By David Armstrong
President Russell M. Nelson has said to the youth of the Church, “My dear extraordinary youth, you were sent to earth at this precise time, the most crucial time in the history of the world, to help gather Israel. There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that. There is nothing of greater consequence. Absolutely nothing. This gathering should mean everything to you. This is the mission for which you were sent to earth” (“Hope of Israel”).
This message applies not just to the youth, but to every person who has found the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, has repented, and has accepted the ordinances of salvation. Sharing the gospel of Christ is not a hobby or a pastime we can pick up and put down whenever we feel like it. It is an imperative duty.
People are drowning every day in sin and ignorance. Some are looking for the truth but simply do not know where to find it (see Doctrine and Covenants 123:12). Others don’t even know there is truth to be found. All, however, are in desperate need of help.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the knowledge that the world needs. We have the tools and the skills to save spiritual lives. We have been called by a prophet of God to go to work and reach out to those who need rescuing.
It is common for drowning people to resist the efforts of their rescuers. They often fight back and even try to take the lifeguard down with them. Rescuers are trained to protect themselves during a rescue attempt and to overcome the resistance of those they are trying to help.
We likewise must be judicious in how we approach those we see who need to be rescued. We must keep our own heads above water, our faith intact, our testimonies strong. But if all we do all day long is train, exercise, and lift weights without actually hitting the water when we see someone struggling, our preparations are in vain.
On the other hand, we have to respect agency. We can offer our torpedo buoy of testimony to drowning people, but we cannot make them grasp it. While a physical lifeguard may temporarily render a drowning person unconscious to stop them from fighting back, we don’t have that option. But we can keep thrusting the torpedo buoy of our witness and faith towards them until they either grab hold or swim away.
The other discrepancy between the imperfect Parable of the Distracted Lifeguard and real life is that, unlike drowning swimmers who know they are in trouble, we often have to first convince those we want to help that they are drowning before they will accept our help. Most people don’t recognize their precarious situation. They think they are perfectly safe. They can tread the waters of sin and disobedience to God for a long time. They’ve been doing it successfully all their lives, and they don’t see any reason to think they won’t be able to keep doing it.
We have to show them how far from the shore they really are, how deep the water really is, how swiftly the riptide of carnality and sin is dragging them out to sea, and point out the menacing dorsal fins of the circling sharks before they will accept the life preserver we hold in front of them. Before the message of “God loves you” will have any meaning to them, they need to know first that 1) God is real, 2) God has laws, and 3) those who break the laws make God angry. They need to know they are lost before they can appreciate the need to be found and saved.
This is not a timid message. Abinadi was not timid when he went to the people of king Noah. Alma was not timid when he taught the Ammonihahites. Peter did not speak timidly to the people of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. And Jesus, the mild and meek suffering Servant of all, was certainly not timid in His condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees or when He cleansed the temple.
The call of the living prophet to the Church is to share what we know to save those who are lost and drowning in the world and bring them to the safety of the shore of the Master. We cannot let ourselves become distracted by the things of the very world from which we are called to save others. We must lift up our heads, use the binoculars of the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and be vigilant in searching around us for those who need our help. We live in a target-rich environment. We usually don’t have to look far or wide to see someone in need of the gospel. And when we spot them, we must jump into action without hesitation. We do not have time for questioning our motives or for analyzing the situation. We must act.
And, by the way, the lifeguard in the parable not only lost his job that day, he was sued by the family of the lost girl and criminally prosecuted for negligent homicide.
Note: the parable of the Distracted Lifeguard was suggested by a similar analogy penned by Kirk Cameron in The Way of the Master, co-authored by Ray Comfort, published April 2006 by Bridge-Logos, Inc.
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