Winter 2011

The Covenant of the Fertile Field

11 Jan. 2011


The Covenant of the Fertile Field

Charlotte, thank you. That was beautiful. What a talent. [A student had just played “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” as a piano solo.] I hope you all had a chance to think about that event. I did. You know, our Church rises and falls on that event. It either happened or it didn’t happen. If it didn’t happen, we’re just having a good time. We could probably have a better time, but we’re just having a really good time. But brothers and sisters, it did happen. Joseph Smith did kneel. He did go, querying two things to his Father in Heaven: first was his standing before the Lord, and the second had to do with the great question that we all know about, which church he should join. And so it happened, and thank you Charlotte for letting us reflect and ponder on that event.

I had a grandfather who was an apostle. He wrote a work called A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, and I was reading part of his journal not too long ago, and he described an experience when at the age of 24 he went with his bride and a couple of his children  to preside over the mission in Holland.  And one day he had a missionary come in and say to him, “President Richards, I’ve got a problem. We were just meeting with a minister of another religion and he invited me to join his church.”

And Grandpa, in his very unique way, said to him, “Well, if he has something better than you have, you should join his church.”

That kind of took the missionary back for a moment. Then Grandpa went on to explain, and he said, “If you can find another church wherein the Gospel of Jesus Christ  was restored to the Earth by John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, Elijah, Elias, and other prophets, you should join that church. If you can find another church that produced a set of scriptures that was another testament of Jesus Christ that was produced in the way the Book of Mormon was produced, you should join that church. If you can find a church that has prophets and apostles in the same organization that Christ had when He was upon the Earth, you should join that church.”

The missionary soon understood the lesson, and I share it with you, brothers and sisters, that you cannot find upon the face of the Earth anything that so closely resembles what the Savior Himself did when He was here—with all the power and with all the authority and with all the priesthood keys, as in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so I hope every one of you are proud to be a Mormon boy or a Mormon girl in this great church.

We had Elder Ballard here a couple of months ago, speaking to the donors who provide the scholarships you receive. The donors were here; we thanked them in your behalf. We have appreciated the letters most of you write to thank them.

While [Elder Ballard] was here, he said a couple of interesting things. The first relates to what President Strazo said.  It was to teach these young people that they are in fact children of our Father in Heaven. Now, here’s the challenge: How many of you spent years in Primary? How many of you know “I Am a Child of God” by heart? How many of you are old enough to remember when the words were different?  So you have sung that song since you were very little. The question is, do you believe it? Do you believe it? Do you believe it in the depths of your soul so you wake up every morning with faith and confidence in who you are, and in your boundless capacity to be what Father in Heaven would want you to be? Do you believe it enough to be loyal to the Honor Code that you signed when you enrolled? Do you believe it enough that every day you will give your best? Do you believe it enough that every night when you pray, that you kneel before your Father in Heaven and ponder in your heart how you have seen His hand in your life today? Do you believe it enough to serve a mission? Do you believe it enough to take a calling by your bishop when it is not convenient?

I hope you believe you are in fact a child of God, precious to Him, and therefore you are precious to us. As I look into your faces, I see truth; I see wisdom beyond your years. I see in your faces a desire for good things. I see in your faces a willingness to be obedient. I see in your faces a willingness to learn in the Lord’s way. And may Heaven bless you for what we see in your faces.

Okay, that’s not my talk. How is it so far? Is it okay?

A few people have pointed out that we’re here on a momentous occasion, and you didn’t know it when it happened to you. This is the first month, the eleventh day of the month, and at 11:11, you are in here in the year 2011. So I hope that on the top of your notes, you just wrote 1-11-11, 11:11. And you can tell your grandchildren you were here.

Brothers and sisters, I want to talk to you today about a covenant. I want to talk to you about the Covenant of the Fertile Field. But to do that, we have to go back and lay a little groundwork that comes from the 16th chapter of First Nephi. Now of all the recorded events in the Book of Mormon, perhaps the one that you and I are most familiar with is Father Lehi and the family’s journey into the wilderness. We’re most familiar with that for one of two reasons, or maybe both. Number one, in our yearly resolve to read the Book of Mormon, we at least get up to the Isaiah chapters before our stuttering begins in our reading, and the 16th chapter comes before those stuttering chapters. Maybe this is the most familiar to you because it is a great story in this record. It would make a great movie script; why, it has everything in it. It’s got wilderness, it’s got stolen riches, it has attempted murder, it has family arguments, it has a broken bow, it has a parent’s anguish. It has a ball of “curious workmanship.”

Now that’s a great record, and that’s a great story. That record’s even more appealing because it’s true, and it was recorded by an eyewitness to those events. And it was recorded by Nephi years after those events took place, so that he had the benefit of wisdom that comes from the passage of time as he looked back upon this event and memorialized it in writing under the guidance of inspiration and revelation. So from the key events in that history, we have the chronology of two great families, two great peoples or nations whose destiny was chronicled for just over a thousand years.

Now I invite you today to ponder with me and apply some of the key elements in that 16th chapter of First Nephi. Now imagine with me, you’re with the family. You left all the material possessions in Jerusalem—which we don’t know the details of, but we know that it was probably a pretty comfortable life. And you left it all, and you’re now sleeping in the wilderness in tents. This is not a Scout overnight hike. This is not even a Young Men/Young Women stake pioneer trek. This is serious camping in the wilderness. Often with no fire and eating raw meat.

Father Lehi wakes up one morning and just outside his tent “to his great astonishment,” the record says, he sees on the ground a “ball of curious workmanship.” It was made of fine brass, and it contained two spindles, one of which pointed the way that they should go in the wilderness. So Lehi gathers his family, and what provisions they had. They cross over the river Laman, and for many days they follow the direction on that ball as they go even deeper into that wilderness. The record tells us the family learned from their own experience that the Liahona worked on three principles, which are the elements to the key of the Covenant of the Fertile Field—their faith, their diligence, and their heed.

Now if the family got contentious or they were rude or slothful or forgetful, the ball didn’t work. It was that simple. Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t it be nice if every time you thought a bad thought, you kind of got poked in the side with a sharp stick? Why, you’d be jumping up and down in the meeting. It was kind of that way for the family. When they were forgetful or slothful, discourteous and contentious, it didn’t work.

Elder Bednar summarized it this way. He said, “Thus, the primary purposes of the Liahona were to provide both direction and instruction during a long and demanding journey. The director was a physical instrument that served as an outward indicator of their inner spiritual standing before God.  It worked,” he said, on “the principles of faith and diligence.” (“That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us,” Ensign, May 2006, 28-31)

Now let’s pause here in the story. Let me ask a question. What do you have in your life that is the equivalent of a Liahona? Let’s let you ponder that. What do you have in your life that can point the way through your wilderness, that provides periodic messages that are timely and tailored just for you, and that work upon the principles of faith, diligence, and giving heed?

I can think of three. The first is scripture. When we are willing and prepared to change, giving heed, the scriptures speak the loudest to us. You know that. When we want to speak to God we pray; when we want Him to speak to us, what do we do? Read the scriptures.

Here’s the second one: prophets. When we exercise faith to follow the prophet’s counsel without the necessity of hearing “Thus saith the Lord,” we can more clearly sort out wrong from right, good from evil, good-better-best, those who would lift us up and those who would set a snare for our feet. It’s that simple.

The third Liahona that I can think of is our individual patriarchal blessing. When you diligently follow the counsel and give heed to that blessing, here’s what President Monson promised you: “Your patriarchal blessing will see you through the darkest night. It will guide you through life’s danger …. [ And ] your blessing is … a personal Liahona to chart your course and guide your way…. Patience may be required as you watch, wait, and work for a promised blessing to be fulfilled.” Continuing, he said, that in 1958, the First Presidency wrote a letter to stake presidents. It read in part, ‘Patriarchal blessings contemplate an inspired declaration of lineage of the recipient  and, when so moved upon by the Spirit, an inspired and prophetic statement of [life’s] mission for the recipient, together with such blessings [and] cautions and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give for the accomplishment of such life’s mission…. It [has always been] made clear that the realization of all promised blessings is conditioned upon our faithfulness to the gospel of the Lord, whose servant the patriarch is.’” “Your Patriarchal Blessing: A Liahona of Light,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 65; Letter quoted is First Presidency Letter to stake presidents, 28 June 1958)

Here’s your first writing assignment in your semester notebook: I invite you to write down which one of those three personal Liahonas—scriptures, prophets, or patriarchal blessing—you need to dust off, polish up, to pay a little more attention to, or to follow more closely. Now you’re going to be tempted to put down all three. Don’t do it. The task is too big. You will only get discouraged. This is not about being discouraged. This is about one of those that, for you, would make a difference this semester. So I invite you to think big but act small, and pick either the scriptures, following the prophet, or your patriarchal blessing. And you write down which one for you, you’re going to dust off, and exercise more faith, diligence, and give more heed to.

Okay are you ready? Now, some of you may be skeptical that the scriptures, the prophets, your patriarchal blessing can really have that kind of impact. For you, I would encourage you to read it in the Old Testament or three times in the Book of Mormon about the brazen serpent raised up on the stick to protect the Israelites against fiery flying snakes. And all they had to do was look, right, and if they were bitten they’d be okay. But some of them said, in their little hearts, “No, it’s got to be more complicated than that.” Or they said in their little hearts, “No, it’s my body. I’ll do with it what I want.” And for them, they were bitten. And what was the consequence? They died. I just love the clarity of that story, don’t you? There’s not a bunch of what-if’s or “ya buts” in that story, are there?

Now to you who may be skeptical about the power of the scriptures and prophets and patriarchs, I invite you to listen to Nephi’s words. He said this: “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.” (v. 29)

And if you don’t like Nephi, I’ll give you the Savior’s words: “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great. Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.” (D&C 64:33-34)

So I invite you to lay your skepticism aside and exercise faith, diligence, and give heed. For any of those personal Liahonas to work in your life, you’ve got to believe, you’ve got to have faith. You’ve got to be willing to just go do it.

Now, let’s rejoin the record, and let’s highlight one of the things that’s often overlooked in that 16th chapter. It’s mentioned in the 14th verse, and then again, so that Nephi wanted to make sure we didn’t pass it over, he mentions it again in the 16th verse of that chapter. And it states this, that when following the Liahona, it kept them in “the most fertile parts of the wilderness.”   I want to talk about the fertile parts of the wilderness.

Imagine with me that scene. We don’t know exactly, the course this caravan traveled.  But I just invite you to consider the region of the world, and in your mind, what that wilderness might have looked like. We know food was scarce. We know they brought some provisions but not enough. We know the wilderness was a dangerous place, because they didn’t light fires. So you can conjure up in your mind what you think that wilderness looked like—either a Sahara desert, or what this valley looked like when the pioneers first got here. It would be wrong to consider it a lush garden, don’t you think?

And yet, this Liahona, this little ball of curious workmanship with a spindle, kept them in the most fertile parts of that wilderness, as long as they had faith, diligence, and gave heed. Now what is the application? For every one of us in this room, we’re going to be asked to pass through some wildernesses. Some of them we want, some of them we don’t invite. Most likely, all of them we need, if we didn’t invite them ourselves. There will be places where our journey has scarcity , and danger. There will be times we feel somewhat lost and uncertain, or are not confident about who we are or where we are going, or even what our bearings are. Father Lehi saw such a place at the beginning of his dream. You remember it. He described it just as a “dark and dreary” wilderness. (1 Nephi 8:7)

So what purposes does a wilderness have for you? Well, it can turn you to greater dependency upon God. That’s a good thing. It can bring us to a realization that we really do need a plan, and we need some priorities. It can build character, and it can temper and forge and eventually exalt us. So no matter what the desolation is in today’s personal wilderness, there is a safe way you can travel through it, keeping in the most fertile parts. It is the same way Lehi and his family did it. It is the Covenant of the Fertile Field. It is a covenant to have faith, diligence, and to give heed to the personal Liahonas in your life—scriptures, prophets, patriarchs.

Let’s examine each one for a minute. Faith: Speaking to his son Helaman, Alma stated that the Liahona worked according to their faith. “Therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way that they should go, behold, it was done.” (Alma 37:40) I ask you to ponder these questions in your heart: Do you have faith the scriptures can talk to you in a very personal way? Do you have faith that prophets give counsel to the world and to the Church in general? Do you have the faith that your patriarchal blessing is a piece of revelation that continually opens itself to you wider, in the application of your life. The older I get, the more I am convinced that with faith there is another element, and that is patience. I’m coming to understand in my life how intertwined those two principles are, and as a result, I’m coming to understand more and more Moroni’s observation when he said we “receive no witness until after the trial of [our] faith.” (Ether 12:6)

When I allow patience to be an element of my faith, then I understand Alma’s discourse of the seed better, and his admonition to exercise faith, diligence, and patience. For someone in this room right now, if it relates to patience, will you please hang on? Just hang on.

President Benson made it very clear that at times we have to hang on and wait for the “pressing influence of Satan,” he said, to leave us. And he will go. But as your friend, will you please hang on? The Lord promised Joseph that “thine adversity and thine affliction shall be but a small moment.”

Okay, number two. Faith is number one, coupled with patience. Number two: diligence. Faith is a principle of action, and therefore it powers our diligence. I’m going to say it again: Faith is a principle of action, and therefore it powers our diligence. When we are diligent in keeping the commandments, we put ourselves in a position to hear the tailored messages from scriptures, prophets, and patriarchs.

When Lehi’s family was “slothful, and forgot to exercise faith and diligence … those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey.  Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and they were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions.” (Alma 37:41-42)

So it was for Lehi, and so it is for us. Our diligence, coupled with our faith and our patience, will keep us in the most fertile parts of our individual wildernesses. And sometimes we are asked to do hard things, and we don’t understand the true purposes of them..

There is a parable told of a man who was given a job by God, and it was to push against a giant rock. And the man pushed and he pushed and he pushed, and the rock would not move. And so he became discouraged and he became frustrated. He became so frustrated that he quit pushing against the rock, and he prayed. And he pled with God, and said, “Why is it that I cannot move this gigantic rock that I have been asked to push against?”

And the parable continues, God came to him. The man asked God directly, “Why can’t I move this rock?”

And God answered, “It was not your job to move the rock; it was just to push against it.” Sometimes  what we think we are to gain from our efforts as we sojourn  in our wilderness may not be what God wants and intends us to gain. The man in the parable thought the objective was to move the rock. But God’s objective may have been different—lessons in persistence, lessons in patience, the development of great strength.

All right, number three: heeding. That’s our third element of the covenant. Our faith and our diligence and our patience are incomplete without that last component of the Covenant of the Fertile Field. We must heed the instructions we get from scriptures, prophets, and our blessings. It takes courage to move forward in positive ways, to put away those things that stand in the way of our success, to march through our wildernesses with courage, rather than waiting to be rescued or acted upon.

In an address Elder Bednar gave at Brigham Young University, he talked of being quick to observe. (“Quick to Observe,” May 10, 2005) Being quick to observe is at the heart of giving heed. Let me ask a question: When you were first introduced to the pamphlet For the Strength of Youth, how quick were you to observe and to give heed? Do you still observe it, or for some unfathomable reason, do you think you are beyond it, because you are not in Young Mens or Young Womens anymore? When you signed the Honor Code, including the dress and grooming standards at the College, how quick were you to observe and give heed? Did you immediately cut your hair and shave? Or did you wait until the last minute to do so?

The degree, brothers and sisters, with which you are quick to observe and give heed is a key to unlocking the strength of the Covenant of the Fertile Field. And in that same connection, may I just suggest this: that we lose blessings in our lives that God is willing to grant when we do not give heed. Blessings are lost, because temporal wisdom is applied to what was really a spiritual decision. And I will testify to you that that applies to the Honor Code and the dress and grooming standards.

And so in conclusion, there you have it. The Covenant of the Fertile Field is that we exercise faith, including patience, that we are diligent, and that we give heed to scriptures, prophets, and patriarchs. And in return, the Lord promises us that He will keep us in the most fertile parts of the wildernesses that we must travel before we reach our next temporary place of rest – our own land Bountiful. It is this Covenant of the Fertile Field that will make your semester what it is supposed to be. It is this covenant that will quicken your understanding and allow you to see and behold what Heaven has in store for you in this season of your life. And if you need to change, and bind the Lord to this covenant, then accept His terms and change. You have the power to do so.

Elder Richard G. Scott counseled this: “We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.” I’ll read it again: “We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.” (“The Transforming Power of Faith and Character,” Ensign, Nov. 2010) And so, my beloved young friends, you are much stronger than you think. You have the power to be what you want to be, one day at a time as you travel the course of your life.

Your willingness to change will invite the Holy Ghost to show you what you need to do. He will help you avoid wells without water. So I invite you not to be casual about your opportunities here in this temple of learning. It’s our individual and collective casualness in our lives that lures us away from the Covenant of the Fertile Field and leads us to the slothfulness spoken of by Alma. The measure of your peace during your sojourn in the wilderness is tied to your living the gospel. It’s as simple as that, my friends.

There is power in living true principles. So let me give you a practical test you can apply to yourselves. If you are engaged in or contemplating an activity that you think might be questionable, first of all, it probably is. But if you still struggle with knowing, I invite you to ask yourself these three questions about the action or activity: 1) What does it do for me? 2) What does it do to me? And 3) How will I feel about myself?

If you honestly answer those questions and ponder their implications, you will know what to do and where to go.

Now I leave you my testimony. I pray the Lord will bless you in all your righteous efforts to pass through the wildernesses you are in or about to be in, that you may do so with faith, patience, and giving heed to scriptures, prophets, and patriarchs. I pray that you will understand the heaven-decreed reason to push against your particular giant rock. I pray that you will have faith in yourselves, in your boundless capacities to learn what you need to learn, and that you might do what you need to do, that you will become what Father in Heaven wants you to become.

