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Avoiding Spiritual Complacency

I would like to share a story and a photo that, on the surface, might seem totally unrelated.

But together they teach an important principle that has been weighing on my heart.

First, the story…

It had been a long time coming.

My brother and his wife finally felt confident enough to leave home without hiring a babysitter—sure that their oldest child, who was about twelve years old at the time, would be able to handle things on his own. With the younger children asleep in their beds, they left home for a nearby movie theatre with McKay in charge and armed with detailed instructions.

Imagine their panic when they returned home a few hours later, walked in the door, and smelled smoke.

They raced around the house checking on all the sleeping children, and then confronted McKay, who, unalarmed, was lounging on the couch reading. “Hey!” my brother said, “What’s going on? Don’t you smell that?” “Sure, I do,” he casually replied, “I looked around and didn’t see anything. And you know, it was kind of irritating at first, but you get used to it.” They later discovered the air conditioner had been turned on.

It was winter—thus the smoke and burning smell.

A photographer using a drone captured this stunning photo at Miami Beach last November. When I first saw it, I was shocked.

Here was a man floating on his back in ocean water, blissfully unaware that circling right beneath him swam a massive hammerhead shark. How could he be so close to danger, yet so complacent and relaxed? It’s simple: he was totally unaware. Think about it: would you ever expect something so dangerous lurking beneath such beautiful blue waters, not far from the safety of the shore?

How many of us, spiritually, are just like this man, swimming blissfully unaware in perilous waters?

Or like my nephew, lounging, getting used to the irritating smell, and ignoring the real danger?

The prophet Nephi taught a timeless truth:
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell…

Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!

In our time together this morning, I would like to talk about five ways you can protect yourself against the lurking danger of spiritual complacency.

1. Know Your Enemy

President Russell M. Nelson has taught,

“We must realize we are at war.

The war began before the world was and will continue.”

“The adversary is increasing his attacks on faith and upon us and our families at an exponential rate.” If you and I are at war, we must know our enemy.

Sun Tzu, military general-strategist and advisor to the king in 6th Century BC China, said this in his ancient text, The Art of War: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

One of the most important things we must know about our enemy is to know how he works. We know Satan’s tactics because they have not changed since the beginning of time.

And we will understand them best if we view them in contrast to how Jesus Christ works:

Satan wants to drag us “carefully down to hell.” Christ wants to lift us up.

Satan wants us to be miserable. Christ wants us to have joy.

Satan wants us to be alone. Christ wants us to belong.

Satan wants us to forget – who we are and why we are here. Christ wants us to remember.

Satan wants us to seek approval from the world. Christ wants us to seek approval from heaven.

Satan wants to keep us distracted. Christ wants us to be still, to be spiritually aware.

Satan wants us to listen to the noisy voices of the world. Christ wants us to listen to the Holy Ghost.

Satan wants us to be confused. Christ wants us to be certain.

Satan wants us to follow false prophets. Christ wants us to follow His prophet.

Satan wants us to falter. Christ wants us to have faith.

Satan wants us to carry life’s burdens on our own. Christ wants us to let God prevail.

2. Know Yourself

Every one of you is a beloved son or daughter of heavenly parents.

You have been reserved to come to earth now at this specific time in history for a purpose; there is a great work for each of you to do. You have been prepared; you are entitled to heavenly help—for you were not sent to earth to fail. Prophets of God know this, and Satan knows it.

Satan is aware of your potential and the great work to be done before Jesus Christ comes again. He is unleashing his power on the earth in an attempt to curb yours. His tactics are both sly and terrifyingly bold.

But there is hope—we know the final outcome of this raging battle! God will prevail. Because of Jesus Christ and His grace, we will have the capacity to do what is required of disciples living in the latter days. The Lord has given us touchstones to light the path to Him and to learn and to remember who we are. Draw close to the words of the Savior in the scriptures. Hear His voice.

Listen to and study the words of the living prophet. Read and reflect on your patriarchal blessing. Share your heart with your Heavenly Father in prayer and then listen and keep listening. Serve and ponder in the temple.

Over time, all these things will help you learn and remember who you are and keep you grounded in your true identity as a child of God.

This knowledge will unite you with Him and with your brothers and sisters. It’s worth asking yourself the question that Paul posed to the Corinthians: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”

3. Remember, We Need Each Other

Some parts of the world are starting to come out of a worldwide pandemic—
a universally shared experience that has affected all of us in one way or another.

Who would have ever thought 18 months ago that the doors of our temples and our churches would be shuttered for so long?

In some ways, it’s taken less sacrifice to be a member of the Church during the pandemic. It’s taken less time and less effort—temples have been closed, church has been at home, no showing up to teach a class each week. I can even turn off my camera in Zoom meetings and lay back. I have heard some say that they are not sure they want to come back when restrictions are lifted—that it’s nice living the gospel within the walls of their own homes and that they do not need organized religion to grow spiritually.

