The Continuous Conversion (Hardcover)

God Isn't Just Proving Us, He's Improving Us

by Brad Wilcox

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I wrote this book because I know too many people who are giving up! One discouraged friend said, "I can't do this Mormon thing. I've tried, and the expectations are just way too high." … I know returned missionaries who spent their entire missions teaching about the Atonement, but now they have made some mistakes and feel like the Atonement won't work for them. I know people who have gone to the temple to be sealed and then never returned. I know others who are feeling burned out in their callings. Too many Latter-day Saints feel like they will never measure up. I wanted to write something that will provide hope and motivation next time we or those we love are tempted to toss in the towel. I wanted to write something that would remind people why we do what we do and that it's worth it--not because of all we are earning, but because of all we are learning. Instead of just going through the motions, I wanted people to read this book and once again feel the emotions of discipleship. That's what they are missing. Whether the challenge is getting more out of the temple endowment or dealing with callings or juggling the many aspects of our lives and feeling like we are dropping too many balls, I wanted to provide a shot in the arm.

I started writing The Continuous Atonement when I was serving as the bishop of a young single adult ward…. I realized that there was an aspect of the Atonement they didn't get. They knew about how the Atonement could cleanse and console us, but they didn't grasp how it can transform us and how Christ offers us His enabling power however long that transformation process takes--even continuously. This book picks up that same theme and answers the question, "How?" "How do I apply the Atonement and feel it's transforming power on a continuous basis?" True conversion is not a onetime event, but a process that takes time. Most people accept that in theory, but we still beat ourselves up when we fall short. My message is "Be patient. You are doing better than you realize. Hang in there!" We are not paying our way into heaven. We're practicing for it!
—Brad Wilcox

"I can't do this Mormon thing," a friend told Brad Wilcox. "I've tried, and the expectations are just way too high." And she's not alone in her thinking. Many people, as they feel themselves falling short of perfection, are tempted to quit trying.

But are there only two options? Think of it this way: When a person is learning to play the piano, are the only two options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? Similarly, in mortality, are the only two choices being perfect or giving up?

"No," writes Brad Wilcox. "Growth and development take time. Learning takes practice. Discipleship is a journey, and true conversion is a continuous process."

In this hope-filled book, Brad shares his keen understanding and testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ as it relates to our own conversion. Conversion occurs, he says, "when we stop trying to earn heaven and start trying to learn it. . . As we take each little step to show faith, repent, make and live covenants, seek the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end, we are not paying our way into heaven. We are practicing for it."

Product Details

  • Size:  6" x 8"
  • Pages:  232
  • Published:  2013

About the Author

BRAD WILCOX has lived in Ethiopia, Chile, and New Zealand; he and his family now make their home amid the Rocky Mountains. Brad taught sixth grade before obtaining his PhD in education from the University of Wyoming. His contributions as an author and teacher have been honored by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and his work has appeared in Guideposts magazine and Reader’s Digest. He once served as a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America and has addressed thousands of youth and adults across the United State, Europe, Australia, and Japan. He and his wife, Debi, are the parents of four children.

Chapter 1

Learning (Not Earning) Heaven

As we take each little step to show faith, repent, make and live covenants, seek the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end, we are not paying our way into heaven. We are practicing for it.

One of the greatest joys of serving as a mission president was the opportunity it gave me to interview missionaries regularly. Often these were tender and spiritual experiences. Sometimes they were just downright funny, as in the case of one missionary who was reading the New Era as part of his personal study. In our interview he said, “President, this magazine is awesome! Why weren’t they publishing it when I was growing up?”

Another time I was interviewing a sister from South America. I could tell she was holding back tears until we got behind a closed door. Then she began to sob and asked, “Presidente, ¿soy fea?” The Spanish words mean “Am I ugly?” The problem was that because she was crying so hard I didn’t quite understand her. I thought she asked “¿Soy fiel?” which means “Am I faithful?” So I responded, “Oh, yes! Very!”

Then there was the elder who had been assigned to a difficult sector. He was working hard but had yet to find any investigators—let alone progressing investigators. The poor discouraged missionary looked at me and said, “Wouldn’t it be easier if we just let everyone die and then did baptisms for the dead? Or better yet, wouldn’t it be easier if we were all just taken before we turned eight?”

