In the Strength of the Lord | David A. Bednar


Good morning, brothers and sisters. It is for me a blessing and a remarkable responsibility
to stand before you today. I appreciate the invitation from Elder Bateman
to speak with you. As I entered the Marriott Center this morning,
my mind was flooded with wonderful memories. I have been in this arena many, many times. I was a freshman at BYU in 1970 when the construction
work on this building was started. I vividly remember sitting way up there on
September 11, 1973, and listening to the teachings and testimony of President Harold B. Lee. I had returned from my mission to southern
Germany just three weeks earlier, and the message he presented that day was entitled
“Be Loyal to the Royal Within You.” I hope I shall never forget what I felt and
heard and learned that day. His teachings have positively influenced me
for the last 28 years. I remember sitting right over there in 1973
when President Spencer W. Kimball, as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, delivered
a powerful and extremely direct message about the importance of eternal marriage. I also remember how squirmy I and the young
woman with whom I attended that fireside were—on our first date. (For those of you who may be wondering, the
young woman with whom I attended that fireside then is not Sister Bednar now.) And I remember sitting right over there in
1977 as a married student walking and wrestling with a young son. I sat right up there in 2000 when that same
son graduated from BYU with his baccalaureate degree. I recall with great fondness numerous other
occasions in this building when I have listened to inspired leaders and learned from great
teachers. It frankly never occurred to me that someday
I might be invited to stand at this pulpit and speak to a group like you. It is clear to me that I likely will never
be asked to do so again. Thus I have been most prayerful and serious
about preparing my presentation for today. Assuming that I would never again stand at
this pulpit to teach and testify, I have considered what might be the most important message I
could share with you. My objective this morning is to describe and
discuss both the redeeming and enabling powers of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. And I hope to place particular emphasis upon
the enabling power of the Atonement. I yearn and invite and pray for the companionship
of the Holy Ghost to be with me and with you as we visit together for these few minutes
about this sacred subject. The framework for my message today is a statement
by President David O. McKay. He summarized the overarching purpose of the
gospel of the Savior in these terms: “The purpose of the gospel is . . . to make bad
men good and good men better, and to change human nature.” Thus the journey of a lifetime is to progress
from bad to good to better and to experience the mighty change of heart—and to have our
fallen natures changed. May I suggest that the Book of Mormon is our
handbook of instructions as we travel the pathway from bad to good to better and to
have our hearts changed. If you have your scriptures with you this
morning, please turn with me to Mosiah 3:19. In this verse King Benjamin teaches about
the journey of mortality and about the role of the Atonement in successfully navigating
that journey: I want to stop at this point and draw our
attention to two specific phrases. First, consider “and putteth off the natural
man.” Let me suggest to you that President McKay
was fundamentally talking about putting off the natural man when he said, “The purpose
of the gospel is . . . to make bad men good.” Now I do not believe the word bad in this
statement by President McKay connotes only wicked, awful, horrible, or inherently evil. Rather, I think he was suggesting that the
journey from bad to good is the process of putting off the natural man or the natural
woman in each of us. In mortality we all are tempted by the flesh. The very elements out of which our bodies
were created are by nature fallen and ever subject to the pull of sin, corruption, and
death. And we can increase our capacity to overcome
the desires of the flesh and temptations, as described in this verse, “through the
atonement of Christ.” When we make mistakes—as we transgress and
sin—we are able to overcome such weakness through the redeeming and cleansing power
of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As we frequently sing in preparation to partake
of the emblems of the sacrament Now, please notice the next line in Mosiah
3:19: “and becometh a saint.” May I suggest this phrase describes the continuation
and second phase of life’s journey as outlined by President McKay. “The purpose of the gospel is . . . to make
bad men good”—or, in other words, put off the natural man—“and good men better”—or,
in other words, become more like a saint. Brothers and sisters, I believe this second
part of the journey—this process of going from good to better—is a topic about which
we do not study or teach frequently enough nor understand adequately. If I were to emphasize one overarching point
this morning, it would be this: I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with
the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the
Atonement. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ
came to earth to die for us. That is fundamental and foundational to the
doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord
desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not
only to direct us but also to empower us. I think most of us know that when we do things
wrong, when we need help to overcome the effects of sin in our lives, the Savior has paid the
price and made it possible for us to be made clean through His redeeming power. Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement
is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and
understand that the Atonement is also for saints—for good men and women who are obedient
and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. I frankly do not think many of us “get it”
concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we
mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all
by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited
capacities. Brothers and sisters, the gospel of the Savior
is not simply about avoiding bad in our lives; it also is essentially about doing and becoming
good. And the Atonement provides help for us to
overcome and avoid bad and to do and become good. There is help from the Savior for the entire
journey of life—from bad to good to better and to change our very nature. I am not trying to suggest that the redeeming
and enabling powers of the Atonement are separate and discrete. Rather, these two dimensions of the Atonement
are connected and complementary; they both need to be operational during all phases of
the journey of life. And it is eternally important for all of us
to recognize that both of these essential elements of the journey of life—both putting
off the natural man and becoming a saint, both overcoming bad and becoming good—are
accomplished through the power of the Atonement. Individual willpower, personal determination
and motivation, and effective planning and goal setting are necessary but ultimately
insufficient to triumphantly complete this mortal journey. Truly we must come to rely upon I now want to describe in greater detail the
enabling power of the Atonement. Brothers and sisters, please notice the use
of the word grace in the verse from 2 Nephi to which we just referred. In the Bible Dictionary in our scriptures
we learn that the word grace frequently is used in the scriptures to connote enabling
power. On page 697, under the word grace, we read: Please note these next sentences: That is, grace represents that divine assistance
or heavenly help each of us will desperately need to qualify for the celestial kingdom. Thus the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens
us to do and be good and serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity. In my personal scripture study I often insert
the term enabling power whenever I encounter the word grace. Consider, for example, this verse with which
we are all familiar: Let’s review this verse one more time: I believe we can learn much about this vital
aspect of the Atonement if we will insert enabling and strengthening power each time
we find the word grace in the scriptures. The journey of a lifetime, as described by
President McKay, is to go from bad to good to better and to have our very natures changed. And the Book of Mormon is replete with examples
of disciples and prophets who knew and understood and were transformed by the enabling power
of the Atonement in making that journey. May I suggest, brothers and sisters, that
as we come to better understand this sacred power, our gospel perspective will be greatly
enlarged and enriched. Such a perspective will change us in remarkable
ways. Nephi is an example of one who knew and understood
and relied upon the enabling power of the Savior. In 1 Nephi 7 we recall that the sons of Lehi
had returned to Jerusalem to enlist Ishmael and his household in their cause. Laman and others in the party traveling with
Nephi from Jerusalem back to the wilderness rebelled, and Nephi exhorted his brethren
to have faith in the Lord. It was at this point in their trip that Nephi’s
brothers bound him with cords and planned his destruction. Now please note Nephi’s prayer in verse
17: Brothers and sisters, do you know what I likely
would have prayed for if I had been tied up by my brothers? My prayer would have included a request for
something bad to happen to my brothers and ended with the phrase “wilt thou deliver
me from the hands of my brethren” or, in other words, “Please get me out of this
mess, now!” It is especially interesting to me that Nephi
did not pray, as I probably would have prayed, to have his circumstances changed. Rather, he prayed for the strength to change
his circumstances. And may I suggest that he prayed in this manner
precisely because he knew and understood and had experienced the enabling power of the
Atonement of the Savior. I personally do not believe the bands with
which Nephi was bound just magically fell from his hands and wrists. Rather, I suspect that he was blessed with
both persistence and personal strength beyond his natural capacity, that he then “in the
strength of the Lord” worked and twisted and tugged on the cords and ultimately and
literally was enabled to break the bands. Brothers and sisters, the implication of this
episode for each of us is quite straightforward. As you and I come to understand and employ
the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for
strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who “act” rather
than objects that are “acted upon.” Consider the example in Mosiah 24 as Alma