Speaking for the staff and the faculty and the administration, we pray Father in Heaven’s greatest blessings to be upon you. We encourage you to be prepared to receive those blessings. The gospel is true. Jesus is the Christ. His Spirit is here if you seek it. I pray that you may feel it. I pray that you may feel it today in a special way, that you will have courage about your wilderness, and then you just hang on. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Choose Happiness by Choosing to Follow the Spirit

18 Jan. 2011


Choose Happiness by Choosing to Follow the Spirit

I’m delighted to be with you this morning, brothers and sisters. I’ve been looking forward to this assignment for some time, and it’s wonderful to be here with you. I’ve been looking forward to it because I know some of you, and it’s good to see your faces again.
I appreciate that opening prayer; that is my prayer, that the Holy Ghost will be here. I prayed that the Holy Ghost would be here with me today, and with you, because, as was spoken, the Holy Ghost is really the teacher. And if the Holy Ghost is here, and if your minds and hearts are open to it, you will get what you need no matter what I talk about.
I appreciated President Richards’ introduction. It reminded me on one occasion, at a gathering of the Seventy and their wives, we had stood to introduce ourselves and tell a little bit about ourselves as we were new general authorities. And we introduced the fact that I had gone to the University of Utah and that my wife had gone to the BYU, and we were married. Upon which, one brother, who has an extraordinary sense of humor, exclaimed out loud, “Oh, you’ve got a mixed marriage.” Well, I don’t know if we’ve got a mixed marriage, but it’s been a mixture of a lot of great things, and much of what good has happened to me in my life has been a result of two things: First, having served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Second, to have been fortunate enough to marry June Langeland. I don’t know what I would have become or where I would be had it not been for those two decisions. They are the single most important decisions I’ve ever made in my life. And I’m grateful, most grateful, for her companionship. As different experiences come to me and come to us in our life, and challenges and experiences, I am so grateful that she is by my side and that she is my companion.
 I’ve come to wish you happy New Year and to help you realize this wish now and throughout your life. How many times did you hear “Happy New Year” over the course of the last month? Most of you didn’t stop to think much about what that means or what it implies, but I have over the last few weeks. I assume that you will find the topic of personal happiness relevant. I hope you do. After all, people who claim to be happy tend to live longer. They also get hired and promoted more frequently by their employers. They tend to have good friends, lasting marriages, and happier children, studies suggest.
Since happiness is ultimately what people want the most, I thought it might be relevant for our consideration this morning. Personal happiness is relevant to every season of your life, but for many of you, this is a season of your life when the decisions you make will cast a long shadow on the rest of your life and the prospects for lifelong happiness. What you decide and how you make those decisions is critically important.
Our topic is also relevant because the very doctrinal foundation for happiness is under siege in our modern society. The values, principles, and doctrines upon which personal happiness is based, are increasingly characterized as socially and politically incorrect. In your time, the debate will shift from tolerating differing values and beliefs than those taught in the scriptures by the prophets to an aggressive, full onslaught on the very existence of God in the first place. His divine plan of happiness and the principles it contains will be twisted almost beyond recognition, making happiness ever more elusive for many of us to find.
So, happiness. The pursuit of happiness has been the subject of philosophical debate and objective research for years. It’s been the topic of music and art for ages. Man’s pursuit of happiness is both universal and timeless. But I want you to understand and know that personal happiness is decisively a spiritual principle and not merely a philosophical abstract. Since everything begins with a question, my question to you is simply this: Do you understand what happiness is and how to obtain it?
I know that many of you are focused on your education. You’re focused on getting a job. You’re wondering if you’ll ever be competitive, if you’ll ever be adequate. You’re wondering if you’ll ever succeed in life. Let me assure you that you can and you will. But if you want to be happy, then you must understand the doctrine and principles that underpin happiness.
President Packer is famous for saying that true doctrine, understood, changes behavior more than the study of behavior will change behavior. (See “Do Not Fear,” Ensign, May 2004, 77) That is particularly true as it relates to personal happiness. So what is the true doctrine as it relates to personal happiness?
As you begin thinking about that, one thing always comes to my mind when I am thinking about you and the decisions that you will make. I have no doubt that many of you will find a way to be successful in life. What I worry about is not whether or not you will but whether or not, at the end of the day, you will have climbed the right ladder. It is devastating to think of someone who climbs a ladder, and by the age of 50 or so, my age, realizes the ladder they have climbed is leaning against the wrong wall. If you understand the doctrine of true happiness, you are much more likely to define and pursue success in your life in such a way that it will bring you true happiness.
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” (History of the Church, 5:134-35) In the pre-existence, we shouted for joy when presented with the Father’s plan of happiness, which is the doctrine of Christ, or the gospel of Jesus Christ. The plan provided that all God’s children—all God’s children—could receive a fullness of joy and exist in a never-ending state of happiness in the presence of the Father and of His Beloved Son.
Because of God’s love for us, He prepared a plan that included our coming to Earth, where we would receive bodies and be tested so that we could progress and become like Him. This plan is called the plan of salvation, the great plan of happiness, or the plan of redemption. The purpose of God’s plan is to lead us to eternal life. God declared, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) Eternal life is the greatest gift God has for His children. It is exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Through the plan of happiness, we can receive this blessing of returning to God’s kingdom and receiving a fullness of joy.
As part of our Father’s plan, we were born into families. He established families to bring us happiness, to help us learn correct principles in a loving atmosphere and to prepare us for eternal life. A fullness of joy is necessarily, then, tied to families and children. A fullness of happiness is not possible without the family and children in God’s plan. The family is ordained of God. It is the most important unit in time and in eternity. Even before we were born on the earth we were part of a family, each and every one of us. Each of us is a beloved spirit son or daughter of loving heavenly parents, with a divine nature and destiny. (See “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”) God is our living Heavenly Father, and we lived in his presence as part of His family in the premortal life. There we learned our first lessons and were prepared for mortality.
There’s a reason why I am laying this foundation for you. If you’re going to be happy, you must have an understanding of what happiness consists of and where it comes from. The very purpose for creating the earth and receiving a physical body in mortality is to make possible immortality and eternal life, or a fullness of joy. The prophet Alma taught, “It has been made known unto me …that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they b e good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
“And then it shall come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” (Alma 40:11-12)
It seems quite natural that a state of happiness would precede a state characterized by a fullness of joy or exaltation. But when Lehi taught that “Men are, that they might have joy,” (2 Nephi 2:25) he was referring to the journey of mortality and not just the destination following mortality. The people of Nephi lived “after the manner of happiness,” (2 Nephi 5:27) suggesting there is a pattern to personal happiness. Alma would later record, “There never was a happier time among the people of Nephi…than in the days of Moroni.” (Alma 50:23)
And in 4th Nephi, following Christ’s ministry among the Nephites, it is recorded: “And it came to pass there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
“And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God….
“And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there were no contentions in all the land.” (4 Nephi 1:15-16, 18)
Now, since our personal happiness is the very purpose of God, doesn’t it seem natural that His plan of happiness would be the surest way to achieve it? Why would it ever make sense, then, to live contrary to God’s plan of happiness? Obviously, it wouldn’t. Yet tragically, what we know is not always reflected in what we do. Is it? A voice of warning here is necessary. Each of you are more than old enough and spiritually mature enough to have a deep and spiritual understanding of God’s plan of happiness for you, deeply rooted in your minds and in your hearts. You must have it if you are going to achieve happiness. A simple cursory understanding of this will never do. You’ve long since passed the time in your life when simple overview, Sunday-school-ready answers to deep, compelling questions will suffice. You can know by the power of the Holy Ghost that these things are true, not just in general, but specifically for each and every one of you. I’ll come back to that.
As a former mission president, I am constantly amazed at young men and women who tirelessly and selflessly sacrifice and serve as full-time missionaries and invite others to come unto Christ by helping them to receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. You remember that? The missionary purpose, right? It sounds familiar? Then, after realizing greater personal happiness and joy than they have ever experienced before, that same missionary will return home and almost immediately and purposefully reverse course and do a swan dive back into Babylon—and wonder why they are not happy. Does that make any sense to you?
How can someone bear daily witness to the plan of happiness and then come home and almost immediately pursue a pattern of living in opposition to it? That just doesn’t make sense to me. Day in and day out, they find people in every station and stage of life, and teach them powerfully and simply that daily reading from the scriptures, meaningful personal prayer, personal righteousness, attending church, actively participating as a member of the church, will lead to happiness and will help them overcome any problem or concern—and then immediately upon returning home, they stop doing the very things that brought them happiness.
Those of you who served missions, why were you so happy then? What did you do to receive such happiness in your life? What did you do? You’re more obedient than you have ever been before in your life. You had a schedule—you got up early, you worked hard, and you went to bed in the same day. You studied the scriptures daily. You searched the scriptures. You didn’t just have a copy somewhere that you used to read. Five minutes didn’t get it done then, and it doesn’t get it done now. You had meaningful personal prayer. You focused on the Savior and His teachings. You gave on a daily basis selfless service to God and His children. And because of that, you experienced almost constant direction from the Holy Ghost, and you knew that personal revelation was a reality.
Well, is that happening now? And would you need to go on a mission in order to have those things happen to you now? No. Remember this imperative: You get what you focus on consistently. So what are you focused on? What are you doing now that might prevent you from happiness?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it well: “Only by aligning our wills with God’s is full happiness to be found. Anything less results in a lesser portion.” (“Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Ensign, Nov. 1995) So what do you want? Are you happy? What are you willing to do or to change in order to be happier than you are right now? What are you waiting for? Maybe you think that happiness is a function of your circumstances. “When this happens, then I will be happy. When the semester ends…when I get rid of this professor…when finals are over…when I’m out of school…when I get a job, then I’ll be launched. When I get a new car… or a car….when I finally find the love of my life, then I will be happy.” This pattern of thinking is delusional and will lead you away from happiness, not toward it.
May I suggest three things that will help you be happier? First, decide to be happy. Happiness is a choice. Choices require the correct and proper use of agency. “And now, my sons [and daughters], I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he has created all things, both the heavens and  the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
“And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he… created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other being bitter.
“Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for him [or her] self. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” (2 Nephi 2:14-16)
You have agency—the ability to act and not be acted upon. There is no lack of things to be unhappy about. We live in uncertain times. It’s a difficult economy. You wonder if there will be jobs. You wonder what will happen to you, if you’ll ever be successful. There is so much to be worried about, and everywhere you look there are things that could cause one to be unhappy. It’s enticing, sometimes, to yield your happiness to the actions of others or to the unfortunate but inevitable disappointments of life. Happiness, however, is a choice, and not an ideal set of circumstances. You can and must decide to be happy, and to choose happiness in spite of your circumstances. If you are not happy, it’s because you are choosing to be so. No one can force you to be unhappy. Blaming your unhappiness on others or on circumstances is not being accountable. It is not part of the plan. You are, in the final analysis, the master of your own fate and soul. The final result of your life will be exactly what you choose. There are necessarily influences that would distract you from keeping God’s commandments and being happy, but none of these can force you to do that which is not right or to be unhappy. You have agency, and happiness is a choice.
Because we all have the ability to change, we are all accountable for the choices we make. If you are not happy, change your attitude. If you consistently focus on being happy, you will become happy indeed. And by the way, no one is looking for unhappy persons to employ and promote or, for that matter, to date and marry. Who wants to marry into misery? Something to think about. And by the way, if you are happy, then notify your face. That’s what my mother-in-law used to always say. Decide to be happy. It will change your life, and it will change your circumstances, ultimately. It will lead to much greater happiness.
Now, you think about that one thing. It’s not trivial. But you begin to change your reality by changing your attitude about it.
Second: happiness is also a consequence of the choices we make. Wickedness never was happiness. The foundational basis of our Father’s plan of happiness is obedience. Obedience is the first law of heaven. All blessings from God are predicated on obedience to the laws on which those blessings are predicated. You know that. Personal happiness is predicated on personal righteousness, by keeping God’s commandments. It doesn’t get any more simple and profound than that. There is no other way.
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught it this way: “If we will live the gospel, if we will put our trust in God, our Eternal Father, if we will do what we are asked to do as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we will be the happiest and most blessed people on the face of the earth.” (from remarks at a Pocatello, Idaho, bioregional conference, 4 June 1995, Ensign, April 1996) Do you believe that, or are you still looking for some other shortcut way to make you happy?
Studies suggest that people with more money are not necessarily happier. Money does not bring happiness, and you can’t buy it. I have seen so many people in my life and career who climbed the ladder of success financially and were utterly miserable, because that ladder of success violated every single principle of happiness laid out by our Heavenly Father. And no amount of success can compensate for failure in the home. It simply is not possible.
Service is synonymous with keeping the commandments, but service is not convenient. It’s supposed to be inconvenient. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that yet. But service in the Church will always be inconvenient to other plans you might have for yourself. Is it counterintuitive to you that personal happiness would come from obeying God’s commandments and serving others? One of the great lessons of life and keys to personal success is forgetting ourselves in the service of others. Happiness does not come from getting what we want; it comes from aligning what we want with what God wants us to do and to become.
Since God is our loving Heavenly Father, He knows who we really are and what we really need to realize our divine identity—our highest and greatest potential. Obedience to God reveals our true divine identity. With this divine clarity, we can more consistently make choices that lead to happiness.
Let me just make a punctuation here. Each of you has a divine identity. Each of you does. Each of you is important to God the Eternal Father, and I bear witness that He knows you. And He knows what you can become, and it is significant. Eternal life is the greatest of all the gifts of God. It’s the cumulative result of the consequences that inevitably derive from the choices we make. Choosing obedience, therefore, to God and to His servants, is the pattern of happiness.
If you want to be happier, be more obedient. Being more diligent in keeping the commandments will lead to greater happiness. Now let me be specific here. What is the Holy Ghost prompting or urging you to do? Are there things that you know in your heart you ought to be doing that you are not doing? Are there also things that you are doing in your life that you ought not to be doing? The Holy Ghost will always prompt you to do things that will lead to greater happiness in your life, because he knows you and knows all things.
That leads me to number three: seek to always have the influence and companionship of the Holy Ghost. The gifts of the Spirit are peace, joy, and love. Joy is a gift of the Spirit. It comes from God through the Holy Ghost. It is granted to those who receive a remission of their sins. Each of us has been given the incomparable gift of the Holy Ghost. Its influence and companionship is an essential ingredient or element in the Father’s plan of happiness. We could not be happy were it not for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Short of exaltation itself, the Holy Ghost is the greatest gift God can give to you and me in mortality. “It will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5) Now, are you interested in knowing all things what you should do? You oftentimes will go to professors or mentors or someone else and you ask, “What should I do?” I bear witness to you that a member of the Godhead has been given to you by the Father to show you all things what you should do, in all things that you are doing. Your personal happiness will be a direct function of your worthiness to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and your daily personal efforts to seek and ask for it. By the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things, including your own divine identity, and what your Heavenly Father would have you do in your life in order to pursue happiness.
Ask yourself this question: What percentage of the day do I spend seeking the companionship of the Holy Ghost? If you could convert that into minutes, how many minutes would it be? If you are awake for 16 hours, and I realize some of you sleep for less than 8 hours—I also realize some of you sleep a lot more than 8 hours. But if you base it on 16 hours of waking time, what percentage of that time would you have actively prepared for or would be in the process of seeking the companionship of the Holy Ghost? Can you measure it on a daily basis? Is it big enough?
Each time we worthily partake of the sacrament, we are promised that we might always have the Spirit to be with us. And as you study the scriptures every day, every day, every day—there’s a pattern there—and as you consistently choose to let virtue—let me say that again—as you choose to consistently let virtue garnish your thoughts and your actions, and as you humbly and diligently pray for it and then constantly throughout the day seek for it, I bear witness that the influence of the Holy Ghost can be always with you, especially in this season of your life when some of you will make some of the most significant decisions of your lives.
What could you begin doing today that would help you get closer to the Holy Ghost? What could you stop doing right now that is preventing you from being worthy of the Spirit?
Let me conclude with my testimony. My young friends, I am just a little bit older than you, and just a little bit further down the same road that you are traveling. I am grateful beyond expression that I haven’t been climbing a ladder for the last 30 years that’s leaning against the wrong wall. I am a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is my humble honor and privilege to bear witness of His reality in all the world. Now, I have no idea where you are in this moment, in terms of your own testimony and your own level of spirituality. But I don’t want you to leave today without knowing that I know that God is a reality. I know that He lives, and I know that He is our loving Heavenly Father. I bear witness that you and I are His sons and daughters, and He has intimate, comprehensive knowledge and understanding of each and every one of us, which goes well beyond name.
I bear witness that God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son to come and implement the plan of happiness, through the Infinite Atonement, and the principles and doctrines that are a part of His great plan of happiness. There is no other way nor means under heaven whereby we can be saved or we can be happy—only by following Jesus of Nazareth. I bear witness that He is our Savior and our Redeemer, and that He loves us, and that all things are possible for you and me because of His infinite Atonement. And through the Atonement and the covenants that we have made, we have access to the power of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, to make whatever changes we need to make in our lives, and to meet and overcome and conquer any challenge of any nature and any consequence in our lives. We are infinitely more than adequate, particularly when we have the companionship of the Holy Ghost to show us all things what we should do.
I bear witness that the scriptures are true. In your day and time there will be an unending set of reasons why you should leave the plan of happiness and pursue some other course. I beg you—I beg you to stay firm and committed to the Father’s eternal plan of happiness. In the end, it’s the only thing that will matter. I bear witness to you that God loves you, and you and I will be happy if we follow the pattern of happiness in our lives. Decide to be happy. Be obedient, because happiness is the consequence of personal righteousness. And constantly seek for the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and you will have peace and happiness and joy in your lives, and you will fulfill your divine potential. I so witness, as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, in His name, amen.