I responded, “I guess it would be easier if getting a body or getting baptized were our ultimate goals, but those are not the end. They are just means to the end. Going to the temple and even going to the celestial kingdom are not the ends. They are means to the real end. The ultimate goal is for all of us to become more like our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. We may be content to stay the way we are, but they have a different plan in mind.” President David O. McKay said, “The true end of life is not mere existence, not pleasure, not fame, not wealth. The true purpose of life is the perfection of humanity” (in Conference Report, October 1963, 7). To that end, God wants us to obey, learn, change, improve, overcome, and ultimately become more like Him.

Obey

God desires so much for us to reach our goal that He gives us commandments and calls for us to obey. He provides a “strait and narrow path” (1 Nephi 8:20). Then what do we do? We complain because the path is too strait and too narrow. Instead of staying focused on our end, we start looking around for shortcuts (see D&C 1:16). But, as Sheri Dew has reminded us, “There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going” (Saying It Like It Is, 14). Nevertheless, Nehor’s teachings, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, show that easy shortcuts that were so popular centuries ago are still popular today (see Alma 1:4). People still “demand an undemanding God” (Neal A. Maxwell, Men and Women of Christ, 5).

Consider the following snapshots:

I saw this message on a billboard: “Want God, but not organized religion? Come to [such-and-such] Bible study group.”

A friend who has distanced himself from the Church told me, “Look, Brad, I’m a spiritual person. I’m just not very religious.”

Another friend says, “I’m glad I was raised as a Mormon, but now I’ve totally outgrown it.”

A woman I met said, “I don’t read Church books or scriptures anymore because all they do is remind me of what I’m not doing.”

I received this email from a former member: “The Mormon God asked too much of me. My new God doesn’t ask anything. I like Him a lot better.”

A politically correct teacher friend said, “Brad, you have your truth. I have my truth. Everyone has to just be true to his own truth.”

A teenager said, “If there’s a God, I’m cool with that. I mean, I would add Him as a friend on Facebook. I just wouldn’t want Him making any posts.”

Different people. Different words. Same message: I don’t want God to require anything of me. Elder D. Todd Christofferson has said, “Sadly, much of modern Christianity does not acknowledge that God makes any real demands on those who believe in Him” (“‘As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten,’” 97). Elder Christofferson went on to expose the error of that view. He testified that God is not a butler who serves us when summoned or a therapist who makes us feel good about ourselves (see also Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian, 17; Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching, 118–71). God requires our obedience, sacrifice, and commitment to live the gospel. He calls for self-control, self-discipline, best efforts, and hard work. He wants our time, talents, and treasure.

Yes, Latter-day Saints have quite a list of things we must do to remain even semi-guilt free. There are things we do daily, weekly, monthly, and semiannually, and, as we read in the New Testament, these things are affirmed constantly, that we who have “believed in God might be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8).

The question to consider is not if there is a list. That’s pretty clear. The question to consider is why? Why did God give us the list in the first place? President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “While understanding the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the gospel is necessary, the eternal fire and majesty of the gospel springs from the ‘why’” (“Forget Me Not,” 122). So the question is not if God requires something of us or even if He should require something. The question is why?

Learn

I was once traveling with my family on a plane and ended up sitting a row in front of my daughter-in-law, Trish. As she sat down behind me she began a polite conversation with the man next to her. When he found out she was living in Utah, he asked, “Are you a Mormon?”

“Yes,” she replied. Several additional questions followed, and finally the man asked, “Do you really believe you can earn your way to heaven?” Tricky question. Scriptures make it clear that we are judged by our works (see 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:23; 1 Nephi 15:32), but they also make it clear that grace is an unearned gift (see Ephesians 2:8–9; Romans 5:15–17). Scriptures assure us that the Savior offers salvation to all (see 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Titus 2:11; 2 Nephi 2:4), but they also clarify that ordinances such as baptism are essential (see John 3:5; Mark 16:16; Ether 4:18). What was my daughter-in-law going to say?

Trish didn’t hesitate for a moment. She said, “Absolutely not!” And she was absolutely right. The word earn doesn’t show up in any of the standard works or articles of faith. So where did this man get the idea that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints think we are earning heaven? Why do so many think the same thing? It might be because of something they have heard others say, but it may also be because of some of the careless things we say to each other—usually in jest.

Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

“She’s got her place in heaven secured for putting up with that guy.”

“He’s getting brownie points in heaven for accepting that calling.”

“The scriptures say converting a person will cover a multitude of sins [see James 5:20], so I’m going on lots of missions.”

“In this life you can do anything you set your mind to if you simply work hard enough at it!”

“How did that guy ever get a temple recommend? He certainly didn’t earn it.”

“The harder you work on your mission, the bigger your mansion in heaven.”

