Despite not having hopeful college prospects as a high school graduate, Elder Peter M. Johnson, General Authority Seventy, received a partial scholarship to play basketball at BYU–Hawaii.
A few weeks before school began, he met with an academic adviser to sign up for classes. The adviser informed Elder Johnson, who was a Muslim at the time, that he needed to take a religion course. With a desire to better understand the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, he enrolled in a New Testament course.
The adviser also told him that because of his high school transcripts, he would be placed on academic probation — and would lose his athletic scholarship if he did not achieve at least a 3.0 GPA each of the first two semesters.
Speaking during a Brigham Young University campus devotional on Tuesday, Nov. 15, Elder Johnson told the rest of the story: “I did obtain the needed GPA, played NCAA Division I basketball, received a Ph.D. from Arizona State University, finished my professional career as a CPA and as an associate professor of accounting at the University of Alabama.
“With love for and faith in Jesus Christ, determination, hard work and a lot of help, much good can be achieved.”
From this experience and others, Elder Johnson said, “I have come to realize that as we come unto Christ, He follows a pattern of instruction to provide inspiration and spiritual strength. He teaches eternal truths, extends invitations to act and promises blessings to those who act in faith to fulfill His invitations.”
Christ’s Atonement, invitation and promised blessings
Elder Johnson taught the eternal truth of the Atonement of Jesus Christ — that through Him and His sacrifice, death and resurrection, all can find true happiness and enjoy life in greater abundance while preparing for eternal life with God.
He then shared the Savior’s invitation and promised blessings: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
“Do we recognize His invitation?” Elder Johnson asked. “Do we recognize the power we can have from His promised blessings? Christ invites us to come unto Him with the promise that He will give us rest.” President Russell M. Nelson in his October 2022 general conference talk defined “rest” as relief and peace.
Elder Johnson offered three ways to more fully come unto Christ and receive His rest.
1. Receive His ordinances and make and keep covenants with Him
President Nelson taught: “Each person who makes covenants in baptismal fonts and in temples — and keeps them — has increased access to the power of Jesus Christ. Please ponder that stunning truth! The reward for keeping covenants with God is heavenly power — power that strengthens us to withstand our trials, temptations and heartaches better.”
In January 2013, Elder Johnson was called to serve as the first African American stake president in Alabama. In one of his first visits to a congregation in the stake, he met with a man who handed him his temple recommend. This man explained he felt unworthy to worship in the temple because he could not sustain a person of color serving as stake president. He also had a problem with Elder Johnson being married to a person not of his race.
“I responded by giving this brother back his temple recommend and shared that if he had a problem with me because of my race and my marriage then he needed to worship God in the house of the Lord more, not less,” Elder Johnson said.
Worshipping in the temple, Elder Johnson said, “can help us see beyond ourselves, our neighborhoods and nations. As we truly understand the ordinances and covenants of the temple, we come to recognize that the Lord loves diversity.”
Recognizing this man was humble and had a desire to change, Elder Johnson told him he was willing to help him overcome his problem. Two months later, Elder Johnson and his wife, Sister Stephanie Johnson, had dinner with this man and his family. A friendship developed over the next five years.
“When I was released as his stake president, we embraced each other with such a feeling of love and brotherhood as we both came to understand the spiritual power received from priesthood ordinances and in keeping covenants with the Father and His Son,” Elder Johnson said.
2. Become an engaged learner
President Nelson has invited all to: “Immerse yourself in the scriptures to understand better Christ’s mission and ministry. Know the doctrine of Christ so that you understand its power for your life. Internalize the truth that the Atonement of Jesus Christ applies to you. … The more you learn about the Savior, the easier it will be to trust in His mercy, His infinite love, and His strengthening, healing and redeeming power.”
Elder Johnson said one can become an engaged learner as they study the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon.
Testifying of the power of the Book of Mormon, President Nelson said in his October 2017 general conference talk: “The truths of the Book of Mormon have the power to heal, comfort, restore, succor, strengthen, console and cheer our souls. … I promise that as you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions — every day.”
3. Minister to the one
As one increases desire to love God by keeping His commandments, He will deepen one’s ability to love neighbors and themselves, Elder Johnson said. Love for God should be “the primary motivator” when seeking to minister to the one.
“With love, we share our time, experiences, resources and our vulnerabilities as we nurture and help each other. Sharing vulnerabilities builds unity. None of us are immune from life’s challenges, trials, weaknesses, heartaches and disappointments. … We can invite those that we love to feel what we feel and to know what we know through the Holy Ghost,” he said.
Elder Johnson concluded with a heartfelt plea: “My friends, let us see each other as the Savior sees us.”
He reassured BYU students that Christ knows their uncertainties, doubts and concerns; He knows of those who feel marginalized and mistreated, of those who struggle with emotional challenges and various forms of addiction, of those who feel overwhelmed and exhausted.
“To all, His invitation to act and His promised blessings are uniquely and lovingly intimate and catered specifically to you and carry the same powerful, eternal truth,” Elder Johnson said, again quoting Matthew 11:28-30.
The Savior declared, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“I leave you with my witness that the words of the Living Christ are true. Come unto Him, be of good cheer. He has overcome the world and with Him so can you.”