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Becoming a Consecrated Missionary
Given by Elder Tad R. Callister, of the Seventy, in the Provo Missionary Training Center on October 7, 2008
Many years ago I entered the Mission Training Center as a young enthusiastic missionary. The training was shorter and simpler then, but the spirit was just as powerful. I have long forgotten most of what was said, but an observation made by the president of the Mission Training Center struck me and has remained with me to this day. He said in essence: “Every mission has a number of good, even great missionaries, but most missions only have about five or so consecrated missionaries – those who are willing to lay everything on the altar of sacrifice.”
Today I believe we have many more such consecrated missionaries. But to those of you who are not quite there, but would like to be, it is you to whom I would like to speak today – about becoming a consecrated missionary.
What is a Consecrated Missionary?
What is a consecrated missionary? It is a missionary who is willing to lay everything on the altar of sacrifice and to hold nothing back. It is a willingness to give every ounce of energy, every conscious thought, and every drop of passion to this work – to submit our will to God’s will whatever it may be. Every missionary who has been to the temple has covenanted to consecrate his all. The book of Omni records the depth and breadth of that covenant: “Yea, come unto me, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him” (Omni 1:26).
The law of consecration is the law of the temple, it is the law of the celestial kingdom, and it is the law of a celestial mission.
Parley P. Pratt was such a consecrated missionary. He had served as a missionary for more than 25 years of almost constant labors. He had just returned from his latest mission in Chile. He was hopeful that he could now remain at home and enjoy his family, but such expectations were short lived. President Brigham Young called him to serve yet another mission– this time in the eastern states. One can imagine the feelings that must have swelled up in Parley’s heart. Perhaps he thought, “Haven’t I given all that a mortal could be expected to give? Don’t I deserve to spend some time with my family and friends? Can’t I just relax for a while?”
But Parley P. Pratt was a consecrated missionary. On September 7, 1856, shortly after learning of his call by Brigham Young, he offered the following tender reflections and prophetic insights: “I have desired, after travelling for twenty-five or twenty-six years, mostly abroad, to stay at home and minister among the people of God, and take care of my family; but God’s will be done, and not mine. If it is the will of God that I should spend my days in proclaiming this Gospel and bearing testimony of these things, I shall think myself highly privileged and honored. And when the Spirit of God is upon me, I think it matters but very little what I suffer, what I sacrificed–whether I secure the honor or dishonor of men, or where I die, if it so be that I can keep the faith, fight the good fight, and finish my course with joy. I have all eternity before me, in which to enjoy myself.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. xxv.)
Sometimes there is a temptation to withhold part of the offering. Such was the case with Ananias and Sapphira, his wife. The scriptures tell us that they sold a piece of land. Under the law of consecration they were to turn over the entire sale proceeds to the church, but secretly they kept back part of the price. The consequence was devastating – they were struck dead (Acts 5:1-10). Sometimes good men, perhaps even great men, can’t quite bring themselves to put everything on the altar of sacrifice, and in the course lose their eternal lives. So it was with the rich young ruler. He had kept the commandments from his youth up. Then the Savior declared, “Yet lackest thou one thing. Sell all thou hast and distribute unto the poor…and come follow me.” But it was too much to ask, and he went away sorrowful, unwilling to put his all on the sacrificial altar.
Peter, overhearing the conversation and understanding there could be no shortcuts to eternal life, no holding back, declared in contrast: “We have left all and followed thee” (Luke 18:18-28). Perhaps we have one or two things which we lack, that we hold back from the sacrificial altar, that prevent us from becoming a consecrated missionary. May I discuss some of those, so that hopefully we too might become like Peter and leave our all on the altar of sacrifice.
Put On the Altar of Sacrifice Any Disobedience.
First, a consecrated missionary puts on the altar of sacrifice any streak of disobedience he may possess, however large or small it may be. He has an unrelenting quest to be exactly obedient. King Lamoni recognized that Ammon was a consecrated missionary, for he said: “Even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them” (Alma 18:10).
When I first entered the field as a mission president, I met several times with a missionary who was struggling with obedience. One day in frustration he blurted out: “What then is it you want me to do?” I replied: “You have missed the point. It is not what I want you to do, it should be what do you want to do?” There was a moment of silence and then he made this insightful observation: “You are not just asking me to change my behavior; you are asking me to change my nature.” He was so right.