Was the man on the plane correct? Do we think we are earning heaven? No. Jesus paid our debt to justice, and He paid that debt in full. As we now do what He asks of us, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. As we take each little step to show faith, repent, make and live covenants, seek the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end, we are not paying our way into heaven. We are practicing for it.

In Doctrine and Covenants 78:7 we find the words “For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world” (in other words, if you want to go to heaven), but then what does the scripture say next? That we have to earn it? No. It says, “For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.”

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher, and because she pays that debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for practice. Does the child’s practice help pay the piano teacher? No. Does his practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. Practicing is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is providing for him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), maybe it is because he doesn’t yet see with Mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.

In the same way, because Jesus has paid the price of justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19); “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! Other people don’t have to pay tithing! Nobody else has to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. A God who asks nothing of us is making nothing of us, and that is not the case. In this symphony that is my life, God is not content to be a member of the audience or stage crew. He is not even content to be the conductor. He wants to be the composer (see Charles F. Stanley, Blessings of Brokenness, 36–37).

This perspective became especially meaningful to one sister who was called with her husband to serve a mission in the Marshall Islands. She wrote, “I have been practicing the piano since we arrived and found a little keyboard in our flat.” It took this sister a long time to master just one hymn. When she finally thought she was ready, she played it at church, but the pressure of performing made her lose her place and mess up. She said, “Last Sunday I realized how little progress I have made and felt discouraged. I decided to quit trying. I figured I am too old to ever be able to learn to play well.” She packed up the keyboard and decided the little branch would have to continue to do without an accompanist.

However, the following week she noticed once again how much these Saints loved music and how lost they were without someone to play. She wrote, “I reminded myself to be more patient with how slowly things were going and pulled the keyboard back out of the closet.”

The more time this sister and her husband spent serving in their tiny branch, the more they could see struggles the members were having living the gospel. When tempted to become a little frustrated, this sister would remind herself that the members were doing the best they could. She wrote, “Just like me with my little keyboard. We are all just practicing to live with our Father in Heaven and our Savior once again.”

Change

God desires us to obey and learn so that we can make positive changes over time. Referring to an explanation given by President Spencer W. Kimball, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way, 223; emphasis in original).

If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then we would have no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower. We would have no access to God’s power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then we would not internalize those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26; 3 Nephi 27:19), but no unchanged thing will even want to.

I know a man who has been in and out of prison for many years. When he was a teenager dealing with every bad habit a teenage boy can have, I said to his father, “We need to get him to Especially for Youth.” I have worked with that program since 1985. I know the good it can do.

His dad said, “I can’t afford that.”

I said, “I can’t either, but you put some in, and I’ll put some in, and then we’ll go to my mom because she is a real softy.” We finally got the kid to EFY, but how long do you think he lasted? Not even a day. By the end of the first day he called his mother and demanded, “Get me out of here!” Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to become heavenly.

In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus is standing there with a clipboard. Brad is standing nervously on the other side of the room. Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot. Brad, you missed it by two points.” Brad begs Jesus, “Please check the essay question one more time! There has to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it.

But the older I get and the more I understand God’s wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No. He will probably be demanding, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it will probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please choose to stay. Please use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed so you qualify to stay, but to be changed so you desire to stay.”

Unrepentant sinners will probably choose to leave Christ’s presence because they will not be comfortable. I don’t think people will have to be kicked out. Alma says they will be “their own judges” (Alma 41:7), depending on their own desires (see Alma 41:5; see also 29:4). Moroni wrote, “Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy Being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt?” (Mormon 9:3). In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve wanted to run and hide because they were no longer comfortable in God’s presence. They sought to cover themselves with leaves to avoid facing God (see Moses 4:13–14). In the final judgment, those who do not repent will seek to cover themselves with mountains (Alma 12:14) because they will not be able to “abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:22). The ultimate glory they receive will be the glory they find tolerable. “They shall . . . enjoy that which they are willing to receive” (D&C 88:32).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgement of the final effects of our acts and thoughts—what we have become” (“The Challenge to Become,” 32; italics in original). Similarly, Elder Glenn L. Pace taught, “Perhaps the reason why a person cannot enter . . . the celestial kingdom . . . is not because that person has not obeyed a celestial law, but because he or she hasn’t become a celestial being” (Spiritual Plateaus, 74).

If the whole goal is just to be with God, why did we leave? We were with Him, but we were also painfully aware that we were not like Him physically or spiritually. We were willing to enter mortality because we knew that through the Atonement we could learn to be like Him. One of the miracles of the Atonement is not just that we can go home, but that we can feel at home there. Elder Hugh B. Brown quoted Elder James E. Talmage as saying, “Any man may enter the highest degree of the celestial kingdom when his actions have been such that he can feel at home there” (“Seek to Know the Shepherd,” 5).

