Elder Spencer Smalley
Farewell address Autumn Hills Ward, Herriman, Utah
Sunday, August 28, 2016
Personal conversion is just that: personal. It is different for all of us. According to dictionary.com, conversion is: a change in character, form, or function, a spiritual change from sinfulness to righteousness, a change from one religion, political belief, viewpoint, etc., to another, or a change of attitude, emotion, or viewpoint from one of indifference,disbelief, or antagonism to one of acceptance, faith, or enthusiastic support, especially such a change in a person's religion.
According to the Bible Dictionary: “[Conversion] denotes changing one’s views, in a conscious acceptance of the will of God. If followed by continued faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism in water for the remission of sins, and the reception of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, conversion will become complete and will change a natural man into a sanctified, born again, purified person—a new creature in Christ Jesus. Complete conversion comes after many trials and much testing. To labor for the conversion of one’s self and others is a noble task.”
Drawing from these two definitions, if one word embodies conversion, it is change.
Such a change is addressed by Alma the younger (who might know a thing or two about conversion himself) to the people of Zarahemla in Alma chapter 5:
11 Behold, I can tell you—did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them?
12 And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.
13 And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.
14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?
16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?
Skipping ahead, Alma says:
26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
This change of heart Alma speaks of is telling as to whether or not we have been converted. When our hearts change, our thoughts and desires will change. As a direct result our actions, our choices, and the way we live our lives will change. Conversion begins within, and is manifested in the way we exercise our agency.
Conversion is much like water becoming ice; in order for that ice to remain as ice it needs sustained cold, otherwise it will melt and return to being exactly what it once was. Therefore for us to remain converted we need to continue to put into practice the things which gave us a testimony in the first place. We need to stand in holy places and seek the guidance of the spirit.
There is a difference between having a testimony and being converted. The scriptures testify of individuals, such as Korihor, who had a knowledge of the truth yet lived contrary to that knowledge. Thus it is crucial that we not only attain a witness of truth, but adjust our lives accordingly. The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that we can always give more. We can always find ways to better serve, and to improve ourselves spiritually. We can always become more converted.
This is where the personal aspect of personal conversion comes in. It is important to be self-reflective and look at our lives as a whole. What can we improve? What can we change? What more can we give? As we seek that answer through the guidance of the Spirit, we can make the necessary adjustments and allow ourselves to become further converted.
Conversion is not only a destination but a process. Never at one point can we be content to say “okay, I’m converted.” If conversion were not a process, we would have no need to attend church every week, partake of the Sacrament, go to the temple often, or serve others as much as possible. It requires, steadfastness, diligence, and faith. Conversion is a lifelong pursuit, and is crucial to our eternal progression.
Christ said to Peter: “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” When we have experienced a change in our hearts, our Savior has asked us to strive to help others experience this same change. Doing this will in turn deepen our conversion. This is the Spirit of missionary work.
A missionary’s purpose, as found on page one of Preach My Gospel is to “Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith inJesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”
I would like to focus specifically on the last phrase: “endure to the end.” As I have stated, conversion is a lifelong process, so wouldn’t enduring to the end be a crucial element of conversion? Returning to the Bible dictionary definition: “Complete conversion comes after many trials and much testing.”
As we faithfully endure the challenges and struggles of our mortal experience, our conversion will continue to progress. As the Lord said to Joseph in Liberty Jail:
7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”
There are promised blessings if we but endure. This is crucial to missionary service. News flash: serving a mission is not easy. For 18-20 year old boys, serving a mission will the hardest thing they have done in their lives up to that point. All missionaries experience mental, emotional, and spiritual hardship to some degree, many suffering physical trials as well.
In a talk entitled “Missionary Work and the Atonement”, given to missionaries at the Provo MTC, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:
“Anyone who does any kind of missionary work will have occasion to ask, Why is this so hard? Why doesn’t it go better? Why can’t our success be more rapid? Why aren’t there more people joining the Church? It is the truth. We believe in angels. We trust in miracles. Why don’t people just flock to the font? Why isn’t the only risk in missionary work that of pneumonia from being soaking wet all day and all night in the baptismal font?