If you only change your behavior, then you will be the same person you were when you left home, subject to the same problems that plagued you then. But if you change your nature you will go home a new man or woman, with the power and discipline to conquer your old Goliaths. If you only get up at 6:30 am because your companion does, you have merely changed your behavior. If you get up whether or not he does, you have changed your nature. If you speak good words but entertain bad thoughts, you have only changed your behavior. If you also change your thoughts you have also changed your nature.
With the Lord’s help we can transform our natures. King Benjamin gave the key as to how we can do it. We must become “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mos 3:19).
That is the key – to submit our will to God’s will.
One missionary, upon going home told me that he slept in one morning. His companion said to him, “It’s time to get out of bed.” This missionary responded, “I don’t want to.” His companion replied, “It’s not about what you want, it’s about what the Lord wants.” The missionary said; “I have never forgotten that – a mission is about that the Lord wants, not what I want.”
A consecrated nature will cause us to be obedient, not because we have to, but because we want to. Such a nature may cause us to change the music we listen to; it may cause some to be more positive in their speech, or more exacting in following the morning schedule or more diligent in their studies. Whatever it is, the consecrated missionary will read the white handbook with enthusiasm, anxious to obey and follow every rule with exactness, knowing that it is not a book of restraints, but a book of blessings. He will have an overarching, burning desire to do the Lord’s will, not his.
Leave Our Fears on the Sacrificial Altar
Second, consecrated missionaries leave their fears on the sacrificial altar and open their mouths with everyone. This will be one of your great challenges in the mission field. It sometimes separates the consecrated missionaries from the good missionaries. I recognize there may be multiple reasons why someone doesn’t open his mouth at all times and in all places – why he holds back a part of the offering. It could be a timid personality, or a fear of man, or a streak of laziness, but whatever the excuse may be, it must eventually be overcome. It never outweighs the Savior’s command which states: “And thou must open thy mouth at all times.” (DC 28:16). This injunction is repeated again and again in the scriptures.
On another occasion the Lord said, “At all times and in all places he shall open his mouth and declare my gospel as with the voice of a trump both day and night.” And then comes the promise to those who do: “And I will give unto him strength such as is not known among men” (DC 24:12).
Sometimes in life we just have to square our shoulders and do it. There is no magic pill that makes us courageous, no passage of time that strengthens us, no memorized approach that emboldens us. We are left only with the compelling counsel of King Benjamin: “And now, if ye believe all these things, see that you do them” (Mosiah 4:19).
Years ago my grandfather was serving as the president of the Rotterdam Branch in Holland. He told of a woman who came to him destitute, who had earned the equivalent of an American quarter for the entire week. She asked if she needed to pay tithing. He looked at her for a minute in her impoverished condition, and then said: “Sister, if this were my church, I would not take your tithing. But it is not my church; it is the Lord’s church, and tithing is a principle upon which blessings of the Lord are predicated.” (LeGrand Richards Speaks, P. 185.) She paid her tithing.
If I could as a Mission President, I would have exempted some missionaries who struggled with opening their mouth. I knew how hard it was for them, but I couldn’t. The command to open one’s mouth is not my command. It is not the command of Preach My Gospel, it is not the command of the missionary department, it is the command of the Lord who has spoken on this subject again and again through his living prophets. Sometimes we have to be like Nephi and say, “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” (1 Ne 3:7). Eventually we must do more than tell the stories of the Book of Mormon; we must live them.
The Lord, in speaking to a group of departing missionaries (like you), told them five times to “preach by the way” (DC 52:10-27). We preach by the way when we talk to people in the parking lots, when we speak with people in elevators, when we speak to people in the stores or on the bus or at the gas stations. Consecrated missionaries preach by the way at all times and in all places, both day and night. Sometimes we have missionaries who are so worried about offending people that in the process they never ever save them.
I had an assistant who used to say, “If you want to baptize a few people you talk to a few people, if you want to baptize a lot of people you talk to a lot of people and if you want to baptize everyone you can, you talk to everyone you can.” But the Lord gave an even further reason for opening our mouths. He declared: “And it shall be given thee from the time thou shalt go [out of thy apartment in the morning], until the time thou shalt return [to thy apartment in the evening] what thou shalt do”. (DC 28:15-16). In other words, you will have the spirit from the moment you leave your apartment until the moment you return to your apartment if you do what is required in verse 16: “And thou must open thy mouth at all times, declaring my gospel with the sound of rejoicing. Amen.”
The reason it is so important to open our mouths is that every time we do so we exercise faith, and every time we exercise faith we invite the spirit and miracles into our lives. Consecrated missionaries open their mouth with everyone.