At the time of Christ’s crucifixion, the veil of the great temple was rent (see Matthew 27:51)—torn in two. Many Christians recognize this as a symbol of what Christ’s Atonement had done. It had broken the barrier between man and God. No longer could death and sin cut men off. However, in Latter-day Saint temples an additional lesson is taught. Not only does Christ’s Atonement rend the veil, it allows the Lord Himself to reach through it and provide grace—divine help. The purpose of the Atonement is not just to part the veil. It is to help bring us through and prepare us for everything that lies beyond.

In my mission prep class a wonderful young woman from Korea wrote in one of her papers: “I did not grow up as a Christian. Every time I met a Christian I asked him a question: If there are two people, one who is bad, but a Christian, and the other who is good, but not a Christian, which one will go to heaven? Every Christian I ever met answered that the bad person will go to heaven because he is a Christian and the other will not. That is why I did not like God or Christians. Then I met the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and they said everyone, bad people and good people, will have the opportunity to change. They said because of Jesus Christ bad men can become good and good men can become better—that all have the chance to progress if they choose to accept it.”

It was the first time this young women ever received an answer to her question that satisfied her. She was soon baptized and is now preparing to serve a mission.

Improve

As Latter-day Saints we know not only what Jesus has saved us from but what He has saved us for. Elder Bruce C. Hafen and his wife, Marie, have taught that the Atonement is not just a doctrine that erases black marks. It is fundamentally a doctrine of human development (see The Belonging Heart, 79). In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read that God made Christ, who knew no sin, to take our sins for us so that we might be made righteous in Him. In other words, Christ chose to become like us so that we could choose to become like Him.

We don’t pray because we’re worthy. We pray because we need help. We don’t take the sacrament because we are perfect, but because we are willing to be perfected. We don’t go to the temple because we’ve made it, but because God is making us better there. We are not earning a treasure in heaven, but learning to treasure heavenly things.

Unlike Adam, who did not know why He offered sacrifices, we do know. Each sacrifice is in similitude of the sacrifice of Christ (see Moses 5:6–7), and each sacrifice done with an eye single to God’s glory makes us similar to the Only Begotten who is full of grace and truth. On the final page of the Book of Mormon we read the invitation to come unto Christ and “be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32). I understand the sense of the verse better if I read it as “be perfected with Him.” The next verse assures us that through Christ’s grace—His enabling power—we can not only receive a remission of our sins, but we may “become holy” (v. 33).

At Christmas we sing the hymn “Away in a Manger.” Notice the third verse:

Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven to live with thee there.
(Hymns, no. 206)

Christ is not preparing heaven for us. He is preparing us—fitting us—for heaven. At Christmas we celebrate with Christmas trees—symbols of the everlasting life Christ gives us. But what do we do with the trees? We decorate them. We improve them. That is symbolic of what Jesus does for us.

At Easter we sing the hymn “He Is Risen,” which tells not only of the new life offered us because of Christ’s victory over death and sin but also of the transformation He alone can offer. Notice the third verse:

He is risen! He is risen!
He hath opened heaven’s gate.
We are free from sin’s dark prison,
Risen to a holier state.
(Hymns, no. 199)

We celebrate Easter with Easter eggs. The eggs symbolize the new life found in Christ. But what do we do with the eggs? We color them. We improve them. We make them better. That is symbolic of what Jesus does for us.

On my living room wall hangs a print of James Christensen’s beautiful portrayal of the ten lepers who were cleansed by the Savior (see Luke 17). The artist showed nine going their way rejoicing because they had been healed and only one turning back. Scriptures tell us he “fell down on his face at [Christ’s] feet, giving him thanks” (v. 16). I love the painting because it reminds me to be grateful and also because it reminds me that by turning to Christ, not only can I be healed, I can be made whole (see v. 19).

I have a friend who once told me, “Look, I’m a good person even if I don’t go to church.” I agreed, but gently reminded, “Your goodness is not in question. You showed that in the premortal existence. This life is about becoming better.”

The Atonement of Jesus Christ does not just provide a way to clean up messes; it provides the purpose and desire to avoid making more messes. The Atonement doesn’t allow us to ignore our appetites or pretend they don’t matter, but to educate and elevate them.

A friend who left the Church said, “But Brad, I prayed about it and God told me He loves me just the way I am.”