Stand Steadfast and Immovable

25 Jan. 2011


Stand Steadfast and Immovable

I’m hoping today that I can say a few things that would be especially suited to each of you. As President Richards mentioned, I was called as a bishop last August in my home ward, and prior to that I was serving in a bishopric in a singles ward at the University of Utah. I served there for a few years and just absolutely loved that experience, the feeling of the energy and enthusiasm and sharing some of the grief and worries and anxieties of your life as you are at an important crossroads. As President Richards was talking about the bishop, it reminded me of a story about a bishop who was newly called. He went home to his wife and he said, “Honey, I feel so alone and inadequate.”
His wife was trying to reassure him, and she said, “Well, honey, you shouldn’t feel alone; a lot of people think you are inadequate.” I think I can relate to that a little bit today.
Several years ago our family was vacationing in Hawaii. And we had been out playing and having fun. We returned back to our hotel room and one of the kids turned on the TV. I was in the other room doing something, and then I heard someone yell from the other room, “Dad! Our house is on CNN!” My heart stopped, and that began the roots of a basic phrase that is well-turned at our house now, and that is “If your house in on CNN, most likely it’s not good news.”
That’s exactly what happened to us. There was a large wildfire on the hillside behind our home. Fortunately it was extinguished and we went on, but I had a similar experience a couple of weeks ago. I was taking my younger daughter to her seminary class about 6:30 in the morning. I was listening to the radio while I was talking to her on the way to her school, and on the radio it said that a water main had burst. It was a bitterly cold morning, and because the water main had burst, there was water that was scattered all over this piece of property and it had flooded out the neighbors next door. And then it gave the address.
I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s kind of close to a piece of property we own. I’m glad that it wasn’t ours.” Well, within about ten minutes my phone rang, and you know the rest of the story, right? They said, “Well, we’ve got a problem. There’s water going everywhere.” Anyway, it did thousands of dollars worth of damage. It was finally arrested and put to bed, but it turned out that wherever a high-pressure water line is laid in a piece of property, as the water is turned on the pressures are so great that where there is a turn in that pipe, it often will blow the pipe apart, unless something very significant happens. There’s a large chunk of concrete that’s poured around that corner, that turn, that juncture there in the pipe. It’s called a thrust block. A thrust block serves no other purpose than to just keep the pipe in one place. That’s its entire purpose. And it turned out, I found out later, that the thrust block on the corner of this large pipe that was pressurized and located on our property had moved, I was told, maybe 1/16th of an inch. And because it had moved 1/16th of an inch, the water burst out of the pipe and it created some real interesting problems for us.
As I’ve been thinking about you, I would like to speak a little bit—not on thrust blocks today—but on the idea of standing steadfast and immovable.
You are probably familiar with the famous message from King Benjamin in Mosiah 5:15: “Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.”
Think with me, if you will, for a moment about what it means to be steadfast and immovable. The dictionary definition says that “steadfast” means “firmly fixed in place”—interestingly enough, one of the definitions is “immovable”—“not subject to change, firm in belief, determination, or adherence.” And I’m going to add one other word for us to think about today, and the word that I would share with you is to be “steady.”
It seems to me that being steadfast and immovable is a higher requirement than simply being good. I think to me, being steadfast means we are continually good. There are places, important places, where the word “undeviating” is used as the gospel is taught, and I would suggest to you today that our challenge—and maybe it’s a double challenge for you as younger people—is to be consistently good in that which you do, to be steadfast.
My son tells me that every time the scriptures use the word “faithful,” he has learned to substitute . . . because he said, “Dad, to me the word ‘faithful’ as used in the scriptures is to be consistent. And God expects us to be consistently good.” In the scriptures, there are quite a few references to this. We know that God values steadiness in a high way.
Alma mentioned to his son, Shiblon. In Alma 38:2 he says this: “And now, my son, I trust that I shall have great joy in you, because of your steadiness and your faithfulness unto God; for as you have commenced in your youth to look to the Lord your God, even so I hope that you will continue in keeping his commandments; for blessed is he that endureth to the end.”
So Alma is telling Shiblon, “Thank you,” “Congratulations,” “I’m grateful that you have chosen to be steady.”
Let’s talk about you and your lives for a moment. If you think about you, your friends, your roommates, those who are around you, do you think steadfastness and immovability describes who you are? Or would it maybe describe something else? Let me tell you how I would view you students. I would say that you are full of faith and light; you’re full of great energy. Many of you to me are noble and honored pioneers. I am told that you come from over 60 different countries and all 50 states. Many of you I think are first-generation college students—you’ve done something that hasn’t been done maybe ever in your family, or perhaps not in a very long time. You are pioneers. I honor you.
To think out of 14-plus million members of the Church, that you are one of the few thousand who has the opportunity of studying and learning here at the feet of prophets is to me an astounding and overwhelming compliment to you. How great I think you are, and how amazing it is that your path, through the hand of our Father in Heaven, has led you to an opportunity like this.
But let me also say that I think it is typical of young people your age—even returned missionaries, even faithful Church members—to maybe be a bit unsteady, a bit unreliable, and maybe a bit unfocused. Maybe even a little movable in some ways. And so we have a great challenge, don’t we, and a great opportunity.
We learn from King Benjamin and many others that a steady way is pleasing to our Father in Heaven, and, I would argue, essential to our ability to progress. I want to reassure you and let you know that you are not in unfamiliar territory. I’m going to tell you a little bit about the struggle of even some of our Father in Heaven’s greatest prophets, who struggled with this idea of being steady. As you think about being unsteady, I want to add one other word to your notes and to your thoughts, and that is the idea of being casual. And I want you to know that I think being casual is a great sin, and I believe that it is a very serious offense before our Father in Heaven. I hope if we make mistakes they’re honest mistakes, and never mistakes of just being apathetic or casual about things that are eternally vital to our progress going forward.
Let’s think of a few of the prophets. Joseph Smith—here’s what he said: “I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, which were offensive in the sight of God.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:28)
And then in the next verse, Joseph Smith explains, “I didn’t do anything that serious.” (see the rest of verse 28) It wasn’t that bad, but it was clear he was bothered by his unsteadiness as a youth, and so ought we to be, I think, by our own unsteadiness.
We have a nephew who a few years ago was single, your age, still trying to find himself a little bit. And we had a saying at our house that he was a member of the “Better Offer Club.” And we would invite him to come to dinner with us on Sunday, for example, and he would say, “I’ll be there.” And we’d kind of look at each other and cross our fingers and say, “We hope.” But we also knew that he was unsteady, and if he got a better offer, even five minutes before he walked out the door to come to dinner at our house, we would not see that nephew. He was a devout and dues-paying member of the Better Offer Club. I’m wondering how many of you, and how many of us are guilty of that. I hope if you are a member of the Better Offer Club, you will tender your resignation and let other people be a part of that and realize that commitments and steadiness are great virtues that you ought to embrace with all of your hearts.
There were a few other prophets who talked a little bit about this idea of being steady.  The brother of Jared, I think we would all agree, is one of the great prophets anywhere in the Book of Mormon, or anywhere on record, for that matter. In Ether 4, listen to this promise that came to the brother of Jared: “There never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared.” (verse 4) Can you imagine? There is another scripture that says God showed the brother of Jared everything, (see verse 7) and we know later that He revealed even Himself to the brother of Jared.
But what happened is that they started out at the Tower of Babel with Jared and his brother and their families. And I love that Jared went to his brother and he said, “Would you ask God not to confound our language, because I really want to be able to talk to you.” So he went and asked, and God said, “OK.” Then Jared said to his brother, “Would you go back to God and ask if we could take our families to a better place than where we’re at right now?” And he said, “OK,” and God gave that wish to them. And then he said, “Would you show us”—Jared said to his brother, “Would you ask God to show us where we should go?” And he said OK, and they did, and the scriptures say that the brother of Jared received revelation. (See Ether 1:33-43)  God showed them where to go, and eventually they reached, it says in Ether 2, verse 1: “It came to pass that Jared and his brother, and their families, and also the friends of Jared and his brother and their families, went down into the valley which was northward, (and the name of the valley was Nimrod, being called after the mighty hunter) with their flocks which they had gathered together, male and female, of every kind.”
So God led them to this valley, and the valley was right on the edge of the seashore. And then something interesting happened with this incredible, great prophet to whom the Lord had given so much, and that is, they found the valley of Nimrod was nice. It was beautiful. It had what they thought they needed. So the brother of Jared stopped asking God for direction. They were told they hadn’t yet made it to the choice and promised land, which eventually was America, where the Jaredite nation was later founded and grew to become an amazing society.
But for four years, the brother of Jared, we’re told, became a little bit unsteady. At least we can presume as much in the 14th verse of Ether 2. Here’s what happened after four years: “It came to pass at the end of four years . . . the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him.” This was not a talk I think you would want to be a part of. It says, “For the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and [He] chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.” For four years. Now, we don’t know all of the details of that, and we know that the brother of Jared was rightly chastened by that conversation. He re-engaged and had some amazing things happen with the barges that were built, and finally seeing the finger of God and later the figure of God Himself.
And finally, the example I will give you, even the prophet Nephi, who I think we think was always perfectly steady and is an amazing example for us, wrote this in the 2 Nephi 4:18: “I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.”
So brothers and sisters, I only share those with you to say if you are so easily encompassed about and beset by challenges and temptations and unsteady influences in your life, I want you to have faith that you can do better, and I want you to make a commitment to be more steady.
Elder Mark E. Petersen said this: “There is no reward for half-hearted obedience. We must become vigorous and enthusiastic about living our religion, for God commands that we serve him withall our heart, with all our might, with all our strength, and with the very best of our intelligence. With him there can be no halfway measures. We must be fully for him or we may be classed with those who are against him.” (“Where Do We Stand?” Ensign, May 1980)
And he said, “Half obedience will be rejected as readily as a full violation, and maybe quicker, for half rejection and half acceptance is but a sham, an admission of lack of character, a lack of love for Him. It is actually an effort to live on both sides of the line.” (We Believe in Being Honest,” Ensign, May 1982, 14)
So today, brothers and sisters, I’d like to offer you three keys to becoming more steadfast and immovable in your life—three ideas that you could add to and enlarge on in your life, but three ideas that I’m confident if you follow them will bring you power to become more steady.
The first is this: Fill your life with light. We live in an age of addictions and distractions. I cannot imagine how befuddling it would be to a pioneer to explain to them that one of our problems today is video-game addiction. Can you imagine? To them that whole idea would seem so completely strange to them. But we have any number of additional addictions that come with that. The list goes on and on—pornography, gambling, Internet, television, drugs, alcohol. There are even virtuous activities that become addictive and negative and vices to our soul like exercise taken to excess, sleeping or eating—even wholesome foods, eating that to excess. That’s the society we live in.
In addition to that, we have another big problem and that is we’re just so overwhelmed with media and with materialistic and temporal messages that it is a struggle for us to maintain a steadiness and a focus. I would say this, though. I believe it is as important for us to know what doesn’t matter, what we shouldn’t be reading, what we shouldn’t be watching, what we shouldn’t be involving ourselves in, as it does to know what does matter. We have to know what doesn’t help us, what can hurt us, and we have to eliminate each and every one of those things from our lives.
We have an abundance of choices. Many of them are good, but few that are really in our best eternal interest. And so my suggestion is that we fill our lives with things that bring light and power to us.
In my previous experience in a bishopric and as a bishop now, I will tell you there are people every week who come to me with serious addictions and weaknesses, some of them that have been with them for a long time. In our ward we had a missionary meeting last Sunday for a young man who has struggled with an addiction for something like six or eight years. And I haven’t been dealing with him that entire time, but I so admire that young man because he persisted. He fought. And finally, the key that got him past this addiction that was destroying his life was that he simply engaged himself fully and wholly and completely in seeking after spiritual power in his life. He immersed himself in the scriptures. He gave me a written report every week on what he had read, on what he had learned. We were able to get him more involved in Church callings and doing other things that way, and he became totally humble. He said, “Bishop, I will do anything you ask me to do.” And he did. And I saw with him a great rise of spiritual power that came to him. And as his spiritual power grew, his lust for that addiction, his kind of connection, the magnetism of it, waned totally and he really was not interested. He was able to completely turn from it and it was a beautiful thing to see light come into his face and power come into his life. And I would suggest to you that that is available to each of us.
But brothers and sisters, it comes in the little choices that you make every day of your life—the TV show that you’re watching, your choice to stay home and not attend Family Home Evening, your unwillingness to walk down the street and participate in baptisms for the dead at the temple. That’s just a stone’s throw away from you here. Those little choices, I promise you, will either give you power or will take power from you, as it goes on.
We all know the Captain Moroni principle; it’s found in Alma 48, and it says, “If all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni . . . the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (verse 17) And then it says, what was it about Moroni that bound Satan so well? Well, in verse 16: “This was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, [and] in keeping the commandments of God . . . and [in] resisting iniquity.”
Brothers and sisters, please do not think that being casual or half-obedient is acceptable to our Father in Heaven. It is not. He requires a full measure of our obedience, of our commitment, of our faith and of our willingness to do everything we can to build the kingdom and to follow after Him. And it is a joyful process as that happens. But in your own life, consider carefully the things that happen.
We know in Alma 56 about the sons of Helaman. Their power came, we are told, because they obeyed “with exactness.” (Alma 57:21)  And our power will come in exactly the same way.
Number two, the second key to helping us be steadfast and immovable: We must be willing to do hard but worthwhile things. I think we have an interesting message that is in our culture, which is that easy is good and hard is bad. And so we have this inclination to avoid things that are hard and look for the easy way. I don’t know how many thousands and millions of hours have been spent perfecting the TV remote control. Do you know what I mean? I mean, somebody doesn’t like where the buttons are, and somebody says, “Well maybe if we made it a little bit larger,” and somebody else says, “Well, maybe we could have a remote control that could handle the DVD, and the TV, and the VCR and the radio, then life would be good.” And yet, you think about that—wow, we’re not able to stand up and push a button? It’s a sad commentary, isn’t it, on all of us probably, and I’m as guilty as the next, I think. But let me just say that easy is not good. I don’t believe that our Father in Heaven places a very high value on things being easy. I don’t think it’s a priority of His to make our lives easy. I don’t think He cares about that. We see in 2 Nephi 28:24, “Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!”
I think sometimes the hard things are not complicated; the hard things sometimes are the simple things we just can’t do. Let me give you just a few examples: our home or visiting teaching. That’s a hard big thing that is very within our grasp. Calling your mother on occasion. That may be a hard thing for some of you, but that is something you can do. Attending Family Home Evening, and maybe one of the great challenges of your lives—caring in a deep and meaningful way for your roommates, including maybe even cleaning the refrigerator once in a while.
So brothers and sisters, I would tell you that those things matter. They are simple. Sometimes they’re hard, and they bring us power. May I suggest that you savor the joy of hard work, that you love doing things that are worth doing that are difficult, and that you take pleasure in the accomplishment of a worthy challenge in your life. There is little satisfaction in doing things that are easy. There is great satisfaction in tackling a great and difficult task.
President Kimball, one of my favorite quotes from him—think about this from a wonderful, awesome prophet of God—and this was from 1979: “This is my feeling for the work at this moment. There are great challenges . . . giant opportunities to be met. I welcome that exciting prospect and feel to say to the Lord, humbly, ‘Give me this mountain,’ give me these challenges. . . . I will ‘wholly follow the Lord my God’ to the fullest extent of my energy and my ability.” (“Give Me This Mountain,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 78)
Brothers and sisters, can I suggest that each of us solemnly, sacredly in prayer, and humbly take that same vow: Give me this mountain. Give me worthy challenges. Give me the opportunities to accomplish the things that You want me to do, and I will give You my full energy, my ability, and everything that I have to the accomplishment of worthwhile objectives.
I just want to touch on a principle that I love, and we don’t have time. It could be a talk in itself. In the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, write down this verse—verse 32. In the verses preceding this verse, it talks about the various kingdoms and those who will receive rewards as they go to the kingdoms. It talks about those who will go to the celestial, the terrestrial, the telestial kingdom. And then in verse 32 it talks about everybody else—those who won’t receive those rewards of glory. It says, “They who remain”—meaning those who are left over—“shall . . . enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.” I love the fairness and the comprehensive nature of the gospel. There is no LSAT to go to the celestial kingdom. To your great relief, there is no ACT. There is no MCAT, no GMAT. There’s not a handsome test, which I am particularly grateful for. But all there is is a measure of our willingness to do what we can, to do what is in every one of our own individual and our collective power. And so it comes down to our willingness to give of ourselves, to extend ourselves, to do hard things, and to simply be found on the right side of the line.
Brothers and sisters, you can have every gift God has promised. You can have the full complement of His blessings if only you are willing to receive it. It’s a beautiful principle that I love. And I might tell you that willingness is something that we’re all capable of giving, but even great prophets have at times been unwilling. You are familiar with Jonah, right? And he wanted to go to Tarshish because he really didn’t want to go to Nineveh. There is the story of Moses and Enoch, both who were amazing prophets, both who said the same thing, interestingly, when they were called. They both said, “I am slow of speech. Why do you want me to do this? I’m not capable of doing this.” And our Father in Heaven said, “I know, but I am, and I can give you everything you need so you can be capable.” (See Moses 6:31-34; Genesis 4:10-15)
And I suggest that is the case for each of us. President Benson said this, and it’s worth remembering: “When our obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power.” (quoted in Elder Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Great Challenge,” Ensign, May 1998) I love that.
The final thing that I would suggest to you is the third key for being steadfast and immovable. It comes down to one word, and that word is “remember.” The word “remember” is found 136 times in the Book of Mormon. Many of the prophets talked about the power they received by remembering what God had done for their forefathers. For those who have been on missions, for all of us here, if we could remember the times that God saved us. Nephi thought often about the time when He helped them get the brass plates. I’ll bet you have an experience like that in your own life. Think of the time or the times when God did something extraordinary to bless you in your life. We all have had them. We should remember that. If we remember that everything we’re being asked to do is simply to submit ourselves and to be willing to do what we can and are fully capable of doing, we will find that our quest to be steady becomes a joyful experience. It is awesome to feel the approbation of our Father in Heaven, to feel His Spirit supporting us and encouraging us, to feel inspiration guiding us about what major to take, or how to get through that next test that you’re all stressed out and worried about. I hope, brothers and sisters, we will remember all that our Father in Heaven has done for us.
I would just say in closing that I think these three keys are very valuable to us. I hope because of the easiness of the way for us, we will not be guilty of the great and extreme sin of casualness in our faith. I hope, in the little things of your life, that you will make a resolution to be better, to be more steadfast and immovable in your own little way, whatever that is. So the three things are: (1) Fill your life with light—crave it, seek it, desire it. Avoid and shun those things that are going to take light from you, and be involved diligently, wholeheartedly in those things that will bring you spiritual power. (2) Be willing to do things that are hard. And (3) simply remember the experiences of your life where good things have happened.
I want you to know that even those prophets that I have mentioned, who struggled in their youth, think of all that they accomplished in their life. Think of Enoch, the City of Enoch. The scriptures said that Zion was fled, and his city was taken. (See Moses 7:69) Think of Joseph Smith and how amazingly steady he became as time went on in his life. Think of Nephi and all of the times that he stood up resolute and powerful, immovable in every way.
I want to promise you that God keeps His promises, and I also want to testify to you that He will always be steadfast and immovable in our behalf. I love these words from the hymn “How Firm a Foundation”:
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake…
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!
I’ll just close with this. The promise that King Benjamin mentioned in Mosiah 5:15 says this: If we are “steadfast and immovable, Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, [will] seal us his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things.” I testify to you that that is true, and I leave you with my love and that testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Nothing in Between: Putting the Savior First in Your Life