Put Our Romantic Passions on the Table
Third, a consecrated missionary puts his romantic passions on the altar of sacrifice; he has a locked heart and a focused mind. He is never flirtatious, he does not have an eye on the cute BYU coed or the friendly young single adult, nor is his prime focus with the young women after sacrament meeting. He is not obsessed with his girl friend back home. He rises above all of that.
In my day the white handbook contained this all-inclusive statement: “Put out of your mind all thoughts of home, school, your girl and worldly things.” It was a powerful reminder that our mission was the sole focus of our mind and the sole passion of our heart. As hard as it may be, the consecrated missionary disciplines his passions. His eye is riveted to this work. He is like the thoroughbred horse with his blinders on. He races ahead, seeing only track and finish. If an inappropriate thought enters his mind, he drives it out with a hymn or scripture. His mind does not go with the flow. Rather, there is an active, concerted, conscientious effort to keep his mind pure and clean.
When David saw Bathsheba on the rooftop, he continued to watch – that was his downfall. When Joseph was tempted by Pharaoh’s wife, the scriptures say: “[He] got him out” (Gen 39:12), and that was his salvation. It is no different with our minds. Alma taught this principle to his son Corianton, who had unfortunately unlocked his heart to the harlot Isabel. Alma scolded his son severely and said, “Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many, but this was no excuse for thee, my son.” And then he gave him the remedy to be a consecrated missionary, “go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross [or discipline] yourself in all these things.” (Alma 39:4,9).
You young missionaries who enter the field, will be surrounded, almost immersed, by those in immodest clothing, by suggestive billboards, by magazines and papers that have lost all sense of moral decency. If you garnish your thoughts with virtue unceasingly (DC 121:45) the consequences will be monumental in your life. As a missionary you will have confidence that the Lord will hear and answer your prayers. The Lord himself promised: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (DC 121:45) In addition, when you go home and date, you may not only have a romantic courtship, but one that is also clean and wholesome. And when you are married you will be a loyal and true spouse. If every action is preceded by a thought, then every consecrated missionary must first have a clean and consecrated mind.
Give Up Pride
Fourth, a consecrated missionary gives up his pride on the sacrificial altar. The Lord made it clear, “And no one can assist in this work except he be humble and full of love” (DC 12:8). Pride manifests itself in many ways – one way is disloyalty to those who are our leaders.
Loyalty is much more than a reluctant submissiveness. It is an active pursuit, not only to follow the counsel of our leaders, but to seek their counsel. A consecrated missionary hungers and thirsts for instruction as to how he can be better, and how fortunate we are to have so many missionaries in the world who manifest that spirit. Again and again missionaries would ask me in the field, “President, what can I do to be a better missionary.” And oh, how they became so.
Pride may manifest itself in jealousy of companions. I think of one of the finest elders of our mission. I never heard him say “I.” It was always “we” or “my companion did this” or “my companion did that.” Though his words always credited someone else, somehow you always knew he was the driving force behind it all. Pride may manifest itself in a reluctance to confess our sins. We may be too embarrassed to do so, or fearful of the consequences or unrealistically hoping the sin will somehow vanish if we serve an honorable mission. But at the root of each of those excuses is pride.
On one occasion a missionary came to me with a belated confession. I asked him what motivated him to come. He responded: “I finally disclosed to my companion that I had something to confess to the President, but I didn’t want to go home. Then my companion said something that struck me to the very core. “Elder,” he said, “there is something even more important than your mission.” Somewhat surprised I replied, “What is that?” Then came his answer: “Repentance – repentance is more important than your mission.” The young Elder who sat before me said, “President, I knew he was right. And that is why I am here. I want to repent.” Not too long ago I received an invitation to attend his temple sealing.
Some have honestly asked, “When should I confess?” When the sin is of such a serious magnitude that it may trigger a disciplinary proceeding or continues to linger in our minds so that we cannot have peace. If we then fail to confess, our spiritual horizons become limited. It is like being surrounded by a circular, impenetrable wall. In such a circumstance, we have some limited room in which to move, but we are trapped. We will look in vain for a slit through which we can squeeze, an opening through which we can pass, an end around which we can travel. There are no end runs, no secret openings, no hidden passages. Serving a faithful mission does not obviate confession; months and years of abstinence no not erase its need; one-on-one pleading with the Lord is not a substitute. Somewhere, sometime, somehow one must face the wall square up and climb it. That is confession. When we do this our spiritual horizons become unlimited and we become entitled to the promise of the Lord. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).