I assured him, “He does—just as I love my grandbabies just the way they are. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to learn to walk, talk, read, and write. It doesn’t mean I don’t want them to improve.” Not only does God love us just the way we are, but He also loves us enough to refuse to leave us this way (see Max Lucado, Just like Jesus, 3). Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “God loves us too much to let us be content with what we have achieved spiritually up to now” (“I Will Arise,” 65). No wonder we are told in the Book of Mormon we must “grow up unto the Lord” (Helaman 3:21).

I once had the opportunity to speak at a Time Out for Women event with Sister Sheri Dew, who said, “Our spirits have been programmed to want to progress, and if we aren’t progressing, it’s not possible to feel happy.” So happiness comes to us not when we try to erase God’s high expectations but when we humbly seek His help and power to reach our potential (see Luke 1:37). Consider the words of a friend who is serving a long prison sentence: “It was in prison I finally found the Savior and began living Church standards. Although I am now excommunicated, I’ve made incredible progress and I’ve been happier than ever in my life. I’m in prison. My freedom is gone. Yet I am happy because I am finally improving. The gospel is freeing my mind and heart.”

Overcome

God desires us to obey, learn, change, and improve, but some days that still seems like an impossible dream. Some see where they are now and how far they have to go, and they feel there is just no way they could ever really overcome all they need to. They’ve tried to make positive changes before and fallen too easily back into their former bad habits. When they’ve mustered the courage to try yet again, they’ve still failed miserably. Before long they finally just give up trying altogether. At these low moments, it seems easier to try to justify and rationalize poor choices instead of humbly trusting Christ.

Some ask, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to stop going to church and being constantly reminded of goals I am not reaching? Wouldn’t it be easier to plug my ears during general conference so I am not reminded of all the things I should be doing? Wouldn’t it be easier to look up anti-Mormon websites that ‘prove’ the Church isn’t true so I don’t have to break my bad habits?” They decide they are just going to believe in some big bang or nebulous higher power because big bangs and higher powers don’t require anything.

Are such paths really easier? Perhaps momentarily, but big bangs can’t love you the way a big brother can. A nebulous higher power can’t help you the way Heavenly Father’s power can. Our motivation to keep trying, keep overcoming, and keep getting up each time we fall is found as we acknowledge God’s existence and plan for us, and as we feel His love and power.

Some might say, “Don’t talk to me about God’s love and power. Even if He is there, I’m pretty certain He is so busy with all His numberless children on His numberless worlds that He doesn’t have time to help me.”

I remember once feeling the same way. When I arrived on my first mission in Chile as a young man, I went through culture shock. I found it difficult to learn another language. I felt homesick and discouraged. Although my companion and I were working hard, we faced much rejection. Finally one day I snapped. I thought, Why am I even doing this? What’s the point? But I knew the answer: I was there because God had called me. God needed me. Then I had another thought I had never had in all my growing-up-Mormon life: So where is God? Is He even there? The thought bothered me. It shook me. I determined I needed to be reassured, so that night I knelt on my top bunk to say my prayers. (I always chose the top bunk because it was a little closer to heaven and a little farther from the fleas.)

I prayed, “God, are you there?” and suddenly my room was filled with light—and then the car passed, leaving me alone again in the dark. No answer came—nothing. I felt disappointed and even a little angry. My companion and I taught investigators they could receive an answer if they read, pondered, and prayed. I had done that. So where was my answer? As I lay there on my top bunk unable to fall asleep, I thought more about my situation and realized I had not read, pondered, and prayed as diligently as I could.

I am being very honest when I say that up to that point in my mission my hardest challenge was staying awake during study time. From that moment on, the challenge was finding more study time. Over the following months I read the Book of Mormon and the other standard works. I read Jesus the Christ and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. I was transferred to another sector where my companion and I worked harder than ever and loved the members of our little branch so sincerely. I felt better, but still the answers I sought eluded me.

Then my mission president, Gerald J. Day, came to town for interviews. “How are you, Elder?” he asked.

“Fine, President.”

“How’s your companion?”

“Fine, President.”

“How’s your sector?”

“Fine, President.” A few more questions and a few more “fine, Presidents” later I stood to leave. Then President Day said, “Elder Wilcox, do you have any questions?”

Did I ever! Let’s start with Is there a God? Does He even exist? But how could I share my questions with him? He was the mission president, and let’s face it—if your mission president finds out you don’t have a testimony, you are never going to become a zone leader!

I felt hopeless. Then his name tag seemed to melt away. I didn’t care about his title. I desperately needed a friend, and he was there. “President Day,” I began, “is there a God?”

