PROVO, Utah — Massive ships move through the Panama Canal on a series of stair-step-like locks, powered by gravity and a lake filled with a constant flow of water running out of the rain forest.
After visiting the command center of the canal several years ago, Sister Kathy Christofferson pondered the function of the canal that makes travel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans possible.
“We thought it was stunning that massive cargo ships weighing 120,000 tons or cruise ships 11 stories high with over 3,000 passengers plus crew could move through this canal because of tiny raindrops that come together to form tiny rivulets, then streams, then rivers to fill the lake and provide for that necessary constant flow of water,” she said.
Speaking during BYU Women’s Conference on May 3 with her husband, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Sister Christofferson addressed the topic, “By Small and Simple Things Are Great Things Brought to Pass.”
“I know that as we strive to stay consistently faithful even in small things, they will flow together to strengthen us spiritually in remarkable ways,” she said. “As we look back, we will indeed see the hand of the Lord reaching down to bless us in a constant and marvelous manner.”
Sister Christofferson also recalled a recent testimony meeting in which she did not stand up because she could not think of anything “particularly remarkable” to share.
“The irony is I do have a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and the restoration of His true Church in these latter days,” she said, noting that hers didn’t come with one stunning event or miracle. “It came by small whisperings of the Spirit. It came line upon line and precept upon precept as I heeded the words of modern prophets, studied the scriptures, followed worthy examples, and tried to apply gospel principles in my life.
“I haven’t been perfect in these endeavors, but I have seen the hand of the Lord in my life and count that a great blessing. And parenthetically I’d like to say that this is by itself ample reason to stand up and bear testimony at any time.”
Thinking of her visit to the Panama Canal and her recent experience in the testimony meeting, she thought of the scripture “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
“While it is incredible that small drops of rain can move gigantic ships through the Panama Canal, it is even more incredible that we can receive a constant flow of spiritual impressions, even outpourings, from a Heavenly Father who is ever mindful of us,” she said.
Small and simple things are found in doing the basics, such as praying and studying the scriptures and acting in faith upon the promptings we receive from the Holy Ghost, she said.
Elder Christofferson said he received inspiration for his remarks — titled “For He That Is Mighty Hath Done To Me Great Things” — after learning of his wife’s topic. “I want to say a strong ‘amen’ to the message we just heard,” he said of Sister Christofferson's talk.
As the expectant mother of Jesus, Mary sought comfort and peace in the home of her cousin Elizabeth, Elder Christofferson explained. Mary told Elizabeth, “For he that is mighty hath done to me great things.”
“I truly believe that by your small things, our mighty God will do to you great things,” he said.
Elder Christofferson reminded the congregation that one of the truly remarkable realities of existence “is the universality of God’s love.”
“Our Heavenly Father is mindful of all of His creations, and especially His children. … God cares about what happens to us and what becomes of us. Not one single human being can ever truthfully claim that he or she is beneath God’s notice or beyond His care, ever.”
God is willing to help His children, he said, noting that repeatedly in the scriptures that God and the Savior say, “Fear not.” He has the power to help by His omnipotence and by the merits, mercy and grace of Christ’s Atonement.
“So how do the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost help us so that we need not fear, and how do They do it in ways that don’t violate the moral agency God gave us to act for ourselves?”
Elder Christofferson focused his remarks on four kinds of help They offer:
“First, the God who loves us invites us to love Him in return. Actually, He commands us to love Him: ‘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’ (Matthew 22:37-38). Putting the first commandment first will bring order to our lives, a divine order,” he said.
God knows that if His children love Him above all else, their lives will follow the pattern of the Savior’s life. “To follow the Savior’s pattern is to become His disciple, as He is the Father’s disciple, and He will not leave us alone,” he said.
Elder Christofferson said that God knows that keeping the commandments leads to two results.
“First, we will be steering a path in life that will bring peace and joy. … Secondly, by choosing to obey His commandments — by this exercise of our agency — we allow God to pour out help and blessings upon us.”
Some have not understood and have used the love of God as an excuse “for not changing, for not growing, for not keeping His commandments,” said Elder Christofferson. “ ‘God loves me just the way I am,’ they say, not recognizing that His love demands and deserves their love and loyalty in return. Otherwise, He cannot help them.”
“Another way in which this loving Heavenly Father helps us is to provide the means to redeem our mistakes and failures, and to overcome even our sins,” said Elder Christofferson.
The grace that Jesus Christ offers the repentant is transformative, he said.
He said he saw this in a woman who had been excommunicated and repented. Her husband, who was not a member of the Church, was negative about the repentance process. In response, the woman likened repentance to her husband’s work on an engine — which he can’t complete in a single day or work session. Often, in the middle of a project, the husband will stop his work, wipe his tools clean, and then return to them a few days later. “I am putting my life in order, getting clean, and making a fresh start,” she said.
Elder Christofferson said the woman had “indeed made a fresh start, and she was transformed by grace.”
“God helps us further by revealing truth — ‘knowledge of things as they are, as they were, and as they are to come’ (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24),” he said. “What a precious gift it is to know what is true and what is not, what is reality and what is not, what is good and what is not, and what leads to happiness and what does not. The Savior said that the truth makes us free and that without a knowledge of truth, we become the servants of sin and ignorance.”
Elder Christofferson asked the women at the conference to think of what life is like because they know the Father’s plan of salvation, or what it might be like if they didn’t have that knowledge.
Fourth, the endowment of help from a divine Father is the gifts He bestows, Elder Christofferson said.
“The gift of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter and Spirit of Truth, is of incalculable worth and help to each of us,” he said. “I would call it the essential gift.”
But those who receive the gift of the Holy Ghost also receive one or more spiritual gifts, he added. “Whatever your gift or gifts may be, remember that you are responsible to cultivate them.”
Elder Christofferson said an important underlying element of Sister Christofferson’s message is the need for personal responsibility.
“Our Heavenly Father is not a ‘helicopter parent.’ He does not generally intervene to protect us from the consequences of our choices,” he said. “If He routinely acted in that way, our cherished moral agency would become meaningless. We would be turning over to Him or someone else responsibility for our lives. That is what Satan has always wanted, but our Heavenly Father wants us to learn how to act independently and choose well.”
While He does not clear paths of all obstacles or automatically erase the consequences, God does provide a way for people to recover, he said. “When we turn to Him with broken hearts and contrite spirits, His arm of mercy is stretched out still. He is more than willing to help us resolve problems, deal with the consequences of our foolishness or rebellion, or prevail over the injustices and injuries caused by others.”
Christ by His grace “can give you strength to endure what you must and faith to change what in His wisdom should be changed,” he added.