Pride may manifest itself in a defensive attitude or a multitude of excuses. On one occasion I reprimanded a missionary for an act of blatant disobedience. He started to offer excuses; finally I said, “If you want to offer excuses I cannot help you. If you are willing to acknowledge the wrong, I will work with you and we can build for a constructive future on a sure and solid foundation.” That day he had to choose between rationalization and repentance. Fortunately he chose the latter.
One night I was with an Elder Choi and Elder McClellan. We were talking to a mother who was reluctant to let her 17-year-old son be baptized. For at least ten minutes of the conversation she chastised these elders severely, and literally “raked them over the coals.” No doubt they were embarrassed, perhaps even offended, particularly since their mission president was present. In my estimation they had done nothing wrong. Instead, they were taking an undeserved whipping of substantial proportions. I thought, will they fight back, will they argue, will they defend their position? To their credit there was no argument, no excuses – simply the humble response that they were trying to do what was best for her son and if in any way they had failed to do so they were sorry. They were not trying to win an argument. They were trying to save a soul. With that humble spirit, her heart softened, and finally she agreed that she would listen more carefully to the message her son was being taught. They were consecrated missionaries – every ounce of their pride had been put on the altar of sacrifice.
We Put our Negativism and Sarcasm on the Table.
Fifth, consecrated missionaries are willing to give up any negativism or sarcasm. Instead they are optimistic and positive. They have a 24-hour smile. They live the invitation of the Savior, “Be of good cheer I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). There is not a negative bone in their bodies. There is no rejection at the door or on the street that can dim their enthusiasm. They are willing to pay the price of repeated rejection for the hope of a single conversion. Whatever the world throws at them, they throw back a smile, because they know they have the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Consecrated missionaries are like Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young, who left for their missions to England. Their families were poverty stricken, they were sick, and there was little food available for the ensuing months. Heber and Brigham, finally able to raise themselves from their own sick beds, kissed their wives and started on their journey. Brigham recorded: “It seemed to me as though my very inmost parts would melt within me at the thought of leaving my family in such a condition.” (Men With a Mission, p. 71.) But before they were out of sight, Brigham directed the teamster to stop. He and Heber mustered all their strength to stand, they raised their hats over their heads three times and shouted, “Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah for Israel.” We have such consecrated missionaries who can shout “Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah for Israel” even when they are bombarded with rejection, or illness, or disappointment – who have unwavering faith in the promise of Paul: “let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal 6:9).
Consecrated missionaries are extra-milers. They put on the table of sacrifice every ounce of their energy, every hour of every day. When Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile, he collapsed at the finish line into the hands of his well-wishers. A journalist, sensing all that was involved in that historic moment wrote: “The runner, open-mouthed, thin-legged, knowing only pace and goal, spending his strength so that the finish, at one mile, there was nothing more.” For a consecrated missionary there is nothing more to give at the end of the day. He has put it all on the altar of sacrifice.Consecrated missionaries are missionaries who would finish the marathon. They are missionaries who would go the full fifteen rounds. They are missionaries who carry no white flags.
Years ago at family night we would have wrestling as part of the evening activities – our children loved it. When the kids were little I would sometimes hold them down and ask, “Do you give up?” At first they would say, “Yes Dad, I give up.” Then I would say, “No, you never give up, you never give up.” As time would pass and I would ask the question again, they would quickly reply, “No, Dad I never give up.” Consecrated missionaries never give up on the Lord’s work. They never throw in the towel. They would have made it from Palmyra to Salt Lake Valley. Nothing would have weeded them out along the way. For you see, they had unwavering faith.
Consecrated missionaries are out of the apartment by 10:00 a.m. They do not come back before 9:00 p.m., except for lunch or dinner. They speak to everyone. They knock at one more door. There is a quickness in their pace and an urgency in their work. You can see it in their faces.
Years ago I was a young missionary in Washington DC. I was on an exchange with an Elder Hafen. It was a bike area. We had an appointment across town but the rain started to pour. He asked, “Should I cancel the appointment?” I replied, “This is your area, you make the decision. “He thought for a moment and then replied, “Let’s ride.” I love those words – “Let’s ride” – rain, sleet, snow, it doesn’t matter – “Let’s ride.” That is the spirit of a consecrated missionary.
When consecrated missionaries are exhausted and nothing is left, they rely upon their faith, and the reserve tanks of energy somehow carry them through the day. They too become recipients of the promise to Joseph Smith: “In temporal labors thou shalt not have strength for this is not thy calling.” But then the promise: “Thou shall devote all thy service in Zion; and in this thou shalt have strength” (DC 24:7-9).