01 Feb. 2011


Nothing in Between: Putting the Savior First in Your Life

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you this morning.  I am honored to have my wife, Vicki, present.  She is an inspiration to me, and I love her very much.  As with me, I hope you will also marry above yourselves.
 I’ve enjoyed teaching at the college.  After teaching at other institutes of religion, most recently and for quite a few years at the University of Utah, I was convinced that coming here would not be as rewarding.  I was wrong.  In recalling my many years of teaching, I treasure this at or near the top.  Teaching about our faith and the doctrines is heaven on earth.  When I add to that those of you who come to class having prepared by reading and writing, it’s a privilege.  I hope you never slack in taking advantage of your schooling and by getting the most from your religion classes.  We have here a faculty of six full-time and sixteen part-time instructors who have vast experience in life, teaching, business, and in the Church.  They can and will assist in helping to prepare you to enter your careers, raise families, and serve in the Church.  All in all, the religion faculty has a spiritual maturity, united with secular experience that will be very beneficial to you.  Both should help you have a wonderful experience in supplementing your education with the scriptures.
A few years ago I was acquainted with a man in California who had served as a stake president and was, at the time I knew him, serving as a regional representative of the Twelve.  With his experience in the Church and as a well-respected judge, I asked if he would speak at a devotional somewhat like this one today.  He accepted the invitation and in his message said something to the students at the institute of religion that I have not forgotten.  He said in effect, “I would strongly suggest that while you are in college that you make certain that you take religion classes along with your other studies.  Your mind is now the most active and fertile it will ever be in your life.  You spend many hours reading, thinking, analyzing, processing, and stretching your minds.  You will learn and feel more how the scriptures relate to your secular life – as well as watch your testimony grow, more now than at any other time in your life.  This is so because your mind at this stage is more active than it will probably be the rest of your life.  That is partially why you make such great spiritual and scriptural strides while in the mission field.”  (A personal recollection by Allan Gunnerson of the remarks of J. Clifford Wallace at a forum at the San Diego Institute of Religion)
I feel that President Spencer W. Kimball put it well when he said, “The secular without the foundation of the spiritual is but like the foam upon the milk, the fleeting shadow. Do not be deceived! One need not choose between the two ... for there is opportunity to get both simultaneously….” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 390.)
This morning I would like to talk to you about what should be at the center of your life.  I’ve entitled the talk, “Nothing in Between.”  I earnestly seek the direction of the Spirit and hope that you will now take a few minutes in your day to think about your relationship with the Savior, for Nephi has said, “the words of Christ will tell you all things that you should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).  What a powerful thought about what our focus in life should always be.
This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible.  You may or may not know the significance of that volume, to not only the world, but to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who were pioneers in its development so we could read and study its beautiful phrases and words, especially as it tells the story of the Savior’s life.  I can’t help but think of the great forerunners of the restoration who brought it to us.  Men like St. Jerome, who in 382 A.D. was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to translate the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts into what would become the Latin Vulgate.  Even though his translation would be used exclusively by the priests of the Roman Catholic Church, he would begin a movement that would bring the words of the Bible to you and me.  I’ve sat alone in the stone-walled room next to the cave beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where he lived and produced his manuscript.  He wanted to be as close as possible to where Jesus had been born.  Like with Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who wrote the book, “Jesus the Christ,” in a room near the eastern entrance of the Salt Lake Temple, both wanted to be close to or in a holy place where they could feel the Spirit as they brought to us their important contributions.
In 1382 A.D., John Wycliffe and some of his followers took the words of St. Jerome and put together the first hand-written English copy of the Bible.  What an accomplishment for the masses of people who spoke English.  They would now be able to at least begin hearing the inspiring words in their language.
Then a printer named Johann Gutenberg, would in 1455 A.D., develop movable type and begin printing St Jerome’s vulgate.
Approximately one hundred years later, in 1526 A.D., an Englishman named William Tyndale would be driven by the Spirit to go back through the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and translate the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament again into English.  He would play a major role in the beautiful phrases we read in the Bible today.  Even though he would be martyred, others would follow and would begin developing Bibles using his work as their base.  Some of those Bibles are still used today.  As with St. Jerome’s room next to the birthplace of Jesus, I had the privilege many years ago to travel and sit at locations in England where William Tyndale had been educated and where he had preached prior to working on his translation in Belgium and Germany.  Sister Gunnerson and I are planning to visit England again this spring and travel not only to the sites where the Bible was developed but review the history and significance of that land as part of the restoration.
As the climate changed in England for reading and studying the word of God, King James of England called for a conference of scholars in 1604 AD.  They looked at earlier texts and with what I believe was inspiration from the Spirit, gave to the world the book that you and I study here at the college and which the Prophet Joseph Smith studied and began correcting shortly after finishing the Book of Mormon.  As a boy, he had read the book by candle and fire light.  His reading instilled in him the beautiful and timely words, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.  For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” (James 1:5-6)  What beautiful and poetic words.  Joseph wouldn’t finish his corrections before his martyrdom, but the King James Bible would stand as a testament to his faith and to ours.  It gives to us the life and teachings of our Savior and teaches us, along with other scripture, to come to Him.  For doesn’t God speak to us through its pages?  Doesn’t the sublime love of Jesus Christ for you and me live as we read?  To me, it does.  It, along with the Book of Mormon and other scripture, has become like manna to my soul – especially as I, like you, have faced the trials and challenges of everyday living.
When I was fifteen years old, my father taught me something that I’ll never forget.  Dad and Mom had raised me and my seven brothers and sisters to love the scriptures and to come to know the Savior.  As with many active LDS families, Dad spent a lot of time at his office and in doing church work – in fact, he had been in a bishopric since I was five.  Mom was what I considered to be the best mother and homemaker ever.  She loved us and we knew it.  That’s probably why in high school I remember wanting to go home after school to see her – and maybe get a piece of hot homemade bread that I always looked forward to, especially on cold wintry days.  We were taught the principle of work and respect for the Savior, the scriptures, and the leaders of the Church.
And this is where my story begins.  It had been a typical Sunday at church.  We didn’t have a three-hour block like today.  Priesthood meeting was in the morning, followed by Sunday School, and then we’d go home and come back in the late afternoon or early evening for Sacrament Meeting.  Church seemed all day.  On this particular Sunday, I had gone to Priesthood Meeting and was in the foyer about to go into Sunday School when I was approached by a member of the bishopric.  His personality had always been a little prickly and brash, but something had happened, and for some reason he approached me and accused me of something I had not done.  I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about, when immediately he said that I should be ashamed of myself.  I couldn’t remember ever feeling that hurt by something a church leader had said.  At first I tried to brush it off and not worry, but then my pride got in the way, and I decided that I’d leave church, walk home, and maybe not come back again.  Knowing that my mother and father would not feel very good about that decision, I nevertheless had been hurt.
After the walk home, I went to my upstairs bedroom, took out my school books and began to study – not seriously, however – I was still upset.  It seemed but a few minutes when I heard the front door open.  The person who entered seemed to pause at the bottom of the stairs and didn’t say a word.  My heart jumped, thinking, “Oh no, someone’s home.  Why are they here?  Maybe they know I’ve left church.”  Then I heard my father’s voice.  “Oh, oh,” I thought.  “Allan … are you up there?” he said.  At first I didn’t want to answer, but the pressure of not recognizing him since he was not only my father but also the bishop of the ward, wouldn’t do.  So in a whisper just so he could barely hear, I said, “Uh…, yes Dad, I’m here.”  “Can I come up and talk to you, son?”  He always called me son.  “Uh, oh sure,” I said.  I remember hearing every step up the staircase, him coming into the room, looking around, and then looking as if right through me – or at least I thought so.  “Can I sit down?” he asked.  Sitting down meant knee to knee – almost touching – and eye to eye.  “I was told that you left church today,” he said.  “What’s wrong?  Is there some kind of a problem?  I don’t remember you ever leaving church without the rest of the family and especially not until the meetings were over.”  I remember my hands getting a little sweaty and my head looking downward as I responded, “Uh, Dad, Brother _______ got after me for doing something that I hadn’t done.  I decided to come home.”
I remember his pause and the serious nature of his eyes as he looked at me – it was one of those defining moments.  I knew I had to say something back and that it had to be good, but I can’t remember what I said.  I do remember him getting up, going over to my desk, finding a piece of paper and a pencil, and coming back and sitting down.  He again paused and then looked away before looking down at the paper and drawing the stick figure of a man.  “This is Jesus,” he said.  Moving his pencil to the opposite side of the paper he drew another stick figure of a person and said quietly, “This is you.”  He then drew another stick figure of a man in the middle of the paper and said, “Who do you think this is?”  I said I didn’t know.  He then said, “This is my counselor, Brother _______.”  He then drew a line from the head of the figure representing me to the head of his counselor in the middle of the paper and then another line from the head of his counselor to the head of the figure representing Jesus.  Do you get the picture?  He then said, “Son, what’s the problem here?”  I said I didn’t know.  “Can the figure that’s representing you see Jesus?”  “Uh, I guess not,” I said.  “You can’t see Jesus,” he said, “Because Brother _______ is in the way!”  And then I remember him looking lovingly at me and saying pointedly, but with kindness, “Son, please don’t ever let anyone or anything stand between you and Jesus!  Do you understand what I’m saying?”  “I think so,” I said.  He put down the paper and again looked at me lovingly and said, “How about going back to church with me. I’ve got to get to an interview. Okay?”  “Okay,” I said.  I went back with him that day and have never left since. (A personal recollection of an experience of Allan Gunnerson with his father, Harold O. Gunnerson, emphasis added.)
What happened?  What had happened that would bring someone between me and the Savior?  I was young and maybe now it seems silly, but it was real then.  By the way, ten years later that counselor who offended me was called to be the bishop of the ward.  At that time I was in college, and Sister Gunnerson and I were married and living in the ward.  After he had been called as the bishop, he came to our home and asked if I would serve as one of his counselors.  Needless to say, he became a very good friend.  When we left the ward and moved out of the state, I would always try to visit him when returning to Utah.  Isn’t life full of irony?
I knew after that experience, and later, that I would have distractions in the development of my relationship with the Savior.  School, work, family, activities, and so forth, would all come along as life proceeded.  But I know now that too many of us, if not careful, can get easily distracted from what is most important.  Someone offends us.  We start running around with the wrong friends.  We may feel alone.  We may feel we are not as good as others who seem to have everything going right.  All of these and others are ploys of Satan that can drive us away from the Savior.  Sometimes those ploys are subtle and sometimes direct.  Isaiah expressed it well when, in speaking of those in the latter days, he said, “And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.” (Isaiah 8:15)  Our falling away from the Savior is usually not immediate but gradual.  In all that we do, we must never lose our focus of Him by embracing less important things such as our studies, career, or anything else.
Peter Kreeft, a Christian writer, once remarked, “When Christianity was proclaimed throughout the world, the proclamation… was not ‘Love your enemies!’ but ‘Christ is risen!’  This was not a new ideal but a new event, that [the Savior] died, and rose for our salvation.  Christianity is first of all not ideal but real, an event, news, the gospel, the ‘good news.’  The essence of Christianity is not Christianity; the essence of Christianity is Christ.”  (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, p. 83, emphasis added.)
If we are not careful, sometimes we can miss the forest for the trees, which means that we get so caught up in small detail, as I once did, that we can fail to understand the bigger and more important picture.
A few years ago a minister of another church was invited to participate in a symposium at BYU.  He had accepted the assignment to compare the Sermon on the Mount with the Sermon at the Temple in 3rd Nephi.  He discovered several interesting differences and gave an excellent analysis.  He felt the Savior’s teachings in 3rd Nephi were more precise, stronger, bolder, and offered more information.  He found Jesus to be more commanding in 3rd Nephi and indicated that He seemed to speak as if he were a god.  It was interesting that he could love the New Testament account but also see the strength of Jesus in 3rd Nephi.  However, his tone changed, and he began to discredit the Book of Mormon by saying that new religions always have a desire for answers and knowledge.  He preferred writings that were less clear and less dramatic.  Brother Robert Matthews, a former professor at BYU and the one who told the story, concluded, “Because he approached the study of scripture intellectually, and not by the Spirit, he found the details but missed the message.”  (See Robert J. Matthews. Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 9-30, This is My Gospel, Book of Mormon Symposium, 1993, p. 34-35.)
The study of the great books of scripture, including the King James Bible, is clear.  They are, through the Spirit, to bring us to Christ.  As he so lovingly said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
You’re familiar with the story in I Nephi about Lehi’s dream wherein he journeyed along a path to a beautiful tree and partook of a fruit that represented the pure love of God.  Nephi was so taken by his father’s experience that he himself desired it and was permitted to view the same.  In the dream Nephi described different symbols and their meanings.  We learn of a dark and dreary waste (I Nephi 8:7); a large and spacious field (8:9, 20); a tree (8:10); the fruit of the tree (8:11-12); a river of water (8:13); a rod of iron (8:19); a mist of darkness (8:23) and a great and spacious building (8:26).  For a long time I’ve thought about the beginning of the dream wherein is mentioned “a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before [Lehi]”.  Who was he?  Could he have been the Savior, an angel, a prophet?  Who?  All we know is that he stood face to face with Lehi, and Lehi followed him, eventually receiving the love of God.  Maybe, just maybe, the man in the white robe assumed the role of someone in my life many years ago who instead of standing before me, sat knee to knee, eye to eye, and heart to heart so as to make certain that I understood what was most important.  Then in Lehi’s dream, he does the same thing with Sariah, Sam, and Nephi.  You see, the man in the white robe with Lehi, Lehi with his family, my dad with me, and I hope you with your children – all help in the understanding of what is most important.  You may recall that the dream came about because of Lehi’s deep concern for Laman and Lemuel.  They were in a wilderness devoid of the Spirit and without a clear relationship with the Savior – and he worried.  Laman and Lemuel, with all their training in a good home, had allowed something or someone to come between them and the Savior.
Nephi had been concerned that he himself would drift into a wilderness, so he tells us he went through a step-by-step process of desire, prayer, inspiration, and a humble attitude. (I Nephi 2:16)  What was the difference between him and his two brothers?  What gave him a desire?  Was it his parents’ example, a father’s counsel, a prophet’s teachings, a friend?  We don’t know.  What we do know is that he, like his father, didn’t allow anything or anyone to come between him and the Savior (2 Nephi 25:23-26).  The scriptures are replete with stories about common people, like you and me, who had to make decisions about whether they would allow someone or something to get between them and the Savior.  Choices are sometimes difficult.  It takes our best effort to withstand Satan’s influence.  If you’re spiritually strong, Satan will not come at you directly.  He may instead attack strengths and maybe wedge in from the side or the back.  The Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants said, “Behold, I will go before you and be your rearward… and you shall not be confounded.” (Doctrine & Covenants 49:27)  That’s why the Brethren speak over and over again about simple things like prayer, scripture study, church attendance, Sabbath day observance, wholesome family relations, good friends, etc.
President Henry B. Eyring counseled, “There are two views of the gospel – both true.  They make a terrific difference….  One view is that the gospel is all truth.  It is.  The gospel is truth….  The other view is that the gospel is the principles, commandments, and ordinances which, if kept, conformed with, and accepted, will lead to eternal life.  That is also true.  When I choose which of these views I will let dominate… I take a great step.  If I take the view that the gospel is all truth, rather than that it is the ordinances and principles and commandments which, if kept, conformed with, and accepted, lead to eternal life, I have already nearly taken myself out of the contest to … withstand the sea of filth.  Why?  Because [one] needs to have his eyes focused on light, and that means not truth in some abstract sense but the joy of keeping the commandments and conforming with the principles and accepting the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If I decide I will not make that my primary vision of the gospel, I am already out of the contest to… see good and to want and desire it in the midst of filth.”  (See Henry B. Eyring, Eyes to See, Ears to Hear, CES Symposium, 1984.)
As important as ethics and values are in directing your life, I firmly believe that if you have as your foundation, the Savior and His doctrines, you will find the capacity and power to withstand Satan in times you least expect.
The focus needs to be on our Savior and not on other less important truths.  Nothing should ever come between you and Him.  There is no greater power than to allow Him to occupy the center of your heart.  Other things may occasionally need to receive your attention, but as a student in one of my classes said the other day, “Make the Savior the center of your life all the time.”  Read of Him, study Him, think about Him – and most of all, love Him.  When you center your life on Jesus, you will then have the foundation and power by which you can overcome any obstacle or difficulty.  You will, in reality, find yourself, and with that finding, become as strong as a two-edged sword in blessing not only yourself, but all with whom you come in contact.  You will then be a real disciple and representative of Him.  Your testimony will come from the depths of your soul, and that testimony will influence where it goes.  You will become an image of Him to bless and bless and bless again.
I bear you my testimony that this of which I have spoken to you is true.  May you choose to never allow anything or anyone to divert you from having the Savior at the center of your heart. 
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Follow-through is Vital in All Aspects of Life

08 Feb. 2011


Follow-Through Is Vital in All Aspects of Life

Brothers and sisters, I am humbled by this assignment to speak to you.  I have made it a matter of prayer to know on which subject I should speak.  It is apparent by the answer that this subject will be as much a value to me as it may be to you, perhaps even more.
In many sports, especially those involving hitting, throwing or kicking a ball, it is not just connecting with the ball that is important, but just as important is the follow-through. 
I am a lousy golfer, even though I can hit the ball almost every time.  I like to blame it on being left-handed and golfing right-handed, but that is not the real problem.  It is what happens as I hit the ball where the problem starts.  I’m told that I don’t rotate my hips correctly, continue my swing, and several other problems.  In any case, the ball always seems to take a dramatic arc to the left, called a slice.  A pro told me that my problem is I don’t continue my swing to its conclusion, I lack follow-through.
I have entitled my talk “Follow-through,” although it also could be entitled “Enduring to the End.”
We are at the Business College for similar reasons.  The Lord directed me to apply some 25 years ago to be an instructor in what was then called Data Processing, a term long outdated.  I was hired based on my qualifications and an interview with President Beesley, then president of the College.  My professional experiences prior to my coming here I believe were to prepare me to be able to fill the responsibilities that I have been given.
You also have gone through the process of applying for admission to the College and have been accepted based on your qualifications and the answers you gave on your application.  The College staff weighed your qualifications and felt that you have the ability to benefit by attending here.  You are an extremely small number compared to the total membership of the Church who could benefit by attendance.  You have promised to abide by a code of honor that you signed, and then priesthood leaders attested that you agreed to live in harmony with that code of conduct.
We, as College employees also agree to abide by the code.  Annually, we as well as our Bishops and Stake Presidents confirm that we have agreed to live in accordance with the principles of the gospel and are worthy to hold a temple recommend.
We, and you, then must follow through on those commitments.
The ultimate goal is the same for all of us, but we take diverse paths to get there.  Some will for various reasons leave the College prior to completion.  Others will finish their education here and join the workforce in the United States or in their home countries, while others will continue their education at other institutions of higher learning.  But that is not the ultimate goal.
The new General Handbook of Instructions expresses the ultimate goal. 
I quote:
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be cleansed and sanctified from sin and prepare to enter again into the presence of our Eternal Father. To receive this blessing, we must follow the principles and ordinances of the gospel (see Articles of Faith 1:3). We must:
Exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God.
Turn to God through sincere repentance, having a change of heart and confessing and forsaking sins.
Receive the saving ordinance of baptism for the remission of sins.
Be confirmed a member of the Church and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
Endure to the end by keeping sacred covenants.
Most of us have demonstrated by our actions that we have complied with points three and four, they are one-time achievements.  Points one, two and five are journeys that we must pursue throughout our lives.
My talk today is centered on the fifth point; enduring to the end, or, as I refer to it, following through.
A question we must answer is: Is the journey worth it?  Elder Cook of the Council of the Twelve Apostles answered that question this way: “Even though our journey may be fraught with tribulation, the destination is truly glorious.”
There are many examples in the scriptures that demonstrate both the positive and negative sides of this principle of following through.  We read of the commitment made by the Anti-Nephi-Lehites in Alma 24:17-19
 And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.
 And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives …
 And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin …
It wasn’t defending their country they were afraid of, for that is a righteous endeavor.  They were concerned that they could not be forgiven again for the sins they had once committed and been forgiven.  You will remember that their protectors, the Nephites, granted them that opportunity in return for helping support their armies.
What a wonderful example of commitment.  We read later on in Alma 24 how the Lamanites attacked the Anti-Nephi-Lehites, and they followed-through on their commitment by refusing to take up arms, and many gave up their lives rather than break their covenant.  Their example caused many of the Lamanites to lay down their weapons and join with the Anti-Nephi-Lehites.
We have no need presently to make a similar commitment, but when we entered the waters of baptism we did agree to do as it says in Mosiah 18:8-10:
. . . bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light . . . mourn with those that mourn . . . comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life. . . .
Within that baptismal commitment is a great amount of room for us to follow through. 
Negative examples are found in the scriptures as well.  We don’t have to read very many verses into the Book of Mormon before we read of the exploits of Laman and Lemuel.  They were given many opportunities to change their ways but were not able to follow through, and through their bad example many followed them and were led astray.
In Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life in 1 Nephi 8:20-25, we read:
And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.
 And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
 And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.
 And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed. (Emphasis added.)
In this scripture we read of two different groups: The first wanted to travel to the tree and partake of the fruit but got lost along the way; the second group that did get to the tree, and in fact caught hold of the iron rod, reached the goal, and then were ashamed that they had partaken of the fruit.  In both cases the groups lacked follow-through.  Of course we know that a third group never had intentions of partaking of the fruit, and a fourth group were those that took hold of the iron rod and persevered and obtained the fruit they were seeking and found it desirable above all other fruit.
Perhaps the saddest of all scriptural accounts is that of King David in the Old Testament.  He was a good man and supported by the Lord, but he was also guilty of many grievous sins for which he was forgiven, except for the murder of Uriah.  And for his lack of follow-through we read in the D&C 132:39 “he hath fallen from his exaltation.”
Following through is important in all aspects of life.  In fact, if we didn’t have to follow-through, your life would be very different.  Those regular class assignments that seem to come far too often would never have to be turned in; tests wouldn’t have to be taken, and myriad other things could be ignored.  Of course the consequences would soon mount up.
In College, I took an anthropology class from a professor named Dr. Charles Dibble.  I’m not surprised I can remember his name.  I missed several of his classes during the quarter and felt I was in danger of failing class.  So I went to him and made some silly excuse, maybe like ones some of you have used, and he told me he would give me an incomplete if I would make up the class the next quarter.
That experience has given me a recurring dream, more like a nightmare, that I often experience even today.  It goes like this: I sign up for a class and never attend until the last class period and then try to finagle my way out of a failing grade.  It is always Dr. Dibble’s South American Indians anthropology class.  Sometimes, I wake up wondering if I will ever get out of his class.  It’s a kind of Groundhog Day experience.
Do any of you ever have experiences when you said you would do something and then didn’t follow through?  
There are four principles that I believe that we can use to improve on our follow-through: First, we have to gain control of our time; second, gain control of our thoughts; third, respond to impressions, and fourth, be what we want to be.
There was a time a number of years ago when I was particularly busy.  I was the bishop of the ward, president of the Ogden Board of Education, chairman of the Board of the Ogden-Weber Applied Technology Center, and I commuted from Ogden to Salt Lake each day for my work.  My wife did a great job of holding the family together in my absence. 
Each day as I would drive home in the late afternoon I would pass a house where the father, mother and two children would invariably be seated on the front porch watching the cars go by.  I often thought I wish I could buy some of their extra time.  Time is the one thing that regardless of who we are, how much we make, or who our parents are, we all have the same number of minutes in a day and hours in a week. 
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were presented with a gauge like a fuel gauge on a car that showed us how much time we have in our lives.  Personally, I think it would be terrifying.  The reality is that we don’t know; lives are cut short through illness, accident, war or carelessness.  We don’t know how much time we have, and that is why we need to guard the time we have.
Don’t interpret what I to say to mean that we should not have fun and entertainment in our lives. I just mean that time is something we need to control and not have it controlling us.  The extremely busy time I referred to earlier is a time that I regret.  My children grew up during that time with a great and involved mother and an ever-absent father.  It was their mother who was their baseball coach, not me.
A proverb attributed to James Howell in 1659 says “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  A second approach to the proverb was added in 1826 by the Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth: “All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.”
It is that tension that we must learn to control in our lives.  Preparing for this talk for the last three weeks has been for me an enlightening experience.  As I have tried to live the subject of the talk, I have been rewarded with a flood of feelings, thoughts and inspiration.  It is this first principle of controlling my time that has helped me. 
The second principle is gaining control of our thoughts, and it is associated with the first.
On the way to work most mornings I listen to sports radio to hear how the local teams have fared the night before until I get so worked up that I change the station.  Most of the time, it is just a couple of sports geeks who like to hear themselves as they use up the four hours they occupy the microphone.  It is mostly entertaining and it passes the time. There is that first principle of controlling again.
After receiving this assignment I started turning off the radio and just using the time to think about a variety of things while I drive.  An amazing thing happened; I actually had thoughts and feelings on my way to and from work. 
There is a part of the teaching model that supports this principle, that of pondering.  Six times in the Book of Mormon and four times in the Doctrine and Covenants we read of this principle of pondering.  When the Lord repeats Himself, it is because it is important.
Synonyms for ponder are consider, reason, think and study.  The results of our pondering form the basis for opinions and later actions.  In other words pondering can help us follow through.
Have you ever wondered where your random thoughts both negative and positive come from?  Perhaps more importantly we should ask when do we make time for thoughts?  Are they all just the results of our thinking?  Could there be other sources?  Could some negative thoughts have their source in the adversary?  Could some of our positive thoughts have their source in heaven?
Reading in D&C 42:61:
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things – that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth eternal life.
I find it very comforting to know that source is available to me, that my Father in Heaven cares enough to answer my prayers.
President Boyd K. Packer, in a talk entitled “Reverence Invites Revelation,” said:
“The world grows increasingly noisy, clothing and grooming and conduct are looser and sloppier…. Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit.”
It is my belief that by keeping those channels of revelation open by minimizing the noise and improving in our dress, grooming and conduct, we will be able to do a better job of following through on our commitments, because we will not only understand the consequences both positive and negative, but we will know God’s will.
I have noticed both in myself and by observing others that often there is a need for constant external stimulation.  We listen to the radio, music, text, play computer and video games or watch TV most of our waking hours.  Some would even have us listen while we sleep. 
Take some time and watch those around you in the halls and the elevators and see how much and often that stimulation is present.  I’m not suggesting that it is all bad, just that we take some time to disconnect, ponder and interact with others.  I was talking to a student in the elevator the other day and asked her about a student in her class.  Her answer was not unlike mine would have been when I was in College, “I really just stay to myself.” 
At LDS Business College we have a unique environment. If you don’t think so, just listen to the conversations that occur in the hallways, that is if you can understand them.  There is so much to learn from those we work and study with.  I can’t imagine another institution that has such a wonderful environment with students from so many walks of life.  I suggest you take time to become involved in college activities and recreate with your peers.
The third principle is to listen to our feelings.
A noted Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled “The Screwtape Letters.”  Screwtape is a devil who via letters to Wormwood his nephew, schools him on how to be a devil.  In one of the letters Screwtape writes:
“ . . . active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened.  The more often [a person] feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel” (The Screwtape Letters, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1982, p. 61).
I believe that this is the way the Spirit works within us.  An impression comes, and depending on how we respond, determines whether other and perhaps more important impressions will come.  If they are ignored or pushed to the back of our priorities, the Lord will not trust us with other impressions.  We should actively seek impressions by both praying and making time for them.  It is my belief that the Lord will be as involved in our lives as we will let Him be.
We pray to be tools in the Lord’s hands for the betterment of others.  It has been said that we are the Lord’s hands and the answers to other people’s prayers.
Jack H. Goaslind former General Young Mens president in an April 1991 General Conference talk said:
“How many of you have heard an inspiring thought, hymn, or story, and then had a desire to go do something good? This is not unusual; it is a healthy, spiritual feeling that is essential to our progress. But how often have you followed through on those feelings?” . . .
 It has been said, “Our feelings were given us to excite to action, and when they end in themselves, they are cherished to no good purpose.” (Daniel Keyte Sandford, in The International Dictionary of Thoughts, comp. John P. Bradley, Leo F. Daniels, Thomas C. Jones, Chicago: J. G. Ferguson Publishing Co., 1969, p. 291.)
The fourth principle is to be what we, and the Lord, wants us to be.
Do you remember the hymn we sang as we began this devotional?  I’ll go where you want me to go dear Lord.  Most of us have no problem with those words; we are willing to go where he wants us to go.  The last phrase of the chorus is “I’ll be what you want me to be.”  Do you believe that?  Don’t we each want to be what the Lord would have us be?”
Elder Scott of the Council of the Twelve in his October 2010 Conference talk said it this way:
We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.
Each one of us, I believe, has a vision of ourselves that is our ideal self.  It is the natural man that gets in the way of that vision.  It is so easy to procrastinate and decide that I eventually will become what I really want to be. 
If you don’t know what you want to be, then take the time to think about it.  Set some goals for yourself, both long- and short-term achievable goals.  It gives you something to shoot for, and when you achieve a goal comes a great sense of accomplishment.
I wish I could say that I have followed my own advice and have become the ideal I have in my mind.  I have not.  The road to our ideal is not a short trip, it is a lifelong journey. 
I remember the principles of the Plan of Salvation I taught in the mission field.  There are three reasons we have been granted this earthly experience.  I’m sure all of you know them as well.  First, we are here to gain a body, which we have all done.  Second, to gain experience, which we do each day, and, third, to prove to ourselves how we will act in this earthly sphere and how well we overcome the natural man within us. 
It is this third reason that we struggle with each day.  There is a constant tension occurring between us, the adversary, the Screwtapes and Wormwoods if you will, and the Savior.  It is often not a conscious struggle but one we fight nonetheless.  Embedded within those outside voices are our own thoughts and feelings, if we have given ourselves sufficient time to build our own beliefs and understandings.
We have exemplars all around us of those who have that self-assurance that they are headed in the right direction, those who believe in what they are doing and, without wavering, work to that end.
I recently reread a conference talk by Elder Bednar of his experiences as a stake president.  I encourage you to read it.  It is entitled “And None Shall Offend Them.”  It tells of his quest to help bring less-active members into activity.  It’s obvious by his actions he knows who he is and what he wants to do with his life and hasn’t let trivial pursuits get in his way.  As a result he has affected the lives of countless members and nonmembers and helped them get closer to their ultimate goal.
Another good read is President Monson’s biography “To the Rescue.”  You can’t read that book without gaining a testimony of the knowledge that President Monson has been inspired and prepared his whole life to serve as our prophet.  It is a singleness of purpose that he has shown since a small child.  As much as he shows a singleness of purpose he also takes time to have fun.  I hear that he attends an occasional Jazz basketball game and I have seen him in restaurants and at a play.  He truly is in the world but not of the world.
I am not suggesting that we should try to become like Elder Bednar or President Monson but that we decide who it is we want to be and then sail in that direction pausing from time to time to make midcourse corrections if necessary.
King Benjamin said it best in Mosiah 3:19
For the natural  man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
I love the time I have spent at LDS Business College and have a testimony that my time here has been ordained of God.  It is my prayer that each of you will have that same comforting assurance that you are to be here and then be all you can be.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Faith and Obedience Lead to Deliverance

