Boyd Matheson: What it means to enlist and what we are enlisting to do

As the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approaches, President Russell M. Nelson continues to offer invitations to members around the world to enlist in living more Christ-centered lives.

In the midst of a global pandemic, economic challenges and much uncertainty, the Prophet is beckoning all to “come join the ranks.” He knows when members enlist, join together and lock arms in facing the challenges of the day, all are blessed. This weekend leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ will summon the faithful to summon their best in continuing the journey to discipleship.

Faithful members regularly stand up and voluntarily enlist to serve and sacrifice. When hearing the word “enlist,” I recall how Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in his October 2011 general conference address, so passionately posed the call to enlist to holders of the priesthood. As I listened to this mighty Apostle’s clarion call, I could see in my mind’s eye bold and valiant disciples down through the ages courageously stepping forward to answer the appeal.

I thought of the stripling warriors confidently enlisting in the cause, Captain Moroni rending his coat and raising the title of liberty as a rallying cry for all to enlist. I saw Mary and Sariah, Ruth and Naomi, Emma and Eliza enlist, lead and faithfully follow when summoned by the Master. I humbly envisioned the Savior himself enlisting to carry out his Father’s plan by declaring “Here am I, send me!”

The two thousand stripling warriors, also known as the Army of Helaman, are an army of young men in the Book of Mormon.
The two thousand stripling warriors, also known as the Army of Helaman, are an army of young men in the Book of Mormon. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

I am thankful for disciples past and present — women and men — who have shown such courage, confidence and faith as they enlist in the service of the Master.

I wish, however, to address the rest of us. Those of us who approach enlisting with a good measure of fear and trepidation, who question our ability to carry out a calling or assignment, who wonder if we are even worthy to be numbered among the seemingly perfect Saints around us, who have doubts about our faith and faithfulness and whose hearts sink and knees tremble when faced with the invitation to not only enlist, but to enlist until the conflict is over. I am certain I am not the only one who, in the midst of such conflict, has questioned the “happy are we” stanza of that familiar hymn (Hymns, No. 250).

To become the kind of disciples the Lord needs in the latter days, we must understand both what it means to enlist and, more importantly, exactly what it is we are enlisting to do and become.

To enlist is NOT to arrive or to be perfected, but rather, to begin. Enlisting is about deciding, committing and simply starting. The stripling warriors were taught over time by the faithful teaching of their mothers and the faith-filled actions of their fathers. We know that even the Savior learned line upon line and precept upon precept.

The Book of Mormon prophet Alma described our enlistment as an entering in, or beginning, at the gate of baptism and then clearly defined what it is we are enlisting to do as disciples of Christ. He taught that we are to be willing to “… bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:8-9).

The life of President George Albert Smith illustrates the process, path and power at our disposal as we enlist as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. This mighty prophet with the gentle soul, who was no stranger to struggle, continually demonstrated that being a kind and caring Christian first was the key to leaving a legacy of love that would last.

Studying his life and emulating his example will lead us toward being more fully enlisted and anxiously engaged in our journey to discipleship. It was said of George Albert Smith that his strength as a teacher lay primarily in his example. He seemed not so much interested in explaining principles as in demonstrating their importance by the way he lived.

President George Albert Smith served as the eighth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President George Albert Smith served as the eighth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

President Smith could certainly relate to the overwhelming feelings that come from being called and invited to enlist. His first words after being sustained as prophet reveal insight into his character. “I wonder,” said he, “if anyone else here feels as weak and humble as the man who stands before you.” Truly it was within his humility that he found his greatest strength. His authenticity, humility and honesty about his own weaknesses and struggles gave him strength.

The words, “I could never do that …” often correspond with the call to enlist — whether it is a formal call to serve as a senior missionary couple, work in the Primary, serve as a ministering sister or brother, or become a member of a presidency. There are also important daily enlistments of being faithful, avoiding temptation, standing up for truth, being a friend to the friendless, responding to the silent sufferings of others or lifting up the hands that hang down.

At times the requirements for enlistment as a disciple of Jesus Christ can appear utterly overwhelming. Our faults and weaknesses, combined with the weight of worldly comparisons to others, can begin to cascade down upon us as an avalanche of inabilities, insecurities and impossibilities to the point it seems they will literally crush us.

At such times it is vital to know that we are not alone in our uncertainties about ourselves or our ability to enlist. To paraphrase a popular social media meme, “Peter had a temper, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a persecutor, Miriam was a gossiper, Martha was a worrier, Alma was a sinner, Thomas was a doubter, Moses stuttered, Zacchaeus was short, Abraham was old, and Lazarus was dead …”

God doesn’t call the qualified to enlist — He qualifies the called.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it more eloquently when he declared, “The Lord does not care about our ability or inability, but only about our availability; and if we prove our dependability, the Lord will take care of our capability” (“It’s Service, Not Status, That Counts,” Ensign, July 1975).

As we enlist, we will discover the power to do what matters most. Of President George Albert Smith it was said, “he lacked the prowess to be an athlete, … he was too homely to win popular favor, and … his weak eyes prevented him from becoming a scholar, but he could excel in human kindness. So, he made kindness his specialty,” (Merlo J. Pusey, “Builders of the Kingdom,” 1981, p. 301).

Could it be that President Smith gave us the perfect path to being enlisted? Callings come and go, but Christian kindness to our family, friends, neighbors and those around us is central to our discipleship. Indeed, we are enlisted to love one another and serve one another.

President Smith struggled with health challenges throughout his life and as a newly enlisted Apostle spent nearly three full years in bed. He longed to serve, questioned his own faith and character, and wondered why he was called to enlist only to be placed on the sidelines.

“Enlisting is about deciding, committing and simply starting.”

Personal illness, caring for an aging parent, tending to the needs of young children, overwhelming stress, a global pandemic or financial challenges can prevent us from feeling fully enlisted. Elder Maxwell was once asked why, as an Apostle with a great work to do, he thought he had to suffer so much with his cancer. He simply and humbly replied, “So that I could testify with authenticity.”

I am convinced that every call to enlist and every opportunity to serve is indeed a call to climb higher along the covenant path.

Far too many of us live our lives as Elder Maxwell described: “Straggling in the foothills and off of the peaks and mountaintops in the adventure of full discipleship. Regardless of the ultimate results, choosing to enlist and to climb makes all the difference in life.”

The Savior and His servants are ever calling and inviting us to enlist, to come join the ranks and begin to climb. The current conflicts of pandemic and global unrest along with individual suffering for many are not over. Jesus Christ is asking us to enlist until the conflicts of this life and this season of struggle around the world are over. The Lord and his latter-day leaders know, and promise each of us, that when we are all enlisted, “happy are we!”

—Boyd Matheson is the opinion editor and head of strategic reach at the Deseret News.