“You will have occasion to ask those questions. I have thought about this a great deal. I offer this as my personal feeling. I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that missionaries and mission leaders have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. Missionaries and mission leaders have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.
“Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacrilegious. But I believe that missionaries and investigators, to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.
“For that reason I don’t believe missionary work has ever been easy, nor that conversion is, nor that retention is, nor that continued faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our soul.
“If He could come forward in the night, kneel down, fall on His face, bleed from every pore, and cry, ‘Abba, Father (Papa), if this cup can pass, let it pass,’ then little wonder that salvation is not a whimsical or easy thing for us. If you wonder if there isn’t an easier way, you should remember you are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot grander asked a long time ago if there wasn’t an easier way.
“The Atonement will carry the missionaries perhaps even more importantly than it will carry the investigators. When you struggle, when you are rejected, when you are spit upon and cast out and made a hiss and a byword, you are standing with the best life this world has ever known, the only pure and perfect life ever lived. You have reason to stand tall and be grateful that the Living Son of the Living God knows all about your sorrows and afflictions. The only way to salvation is through Gethsemane and on to Calvary. The only way to eternity is through Him—the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
I testify that Jesus Christ lived the only perfect life this world has ever known, I testify that in following His perfect example, and accessing the power of His atonement when we fall short, will lead to total conversion.
Now I wish to speak to speak to all the young men: You need to serve a mission. If for whatever reason you are unable to, you need to at least try. If you are not worthy, you need to become worthy, whatever that requires. If you are not at the right place spiritually to serve, start changing now. If you do not have a testimony, put Moroni’s promise to the test. It doesn’t matter whether you are 8 or 18, make the decision to serve NOW. Begin preparing NOW. There is nothing you can leave behind at home that is worth sacrificing the blessings that will come to you through your dedicated full-time service. The Lord is preparing the world for the Second Coming, and He needs YOU on His side. There are those out there who need the truth brought to them, specifically by you, because of the talents and abilities and experience Heavenly Father has blessed you with. Your Savior has extended a call to you to serve. It is your duty. If you ignore that calling, you deny those whose hearts you would change and yourself the blessings of conversion.
Now I would like to speak concerning my own personal conversion. I made the decision to serve a mission around the age of seven. My main motivation in making that resolution came from my mother telling me that a girl would only marry me if I served a mission. The idea of serving a mission seemed terrifying, sacrificing material things for two years, to me it sounded like two years of Sunday school, which I definitely did not want. But I always knew I was going to serve a mission, even if it was initially because I was concerned about my love life.
When I was 13 years old I read the Book of Mormon all the way through for the first time, and I followed the counsel of Moroni: I knelt down and prayed, asking my Heavenly Father if it was all true. I felt the Holy Ghost testify to me in my heart that it was true, and from then on I could say that I knew for myself.
As I got into middle school I began to take the Gospel less seriously, focusing mainly on sports and what others thought of me. I began to make poor choices and surround myself with the wrong people. I had a testimony, but I was not converted. Then, freshmen year, I began seminary, and I learned about the teachings of Jesus Christ and His apostles throughout the New Testament. As I began to immerse myself in the scriptures and truly study them for the first time, I felt a change of heart. My desires began to change.
As I went throughout High School, things like sports and popularity and impressing others took less and less importance. Not to say these things went away all together, but I slowly realized, that these things were of little significance in terms of who I was and what I wanted to become.
My motivation to serve changed. I had experienced first hand the blessings of the Gospel, felt the literal strengthening, redeeming, and enabling power of the Atonement, and felt greater joy than I had at any other point in my life. I wanted the Gospel to bless the lives of others the same way it had blessed mine.
Considering all of this, I will gladly give two years of my life to serve my Heavenly Father and Savior. A mission is not, and never has been, about me. Though I know that serving will tremendously bless me as a person and will forever change my life in the best way, I choose to serve because I love my Heavenly Father and my Savior. I know that they are real. I know that this Gospel leads to everlasting and eternal joy.