15 Feb. 2011


Faith and Obedience Lead to Deliverance

It’s an honor for my wife, Jill, and me to be here today. We love this age. In fact, when we sat down, she said, “Don’t you just love the feeling of this age?” And I wish, or we wish, that you could see you like we see you, as the future. Sometimes life is difficult and you face great challenges. You have a lot of concerns. Sometimes I call this a “fast-paced, rat race, first place, in-your-face type of a world.” So we know a little bit about what’s going on, although I’m 46, so I think I’m right in the middle of the road. I’m looking that way, and I’m looking back this way at the youth, and as I look out and see my parents out here, I would just like to say I was born of goodly parents.
One other impression that came, and there will probably be two or three of you that will do this, in Alma 30, Korihor comes in. I just wanted to say this because of this music [the special number], and the thought and the testimony. Korihor goes through and talks about those things, those foolish traditions, ordinances and things, that will “bind us down,” [see verse 23] and they are exactly the things that the adversary would tell you would bind you down, and they are exactly the opposite of the things that the Savior Jesus Christ would teach us would lift us up. And I testify of Jesus Christ, that He is our Savior and Redeemer. In fact, in 3 Nephi 27:14, it talks about how He came and was lifted up upon the cross, that He might lift us up. And that’s my testimony of the Savior.
I wrote a couple of talks for this, and as it happened, I was in the shower this morning and felt like I should just talk to you, so on the way down I wrote down a few thoughts. I was going to talk, by the way, the title of my talk—I was all ready, excited—was called “Blessed in All Things, Both Temporal and Spiritual,” from King Benjamin in Mosiah 2:41. And I was going to talk about my great-great-grandfather, John Taylor, who prophesied and foresaw your day and said that “You will see the day when Zion will be as far ahead in learning of every kind as they are today in religion.” He said, “Mark my words. Write them down and see if it does not come to pass.” So I was going to talk about shooting for the moon and the stars, and all those things, and in the shower, the Spirit said, “Talk about faith and hope and charity, which bringeth unto me,  ‘the fountain of all righteousness.’ “ (1 Nephi 2:9, Ether 8:26)
So I have a few stories, personal stories, that I hope it’s okay to share with you today. I hope they make sense; I hope they come together, and I pray that the Spirit of the Lord will touch you and bless you to know that your life is very valuable, that you have a mission, that you have a purpose, that each of us has a divine destiny in our Heavenly Father’s plan. I know that this is true. I also know that there are some of you out there thinking, “Not me. Not right now. I don’t even know what I’m going to do next.”
So I’m going to talk about a few things, and I pray the Spirit of the Lord will be here to provide the faith and the hope and the charity, the love of Christ, that will lift you. Before I do that, my other talk did have this balloon analogy, so I’m going to try to use it in this talk. If it doesn’t, just laugh with me, not at me. All right? Don’t hurt my feelings. Will you put those balloons up? There’s one balloon out of the three that has—we all know what it is, right?—helium in the balloon. [Three balloons are released. The one filled with helium rises to the ceiling.] Those stories, I pray, will put helium in your balloon, especially those of you who are down right now.
So, first story. My wife and I, for two years, went searching to find a place to live. We wanted desperately to stay in our ward in Bountiful. This was back about ten years ago. So we drove around for two years looking—looking for the house, you know, with the halo over it, or the neon sign that said, “This is the one—buy me.” We wanted to be led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand. And for two years that happened, and then one day I read a verse of scripture that changed my thinking, and I hope it changes yours. Because I believe that we all ask that same question sometimes in our lives—what am I going to do next? What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? What am I supposed to be?
This verse, in 1 Nephi 17, answers that question. It says: “And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye will keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments  ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.
“Yea, and the Lord said also that: After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem.
“Wherefore, I, Nephi, did strive to keep the commandments of the Lord, and I did exhort my brethren to faithfulness and diligence.” (verses 13-15)
My young brothers and sisters,  Jill and I kept praying, but we decided from that point on that rather than drive around, what we were going to do was try to do better at keeping the commandments. That’s it. In fact, Elder Bednar taught us in a session of general conference address out of Doctrine and Covenants 11:20, “This is your work, to keep my commandments.” That helps when we’re making decisions about what we’re going to do, what the next step is. Where am I going to go? What’s my major? What am I going to be?  Your life is full of decisions and choices, and I bear you my witness that as you go into these situations, or as you are in them, if you will turn to the Lord and make a commitment to obey the commandments just a little bit better each day, that you will be led along. He will be your light in the wilderness. He will prepare the way, and you will arrive at your promised land.
Thought number two: When I was at BYU—it seems like 50 years ago now—before one of our games we went into this room at the Marriott Center, and we met with President Ezra Taft Benson, the prophet of the Lord. We all got to meet him, and then before we went out to do our warm-ups—we were actually in our gear—our coach said, “President Benson, do you have any words of wisdom for these young guys?”
He said, “Yes, I do.” Then he said this, which was very interesting and also something that I believe will put the helium in your balloon if you will listen. He said, “Your basketball team has the Spirit.” Then he said, “The Spirit will be your greatest asset on the basketball court.” Isn’t that an interesting thought? Then he said, “It will do more for you than all of your talents combined.” That, brothers and sisters, is a significant statement.
Then he said, “Whatever your righteous desires, your goals, if you have the Spirit”—if you have the helium in your balloon—“you will be successful.” Then he said, “If you don’t, you won’t.” So my message is, brothers and sisters, as we obey the commandments, this will lead and allow the Spirit to be in our lives. If we need repentance and to change—because if we don’t, don’t kid yourselves: You will be like the two balloons that are sitting on the floor behind me. You cannot progress, we cannot progress, when there is something that stands in the way of the helium or the Holy Ghost lifting us and taking us to where we are supposed to be. I bear you my witness that that was true, as we were taught by a prophet of the Lord, President Ezra Taft Benson.
Thought number three: When times are tough, there are scriptures that are there. In fact, there is a scripture, I believe it’s in Jacob, that talks about the word that healeth the wounded soul. Before I go there, I need to go back and say that the Holy Ghost not only will be your greatest asset, but you know the name—he is our Comforter. He will come. And it says he does many things, by the way. 2 Nephi 32:5: “If ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.”
Moroni 10:5: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
Elder Bednar in this last general conference, October 2010, called the Holy Ghost “this most valuable of all gifts.” (“Receive the Holy Ghost,” Ensign,Nov. 2010, 96) I testify to you that this is the gift that will lift us to where we need to go, wherever we are right now—whether we need to make changes or whether we are on our way, if you will, towards the promised land.
President Eyring, in this last general conference, said we need to do whatever is necessary to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  And then he talked about going and doing whatever we are called upon to do. (“Serve with the Spirit,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 59)
Back to the word of God, the word “which healeth the wounded soul.” (Jacob 2:8) My wife and I went through a very tough time a number of years ago, and we were in a place where we were scared, and we didn’t know what was going to happen from a financial perspective. We were trying to do everything we could, and probably I had just made a mistake. And that’s okay, by the way, but I read a verse of scripture that again helped my soul and lifted me. It says this, in Alma 58: “Therefore, we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies,”—whatever our enemies may be—“yea, and also give us strength that we might retain our cities, and our lands, and our possessions,”—our home, our business, and those things as they apply to us—“for the support of our people.” (verse 10)
And it says then, “Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us.” He did “visit us with assurances that he would deliver us.” Did you know that the word “protect” is in the scriptures 33 times, and the word “deliver” is in the scriptures 939 times? I believe that’s significant. He is our Deliverer. “Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him. And we did take courage.” (v. 11-12)
Brothers and sisters, I testify to you that the Lord, as we seek to obey the commandments, as we pour out our souls in prayer, as we do those things that invite him, and plead with Him to be in our lives, that He will visit us with assurances and cause us to have great faith and hope for a deliverance in Him.
One other thought about scripture: 1 Nephi 15:24 talks about the word of God, talks about the “iron rod.” It says, “Whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish.” That’s Nephi’s promise. If we’ll hold fast and hearken to the word of God, or hold fast to the iron rod, that we will never perish. That’s [the Lord’s] promise, and He keeps His promises.
I like to take this, the general conference Ensign, and I like to roll it up, and I like to say, “This is also the iron rod.” In fact, you can have a debate with Tyler someday about which is more important. I’m not going to give you the answer, but Joseph Smith gave it to Brigham, or Brigham gave it and Joseph told him he was correct, about the living word of God.
And President Uchtdorf taught, and there were others, if I had time, that all the answers to the vexing problems and concerns in life will be answered here in the words of the living prophets. I testify to you that we have living prophets, seers and revelators. And as we have questions, the answers will either come in their words, or while we are in their words, it will allow the Spirit to come into our minds and into our hearts and tell us all things what we should do.
So, I’ve talked a little bit about obedience, about prayer, about scriptures. Our family has a motto. It’s called “Go PRO.” PRO stands for “pray, read, obey—every day.” I give you this promise that as we do these small and simple things that helium will come back in our balloon. The Holy Ghost will lift us. We will be led along, and ultimately we will get to wherever our promised land is. I know that’s true. We also have a little ring that we wear. It’s called our PRO ring, and we brought some today, and we’ll figure out where they go. But we would like each one of you, if I have enough, to have one of these rings. But you can’t have one unless you commit that you will pray, read, and obey every day. And I actually really mean that.
Now, the last thought: where do I go, or where can I turn for peace? I want to tell you a story about Truman G. Madsen, who some of you know, and some of you have heard that name. We love Truman Madsen. He was one night driving with the temple president of the Manti Temple, on a dark, stormy night. And as they came up the hill, with the clouds and the thunder and the lightning, however it was—they came up, and through the darkness they saw the temple and the spires. And the temple president said to Truman Madsen, “The temple is never more beautiful than during a storm.”
The scripture says, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) Ye are the temples of God. He has great faith in each one of you. “Never more beautiful than during a storm” could be a motto that you could take and say, “I’m going through a storm right now, and it’s tough, and life is not easy for me, or for my wife, or for my family, or for one of my friends or neighbors.” I invite you to try to never be more beautiful than during a storm, and I also invite you, as a wrap-up to a lot of this, to think about the temple.
I know some of you have not received your own endowment. I understand that. But what I would say to those who have, and to those who will in the future is: Go to the temple. The temple is a place of protection. The temple is a place of power. Even if you don’t have your endowment, you can go to the temple. You can do baptisms for the dead. You can go just to be there and feel the Spirit, and you’ll receive the blessings. I like to say, as we keep our covenants, our covenants will keep us. In the Doctrine and Covenants, it says the power of godliness is manifest in the ordinances. (see D&C 84:20) The power that we need to accomplish all that Heavenly Father and the Savior would have us do is available to us in the ordinances—the sacrament that we might “always remember Him,” that we “may always have His Spirit to be with [us].”  (D&C 20:77) Always remembering Him in our covenants.
One last thought—I say that, and then I give about four more usually. I don’t know why I do that. Sometimes we say, “Am I on the straight and narrow path? What is the straight and narrow path? What does it look like?” Let me give you a hint, okay? There are mile markers and milestones on the straight and narrow path. Some of them are called “covenants and ordinances.” The straight and narrow path, right in the center of the straight and narrow path—by the way, this is the only time it’s okay to be “middle of the road” is when you’re in the straight and narrow path—but right in the middle of the straight and narrow path is the Sabbath day and to keep it holy and partake of the sacrament. And right in the middle in between those seven-day mile markers is, in our case, temple covenants and ordinances. The temple is right in the middle of the straight and narrow path. The prophets—do we interact with, do we believe, do we really believe the words of the living prophets are the words of God and they can lead us to our own promised lands?  I invite you to make President Monson’s and all the prophets’ words—an integral part of your lives, and you will watch as you are lifted up. I promise you that that is true. The scriptures—the “pray, read, obey”—that is right down the middle of the straight and narrow path.
There’s more. There’s family. There’s other things. But I would say this: You can do your own inventory on that, and ask if those things part of my daily walk and part of my daily talk. And if they are, you’re right in the middle of the straight and narrow path. And if they’re not, then please—I invite you to make the adjustments necessary so that the Lord can bless you, and put helium back in your balloon.
Elder Richard G. Scott, in this last general conference as well, said, “As you walk to the boundary of your understanding  into the twilight of uncertainty, exercising faith, you will be led to find solutions you would not obtain otherwise. With even your strongest faith, God will not always reward you immediately according to your desires. Rather, God will respond with what in His eternal plan is best for you, when it will yield the greatest advantage. Be thankful”—this is tough sometimes, but it’s from a prophet of God—“Be thankful,” says Elder Scott, “that sometimes God lets you struggle for a long time before that answer comes. That causes your faith to increase and your character to grow.”
Do you remember back at the boy Joseph, at 14, when he was in the Grove, and said, “At the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to utter destruction”—just at that very moment—“I saw a pillar of light.” My young brothers and sisters, I testify to you that just at the very moment when you believe that you cannot go on, that the Savior will come. And as I started with 1 Nephi 17, he said, “I will be your light in the wilderness, and I will lead you along.”  I testify to you that that is true.
And now, I’d like to close with a quote from Joseph Smith that I love. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “As God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, he never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of His law and His ordinances.” (“Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Section Five, 1842-43, p. 256)
President Monson said, “Our goal is eternal life in the presence of our Father in Heaven. He loves us and wants nothing more than for us to succeed in this goal. He will help us and bless us as we call upon Him in our prayers, as we study His words, and as we obey His commandments. Therein is found safety. Therein is found peace.” (“Till We Meet Again,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, p. 112)
I love my Heavenly Father. I know He is there. I know He is there watching over us, even in our darkest hours, and that He, through His son, through the instrumentality of the Holy Ghost, will deliver us, because His Son paid a price for our sins that we might be redeemed. I love the Savior Jesus Christ, and I bear witness in His holy name, even Jesus Christ, amen.