What Does it Cost to Become a Consecrated Missionary?
What is the cost to become a consecrated missionary? Some time ago I saw a movie on the life of Martin Luther. He was about to be tried for heresy. Shortly before he was to meet with the Court of Inquisition, his spiritual mentor (a monk who had trained him and loved him) was cutting his hair with a razor. At one point the monk reprimanded Luther for having turned the world upside down, leading the world in revolt – Protestants against Catholics.
Then in a stirring moment, Luther grasps his arm and asks: “You wanted me to change the world. Did you think there would be no cost?” You young missionaries came out here to change the world, to change lives, but there is a cost. It costs everything that you have on the altar of sacrifice – your fears, your pride, your laziness, your disobedience, your weaknesses; we cannot hold anything back. When you came to the mission field you burned the bridges behind you, you burned the ships in the harbor. There is no retreat to your former life. You cannot have one foot at home and one foot in the mission field.
That is a certain formula for frustration. The Lord demands our whole soul on the sacrificial altar. That is the price we must pay, and when we do, we then become instruments in the hands of God.
What Is the Power of a Consecrated Missionary?
What is the power of a consecrated missionary? Suppose I were to give you the
following options, which would you choose?
-100 mediocre missionaries or 80 consecrated missionaries?
-100 mediocre missionaries or 50 consecrated missionaries?
-100 mediocre missionaries or 20 consecrated missionaries?
-100 mediocre missionaries or 2 consecrated missionaries?
(by the way, the names of those consecrated missionaries are Alma and Ammon)
Nephi realized that power comes with consecration, not numbers. Laman and Lemuel could never understand this. They could not comprehend how they could get the brass plates. After all they said, “How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands. Behold he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty, then why not us.” For them it was all about numbers – 50 was more than 4, therefore they could not prevail. But for Nephi, man’s power was inconsequential. It was only the Lord’s power that counted. He replied: “For behold he [God] is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even his tens of thousands” (1 Ne 4:1). The power of a consecrated missionary is without limit. It is manifested in so many ways. As to Nephi (son of Nephi), the scriptures tell us his words were so powerful, that for his detractors, “it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words” (3 Ne 7:18). When the sons of Mosiah preached the gospel, the scriptures declare: “They taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:3). And as to those consecrated missionaries who thrust in their sickle with all their souls, the Lord promised: “your sins are forgiven you” (DC 31:5). Those are the powers and blessings of a consecrated missionary, and that is why the Prophet Joseph said; “it is not the multitude of preachers that is to bring about the glorious millennium; but it is those who are ‘called, and chosen, and faithful.” (TPJ 42). In essence – the consecrated.
Consecrated Missionaries Serve the Savior Because They Love Him.
What is the driving, motivating force for a consecrated missionary? It is the Savior and His Atonement. If we fail to be obedient, if we fail to be humble, if we fail to be fearless, perhaps we intellectually understand the Atonement, but somehow we fail to grasp the underlying love of his sacrifice. Once we feel that, as well as understand it, we will be driven to give our all. We will realize that our all is a small repayment for his all.
Becoming a Consecrated Missionary.
Each of us might appropriately ask, “What lack I yet to become a consecrated missionary?” There is no escaping it. God will demand our all. If we are shy or reserved – God will compel us to change, to be bold. He will jerk us out of our comfort zone again and again. If we are lazy or idle, he will push us and pull us even when we are exhausted. If we are disobedient, he will press us until we have a child-like submissiveness. He will not let us be content with our weaknesses.
Whatever the weakness may be that holds us back from becoming a consecrated missionary, the Lord has promised that if we have faith in him, and humble ourselves before him, that he will make weak things become strong unto us (Ether 12:26-27). I believe that. I do not believe there is one missionary whose weaknesses are greater than the potential strengths within him. Why? – because each of us is a son and daughter of God, with his divine nature and divine potential woven into the very fabric of our souls. I do not think the Lord expects immediate perfection of us, but I do believe he expects immediate progress, and with that progress comes consecration. I believe that he recognizes and appreciates every step we take forward, however small it may be, striving to put our whole souls on the altar of sacrifice. At first, consecration may seem like Mt. Everest, unconquerable, unapproachable, unassailable, but every step we take forward, however minute it may seem, furthers our ascent, until one day we have attained the summit.
May we not be content with being a good, even a great missionary, when we have the capacity to be consecrated missionaries. Mormon declared with boldness: “Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people that they might have everlasting life” (2 Ne 5:13). May it be so with each of us, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.