"You should always remember," the mission president counseled his missionaries during a zone conference, "to whom - and for whom - you are responsible."
At first, the advice confused the young missionary. He knew about responsibility. He'd been taught well as a youth - worked around his home, accepted Aaronic Priesthood assignments, even coached a youth basketball team. His bishop had told him he was very dependable and, as far as the missionary knew, he'd never let anyone down."Yes," he thought, "I am responsible."
But, until now, he'd never really thought about being responsible to someone and for someone. And he thought being responsible meant doing something because you just had to do it.
That night, he happened to reread the Book of Mormon account of Nephi's efforts to get the brass plates. Like many Latter-day Saints, he was familiar with Nephi's assertion that he would go and do as the Lord commands because he knew that the Lord would not make such a request unless the Lord were willing to help. (See 1 Ne. 3:7.)
Tonight, however, some other passages struck his heart with more power.
Responding to his older sons' well-known resistance to obtaining the plates, Lehi said:
"And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord." (1 Ne. 3:5.)
For what - and to whom - were Laman and Lemuel responsible, the missionary asked himself.
It seemed that Laman and Lemuel understood that they were responsible for getting the brass plates. But they were definitely confused as to whom they should answer.
Nephi, on the other hand, had a firm understanding of his duty.
"As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us." (1 Ne. 3:15.)
When Nephi earlier reported that unwavering commitment to his father, Lehi "was exceedingly glad, for he knew that [NephiT had been blessed of the Lord." (1 Ne. 3:8.)
Perhaps then, this searching missionary reasoned, there is more to responsibility than just doing what one is obligated to do. Perhaps, if you really understand these assignments from the Lord, you tap into a source of testimony-strengthening spiritual power that spotlights the true meaning and purpose of the Lord's work.
The thoughts and feelings were rushing into his mind. He needed to write:
"I'm not in this mission field because my mother and father want me here. I'm here because I love the Lord. And through trying my best to fulfill my responsibility to Him, my vision has been expanded to understand the great need for His word in our world. I love His children. They want and need His word. Through His grace, I have the word. Now I can share it. I can help others.
"Yes, I am responsible to the Lord for teaching these people. And the Lord will hold me accountable for what I do. But because of my willingness to accept that responsibility, I have, as Nephi, been blessed of the Lord. I see a greater purpose, and my motivation is pure."
Now, the missionary thought, he understood what his priests quorum adviser had meant when he quoted the last two verses of the 107th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
"Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.
"He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand. Even so. Amen." (D&C 107:99-100.)
He would perform his missionary duties, not because of fear or obligation, but because of a pure love of the Lord and an understanding of His work. He would perform his Church labors for the rest of his life for the same reason.