Set Worthy Goals

22 Feb. 2011


Set Worthy Goals

Good morning. It's wonderful to see you all. In Hawaii, we have a little tradition, and that is, when you start, you start by saying "Aloha." [Audience says "Aloha"] You are terrific.
I have looked forward to this very much. As President Richards mentioned, we have the opportunity to meet regularly at our board meetings and executive committee meetings here, and I've been fascinated to learn more about LDS Business College. What President Richards probably doesn't know is that one of our daughters attended here. Our second daughter, after graduating from BYU–Provo with a degree in economics, married a young man who was going to become a doctor, and she decided that she needed to have a backup way of earning some money for the family, so she came and got a certificate in medical transcription. I asked her what her thoughts were about that this morning. She mentioned two things that I thought might be helpful to just share with you. One, she said, that it was a great degree for her because, while she didn't do it for an extended period of time, it filled a gap that their family budget definitely needed to have filled. But then she said, even more importantly, the lasting impact was that she can now discuss with her husband, who is a practicing physician in Utah County, all of his medical practice issues and concerns, and the cases and everything else. So she is grateful for the education, as short as it was for her, that she received here. So I certainly would encourage all of you to think about such future opportunities in your own life. 
I want to talk about a subject today that for most people is very much on their minds as they think about their studies and what they want to learn. That is the topic of setting worthy goals. When you get a little older, one of the things you'll discover is that there's an additional motivation for setting worthy goals. When you're younger, it's so that you know where you are going. It's so that you will feel you're making progress and accomplishing something. But as you get older, one of the things you'll discover is that while you think you're busy now, you're not. You will be much busier later on. And one of the primary reasons you will set goals later on is not only to make sure you are on the track you want to be on, and headed for the end goals that you would like to achieve, but also so that you will be able to find the right balance in your life.
This has been a challenge in our own lives, and I thought it might be best for you to hear one of the ways that my wife and I have dealt with that part of setting worthy goals. So I have asked Margaret to just share one of the things that we did, and then I will tie that into my remarks about worthy goals.
Sister Margaret Wheelwright:
It's nice to be with you this morning. Honestly, it makes me really remember my youth, growing up in Salt Lake and being cold in the winter. And it makes me appreciate Hawaii even more.
From the early years of our marriage, my husband's involvement in his work, and in the community, and in the Church, has placed large demands on his time and his energy. Our children and I soon learned that we often had to postpone our dinner hour a little bit because he wasn't home on time; we muddled through many math assignments and even science projects because he was out doing something in the community, whether it was a Pack meeting or a Court of Honor or something else. And eventually we even grew accustomed to not sitting with him during sacrament meeting, because he would either be on the stand or in one of the other buildings in our stake. But all of these sacrifices paled in comparison to his business travel that took him away from us.
From the beginning, his profession required frequent travel related to case writing, research, consulting, teaching, and speaking assignments. And at some periods of our married life, it was two and three days a week. He was a frequent flyer before most airlines had the mile program.
With these responsibilities, and especially his travel schedule, came hard decisions about how he was going to fulfill his goal of being a loving, committed, and involved husband and father. After much consideration, he decided that one way he could spend more meaningful time with each of our five children was to take them separately on a business trip with him each year. And so at the beginning of each school year, we would have a special family home evening, and he would lay out his travel plans for the year. And then each of the children would choose which trip they would like to go on with him—one of their memorable one-on-one adventures.
Let me just give you a couple of examples. One year our six-year-old son, Matt, went with his dad to Chicago. We had good friends there who could care for him in the morning when his dad was teaching in a program, and, then, in the afternoon, he and his dad were able to go to the fantastic Transportation Museum and some other exciting places in Chicago.
One of our daughters, Mindy, remembers joining her dad on a visit to Corning, New York, where they went on a fascinating tour of a glass plant. She still recalls the glass animals she saw being made there. On an extra special occasion, two of our teenage children agreed to share their travel with their dad, and they went to Hong Kong and to Tokyo with their dad. While he was busy teaching, they entertained each other in the hotel, but then the rest of the trip, they had a great time exploring the Orient and making some incredible memories together.
One of the best parts about this special family tradition, though, is that honestly they didn't care where they went with their dad. What was important was that they got to travel on an airplane with him, alone. They got to go to special restaurants together with each other, just alone. They got to explore big cities and small towns and even bustling factories together. Without exception, these annual trips were anxiously awaited and greatly cherished.
In the final years of his professional work, he had a little bit more freedom to pick and choose from his professional travel opportunities. It seems a little unfair that this luxury came just as our children began leaving home and starting families of their own. They were growing up too fast, and he felt more and more torn between accepting exciting assignments all over the world and being home with this shrinking family. And so one evening he came home and he told me about a note that he had taped to his telephone in his office. This is what it said: "Would I rather do this than spend time with my family?"
From that day forward, he turned down about 90 percent of those intriguing requests that would have taken him away from our family. Of course, the kids made sure that he kept enough business trips that they each got to go on one of them each year. Now that we're empty nesters, he always asks me to travel with him, and I know that I'm invited wherever and whenever he goes. Just as he convinced our children over all those years on their annual business trips, he has convinced me that there is no one in the world that he would rather travel with than me.
President Wheelwright:
Please know that I didn't write that for her. Margaret is a great wife and eternal companion. I recommend this highly to all of you. This works.
As she introduced, I would like to talk about this topic of setting and pursuing worthy goals. This topic was brought into sharp focus for me some months ago when one of our former missionaries from the England London Mission wrote me a letter. This was a young man we had gotten to know well when I was his mission president, and he asked me two very specific questions. He said, "How did you come to know exactly what route to pursue in life?" Now, he's assuming I knew which route I was going to pursue in life. And the second question was, “What goals did you have for your career as you started it?”
I have thought a lot about those two questions, and I also thought about this young man before I responded with a fairly lengthy letter back to him. This was a young man who had been a great missionary. He had followed the counsel in Preach My Gospel about setting daily, weekly, and monthly goals as a missionary. He had learned how to do that and had done it well. Now, as he was nearing the end of his undergraduate studies—and he knew he was majoring in business and he was close to getting his degree—he and his wife were concerned with all of the options that were open; where should they turn next? That is, what path should they put their foot on as graduation happened and as they started that new life where they were earning money as opposed to spending money. And he and his wife had decided, after much fasting and prayer, that they would begin asking some trusted friends for advice. Thus, I got a letter from him asking how I had addressed those things.
Clearly, setting effective goals can have a great impact on your peace of mind, your confidence, and perhaps most importantly, on where you end up. So I wanted to talk today a little about that, and I wanted to do it by talking about what I consider three very central aspects of setting goals. The first one is understanding the blessings that come from worthy goals.  I want to talk a little bit about some of those blessings, as outlined in the scriptures, and as talked about by our prophets.
The second has to do with the types of goals that you might consider setting. I want to talk about three types of goals.
And then, the third: What are the challenges in setting, and following and achieving, each of those types of goals? And I want to talk about that just briefly.
I'd like to start with the blessings that come from setting worthy goals. As Moses learned from the Lord Himself, the Savior and our Father in Heaven have a very specific goal for each of us, and that goal is our immortality and eternal life (See Moses 1:39). We also know that the Savior, as He related to his apostles, has a very specific goal in mind with regards to this life: life eternal is to "know ...the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent" (John 17:3).
So these are very specific goals, and they have great blessings attached. But even with those grand goals, the scriptures also make it clear, as Joseph Smith learned in the 58th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, that we need to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will" and choice (27). That is, we need to decide what is the intermediate path that will lead us to the very long-term worthy goals. And the Lord expects us to make choices. That's why He has given us our agency. But obviously, some of those choices we make about our goals will inevitably impact our ability to reach the long-term goals that a loving Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, have for each of us.
I think that's where most of us start to get a little nervous: How are we going to set those intermediate goals? How are we actually going to decide what's between here and the end of our life, and will that get us to where we'll feel good about this life and be prepared for the eternities with the things a loving Father in Heaven would have us learn?
As I thought about this, it occurred to me that we also ought to be mindful of some of the very sound advice in the Sermon on the Mount. Most of you probably know that the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. But it's interesting: you probably have not thought about what is the message or the theme in each of these chapters. Let me suggest that when you think about goals that you think about Matthew chapter 6, because the Lord gives some very specific advice that, at least for me personally, has been invaluable as I have thought about my own goals.
Let me just refer to three of the passages in Matthew 6. In verse 19, He says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal." This seems to be direct advice about choosing where our treasures will be, and what will happen if we focus on the wrong treasures. Goals can have great influence on “our treasures.”
The second passage is in verse 24: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." That’s the competition I think we all feel between temporal things we need to address and our longer-term spiritual development and spiritual goals.
And finally, the message in verse 33, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Certainly this is good advice in terms of priorities and how we set those priorities.
I'd like to mention one other scripture that has long been one of my favorites and that I think is directly related to how you think about your goals. That scripture is in Proverbs 3:5-6, where it says, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." If we try to set goals that are too specific, we may in fact be closing off the options that the Lord would have for us because we'll be leaning to our own understanding. I'll come back to that, because I think that's one of the major challenges that people have in setting goals—being so specific that they limit what the Lord can teach them and where He can direct them.
As I've thought about goal setting, it has struck me that if you look at the Young Women's program and the Personal Progress award, and if you look at the Duty to God award—that these can be viewed as practice sessions for setting worthy goals. If you read those carefully, you'll see that they are about setting and achieving worthy goals. So our modern-day prophets are also very concerned with how we set goals, and what those goals address.
Given that background, I'd like to turn to one of my favorite Old Testament prophets, where we get a very clear picture of what goals he had. This is Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt. The last 14 chapters of Genesis are Joseph's story. Now, I'm sure we all know the essential elements of his story. He is one of 12 brothers; his brothers are jealous. They throw him into a pit, and, eventually, instead of killing him, sell him as a slave and he gets sold again in Egypt as a slave. He ends up in Potiphar’s household—Potiphar, who is head of the captain of the guard for Pharaoh.
He spends several years there, then he gets accused by Potiphar's wife of immorality, which he was not guilty of, and gets thrown in jail. And then he becomes the overseer of the jail. He had already been the overseer of Potiphar’s household. And then eventually, many years later, he interprets a dream for the butler and the baker, and then at that point, he mentions a temporal goal that is very specific. He asks the butler: "Will you remember me when you leave here and are back in Pharaoh's court, to tell him there's this innocent guy down here in prison?"
The butler forgets and Joseph spends two more years in jail. It's not until Pharaoh has his dream that Joseph gets recognized, and then we know he becomes overseer of Egypt. This is a very interesting story in lots of different dimensions, but I'd like to look at it from the point of view of Joseph's goals. Right from the very beginning, in Genesis 37, the first time we get introduced to Joseph, it's very clear in that very first chapter that he knows who he is. He knows that he is the son of a patriarch, and that he is the son of a loving Heavenly Father, and he talks about that. His identity, which is one type of goal, is that of being a worthy son, of being a faithful son, a righteous son. And that continues, and you see that when he is in Potiphar’s household, you see it when he is in the jail, and you see it when he is overseer of all Egypt. His first goal is to be a worthy son of a loving father—an earthly father, and a loving Father in Heaven.
His second goal has to do with how he will conduct himself, how he will treat other people, how he will deal with other people, what will characterize the way he behaves in terms of his work, his service and all he does. There are several words that come to mind when you read those chapters that describe the way he does his work—the key word is integrity. He is honest. He is always honest, whether it's telling the baker that "I have bad news about your dream" or whether it's telling Potiphar's wife, "No, I will not compromise my standards," or whether it's in dealing with all of Egypt when he is overseer of all that is Pharaoh's in terms of the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine. In everything Joseph is scrupulously honest, hard-working, industrious, and trustworthy. The reason he becomes the overseer of Potiphar's house, of the jail, and eventually of all of Egypt, is because he has integrity.
So that's a second type of goal. And I would describe that type of goal as what characterizes your behavior and the way you do things. And in Joseph's case, it's integrity.
So here are two types of goals that we see clearly in Joseph's life. The first one is this goal of who he is and how he identifies himself. For Joseph, he is still first and foremost a righteous son of a loving earthly father and a Father in Heaven. And, then, the second is, how he would characterize his work, his service, and everything he does—and, for Joseph, it is integrity.
Now, we don't know if he actually had temporal goals other than the one of getting out of prison, which he shared with the butler. But isn't it remarkable what temporal success he had by having the first two goals? His temporal success was a direct result of having set and then adhered to that goal of identity, of who he was, and that goal of integrity, of doing everything in a certain way and to a certain set of standards. Those two things are what caused him to be so successful temporally and allowed him to save the generations of Israel.
This highlights what is important in these first two types of goals. You might find it interesting to reread 1 Nephi 1:1, where Nephi identifies himself and his personal identity. He says, "Having been born of goodly parents ...having been taught." And he then describes how he thinks of his identity. Mormon does similarly when he's abridging the Book of Mormon. He identifies himself as a disciple of Christ. That's a statement about identity and about who he is. So one of the things you ought to think about as you think about setting worthy goals is, how do you identify yourself? How do you think of yourself? And would others think of you the same way?
Let me just share one little story that happened to me when we announced that we were going to London. We didn't know at the time which mission we would preside over. So you can imagine how it might sound to a group of Harvard Business School colleagues when I said, "We're going to be resigning,"—because I didn't have enough years of credit to retire. So I said, "We're resigning." And you could only be gone from Harvard for 18 months. So I said, "We’re resigning to take a three year assignment without pay, but we don’t know where they will send us.
That's about as different from how most people at Harvard think of themselves as you can imagine. And it was very interesting. I sent an e-mail out to my colleagues that I would be leaving, because I wanted them to know before they heard rumors. About three days later, one of them who had been out of town and hadn't checked his e-mails, calls me up. And the conversation goes as follows:
He said, "Is it true?"
And I said, "If you're talking about our leaving, yes, that's true."
And he said, "That's crazy." Then he said, "That's the craziest thing I've ever heard. I know lots of Mormons. They're always conservative and rational, but this is crazy."
His name was Joe, so I said, "Joe, why do you think that?"
He said, "It's not important why I think it, but I know it's crazy." He then said, "We need to get together, and I need to talk to you."
I'm sure he thought he was going to come and convince me that I had made a big mistake. I said, "How about lunch?" We had lunch, and then we had the most fascinating discussion, and he described his life. He laid out how everything he had ever done was aimed at getting tenure at Harvard, becoming an endowed professor, and the job he most wanted was the job I had, which he didn't have.
Finally he said, "That's why it's crazy."
I said, "Joe, you know a little bit about the Church. Let me lay out my life—mission, worthy father, married in the temple." I went right down the list, and I said, "I can think of nothing better than being a mission president, if I think about the trajectory of my life. It’s part of my identity; who I am."
It was very interesting, because his identity was tied up in the university and in his title, in his power, in his pay, and in all those temporal things. Joe is a wonderful guy. He's a Christian and is active in his church. But that's not his identity. His identity is over with the institution and his career. And I said, "I love this institution. We've been very blessed. But I think of my identity as eternal. I think of it as all these other things."
Well, that obviously has made a huge difference in my life over the years, but that's why identity is so important. How do you introduce yourself? How do you describe yourself? When you're talking to your best friend, what is your identity?
The second area of goals is then about setting standards. When I was getting out of undergraduate school, I didn't have any idea what I wanted to do. That was in the 60s. The economy had been going up for almost a decade, and it continued to go up for a while longer. Everybody got a job. You could get as many job offers as you wanted. I only interviewed with two companies. Both gave me job offers but I still didn't know what I wanted to do. So I did what our former missionary did; I turned to a trusted adviser.
In this case it was my mom who loved to read.
She said, "I've been reading about a degree. It's called an MBA." I was a math major. She said, "It's what you ought to do."
I said, "Me? You're crazy." And we talked about it, and then Margaret and I talked about it. We were married at the time, and we talked about it.
I'd always wanted to go to Stanford. In fact, my mom was very specific. She said, "You need to get an MBA from the Stanford Business School."
I said, "Let me think about it. We'll pray about it." And, eventually, that is what we decided we should do. We applied; we were blessed to get in. And then after a year, we decided that we liked it so much that we ought to get a PhD while we were there, so I switched programs, still finishing the MBA a couple of years later but also getting a PhD. Very unusual. But for me, I never lost sight of the identity, and my PhD taught me a set of standards—if you do your best, if you work hard, if you're honest, the same things that Joseph had learned, for me that made all the difference.
The third type of goal is temporal. This is what I think my former missionary was asking me about. And I think it's fine to have some temporal goals. For example, I did want a job that would pay enough that I could support my family. And I wanted to feel good about my job—that I loved it, that it would be rewarding, fascinating, and a good learning experience. And all of that fit very naturally. But what I didn't have was a goal about where I would have a job, which university, what rank, what title, or anything else. That doesn't make me any different than anybody else, but everybody has to decide which temporal goals.
I want to just close by summarizing my thoughts about these three types of goals and how you might best think about them. The first point is, I really think, that there isn't a lot of choice if you're going to be faithful to what the Lord would have you do and what your identity should be. Your identity needs to be as a beloved son or daughter of God. That needs to be fundamental. And you need to have righteous obedience to that loving Father in Heaven right up there at the top of your identity goals, because the Lord has told us himself that that is where the greatest blessings will come.
Second is you need to set standards for your efforts and endeavors that are consistent with the integrity exemplified by the life of the Savior. The Savior showed us what it means to have integrity. We need to model our lives after His. Obviously that's a constant struggle, but we need to model our lives after that set of standards, the standards He set for how you treat people, how you act, what you do, the excellence of what you do and the blessings that it brings to others.
And then, third, regarding temporal goals, you need to decide to always seek the Lord's counsel. Don't decide or select temporal goals without His counsel. If you will seek His counsel, He will lead you down a path that will give you far more opportunity than you ever would imagine for yourself. I know that's been true in our life. We had never imagined the great blessings that would be ours, but those things happened because of the first two goals and always asking the Lord to help us to make temporal choices about where we live, the job, and so forth.
I leave my testimony with you that if you will do those three things, goal-setting will not only become manageable, but it will become rewarding and fulfilling, and it will be everything the Lord has promised it can be. And I leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

