavenly virtue of patience is required.”
The 7th attribute is Humility
Humility is willingness to submit to the will of the Lord and to give the Lord the honor for what is accomplished.  This includes gratitude for blessings and acknowledging our constant need for the Lord’s help in our lives. Humility is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of spiritual strength.

When you humbly trust the Lord, you can know that His commandments are for your good. You can be confident that you can do whatever the Lord requires of you if you rely on Him. The opposite of humility is pride.  Pride is not good. To be prideful means that you trust yourself more than you trust God or His servants. It also means to put the things of the world above the things of God. Prideful people take honor to themselves rather than giving God the glory. Pride is competitive; those who are prideful seek to have more than other people and they presume they are better than others for various reasons. Pride often results in feelings of anger and hatred, and it is a huge stumbling block.
The 8th attribute is Diligence
Diligence is steady, consistent,  and energetic effort in doing the Lord’s work. The Lord expects you to work diligently—and with great effort and care.  Diligence in our responsibilities (rather that is a full time mission or a church calling) is an expression of your love for the Lord and His work. When you are diligent, you find joy and satisfaction in your work.

Look for things that need to be done. Don’t wait for your leaders to tell you what to do. Continue until you have done all you can, even when you are tired. Focus on the most important things and avoid wasting time. Pray for guidance and strength.

In regards to a mission, President Ezra Taft Benson said, “I have often said one of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work! If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; and if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people and he will be happy. There will be no homesickness, no worrying about families, for all time and talents and interests are centered on the work of the ministry. Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.”  This applies to everyone, not just missionaries.  I think that if you center your life on doing the Lord’s will, it will lighten your load and help you be happier.
The last, but not least, attribute is Obedience
Obedience is the first law of heaven. It is an act of faith. In life, you may sometimes be required to do things you do not completely understand. As you obey, you increase in faith, knowledge, wisdom, testimony, protection, and freedom. Strive to be obedient to the Lord, the living prophet, and your local church leaders... and to your parents.
I like what Elder L. Tom Perry said about obedience: “The discipline contained in daily obedience and clean living and wholesome lives builds an armor around you of protection and safety from the temptations that beset you as you proceed through mortality.”  We all need that armor to help us in our daily lives.
I want to share an experience that my Aunt Noma had many years ago.  She is a seminary teacher in  Wyoming and she loves to share the gospel through personal stories. This story is one of the favorites, especially this time of year.  I will read the story that she wrote in her own words so I don’t mess it up:
Twenty-six years ago, Derrik and I were dirt poor newlywed college students, both completing our senior year at BYU, working, and barely surviving financially. We were sitting in church, and a lady stood up and gave a talk on tithing. She told a story about a person who was @ $56.32 short on rent, but she acted in faith and paid her tithing anyway. The next day she looked in the kitchen garbage and saw a white envelope. She opened it and found.... $56.32!! Did this story spark a little cynicism in me? Oh, yes. I leaned over to Derrik and mumbled, "We're poor, and we pay our tithing. Why don't I ever find money in the garbage?" (Not a proud moment.) 

The next day was President's Day, so there were no classes. While Derrik was reading the newspaper (which must have been free, because we couldn't afford a subscription), I walked by and saw a 1/4 page color ad for Shamrock Shakes. I had never heard of them, and I was completely smitten and infatuated. I suggested to Derrik that we celebrate our holiday by going to McD's and getting a Shamrock Shake. He reminded me of the hard truth that we were poor college students and couldn't afford to run off to McDonald's on a whim. I knew he was right. So I sulked my way to the kitchen and started cleaning. As I went to take the garbage out, I grumbled, "Yeah, I pay my tithing and I can't even afford a Shamrock Shake. Why don't I ever find money in the kitchen garbage?"

Garbage in hand, I murmured my way outside to the apartment dumpster. As I threw the garbage into the dumpster, a movement by my foot caught my attention. I looked down, and I was standing on a $10 bill. I bent down and picked it up. It was a windy day. I looked up and down the street to see who might have lost it. No one was outside. At which point I lost all dignity as I ran into my apartment waving the $10 bill over my head, yelling, "Derrik, Shamrock Shakes! Shamrock Shakes!" We indeed got our Shamrock Shakes that afternoon (in addition to Big Macs and fries)!

This unconventional experience reinforced some great lessons. First, Heavenly Father is completely aware of the least of us down to the smallest details, and He cares. He knows us personally. And He hears our murmuring. (After the minty nirvana left my tongue, I was somewhat spiritually embarrassed by my behavior.) Next, we are blessed for obedience, even if our hearts need to make some progress. And finally, I know He has a sense of humor. Because I can only imagine how much fun it was arranging for me to stand on that $10 bill, knowing that hundreds of Seminary students would be subjected to the story at least annually.
This story is an example of obedience and also patience (or lack of patience in my Aunt’s case ha ha).
Now that we know the Christlike attributes that we need to develop, you may be asking yourself how we can actually do this.
Here are some practical suggestions from Preach My Gospel.  Some of this might sound like homework, but I promise you will be blessed if you try it out:
·         Figure out the attributes you wish to develop.
·         Write a definition and description of the attribute.
·         Record questions to answer as you study.
·         List and study thoroughly passages of scripture that teach about the attribute.
·         Record your feelings and impressions.
·         Set goals and make plans to apply the attribute in your life.
·         Pray for the Lord to help you develop the attribute.
·         Evaluate your progress periodically in developing each attribute.
Developing these attributes is a lifelong goal.  But you can follow Christ’s example and develop His attributes one action and one decision at a time.
Changing to become more Christlike requires exercising faith, repenting, keeping covenants, receiving an increased measure of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.
You can also ask yourself these questions:
· What must change in my heart, mind, and actions to develop this attribute?
· How will keeping covenants help me develop this attribute?
· How will developing this attribute help me qualify for the Holy Spirit?
In a talk entitled “The Character of Christ” by Elder David A. Bednar, he quoted Elder Maxwell as saying, 

"There would have been no Atonement except for the character of Christ."

This statement shows the importance of character.  The Savior has perfect attributes and characteristics.  Without these, the Atonement would have been impossible.  And without the Atonement we would all be lost.

Through this glorious Atonement we are able to repent and perfect our own character as we strive to be like our Savior. Because of the Savior’s Atonement we can be freed from our sins and live again after we die. 

My challenge to you today is to think about these nine Christlike attributes and choose one to improve on.  Faith, hope, charity, virtue, knowledge, patience, humility, diligence, and obedience.

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