“Yes,” he responded.

“Does He know me?”

President Day said, “Brad Wilcox, He knows you by your first name.”

“President, does He love me?”

“Yes.”

That was it. No scripture references or quotes from the Brethren. Just one word—yes. In our covenant relationship, God’s love for us and our love for Him is often affirmed with a simple yes. Such was the case on that special day in Chile when the Spirit washed over me confirming my mission president’s words. That night I prayed, and my supplication soared. I prayed to a Heavenly Father I was at last beginning to know in the name of a Redeemer I was finally beginning to comprehend.

God had been there all along. So why hadn’t He answered the first time I called? If He had, would I have ever studied, prayed, served, worked and learned as much as I had? Was I earning His love? Earning His attention? Earning His approval? No. I was learning. Would I have ever learned to swim if He were still holding my head above the water? Would I have ever learned to walk if He were still carrying me in His arms? Would I have ever learned to play the piano if He were not requiring me to practice? God’s delays are not always denials. He tested my faith, but by so doing He educated it.

Become

The love I felt those many years ago in Chile was a turning point in my life. It gave me the motivation to keep going. The love and power of God I feel regularly are what keep me still moving forward on the strait and narrow path. They are what keep me looking at the goal instead of searching around for escape routes.

I think this is the motivation Nephi felt when he said, “I know that [God] loveth his children” (1 Nephi 11:17). Maybe it was the motivation Nephi’s brother Jacob felt when he said, “Lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love” (Jacob 3:2), and Jacob’s son Enos felt when he said, “And I rejoice in the day when . . . [I] shall stand before him; then shall I see [Christ’s] face with pleasure” (Enos 1:27).

The Book of Mormon is full of positive examples for us to follow. We read of people who faced incredible challenges and difficulties but looked to God for strength to faithfully overcome and keep going.

After the book of Enos comes the book of his son Jarom, and there we see a series of different testimonies. In fact, the next six pages of the Book of Mormon cover almost four hundred years of history. Jarom said, “What could I write more than my fathers have written?” (Jarom 1:2). Then the plates were passed to his son Omni, who said, “I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done” (Omni 1:2). Next the plates went to his son Amaron, who reminded us that the wicked are destroyed and the righteous preserved, but this was the one and only time he wrote on the plates (see Omni 1:4–8) before passing them to his brother Chemish, who basically said, “We are commanded to write, so I am writing. The end” (see Omni 1:9). Then his son Abinadom said, “I know of no revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy; wherefore, that which is sufficient is written” (Omni 1:11).

What a strange set of entries. Mormon saw our day and had to choose carefully what to include in his limited space, and yet he included these entries. Why? Was it just to encourage us to be better journal keepers? There has to be more. Perhaps Mormon, who included such clear examples of God’s love and power in the book, also chose to warn us of the apathetic attitudes we will encounter that can keep us from feeling that love and power.

Do you know a Jarom who says, “What can I do? I have nothing to contribute. I have nothing to offer.” Do you know an Omni who says, “Hey, I know the Church is true, but I just can’t live it,” or an Amaron who procrastinates, or a Chemish who is content with doing the minimum—just enough to skim by? Surely you have met an Abinadom who claims what the prophets of the past have written is enough and we have no need for any more revelation or prophecy.

These strange verses in the short books of Jarom and Omni certainly illustrate attitudes we see all around us. We must guard against them because they can keep us from feeling God’s love personally and becoming like Him. God loves all of His children. He is bound to be as close to each of us as He is to any of us. I may be only one of His many children, but I am one, and God cannot have more children than He can care for.

Conversion occurs when we stop focusing so much on earning the hereafter but instead reexamine what we are really here after. Conversion deepens as we understand the purposes and power of God and recognize how freely He offers His help. This knowledge gives us the reasons we must go through so much and the ability to endure without giving up.

When I get tired and down, and when long-term goals seem far out of reach—almost as impossible as playing a piano concert in Carnegie Hall—I remind myself to just keep practicing. I take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, and sometimes even one minute at a time, but I don’t give up because I know my efforts will pay off. Not because of all I’m earning, but because of all I’m learning. Earning can lead to pressure, competition, and even rebellion and apathy. Learning can lead to humility, patience, cooperation, growth, and enthusiasm. Of course, learning isn’t easy. It can get difficult, and when it does I remember the moments when I have felt God’s love and power, and that keeps me going.