President Monson Speaks to You and Me Individually

01 Mar. 2011


President Monson Speaks to You and Me Individually

I want to begin today by talking about a scripture I read just recently in Jacob. It points us to a very important principle. It reads: “We knew of Christ”—this is Jacob speaking—“we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming …we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all of the holy prophets which were before us.” (Jacob 4:4)
And then he goes on: “Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.” (Jacob 4:6)
Now think about that as it relates to your own life—such a faith, unshaken, a faith in Jesus Christ that the very trees and the mountains and the seas obey us. Do you have that kind of faith in Jesus Christ? And then place into that the reference, “Wherefore we search the prophets,” because from the prophets can come that understanding of Jesus Christ, and help us to develop that faith in Him that we can move mountains.
Now I would imagine that if we went around this room, everyone here has some sort of a mountain in front of them that is very difficult to climb—maybe a whole grove or forest of trees that seems to be just impenetrable. And maybe if you are from California or one of the coasts, maybe it’s the waves of the sea that just seem to be coming at you and laying you flat. What do you do about that? Where do you go for the guidance, the direction, and the help so that you can essentially move mountains? Those mountains come in different shapes and sizes, but at this point in your life, there are lots of them in front of you.
When Hosea Stout, who was an early pioneer in the first company in 1847, coming into the Valley, when they came to the first set of mountains coming across the Plains—here were these mountains, and all they could see was this one ridge. And so they imagined, okay, we’ve just got to get over this ridge, and then we’re home free. Do you ever feel like that? If I could just get past tomorrow? I used to say to my sons, “You can do anything for 24 hours. All you have to do is get past that test, and you’ll be fine.”
But what Hosea Stout taught us was something very important. He said as he got over that first range of mountains, what did he see? There were mountains piled on mountains, mountains in every direction. I’ve always loved that quote, because what do you do about those things in your life that seem to be barriers to where you want to go, that seem to stop you dead in your tracks sometimes, or that just seem to eat at you, prickle at you as you try and get through that forest. Where do you turn?
Well, you turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. And He is so conscious of what’s in front of us and the power we need to face it, that He has given us a prophet on the earth today—a living prophet. There are no other churches with living prophets, with the priesthood power and all the keys that Thomas S. Monson holds. He is the Lord’s chosen prophet on the earth today, and if you know that, if you have a testimony that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, then everything else in the Church will fall in line. You will come to understand all of the doctrines and principles relating to your personal path on the plan of salvation by listening to a prophet.
What is the song we sing? “Come listen to a prophet’s voice, and hear the word of God.” (Hymns, 21) He is the one, the one on the earth given the responsibility to speak for God. Now we have members of the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve whom we also sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. What they can teach us, what they give us to understand, simply adds to our capacity to receive that faith and that spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So let’s talk about President Thomas S. Monson for a few minutes, because honestly, if you know he is a prophet, and the significance of that—there have only been 16 prophets in this dispensation of time. That’s a small group. The Lord has prepared 16 men to this date to lead this Church, which is now more than 14 million members. That’s a pretty incredible number when you think about it. But when you break it down, it’s one person after another. It’s you sitting here in this room today, sitting next to someone. The Lord knows your name, He knows who you are, and President Monson, when he is speaking to you, is speaking to you one by one.
How did I get in the situation where I am able to talk about President Monson? We were in the mission field in June of 2008. It was a Thursday evening, and I was in the kitchen at home in our little house in Cobham, England. Doesn’t that sound like England? Cobham, England. It looks just like it sounds. I’m going back tomorrow if I can think of a way. Anyway, I’m in the kitchen and I’m doing what every good mission mother on the face of this earth likes to do—I’m making cookies for the missionaries. And the phone rang.
Now since the phone is never for me—when we were in the mission field, everyone was always calling to talk to the president. So we didn’t even have a phone in the kitchen. And Jeff came into the kitchen and he looked at me and he said, “The phone is for you.”
And I thought, “Okay, what poor missionary has received a letter from his sweetheart who is no longer his sweetheart, and is just about ready to jump off the top of Big Ben”—except it wasn’t in our mission. And so he’s calling me so I can patch him together. And he looked at me and he smiled and said, “It’s President Monson.”
And I looked at him and said, “Yeah, right. What missionary thinks that’s funny?”
And he kind of sobered up and said, “It really is President Monson.”
And all I could think of was, “What have I done, that I have gotten myself in so much trouble that the prophet of God is calling me on the phone?” And my mind started going back very quickly to everything I had written, maybe something that came out after we left for the mission—what had I written that might have appeared on his desk? I couldn’t pinpoint anything. And I tentatively picked up the phone. “Hello?”
And President Monson said, “Well, Heidi, how are you?”
Now, I’m not used to talking to President Monson on the phone. I’ve never talked to President Monson on the phone. I’ve only met him a couple of times in my whole life. And he had called us on our mission. So he said, “How’s the mission?”
Well, I kind of found something to say. “How are the missionaries?” I added some more. And he said, “How’s your husband?”
“Well, he’s the best mission president in the Church.”
“I knew you’d say that. How’s your family?” He just sort of started chatting with me, as if he were sitting in the kitchen with me, eating those warm cookies and talking about my life and how I’m doing. It’s the kind of man he is. But I am, on the other hand, just shaking in my shoes, sitting there in the chair thinking, “Get on with it. I’m losing my recommend and I don’t know why.” Why else would he call me?
So then he paused, and I thought, “Okay, here it goes. Hang on.” And he said, “You know, Heidi, I’ve been getting a lot of pressure lately to have a biography written. I’ve got a list from Deseret Book of people that I might consider, and I’ve even had people come to my office and volunteer.” He said, “I’ve talked to Frances about it,”—Frances is his wife—“and I’ve prayed about it and talked to the Lord about it.” He said, “I want you to write my biography.”
Well, there was nothing further from my radar screen than writing the biography of the 16th prophet of the Church. I was in England, and I barely had a laptop, and that was a whole new experience for me. I said, “Well, President, I would be honored to do that.” You would have said the same thing. Because when you think about it, all I could think about was Peter and Paul and, oh my goodness, how am I going to do this?
Then I thought to myself, “I’m on a mission. You’re in America; I’m in England. How am I going to do this?”
He said, “Now, I know you’re on a mission. I called you.” So not only does he know my phone number, he knows what I’m thinking. And he said—this was a classic one—“but you’re not that busy, are you?”
“I guess not.”
He said, “The way I see it, if you get started tomorrow”—we had one year left—“if you get started tomorrow, you could be halfway done by the time you get home.”
Okay, how am I going to do that? I’ve got a mission I’m in charge of, all these missionaries losing their girlfriends, and getting sick, and not taking care of themselves, and not cleaning their flats, and don’t know the gospel and haven’t got a testimony yet. How am I going to do this?
He said, “You know, the Lord will help you, and we’ll get this done. Okay?”
So I started the next day, and what I did was I had his office send me a copy of every talk he’d ever given. Now, he was called in 1963, so the first packet—that was before you were born, probably before your parents were born—the first packet that came was about this thick, and then they started coming every week. And the stack just got taller and taller and taller, and it’s probably about that tall, single-spaced, double-sided. And I read them. And as I read them, I outlined those things that I was learning from this prophet of God. And those words of Jacob took on new significance. “We search the prophet.” Because if you hear the Lord speaking through His prophet, then you hear the Lord speak to you.
I appreciated so much when your president spoke of the Spirit speaking to your heart today—that there will be things that the Spirit knows you need to understand, that you need to hear. As you listen for those things, know that those are messages coming from the Lord. Know that when you go to conference, whether you watch it on television, whether you sit outside on the lawn, or you’re in the Conference Center, on the radio, on the Internet, however it is—that you lay hold of the words of a prophet today. Those words spoken are for you individually, with that same spiritual strength behind them that the Lord is speaking to you through his prophet. There is no one else on the earth who has that same kind of responsibility or connection to you individually, than your prophet, Thomas S. Monson.
So if you are not sure about your testimony of President Monson, if you’re, “okay, he’s a prophet,” then get down on your knees and pray for a witness that he indeed is the prophet of God on the earth today, that he speaks for God and that those words are for you. The Spirit can answer that prayer in your heart, and once you know that, you are a different person. Because to see him and hear him and study his life and his words gives you access to the strength and the power described in that verse: “Our faith becometh unshaken.” Our faith in Jesus Christ, his representative on the earth, his prophet, is Thomas Monson. And “our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus, and the very trees obey us, and the mountains, and the waves of the sea.”
Everybody is carrying a burden on his shoulders here today. Every one of you has something that you are trying to work through. And they are, in your eyes, mountains and trees and waves of the sea. And there is power and strength in the words of a prophet to help you grasp what to do next. You know the song “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” We start out, we sing with gusto. The next line is the critical one, “To guide us in these latter days.” Think about what President Monson has asked us to do. What has he asked you to do? What has come into your heart and your mind as you have heard this prophet of God speak to you?
President Monson grew up not far from here—just blocks, over on the west side of town. His street—he lived on 5th South—and the railroad tracks went up one side of his street at this end, and the other side of the street at that end. And when both sets of tracks were loaded with railroad, the noise was so loud that every conversation in the house had to just stop, right there, until they passed. And then they would just pick up where they were and keep going. He lived in an environment that was not one of wealth or privilege. His father had a really good job, but he was unusual for the neighborhood. It was during the Depression, and most of the people did not have work. President Monson grew up understanding what it was like to have life be hard.
His friends went to school after having had a breakfast of Corn Flakes with water—not even Frosted Flakes, just Corn Flakes. They wore galoshes because they had no shoes. Sometimes they would wear a coat because it was the other brother in the family’s turn to wear the shirt that day. That was the environment in which he grew up. His sense of compassion and understanding of the needs of individuals is without match. The Lord placed him in a home where he would come to understand that charity is the pure love of Christ, and that love flows from the Lord Jesus Christ through us to others.
Have you felt that? Maybe you have felt that when you have heard President Monson speak. Maybe you have felt that when someone has reached out to lift you up and give you encouragement, to kind of help push that mountain aside. That kind of love and compassion is what President Monson is calling the membership of the Church to feel, to act upon, to become known for.
When we describe his work as “to the rescue,” it’s not the rescue of people stranded someplace necessarily. It’s the rescue of individuals who have lost contact with who they are. And do you know, every one of us, at one point or another—during the day, during the month, or maybe during the year—will have those moments when we will say, like the Primary song, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?” (“A Child’s Prayer,” Children’s Songbook, p. 12) President Monson affirms to us, as a prophet of God, that not only is Heavenly Father really there, but he has put someone in front of us to lead us and to guide us, and what he is teaching us to do is to reach out and care for one another. It is a remarkable message from a remarkable man.
When he was a young bishop, he learned how to access the power of the Spirit, and to act upon it. Have there been times when you have felt the Spirit and it said, “Okay, go and see so-and-so,” or “Stop and talk to that person in the hall,” or “Sit by somebody else in class,” because you don’t often sit there, but they sit alone. Or pick up the phone and call a friend. Text somebody that you haven’t thought about, but their name came to you. What are those? Those are promptings. Those are promptings from the Spirit. President Monson has learned how to listen to promptings, and he’s teaching us to do the same.
He tells the story of when he was a young bishop in this same neighborhood where he grew up. He was 22 years old. That’s pretty young. He had a young family. And he went to a meeting one night that was for all of the stake leaders—stake leadership meeting. And he had gotten called that afternoon from a member of his ward, a young man about the age of all of you. And the young man had said, “My uncle is in the hospital.” His uncle was also in this 6th/7th ward that he was bishop of. “And my uncle is not doing well, and he really needs you to come and see him.”
And Bishop Monson said, “I’ll do that right after my stake meeting.”
He said, “That would be great.”
So he went to the stake meeting. They made him sit on the stand, so he couldn’t kind of, you know, sneak out the back. He’s sitting on the stand, the speaker is talking, and the thought comes to him, “Get up and go to the hospital.” He looks around at all the people that are sitting out there. It would be like one of you, “Get up, and go to the hospital.” He says, “Well, everybody will see me get up and walk out. I don’t want to disturb the meeting, and I don’t want to show disrespect for the stake president. I’ll just stay here, but I’ll go as soon as the meeting’s over.”
And then he waited. The next speaker got up and began to speak, and the impression came to him again, “Get up right now and go to the hospital.” And he thought, “Well, I can’t get up.” He went through that whole routine again. How many times have you done that, when an impression has come to you and there has been a reason, a logical reason, a good reason why you can’t do that? And so you don’t.
Finally, they got to the end of the meeting, and the chorister got up to lead the music, and he got up and raced down the aisle and out the door and into his car. And he drove as fast as he could up to the Avenues—that’s where the Veterans Hospital was at the time— and ran in the door. He already knew the room number from the nephew. He ran up three flights of stairs and started tearing down the hall, and the farther he got down the hall, he saw this cluster of people outside the door of a room. And he thought, that’s probably the room. He got to the door, and everybody was pretty somber. The nurse looked at him and said, “You must be Bishop Monson.”
He said, “I am.”
He glanced into the room, and she said, “He was calling for you right before he died.”
President Monson will tell you “that lesson was not lost on me.” Nor should that lesson be lost on us. Do we need to have that experience in order to know that when the Spirit prompts us that what we may be asked to do is move the mountain for someone else, that the Spirit may be saying, “You have the faith, and you have been given the assignment. Go move a mountain.”
And we say, “Hmm, not right now.”
Think about those times in your life when someone has come to you, and it was at the right moment and the right time when you needed somebody, right then. And you recognized the Lord’s hand in your life. We learn that from President Monson time and time again.
President Monson tells the beginning of the story—and then I found out the end of the story—he was at a gas station. These are simple things. These are not the things that a president of the Church is the only one who could do this. These are things that every one of us can do. And that’s why he shares these accounts with us, so that we can see how the principle of love and charity and compassion and obedience not only influence our lives but the lives of others.
Okay, so he’s at the gas station in his old green car, don’t know what kind it was. And he is outside and he is filling up his car with gas. This is when he was an apostle, in the Quorum of the Twelve. And he goes inside to pay the bill. He reaches into his pocket, takes out the cash, and starts doling out the money. The man on the other side of the counter, who is young—younger than many of you—and he was particularly interesting in his style. He had rings in his ears and rings in his nose, and rings on his forehead, and rings on his lips, and disheveled clothing. He kind of pulled himself up to the counter and looked at President Monson, at that time Elder Monson.
Elder Monson looked at him, and he smiled and said, “Are you getting ready to go on a mission?” Now what in the world? Is this man even a member? It doesn’t matter. He was impressed to ask this young man, “Are you getting ready to go on a mission?” It doesn’t look like it. Would you have said the same thing, if the Spirit had said to you, “See if this young man is going on a mission”? And so he asked him.
And the young man said, “Oh, I don’t really go to church anymore. I’m not really very interested in it.”
“Well, you ought to consider it. You know, I think if when you go home tonight and get down on your knees, and in your evening prayer”—making the assumption this young man is praying—“if you ask your Father in Heaven, should I be preparing to go on a mission, it may mean that you’re going to have to make some changes in your life, but the Lord will answer your prayer if you will have the faith that He will give you an answer. I hope you’ll do that.”
The young man sort of “Hmm.’”
Well, the young man went home. He didn’t get down on his knees. He didn’t ask the Lord in prayer, “Should I go on a mission? What should I be doing to prepare?” It was several months later that he was walking through his family’s living room in October, and his parents were sitting and watching general conference. As he walked through the room, he saw this man on television and recognized him. He was the man from the gas station. It was Thomas Monson. He didn’t know who he was. And he sat down, and he listened to him as he spoke. And as he listened, he could hear those words again in his heart and in his head: “Are you preparing to go on a mission?”
The young man, when President Monson had finished speaking, didn’t say anything to his parents. But he thought, you know, why do I feel this? So he did what Thomas Monson had asked him to do. He went in his room and he got down on his knees and he prayed about it. He said, “Should I be preparing to go on a mission?”
How many of you have had the experience of getting down and talking to your Father in Heaven, and hearing that “Yes” in your heart that essentially moves mountains out of the way. It changes things. It changes the landscape; it changes your life. Because you’re connected to the heavens in a way that most people don’t understand. And yet, our Father in Heaven is always there, and He has never moved, and the Lord Jesus Christ is directing the work here on earth and we’re a part of that.
You can imagine the end of the story. The young man went on a mission. And from the mission field, he wrote President Monson and told him what had happened in his life. And he stayed in touch with President Monson. He has written him over the years, telling him about how his life is progressing—married, sealed in the temple, a family. Because Thomas Monson acted on promptings—an unlikely prompting. Do you get those kinds of promptings from the Spirit? And then when you get them, do you act upon them?
There’s a scripture that President Monson often likes to quote. It’s found in the Doctrine and Covenants 84:88. It says this, the Lord speaking: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my spirit will be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
There may be those times when there are angels who come down from the heavens. But the Lord often uses us to be the hands. He often uses us to be the angels. And we have to be prepared to do that. How does that happen? It’s a simple formula. The impression comes into our hearts. The Spirit will be in your hearts, “and mine angels round about to bear you up.” You are those angels.
If we put those pieces together, we suddenly understand that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not just for us and a solitary life moving forward, but faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, led by a prophet of God, is the power to make a difference in this world. We can change the landscape, but more importantly, we change lives.
I had this personal experience of President Monson changing my life. When I had been working on the book for about a year and a half, and I got home from the mission—my husband and I got home in July. And I went to work in President Monson’s office. He gave me a desk, kind of over in the corner, right next to all the cupboards that were filled with all of his personal journals. And then I sat down and read those journals—47 volumes, binders this thick, single-spaced, double-sided. Everything in his life is single-spaced, double-sided, because he has so much to do. And I sat and I read and researched. I read all of his letters that he has received from people over the years, that he has saved. I read his files. I read his outlines. I studied his life. And then I tried to take all of that material and put it together in a book.
It was January and the book was not coming together the way I had hoped. I was hung up on how President Monson really does connect with people in such a way that their lives are never the same again. I just couldn’t figure out how to explain that, how to describe that. It was an academic exercise in my mind. And yet, it was a spiritual opportunity for those people to be touched by the Lord through the prophet. I had to figure out how to make that work. It wasn’t working.
I walked into the office one morning, and President Monson was standing at the door. And he looked at me and said, “How are you today, Heidi, and top of the mornin’ to you!” He loves to say that, “top of the mornin’.” He is a cheerful person, all the time. And why is he cheerful? Is it just because he’s an optimist and he came that way? No. He’s a cheerful person because his heart is filled with love for other people. He doesn’t get hung up on circumstances. He pushes forward.
Well, he looks at me and he says, “How are you doing?”
And I smiled at him, and I’ve got my laptop and my battery packs and my books and my folders and my binders and my purse, and I’m just kind of loaded down. But that was not the weight. The weight in my life was the weight of the experience of writing about a prophet of God in such a way that the words, like the words of Jacob, make sense. Search the prophets. Search the prophets. Understand their words. Grasp what in their life makes a difference for your life.
Anyway, I was discouraged. And I went over and sat down at my desk and I got everything out and I started to work. About an hour and a half later, he walked by on his way to the Appropriations Committee, and he patted me on the shoulder and he said, “How are you doing today?”
And I looked at him and smiled and said, “I’m good.”
And he walked on. And an hour later he came back, and stopped at my desk again. He patted me on the shoulder and said, “Are you having a good day?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m fine.”
And he said, “Well, that’s good.” And he walked into his office, turned around, came back out again. And he stood at the door and looked at me, and he went [motioning to “come here”]. So I gathered myself together and I went in and sat down in his office. Now I had been in his office a lot, had the opportunity to talk to him about different elements of his life. But today we weren’t talking about his life. Today he looked at me and he said, “How are you really doing?”
And I looked at him and I thought, this is a man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. This is a man who worries about everyone on the face of the earth, all of God’s children, and I can’t add to that. So I said, “I’m fine,” and smiled. Look like it—I’m okay, I’m competent. Don’t worry about me. Show some confidence, Heidi.
And he smiled, and he looked at me, and he sat back in his chair, and he just continued to look at me. No words were spoken for a few minutes. And there was a warmth in his face and in his eyes. There was a light around him that I know this is what it’s going to be like when we get to the other side and the Lord Jesus Christ gathers us in and says those words we so desire, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Except I wasn’t there yet. And he just kept looking at me and smiling, and said, “No, tell me how you’re really doing. Just between us, how are things going?”
President Monson had just weeks, months before given a talk in general conference. The title of it was “Joy in the Journey.” Now if you think I was going to tell the president of the Church, Mr. Joy in the Journey, that I wasn’t having any joy in the journey—no, I didn’t want to go there. So I said, “No, I’m fine, President. I am doing just fine.”
And he said, “I don’t think so.” Then he said, “You know, we don’t need to do this book. Nobody is going to buy it, and nobody is going to read it.” Then he said, “Now, talk to me. Tell me how things are.”
Well, he had worn me down. I started to cry, and “Well, I get up at 4:00 in the morning, I work ‘till 8:00, reading, writing, then I come down here and research until 6:00, and then I go home and write until 11:00 and then I go to bed, and then I get up at 4:00 in the morning and then I write until 8:00 or 9:00, and then I come down here and I research all day and then I go home and then I write at night.”
He said, “I get the picture.”
“I have no life, but it’s not working.”
And he just looked at me. Now, you would have thought that perhaps, as the president of the Church, with his special powers, he could have called down some chariots of fire from heaven and they would have come loaded with the chapters of the book and we’d be done. That would be good, wouldn’t it? That’s what people think happens. It doesn’t happen that way.
But he looked at me and he said, “How can I help?”
Well, I didn’t know. And then he sat there and thought for a few minutes, and we chatted a little more, and he said, “Here’s what I can do.” And what he put before me was what every one of us can do for one another. He said, “Every morning, when I get up and I kneel down before my Father in Heaven, I’m going to pray for you by name, and I’m going to ask the Lord to help you.”
And then he said, “Do you have the kind of faith that that will happen?” The faith that we can move those mountains out of the way, Heidi? The faith that we can stop the sea, and that the forest will go someplace else. Now, he didn’t say that, but that’s what he was saying, and that’s what I’m saying to you. Do you have that kind of faith, that if a prophet of God says to you, “Will you pray for one another? Will you engage the power of the Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven to help?”
And I said to him, “I do have that faith.”
He said, “Well, then. We’ll get this book done.” That was it. And it did get done. I walked out of there without the weight that I had had for months. I walked out of there without the pain or the anguish or the frustration. And he hadn’t changed anything, except he had said, “The Lord will be on your right hand and on your left. The Spirit will be in your heart, and angels round about you to bear you up.” And that day, he was the angel.
Brothers and sisters, I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, that he was called to this responsibility before he came to the earth, and that his life has been lived in such a way that the Lord has prepared him to lead us in these latter days.
Do we recognize the power and the strength in our lives to have someone leading us who knows the way? Do we gauge our decisions based upon what President Monson has asked us to do? And are we living in such a way that we are worthy to stand side by side with him before the Lord Jesus Christ as disciples in the kingdom of God?
We can do this, and I leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Human Spirit Yearns to Be Free