It’s much easier this way. Even if it’s been easier for some to take a vacation from church, I can assure you that Satan has not been taking a vacation!

He wants us to opt out of formal worship and service with others in sacrament meeting, in the meetinghouse, in the temple, and in our callings—convinced we get more inspiration and meaning from spiritual activities at home or in nature.

We don’t have to choose just one or the other—we need both! Instead of focusing solely on what we are getting out of Church, we can prayerfully ponder what we can and need to give as well.

Brothers and sisters—how we need each other! There are those in your circles who need your company and your conversation. They need to hear the comments you make in a class; they need a hug in the hallway; they need the strength that comes through service, covenant-keeping and covenant-belonging. We need the chance to serve and to bless, to listen and to learn— to prepare lessons and to minister.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught, “It is important to recognize that God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue from grace to grace, until we receive a fulness of all He can give. That requires more than simply being nice or feeling spiritual. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and of the Spirit, and enduring in faith to the end.

One cannot fully achieve this in isolation, so a major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.”

We all need growth that cannot come in isolation. We need each other. We also need a real connection to the Lord’s prophet—one that speaks for and represents Jesus Christ. Satan wants to create a wedge between you and the living prophet, to use any means or issue to undermine confidence in Him and thereby deprive us of the peace and power that comes from following His counsel.

Elder Neil L. Andersen taught that “a prophet does not stand between you and the Savior. Rather, he stands beside you and points the way to the Savior. A prophet’s greatest responsibility and most precious gift to us is his sure witness, his certain knowledge, that Jesus is the Christ.”

How blessed we are to be living on earth when we have a living prophet, a sure witness! May we sustain him not only with our hands, but with our hearts. With our actions and with our words.

We can seek to increase our spiritual capacity to receive personal revelation as we gather Israel. Let’s not let worthy and powerful social causes consume our time and energies to the extent that we neglect things of the greatest eternal worth— our love for God and for His children and our covenants which tie us to both and call us to their service.

4. Be Wholehearted in Your Discipleship

Like you, I’ve had my share of Zoom meetings over the past year.

With the topic of spiritual complacency on my heart and mind, I have found myself asking “What is the spiritual equivalent of turning off my camera and microphone?”

Being there—but not really. Maybe you are better at this than I am, but when my camera is not on and my microphone is muted —I find it easy to get distracted. I believe that distraction is one of the ways that Satan lulls us into thinking “all is well in Zion.”

I love the scripture in Colossians Chapter 3, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily.” When it comes to Jesus Christ and His gospel, let’s be wholehearted in our love and in our discipleship!

Does this mean that we are perfect? No! But it does mean that we are trying—heart, mind, body, and spirit—to increase our discipleship and live the two great commandments.

In Acts Chapter 5, we read of a man and his wife who held back. “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price.”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said of them, that “otherwise good members of the Church, ‘kept back’ a portion instead of consecrating their all. Some would never sell Jesus for thirty pieces, but they would not give Him their all either!”

In Chapter 20 of the same book we read of wholehearted Paul, who “kept back nothing.” There is a difference between giving and giving all as Paul did.

I feel so strongly that Heavenly Father needs us to be wholehearted and intentional in our discipleship. He wants us, not only to be where we are supposed to be, but to be there in a way that will allow us to do and to feel what He wants us to do and to feel while we are there.

In Matthew 25, we read the parable of the ten virgins. We know that five were wise—they showed up prepared and ready for the bridegroom. The other five were foolish—they, too, showed up, but without a sufficient reserve. When it took longer than they thought for the bridegroom to come, they ran out of oil and, scrambling to find more, missed the bridegroom’s return.

By the time they found more oil, the door to the wedding feast was closed. They said, “Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, you know me not.” The ten young women all showed up, right?

We know they represent covenant members of the church. They were where they were supposed to be; they were at the wedding they had been invited to. But only half of them had prepared in a way that allowed them to receive the blessings of being there.

When we find ourselves in holy places—be that in Sunday meetings, the temple, around the dinner table, or even with other people—if we are constantly checking social media, texting and tweeting—if our minds are somewhere else—we are reducing, perhaps even stopping, the ability of the Holy Ghost to communicate with us.

Then we wonder why we didn’t get anything out of being there. I have a good friend who says, “When you stand in holy places, be wholly there.” I love that advice! Let’s be present and allow the Spirit to teach us.

There is a desperate need in the world for your wholehearted enthusiastic discipleship. There are bridges to build, friends to be made, testimonies to share and Zion to build.

You can reach out to those in the margins and make the world a better place as you help prepare the world for the return of Jesus Christ.This is a “great work” that we have been called to engage in and will require us to be intentional in how we use our time, our talents, and our energy.

The gospel is something that we do! Notice how many times the word “do” is mentioned in the following verse found in 3 Nephi 27:21:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do.”

I’d like to share a simple story that illustrates this principle.