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Filled with memorable ideas

by  Emily  -   reviewed on  March 13, 2013

One thing I love about Brad Wilcox's style is that he teaches solid gospel principles in such well-crafted phrases. His gift for analogy shines through again in this book, with relatable examples and many, many quotable statements that have found their way into my journal as reminders. I came away determined to be stronger in my commitments and longing to demonstrate my true conversion to my Father in Heaven.

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A Great Book!

by  John  -   reviewed on  April 04, 2013

This is a great book! Others have already provided good reviews, so I'll just say my favorite chapter was the one on juggling priorities. Brother Wilcox just has a wonderful way with words and motivating us to be better.

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Great Perspective

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  March 23, 2013

This book did not disappoint. I really enjoyed it. It puts things into perspective, reminding us that we aren't expected to be perfect- that we're here to become better, and to continuously work on becoming closer to God- and that He is there to help us. I particularly love the focus on how it's totally OKAY that we're not perfect right now! Brad Wilcox writes: "Heaven is not a prize for the perfect, but the future home of all who are willing to be perfected." I like that. Love the perspective in the book, and the way that it makes things clear that may have been foggy before, about the gospel.

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Insightful and New

by  Heather  -   reviewed on  April 11, 2013

So many of us feel that we just don't measure up or can't make it into heaven. Mr. Wilcox addresses this very issue in his newest book The Continuous Conversion. "We aren't earning our way into heaven were are learning our way into heaven." The entire book is filled with the profound idea that we are making it there step by step and that the path to becoming a better person takes a gradual and continual progress over time. Conversion is not a fast or "on the surface" change, it is a deep rooted and little by little, day by day-- totally achievable goal. As a former missionary in Chile I could relate to his examples from the field there. My favorite stories were of him reaching to youth at EFY and prisoners who had and had not experienced conversion. Brother Wilcox has a deep love for others and his counsel is filled with compassion. Each chapter of The Continuous Conversion has a theme with so many hopeful point of doctrine to ponder. Temple worship, repentance, the names we are given and serving with zeal are some of the topics addressed. This book should and could be read more than once. Brother Wilcox really helped me look at things in a completely new light and I would love to hear this one in audio so we can listen to it again and again as these are lessons for everyone that make an impression on the soul.

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Information is given to the readers with a lot of love and hope intermixed.

by  Sheila  -   reviewed on  September 21, 2013

Have you ever felt like you are just not perfect enough and it would be easier to just give up? I know that there are days when that thought has crossed my mind. In this world of of things that appear "perfect" on TV and in the movies, we may feel that we don't measure up. After reading The Continuous Conversion by Brad Wilcox, I felt like there is always hope for me and every other person out there. Right from the first chapter in this book entitled, Learning(Not Earning) Heaven, we learn that each day as we show faith, repent, make and live covenants, seek the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end, we are practicing to live in Heaven again, not earning our way there. Brad Wilcox uses such inspiring stories of real people to drive his point home. His storytelling is excellent. Another chapter, A Mighty Slow Change, teaches us that true conversion doesn't happen instantly, but is a continual process. Every choice that we make daily directs us on the path either towards Heaven or away from becoming a saint. One things about Brad Wilcox's writing is that it never feels dry or boring. He also writes in a way that doesn't make you feel like you are being beaten over the head with what you're doing wrong. The information is given to the readers with a lot of love and hope intermixed. I recommend this book to all people who are looking to be encouraged and uplifted through their daily struggles. You will find answers to your life's challenges as you dwell on the teachings found in The Continuous Conversion.

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Love it very uplifting!!!

by  Shauna  -   reviewed on  March 13, 2013

This is an excellent follow up of Brad Wilcox’s other book The Continuous Atonement. I love the powerful stories and examples that Brad shares in this book. They really touched me and helped bring me closer to Christ. Each chapter includes scriptures that I enjoyed looking up as well. The Continuous Conversion left me feeling uplifted and spiritually full. This is a must read and will also make a fantastic gift!

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WONDERFUL!

by  Shauna  -   reviewed on  March 16, 2013

This is one of those books that needs to be read and then re-read over and over again. Packed with so much information and guidance it will help someone seeking to truly convert to the gospel of Jesus Christ...not only to the gospel, but convert to Jesus Christ. I love all the examples and stories within these pages. I also love the way Brother Wilcox teaches and the little phrases he uses; for example: "Heaven is not a prize for the perfect, but the future home of all who are willing to be perfected." "We send missionaries to the Missionary Training Center, God has sent us to the Exaltation Training Center" "True conversion is not instantaneous, it is continuous." "Some Latter-day Saints go through all the right motions without feeling any of the emotions. They settle for rule following instead of religion, for obedience and sacrifice instead of consecration, for testimony instead of conversion, and for cultural Mormonism instead of the soul-transforming fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is time for a little zeal with our knowledge." My very favorite section is where Brother Wilcox writes about "I'm afraid that when all the lessons on simplifying, prioritizing, and balancing are over I am left with only one option--juggling." And as we juggle all we have been asked to do, if we go about doing God's work, and continue on the path to conversion, He will let us know which balls to keep in the air and which balls to let drop to the ground. "The journey of conversion can seem daunting unless we remember that we are not alone."