and his people are being persecuted by Amulon. As recorded in verse 14, the voice of the
Lord came to these good people in their affliction and indicated: Now if I had been one of Alma’s people and
received that particular assurance, my response likely would have been, “I thank thee, and
please hurry!” But notice in verse 15 the process the Lord
used to lighten the burden: Brothers and sisters, what was changed in
this episode? It was not the burden that changed; the challenges
and difficulties of persecution were not immediately removed from the people. But Alma and his followers were strengthened,
and their increased capacity and strength made the burdens they bore lighter. These good people were empowered through the
Atonement to act as agents and impact their circumstances—“in the strength of the
Lord.” Alma and his people were then directed to
safety in the land of Zarahemla. Now some of you may legitimately be wondering,
“Brother Bednar, what makes you think the episode with Alma and his people is an example
of the enabling power of the Atonement?” I believe the answer to your question is found
in a comparison of Mosiah 3:19 and Mosiah 24:15. Let’s resume reading in Mosiah 3:19 where
we previously had stopped: As we progress in the journey of mortality
from bad to good to better, as we put off the natural man or woman in each of us, and
as we strive to become saints and have our very natures changed, then the attributes
detailed in this verse increasingly should describe the type of person you and I are
becoming. We will become more childlike, more submissive,
more patient, and more willing to submit. Now compare these characteristics in Mosiah
3:19 with those used to describe Alma and his people in the latter part of verse 15
in Mosiah 24: I find the parallels between the attributes
described in these verses striking and an indication that Alma’s good people were
becoming a better people through the enabling power of the Atonement of Christ the Lord. We are all familiar with the story of Alma
and Amulek contained in Alma 14. In this episode many faithful Saints had been
put to death by fire, and these two servants of the Lord had been imprisoned and beaten. Please consider this petition contained in
verse 26 offered by Alma as he prayed in prison: Here again we see reflected in his request
Alma’s understanding of and confidence in the enabling power of the Atonement. Now note the result of this prayer, as described
in the latter part of verse 26 and in verse 28: Once again the enabling power is evident as
good people struggle against evil and strive to become even better and serve more effectively
“in the strength of the Lord.” Let me present one final example from the
Book of Mormon. In Alma 31, Alma is directing a mission to
reclaim the apostate Zoramites. You will recall that in this chapter we learn
about Rameumptom and the prescribed and prideful prayer offered by the Zoramites. Please notice the plea for strength in Alma’s
personal prayer, as described in verse 31: In verse 33 Alma also prays that his missionary
companions will receive a similar blessing: Again we observe that Alma did not pray to
have his afflictions removed. He knew he was an agent of the Lord, and he
prayed for the power to act and affect his situation. The key point of this example is contained
in the final verse, Alma 31:38: No, the afflictions were not removed. But Alma and his companions were strengthened
and blessed through the enabling power of the Atonement to “suffer no manner of afflictions,
save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.” What a marvelous blessing. And what a lesson each of us should learn. Examples of the enabling power are not found
only in the scriptures. Daniel W. Jones was born in 1830 in Missouri,
and he joined the Church in California in 1851. In 1856 he participated in the rescue of handcart
companies that were stranded in Wyoming by severe storms. After the rescue party found the suffering
Saints, provided what immediate comfort they could, and made arrangements for the sick
and the feeble to be transported to Salt Lake City, Daniel and several other young men volunteered
to remain with and safeguard the company’s possessions. The food and supplies left with Daniel and
his colleagues were, to say the least, meager and were rapidly expended. I will now quote from Daniel Jones’ personal
journal and his description of the events that followed: “Game soon became so scarce that we could
kill nothing. We ate all the poor meat; one would get hungry
eating it. Finally that was all gone, nothing now but
hides were left. We made a trial of them. A lot was cooked and eaten without any seasoning
and it made the whole company sick. Many were so turned against the stuff that
it made them sick to think of it. “Things looked dark, for nothing remained
but the poor raw hides taken from starved cattle. We asked the Lord to direct us what to do. The brethren did not murmur, but felt to trust
in God. We had cooked the hide, after soaking and
scraping the hair off until it was soft and then ate it, glue and all. This made it rather inclined to stay with
us longer than we desired. Finally I was impressed how to fix the stuff
and gave the company advice, telling them how to cook it; for them to scorch and scrape
the hair off; this had a tendency to kill and purify the bad taste that scalding gave
it. After scraping, boil one hour in plenty of
