There are a number of things that I personally love about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Okay, that is an understatement. There are thousands of things that I love about the gospel of Jesus Christ and I come to find more and more with each day!
I love the fact that it is all about knowing for ourselves; this is not a gospel where we go to church and just believe whatever we are taught. No, we are encouraged to listen to what is taught, to study them for ourselves, and to ask God if they are true! I love that!
I also love the fact that there is such a strong emphasis on serving others. Nothing that we do or learn is meant just for ourselves, but is meant to help us better reach out and serve those around us. I am a missionary not because it is what I should do or because of the recognition I will receive as a result, but because of the joy I have found in the gospel and my desire to share that with others. I am not looking forward to finishing my mission because I won't get to devote all of my time and attention and efforts to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (in fact it is quite the opposite, I am rather disheartened and humbled by that prospect), but because I will be able to apply the things that I have learned here to bless the lives of those who are close to me--my family, my friends, my neighbors, etc. I am anxious to use the things I have learned here to help those whom I have loved and cared about for years! We don't serve missions for any sort of external result or reward, but because we love and care about those around us and desire to uplift them and bring them closer to our Father in Heaven.
Of all the things that I have learned and come to love, what I appreciate the most is that this gospel is entirely and completely centered upon our individual relationships with the Savior, Jesus Christ. Being a true member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints doesn't just mean that you go to church every Sunday, although that is a part of it. To be a true member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints--and therefore a true disciple of Jesus Christ--is to constantly strive to develop and strengthen your relationship with Him, independent of what others may say or do.
And the amazing thing is that as we are doing this and trying to strengthen our relationship with Him, He is allowing this to be possible. Everything that Jesus Christ did was on a very individual, personal, and unique basis. He never gave the same response to the same question, for He understood that although the question may have been the same, the person asking it and their background and desires and intentions were different. He therefore knew that the answer He gave to the other guy last week wasn't what was needed for this woman today. She needed something different, she needed her own relationship with the Savior, not the other man's relationship with Him. So He accommodated that by giving her the opportunity to have a unique experience.
One of my favorite stories that teaches this is found in the book of Ether in the Book of Mormon. At the time the Lord confounded the languages at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), one faithful man, Jared, asks his brother to plead with the Lord to allow them to be able to communicate with each other and then to ask the Lord where they should go. The Lord leads them along and eventually to the shore of a great sea where they live for four years. At the end of this time, the Lord commands the brother of Jared to build vessels so that he and those who are with him can cross the water to a land of promise.
Following the Lord's commandments, he proceeds to build vessels that are able to be submerged into the sea and not be destroyed. After he builds them, he comes upon a few concerns, one of which being how they will have light in a ship that is completely "tight like unto a dish". After praying over the matter, he comes up with a solution and determines that he will make sixteen small stones that are clear like glass. After he creates these stones, he takes them to the Lord and humbly prays that the Lord would touch them and allow them to shine and give light while they are upon the water.
In His unlimited mercy and love, the Lord responds favorably to this man's plea for help in a way that is both inspiring and tutoring. We learn that "when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger" and from that time forward these stones which had previously been clear became full of light to the point where it radiated from them.
Keep in mind the process that it took to get these stones to this point. The brother of Jared didn't just go out and find a few stones that he thought would be good enough. He had to exert a considerable amount of work and energy in order that he might "molten our of a rock sixteen small stones". It wasn't happenstance that these rocks were clear and were similar to one another; they were modified to be in such a state.
By applying great heat to raw materials, the brother of Jared removed flaws and imperfections to make them as glass and get them to a point where he could present them to the Lord for examination and further purification.
Once presented before Him, the Lord didn't simply say "Those look great; let's make them glow" and magically illuminate them! Rather, He demonstrated His perfectly loving pattern by touching each and every stone with his finger, one at a time, in a way that was individual and unique for each stone.
Oftentimes, large groups go through difficulties together: a family struggling after the loss of a parent or child, a city mourning together following acts of violence, or any other group negatively affected by the choices and actions of another. In each of these situations, we receive another round in the flame, turning us from raw, highly imperfect materials into vessels with which the Lord's light can shine more fully. With each of these events, our outer shell of darkness is being chipped and scratched away, leaving more holes for the light of the Lord to shine.
With whatever hardship we go through in our lives, it prepares us to go before the Lord and allow Him to work with us. We can be comforted in knowing that in such circumstances, the Lord doesn't look at the family and say "You have all become more humble, more pure. Now I will bless you all with ___" but rather looks at them and says "Jim, the death of your brother was really hard for you. It was a very big test of your faith to still trust in me after he passed. Because you have stayed strong in spite of that, I will give you the opportunity to help bless someone else whose faith is weak and needs strengthening. Your experiences have prepared you to help this particular person and to be a light to them."
The Lord's responses are always timely. They are always needed. They are always for the individual, never for the group.
Reading through the life of the Savior, this principle is evident throughout, but never more so than when He visits the ancient inhabitants of the Americas after His resurrection and ascension from Jerusalem.
For over 600 years, prophecies about the coming of the Savior to this group had been prevalent. Every prophet taught the people of the coming of a Messiah, not only to a distant land, but also to their land. For 600 years this group of people had taught with great excitement that one day, their children would see Him.
As always, things distracted and hindered the view of even this great people, but throughout the years, the enthusiasm continued to grow and build! I can just imagine how much more exciting this must have gotten with each generation passing the legacy on to the next, each knowing that it is that much closer to actually happening.
Then one day, after great destruction and darkness for the space of three days, it happened. Finally, after all of those years, because of the faith of millions of people over hundreds of generations, He finally came and visited his 2500 followers. They joy they must have felt after all that anticipation is overwhelming!
And how did the Savior react to and interact with these faithful disciples? In 3 Nephi 11, we learn that, "the Lord spake unto them saying: Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet...And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this the did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth" and knew for themselves that it was truly He.
Each of these people could have easily known, through the witness of the Holy Ghost, that this was in fact the very Messiah whom they had awaited for so long. They could have received their witness and their comfort on a wide scale. But they didn't. He didn't let them. Instead, He let each and every one of them come up to Him and receive a very personal, very intimate knowledge and understanding of His true divinity.
I don't know much, but this much I do know: Christ is our Savior; He loves each and every one of us perfectly and completely; He operates, interacts, and teaches on an individual basis. Everything He does is for you and for me individually. His love, His life, and His suffering was for us individually, not for us as a whole. Through my experiences with Him, I have come to know that He knows me personally. I am not just a number to Him, but I am a person, a unique individual and I testify that you are too.