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Excellent insights-- some fluff

by  Jess  -   reviewed on  March 07, 2013

This was a wonderful follow-up to Brad Wilcox's Book the Continuous Atonement (The most accessible explanation of Christ's Atonement ever in my opinion- HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!). The first several chapters are slight repeats of His previous book, combined with his amazing address "His Grace is Sufficient". However, The final chapters were astounding new insights into ways that we can truly become converted! He gives amazing insights that have (to my knowledge) remained unelaborated by gospel writers focusing toward the average LDS reader.Temple insights, connections between ritual and doctrine, callings and conversion all make this book a great read. There are many, like myself, that struggle turning their devotion into deeds without feeling like we don't measure up. Like Brother Wilcox observes, the gospel message often falls on "discouraged" ears. This book will lend perspective that helps us find power in the truly powerful aspects of our worship-- the Atonement, covenants and temple worship. Enjoy!

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He Did It Again. . .But Better

by  Landen  -   reviewed on  April 03, 2013

I have just finished The Continuous Conversion. I LOVE IT!!!! I don't know if I'm just riding the excitement of just recently reading it, but I think this one is even better than the Continuous Atonement. It is a call to change and become better. It has had such an influence. I think my favorite chapter is "Wide-Awake Discipleship." It has Brad's personality in it so much. I love some of the one liners that are a "wake-up call" to so many. I also liked the chapter on applying the Atonement. The idea of to know, to do, to become is not new, just like the Atonement and conversion aren't new either, but Brad has an ability to present ideas in a way that cause a complete paradigm shift.

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He Did It Again. . .Even Better

by  Landen  -   reviewed on  April 03, 2013

I have just finished The Continuous Conversion. I LOVE IT!!!! I don't know if I'm just riding the excitement of just recently reading it, but I think this one is even better than the Continuous Atonement. It is a call to change and become better. It has had such an influence. I think my favorite chapter is "Wide-Awake Discipleship." It has Brad's personality in it so much. I love some of the one liners that are a "wake-up call" to so many. I also liked the chapter on applying the Atonement. The idea of to know, to do, to become is not new, just like the Atonement and conversion aren't new either, but Brad has an ability to present ideas in a way that cause a complete paradigm shift.

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Insightful, Meaningful, and Relatable

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  March 14, 2013

A beautiful companion to the Continuous Atonement! I loved the idea of the bread and water on the two covers. Very symbolic. Every page of this new book provided great insight. It helped me understand grace, the Atonement, and the Gospel in new ways. Each chapter was meaningful because they dealt with real issues and things we encounter daily in our lives. The stories and examples shared were relatable and moving. As always Brad Wilcox's books are hopeful and inspiring. He has a way of motivating me to try harder rather than feeling guilty about not doing enough. I loved the understanding that came from his simple analogies and honest approach. He has a gift for sharing his knowledge in a way that makes sense and doesn't get boring.

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It Gives Me Hope

by  Marie  -   reviewed on  March 24, 2013

The best thing about The Continuous Conversion by Brad Wilcox is that it made me feel hopeful. As a recovering perfectionist, I am always battling the feeling that I will NEVER be good enough, that I can NEVER do enough and that I will NEVER get it quite right. This book reminded me that it may be true, but that it’s ok, because what really matters is that I continue to try. It is filled with words of encouragement, with wonderful analogies and stories that teach important gospel principles in easy-to-understand language. After reading this book, I came away with the comforting feeling that I really am good enough and I can keep improving forever. He says, “Growth and development take time. Learning takes practice. Discipleship is a journey and true conversion is a continuous process.” When I stop to examine my own live, I can see how this is true. Even in my own journey, I am farther ahead in some places than in others. The other thing I really loved about this book (and now I need to go and get his previous book The Continuous Atonement) is that it was one of the clearest explanations of how to apply the atonement in my life and how it really could help me on a continuous basis. That’s something I have always struggled with, not because I didn’t believe it, but because I really didn’t understand how to use it in my life. I didn’t understand how striving to keep my covenants and how TRYING to improve is applying the atonement in my life.

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