Years ago, in my childhood home, my parents decided to recarpet the house.
The night before the new carpet arrived, my mom asked my brothers to remove furniture and rip out the old carpet in the bedrooms, so that the new carpet could be installed the next morning. Emily, who was 7, was asleep on her bed.

While she soundly slept, my brothers removed all the other furniture from her room and everything from the walls and the closet—then even the carpet. Then they had an idea—an awful idea; they decided, as big brothers around the world sometimes do, to prank their little sister.

They then removed everything from the walls and the closet.

The room was completely bare except for the bed.

Then they wrote a note and tacked it to the wall:

“Emily, we moved. We’ll write in a few days and tell you where we are. Love, your family.” Well, the next morning Emily did not show up for breakfast as usual. My mom sent one of my brothers to get her. Emily was not in her bed, but my brother did hear the sound of crying coming from inside of the closet. There was Emily, curled up and crying her little heart out.

Emily reflected on this experience later:

I wondered, why would they just leave me?

I felt so alone and unloved.

Was I really that unimportant?

In my 7-year-old mind I thought, “No one likes me, not even my own family.” I was crushed. But what would have happened if I just opened the door? What would I have heard? What would I have smelled? I would have known I was not alone.

I would have known I really was loved. The thought never even crossed my mind to do something about my situation. I just gave up and stayed in my closet crying. And yet if I had simply opened the door...

I know in my life there have been times when I have been figuratively like little Emily sitting in her closet, feeling lost and abandoned, but not taking the needed steps to build faith in Jesus Christ, to increase my spiritual capacity, and to search out and feel the peace of covenant belonging.

One of the many things that I love about Jesus Christ is that He patiently stands with arms wide open to encircle us in the arms of his love. He allows us to use our agency and to grow in our discipleship.

This choosing and this growing in our faith as the prophet has asked us to do, requires some action on our part! So, my challenge to each of us: let’s DO the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let’s be where we are supposed to be, when we are supposed to be there, and be all in! As we do this, I bear testimony that our faith in Jesus Christ and our joy in His gospel will increase.

5. Repent

When we come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ, when we know who we are and how our Heavenly Father feels about us, when we know our purpose and are being intentional about seeking our errands from the Lord, we will be led to repent—and repent often!

One of my very favorite definitions of repentance is found in Alma 37:9. Alma was teaching his son Helaman, and referring to the scriptures when he said,

“Yea, these records and their words brought them unto repentance; that is, they brought them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and to rejoice in Jesus Christ their Redeemer.”

Repentance is joyful! The consequences of sin are not joyful, but repentance is.

Repentance requires “both turning away from evil and turning to God.” When my heart and my actions are turned to God, I am repenting!

When I pray with real intent, when I speak of Christ, when I spend time in the scriptures, when I study talks given in General Conference— I am turning to God; I am repenting! This kind of behavior is not apathetic or complacent. President Nelson said, “We need to get up off the couch, put down the remote, and wake up from our spiritual slumber.

It is time to put on the full armor of God so we can engage in the most important work on earth. It is time to ‘thrust in our sickles, and reap with all our might, mind, and strength.’ The forces of evil have never raged more forcefully than they do today.

As servants of the Lord, we cannot be asleep while this battle rages.” My friends, we are living in the latter part of the latter days.

What a wonderful time to be alive and be engaged in the great work that God has for us to do. This work takes effort and may be difficult – but it is always worth it.

You have been prepared for these days, you were not sent here to fail. Please do not let down your guard and spiritually coast.

Be aware of and know your enemy. Remember who you are.

Remember, we need each other. You and your wholehearted discipleship are needed to build the kingdom and to be part of the gathering in these last days.

That is a cause worth celebrating and working for. And let us joyfully come to the Savior Jesus Christ, as we “cherish the gift of repentance and seek to improve each day.”

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Photograph by Jason McIntosh.

[1] 2 Nephi 28:21, 24-25

[1] Russell M. Nelson, “Truth—and More” 1985 BYU.

[1] Russell M. Nelson, “Opening Remarks,’ October 2018.

[1] Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 3:18.

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:16

[1] Doctrine and Covenants 93:13

[1] 2 Nephi 31:17-20

[1] 2 Nephi 31:18

[1] D. Todd Christofferson, “Why the Church?” Ensign, November 2015.

[1] Neil L. Andersen, “The Prophet of God,” May 2018

[1] 2 Nephi 28:21

[1] Colossians 3:23

[1] Matthew 22:37-40

[1] Acts 5:1-11

[1] Neal A. Maxwell, “Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, November 1992.

[1] Acts 20:20

[1] JST: Matthew 25:11

[1] D&C 64:33

[1] 2 Nephi 1:15

[1] Russell M. Nelson, “Christ Is Risen; Faith in Him Will Move Mountains,” Liahona, May 2021.

[1] Neal A. Maxwell, “Repentance,” Ensign, November 1991.

[1] Russell M. Nelson, “We Can Do Better and Be Better,” Ensign, May 2019.

[1] Young Women Theme, 2019.