water, throwing the water away which had extracted all the glue, then wash and scrape the hide
thoroughly, washing in cold water, then boil to a jelly and let it get cold, and then eat
with a little sugar sprinkled on it. This was considerable trouble, but we had
little else to do and it was better than starving.” All that I have read thus far is a preparation
for the next line from Daniel W. Jones’ journal. It illustrates how those pioneer Saints may
have known something about the enabling power of the Atonement that we, in our prosperity
and ease, are not as quick to understand: My dear brothers and sisters, I know what
I would have prayed for in those circumstances. I would have prayed for something else to
eat. “Heavenly Father, please send me a quail
or a buffalo.” It never would have occurred to me to pray
that my stomach would be strengthened and adapted to what we already had. What did Daniel W. Jones know? He knew about the enabling power of the Atonement
of Jesus Christ. He did not pray that his circumstances would
be changed. He prayed that he would be strengthened to
deal with his circumstances. Just as Nephi, Amulek, and Alma and his people
were strengthened, Daniel W. Jones had the spiritual insight to know what to ask for
in that prayer. The enabling power of the Atonement of Christ
strengthens us to do things we could never do on our own. Sometimes I wonder if in our latter-day world
of ease—in our world of microwave ovens and cell phones and air-conditioned cars and
comfortable homes—I wonder if we ever learn to acknowledge our daily dependence upon the
enabling power of the Atonement. The greatest lessons I have learned about
the enabling power have come from the quiet example of my wife in our own home. I watched her persevere through intense and
continuous morning sickness and vomiting during each of her three pregnancies. She literally was sick all day every day for
eight months with each pregnancy. That challenge was never removed from her. But together we prayed that she would be strengthened,
and she indeed was blessed through the enabling power of the Atonement to do physically what
in her own power she could not do. Sister Bednar is a remarkably capable and
competent woman, and over the years I have seen how she has been magnified to handle
the mocking and scorn that come from a secular society when a Latter-day Saint woman heeds
prophetic counsel and makes the family and home and the nurturing of children her highest
priorities. In today’s world a righteous woman and mother
in Zion will need both priesthood support and the enabling power of the Atonement. I thank and pay tribute to Susan for helping
me to learn such invaluable lessons. In Alma 7 we learn how and why the Savior
is able to provide the enabling power, beginning with verse 11: Thus the Savior has suffered not just for
our iniquities but also for the inequality, the unfairness, the pain, the anguish, and
the emotional distress that so frequently beset us. Additional detail is described in verse 12: There is no physical pain, no anguish of soul,
no suffering of spirit, no infirmity or weakness that you or I ever experience during our mortal
journey that the Savior did not experience first. You and I in a moment of weakness may cry
out, “No one understands. No one knows.” No human being, perhaps, knows. But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands,
for He felt and bore our burdens before we ever did. And because He paid the ultimate price and
bore that burden, He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy in so many
phases of our life. He can reach out, touch, and succor—literally
run to us—and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which
we could never do through relying only upon our own power. Perhaps now we can more fully understand and
appreciate the lesson of Matthew 11:28–30: I express my appreciation for the infinite
and eternal sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Atonement is not only for people who have
done bad things and are trying to be good. It is for good people who are trying to become
better and serve faithfully and who yearn for an ongoing and mighty change of heart. Indeed, “in the strength of the Lord”
we can do and overcome all things. Brothers and sisters, I know the Savior lives. I have experienced both His redeeming and
enabling power, and I witness that these powers are real and available to each of us. I know He directs the affairs of this Church. I know apostles and prophets authoritatively
act for and in behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ. These things I know to be true and so testify
in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

5 Replies to “In the Strength of the Lord | David A. Bednar”

  1. Burdens, even though not removed, can be made so light that we do not feel them upon our backs. …Note also that a second meaning of "light," as in "to illuminate," applies. Often we learn, see, and are taught through our burdens; they give us "light" and understanding. Our burdens shall be made "light"–helping us to see the next step. Indeed. (For more on this topic: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2014/05/sunday-morning-session/bear-up-their-burdens-with-ease?lang=eng)

  2. 2:20 "I will likely never be asked to speak again"… Gets called as an apostle 3 years later and speaks regularly. Haha xD

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