08 Mar. 2011


The Human Spirit Yearns to Be Free

Most of us have been stirred by the recent news of the events going on in the Middle East, where millions of persons have been involved in civil unrest and revolt against regimes that have ruled over them for decades. It is hard to imagine how quickly the voice of freedom can rally disparate souls in seeking a release from the chains that bind them. The simplest act of one individual who could no longer tolerate the coarse rule of a corrupt and jaded regime ignited a flame that is spreading from town to town and from country to country.
Cell phones are abuzz. We see the news and radio about sacrifice, about blood, and about death. And our hearts go out to those who are struggling and fighting and dying. The courage of the helpless, the valor of the downcast and the powerless, and even the face of those who have not the courage to fight but have the prayers for those who do—has over the annals of history shown that man will not be ruled without his consent.
We who enjoy such a free society are blessed. Knowing what we know, our hearts reach out in sympathy to those who are struggling, for we know that freedom is never free.
Since the time of Adam and Eve, this world has only known opposition in all things. There resides in every person a GPS that tells us that justice and equity and fair play belong to every human being. Yet, because there are those who feel that it is their prerogative to rule over their fellow man either by force or subterfuge, the basic human rights of freedom are trampled on and set at naught.
I want to tell you of a time in my life when I experienced a people who were enslaved by a totalitarian government. During the latter part of the 1970s, I was conducting a technology exchange project in the former Soviet Union. From my office in Washington, D.C., I would travel to meet with government and scientists. A major effort was being made to find pockets of advanced technology that could be sellable in the Western societies. And as I met in conference with these groups and officials, I felt such a yearning to help them extricate themselves from their oppressors.
Over the many trips into that great land, I had a good schooling in seeing firsthand the plight of an imprisoned nation. People were functioning but only in a robotic semblance—body present, mind in pain. Everyone suspected everyone of being an informant. Seldom could anyone trust anyone. An entire population disenfranchised from making personal and family plans and decisions. Human despair was everywhere. There was no safe harbor and no balm of Gilead. In meetings or in the barren shops or on the streets, the prevailing sense of capitulation was overwhelming. Conversations were hushed, confidences few, and friendships were strained.
What is it about the human mind that yearns to be free? How did man get this internal homing device that says to him he is of value and of worth? And where is the repository that tells us of the dignity of the human soul?
The psalmist David said, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? …For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” (Psalm 8:4-5)
And it was Moses who, when tempted by Satan, gave us the knowledge of our divine parentage. “It came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For … I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten.” (Moses 1:13)
Knowing that we are of divine birthright gives us the security that we seek. Knowing that God is our Eternal Father and that we belong to His celestial, eternal family plants peace in our souls.
Somehow we need to keep focused on the eternal heritage that we have, and to lift our eyes to heaven and look beyond the here and the now. The Apostle Peter focused our personal compass and declared to us truly, who we truly are. Said he, “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speaking . . . Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him that hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:1, 9)
In the deep winter of 1838-39, the young Prophet Joseph Smith, while confined in Liberty Jail—isn’t that an oxymoron, Liberty Jail—weighed down by the fear of the disintegration of the Church, distraught because the Saints were in flight under the extermination order of a misguided civil servant, implored the Lord: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
“How long shall thy hand be stayed…?
“Yea, O Lord, how long shall [thy people] suffer these wrongs and [these] unlawful oppressions…?” (D&C 121:1-3)
 Then the Lord answered him, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine affliction shall be but a…moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…
“Thou are not yet as Job….” (D&C 121:7, 8, 10)
“The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee….
“… And above all …the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things will give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
“The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
“Therefore, hold thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, [and] they cannot pass….fear not what man can do, for God will be with you forever and ever.” (D&C 122:1, 7-9)
Some of you may have experienced the recent broadcasting of the musical, Les Miserables. I believe it’s on again tonight, on KBYU. I hope you have time to watch it. Do your studies first. In this wonderful musical, which is based upon the classic book by Victor Hugo of the same title, there is a song of the oppressed called, “Do You Hear the People Sing.” It goes:
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums,
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.
                  (by Harold Kretzmer, copyright 1986 by Alain Boublil Music, LTD)
As you well know, that monolithic and oppressive government of the USSR came to an abrupt end, as was prophesied by Isaiah: “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for a time to come for ever and ever:
“That this”—meaning the oppressive government—“that this is a rebellious people, lying children … that will not hear the law of the Lord:
“Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
“…Wherefore thus saith the Holy One of Israel, Because ye despised this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and stay thereon:
“Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high wall, whose breaking cometh suddenly at an instant.
“…And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers:
“And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way.” (Isaiah 30:8-10, 12-13, 20-21)
Who are the teachers? Those who bring the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Further, Isaiah said, “The nations are as a drop of the bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance…
“[He] bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.
“…Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is he weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
“He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.” (Isaiah 40: 15, 23, 28-29)
Perhaps some of you have personally witnessed a form of confinement, whether political or personal. There are many kinds of prisons that can bind us and enslave us—pornography, substance abuse, disease, bigotry, prejudice, ignorance, to name a few. Approximately 15 years later, after my time there, the gates of that country were flung open, as well as many other countries, and those countries that were held by a flaxen cord became free. Now they are open to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No doubt there are amongst us today some who have served missions, or will yet serve missions, in those distant lands. We rejoice that God has heard their, and our, petitions and prayers.
Even though today many new freedoms have come to those of whom I have been speaking, and although we here live in a free society, I beg the question: Are we really, truly free?
In the gospel of John we read that the Savior, teaching that coming unto Him and accepting His truth, by thus doing we are truly free. To those who believe on Him, He said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32) And then He further defined that “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:7)  “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
It was King Benjamin who helps us to understand that true freedom only comes through coming unto Christ and denying ourselves of all ungodliness. It was he who said that “under this head are ye made free,” meaning Jesus Christ. “And there is no other head whereby ye can be free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ…that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.” (Mosiah 5:8)
Perhaps some of you have personally witnessed a form of confinement or enslavement. God gave us a very precious gift—agency. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read, “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” (D&C 58:28)
What is it about humans that yearns to be free then? How did this internal homing device teach us of our own value and worth? There are other freedoms yet to be known. There are those that have left this earth that are trapped in the spirit prison, and cannot yet escape without our help. They are waiting for us to come to their rescue. A selfless act of temporal service by those who are living can open the prison doors to those who long awaited their release.
I think I have time for one story, President. I think some of you recall, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, or prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union, a man by the name of Gorbachev, that you maybe recognize, and he was beginning to lean toward openness—glasnost. There were those who were concerned that he was becoming weak, in abandoning the Communist Manifesto. And so, while he was on vacation, they arrested him and put him in confinement in his dacha on the Crimea. The coup, led by seven men, took control of all government offices, radio and television stations, the military. One who was elected as president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin was his name, went to the Kremlin and asked, “What is going on?”
They said, “We are in control now. We are relieving you of any authority. Go back to your office, tell your staff they are cashiered, and leave the building.”
Boris Yeltsin returned to the White House, which is really a white building in downtown Moscow, and said to his staff, “We’ve been told to leave by this junta that has taken over control. But I was elected by vote”—which is quite rare—“of the people of the Russian Federation, and I am not leaving.” He defied the order, and so did his staff. And so the junta brought in the tanks and surrounded the White House, and ordered him to leave or they would bring the building down around his ears.
About the same time, a Russian composer/conductor by the name of Rostropovich  who was at that time the conductor of the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, gave these remarks at a prayer breakfast that the president of the United States has every year. He said, “When I heard that there was a coup going on in Moscow, I gathered up as many Russian-language Bibles as I could find, and flew to Moscow.” He said, “When I arrived there, the tanks had surrounded the White House. So I took the Bibles and I went from tank to tank, and I handed it to that young lieutenant, and I said, ‘Please, do not crucify the Christ a second time.’”
About that same time, the order came to fire on the White House. A young captain by the name of Lubarets called in his lieutenants and said, “I’ve been ordered to fire on them. But they are our people. I’m not giving you that order. I know that by defying that order I will be executed. So you are at liberty to fire if you so desire.” And all of the sudden, when those young cannoneers in their tanks, turned their turrets around, facing away from the White House, preparing to take on the next group that would be ordered to take them out also. And suddenly the coup came undone. And Boris Yeltsin and many others, in smaller countries which were part of the former Soviet Union, all declared their independence from the Soviet Union. When the history of that part of the world is truly written someday, there will be another chapter yet to be written.
About six months later, two wonderful missionaries, walking down the streets of Kiev, Ukraine, went up to a young couple and asked if they could teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. That young couple said, “Yes, come to our apartment. We’d love to hear your message.” And they, with their children, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That man was the captain who would not give the order to fire on his own people. And today he is a stalwart, active member of the Church.
As you go forth from this noble institution, may you seek to make this a better world and a better place. May you be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of your own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27)
The Prophet Joseph Smith told us, “Let everyone labor to prepare himself for the vineyard, sparing a little time to comfort the mourners; to bind up the broken-hearted; to reclaim the backslider; to bring back the wanderer; to re-invite into the kingdom such as have been cut off… [to] work righteousness, and, with one heart and one mind, prepare to help redeem Zion, that goodly land of promise, where the willing and obedient shall be blessed.” (History of the Church, 2:229)
I pray the Lord to bless us that we may shake off the bonds of sin that weigh us down, that keep us from the peaceful comforts that come only through living a righteous life. Much of the future world will need your selfless acts of service, love, kindness, and caring. Your faithfulness to the principles of the gospel will do more to bless the world than teachings of social justice and political freedoms. May you serve the Lord with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, and embrace the truth. For, as Isaiah said, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and …walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Of this I testify in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Emulate the Examples of Righteous Women

22 Mar. 2011


Emulate the Examples of Righteous Women

What a great place to be, and what beautiful music and a sweet spirit I feel today. We have a little bit of a connection here, because our daughter Mary Katherine came here a year ago. She graduated from high school a little bit early and decided she wanted to continue with school, so she came here to LDS Business College, and what a great place and a great time, great teachers—she had a wonderful time.
I have been asked today to speak on the critical roles of mother. I immediately think of my own mother and her example of motherhood. It’s hard to speak of my mother, though, without my father; so men, I want you to know that fatherhood is every bit as important, and without you, we would not be mothers. It’s a partnership.
My mother is a young 88-year-old. She laughs as she tells us, “I’m the mother of nine senior citizens.” And if not yet, we will be soon. Her posterity is in the 100s, she knows each grandchild and great-grandchild by name; she is now serving a three-year mission as a guide at the Church Office Building. She uses a computer, she drives to church around the corner, she keeps abreast of current events, she exchanges recipes with her 95-year-old visiting teaching companion—which I must mention, they never miss a month. And she has a good laugh over emails that she receives from dear friends. I’d like to share one of these with you:
“One day when a seamstress was sewing while sitting close to the river, her thimble fell into the river. When she cried out, the Lord appeared and asked, ‘My dear child, why are you crying?’
“The seamstress replied that her thimble had fallen into the water, and that she needed to help her husband in making a living for their family. The Lord dipped His hand into the water and pulled out a golden thimble set with sapphires.
“‘Is this your thimble?’ the Lord asked. The seamstress replied, ‘No.’ The Lord again dipped his hand into the river. He held a golden thimble studded with rubies.
“‘Is this your thimble?’ the Lord asked. Again she replied, ‘No.’
“The Lord reached down the third time and came up with a leather thimble. ‘Is this your thimble?’ The seamstress replied, ‘Yes.’ The Lord was pleased with the woman’s honesty and gave her all three thimbles to keep, and the seamstress went home very happy.
“Some years later, the seamstress was walking with her husband along the riverbank, and her husband fell into the river and disappeared. When she cried out, the Lord again appeared and asked her, ‘Why are you crying?’
“‘Oh, my husband has fallen into the river.’ The Lord went down into the water and came up with George Clooney.
“‘Is this your husband?’ the Lord asked.
“‘Yes, yes,’ cried the seamstress.
“‘That is an untruth.’
“‘Oh, forgive me,’ the seamstress cried. ‘It is a misunderstanding. You see, if I would have said no to George Clooney, then you would have brought up Brad Pitt. Then, if I had said no to him, you would have come up with my husband, and if I had said yes, you would have given me all three. I am not in the best of health, and would not be able to take care of all three husbands. So that is why I said yes to George Clooney.’”
Laughter is the best medicine, and when things get tough, my mother will say things like, “Oh, it’s not so bad,” or “This too will pass,” or “Worry about it tomorrow.” I must give thanks to my mother for teaching and training and nurturing me as well as teaching me how to laugh at myself. So when our 18-month-old daughter decided to take over the painting and was confused as to where to paint, and painted the carpet instead—or when our 5-year-old son let the emergency brake off of our car and it rolled into a brand-new truck—I don’t really remember laughing, but I can still hear my mother saying, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s just money.”
I rejoice in the fact that I am the daughter of a righteous father and mother who raised me in the ways of our Savior. How blessed I am to know that I am a daughter of God. I am thankful to Him in His great wisdom for assigning me to be a woman. I love being a woman, and I love being a mother.
In these modern times, many roles of motherhood have been challenged by the world. The adversary is constantly attacking the family. We know by just turning on the TV or picking up a magazine, Satan and his minions tell us evil is good and good is evil. They are working overtime to confuse us and to tear our families apart. However, we have reinforcements because we have the gospel of Jesus Christ, which teaches us about the sacred nature of family and the roles that each of us have in the family unit.
Nothing has changed since the beginning of time. In both modern and ancient times, a mother’s role has been that of teaching, nurturing, and unconditional love. For these have been the building blocks or foundation of having a strong family unit. They have withstood the test of time in today’s culture, where everything is accepted, and even expected—where evil is good, and good is evil.
A few weeks ago I attended a womens conference in New York. There was a panel of women answering questions, and one young, very attractive panelist was asked why women in Italy were not getting married and starting families. Boy, before the question was even out of the moderator’s mouth, the young woman snapped, “You don’t have to be married to start a family.”
Neal Maxwell expressed it this way: “As parenting declines, the need for policing increases. There will always be a shortage of police if there is a shortage of effective parents! Likewise, there will not be enough prisons if there are not enough good homes” (“Take Especial Care of Your Family,” Ensign, May 1994, 88).
We can do what we have been sent to earth to do because we have Heavenly Father on our side. Heavenly Father has given us a plan and has prepared a way for us to accomplish it. I would like you to read or re-read “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” It is the divine plan of happiness, if we live by it. It tells what the roles of parents are. A “husband and a wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and their children…. Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, [and] to teach them to love and to serve one another, to observe the commandments of God…. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.” It is up to us as Latter-day Saints to keep the family unit strong. Who else will do it if we don’t? The Lord is counting on us.
Throughout the history of time, mothers have recognized the problems of the world, but [have chosen] to accept the divine responsibility for nurturing of their children. Now, this is the tricky part. I want to share with you how love has changed the world. For purposes of this talk, I have selected six women that have magnified their callings as mothers, and the critical roles they played in their children’s lives. Each mother represents many noble and righteous qualities, but I have selected only one for each mother.
We know that Satan has always been a force to be reckoned with, right from the beginning, even for the first woman on earth, Eve. She knew what it was like to be tempted by Satan. However, we also know that Eve did what she was sent to do. In Moses, we read about the creation of the world, and on the sixth day, man was made in the image of God. “And I, the Lord God, said unto mine Only Begotten that it was not good for man to be alone (Moses 3:18).” The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and from the rib “which I, the Lord God, had taken from man, made I a woman” (v. 22). And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
We know that Adam and Eve had it pretty good in the Garden of Eden—a beautiful garden with no weeds, and animals that behaved. I could have that. Can you imagine talking face to face with Deity? And yet, they were willing to give all of this up for a greater cause—mankind. It was Eve who first partook of the fruit and “did eat, and [she] also gave[ it] unto her husband…and he did eat (Moses 4:12).” By doing so, they knew that they would have to leave the comforts of the garden. They also knew that by partaking of the fruit that it was eternal necessity and a blessing, so that sons and daughters could be born to this earth.
We should rejoice in Eve’s decision. I believe that it was an act of love for the family of all the earth. It was a part of Father’s plan. We had to come to earth to receive bodies. There was no other way to be able to return to our Father in Heaven, and to become as He is.
I would like you to think about the next mother—Mary, the mother of Jesus. The faith that she showed—how faithful she must have been, to have been assigned the privilege of raising the Son of God. How beautifully she shows us of her faith and willingness to follow Heavenly Father’s will. In the New Testament, in the gospel of Luke, we read how the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her, “Blessed art thou among women (Luke 1:28).” And then he tells her to “fear not…for thou hast found favor with God (v. 30).” Gabriel gives her a description of her special assignment of being the mother of the Son of God. Being the kind of woman that she was, we know that she didn’t say, “Hmm, let me think about it. I’ve got a wedding to plan, and I’ll get back with you.” But through her faith and courage and willingness to follow Heavenly Father’s plan, I am sure that she also recognized the prophecies foretold her.
This is how she responds: “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word (v. 38).” Can you imagine the feelings of love and joy as Mary held her newborn baby, realizing that He was the Son of God, the Savior of the World—and then feeling the concern and protection, fleeing from Herod’s decree [that] all the firstborn children under the age of two must be destroyed?
Do you think that Satan was working overtime? Do you think that the adversary was trying his best to thwart and to lead astray Eve, the mother of all living, and Mary, the mother of Christ? The whole plan of salvation rested upon these mothers.
Let us look to these mothers as our example, because we too can overcome the adversary and live up to our potential and the plan that Heavenly Father has for each of us. Many times we have been counseled by our religious leaders that we live in the world, but we don’t have to be of the world.
I’m reminded of a story in the Book of Mormon about a group of 2,000 young men who were led by the prophet Helaman [and] who had never before gone into battle. The following scripture passage tells us how many mothers had taught their sons, even in times of peril. They stayed true to the faith and taught their sons to trust in God.
In Alma 53:20-21 it reads: “And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever things they were entrusted.
“Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God, and to walk uprightly before him.”
In Alma 56:47-48 it reads: “Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
“And they [had] rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.”
What a powerful reminder to us all to trust in God. But when you are put in a tight spot, sometimes it’s hard to remember that. It was, in the early morning hours of June 5, 2002, when our 9-year-old daughter came into our room and, in a frightened voice, said, “Elizabeth is gone.” Not fully understanding the impact of these words at the time, Ed got out of bed to check. Mary Katherine proceeded to tell me, “You’re not going to find her. A man took her.”
When I saw the kitchen window screen cut, I knew she was gone. I was reeling in the fact that she was gone and trying to make sense of it all—who took her, and why? Within hours, a search had been organized. It grew until a community and a nation was looking for Elizabeth. She no longer was just our daughter, she was everybody’s daughter. What a turning point in my life. Our family would never be the same.
We rejoiced when Eve partook of the fruit. We now could receive bodies and choose who we would follow. What a turn our lives had taken. Who would we follow? Would it be Satan? Could we withstand the strain on our marriage? Could we hold our family together? Did we have faith enough to trust and know that our Heavenly Father would bless us and our daughter and see us through this?
We had to choose. Should we blame God and become bitter, or would we trust in God and His goodness? We chose the latter. Our marriage became stronger. We depended on each other. Our family became closer and more united, our prayers more fervent. We fasted with meaning, and temple attendance became more frequent.
Did we grow from this trial? You bet we did. Did a loving, kind Heavenly Father know of our grief? We know He did. The bottom line was, though, where was Elizabeth, and would we ever see her again?
If the gospel is true—which it is—and everything that I’d ever been taught, I knew I would see her again, whether in this life or in the next. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes it was just too hard to face another day. One particular Sunday, I got the children ready and off to church but couldn’t muster the strength or courage to get myself ready. I lay down on the bed, in tears, pleading with Heavenly Father to help me through this, to understand why this was happening. Could I endure to the end and trust in God’s will? Did I have what it took to carry on and help my family through their grief and that of missing a sister?
I received an answer to my prayers. In my mind and heart, I heard a clear voice tell me to be of good cheer—another turning point for me. I got out of bed, I got dressed, and went to church. I knew that Heavenly Father loved Elizabeth more than I could comprehend, and I had to leave this in His hands, and trust in Him. And whatever was going to be, He was fully aware of it.
We didn’t stop praying, and we encouraged the searches to go on for nine long months. And we continually probed our minds of anything that could help the detectives. But now we knew who was in charge. It was easier to follow the Lord’s way than to go down the path of destruction. Through love, faith, trust in God, our ordeal became bearable—not easy, by any means, but bearable. We witnessed a miracle.
Teach by example is what Lucy Mack Smith did, the mother of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the early years of her marriage, Lucy experienced a serious illness and was told by the doctors that they had done everything that they could and she was going to die. She had a husband and two young sons that counted on her—Alvin and Hyrum. That night, she pleaded with the Lord to spare her life so that she might bring comfort to her children and husband. She made a solemn covenant with God, and I quote: “That if He would let me live, I would endeavor to serve Him according to the best of my ability. Shortly after this, I heard a voice say to me, ‘Seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Let your heart be comforted; ye believe in God, believe also in me.’
“In a few moments, my mother came in. Looking upon me, she said, “Lucy, you are better!’ I replied, as my speech returned, ‘Yes, mother, the Lord will let me live, if I am faithful to the promise which I made to him, to be a comfort to…my husband, and…children.’” (History of Joseph Smith , Bookcraft, 1958, p. 34-35)
It was through Lucy’s experience and example and encouragement that she taught her children religious precepts. They read the Bible together and pondered upon the words. It was through reading the Bible that Joseph came upon the words of James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
Did Lucy know that she would be the mother of the latter-day prophet who would restore Jesus Christ’s Church here upon the earth? How could she know? Satan was doing everything in his power to stop the restoration of the gospel, from the moment Joseph knelt down to pray. Lucy kept her sacred responsibility of being a mother by being an example, by looking for the truthfulness of the gospel, and by teaching her children to do the same.
Lucy’s feelings about her responsibilities as a mother are noted in the minutes of a church conference held October 8, 1845, in Nauvoo, Illinois. On that day, Lucy made the following remarks: “I raised eleven children, seven boys. We raised them in the fear and love of God, and when they were two or three years old, I told them I wanted them to love God with all their hearts. . . . I want all of you to do the same.” God gives us children, and we are accountable.
We must do the same. We must listen and learn from our mothers and grandmothers, young adult leaders and righteous women in the Church. They have much to teach us. And it is also their responsibility to have the next generation—so let’s help them do their job.
President [Thomas S.] Monson reflects back on his childhood. “All of us remember the home of our childhood,” he says. “Interestingly,” though, “our thoughts do not dwell on whether the house was large or small, the neighborhood fashionable or downtrodden. Rather, we delight in the experiences we shared as a family…what we learn there largely determines what we will do when we leave there….The thoughts we think, the deeds we do, the lives we live influence not only the success of our earthly journey, they also mark the way to our eternal goals.” (“Hallmarks of a Happy Home,” Ensign, Nov. 1988)
“Every Sunday, [President Monson’s mother,] Gladys, [prepared] a plate of food for Old Bob; before the family sat down to dinner, she would send Tommy off with a plate. One Sunday he asked, ‘Why don’t I take it down later?’
“His mother responded, ‘You do what I say, and your food will taste better.’
“He wasn’t sure what she meant, but he headed off for Old Bob’s, waiting anxiously as aged feet brought his neighbor to the door. Bob reached for a dime to reward the delivery boy. ‘Oh, Mr. Dicks,” said Tommy, ‘I wouldn’t want to take your money. My mother would tan my hide.’
“‘My boy, you have a wonderful mother.’
“…When Tommy got back, his dinner did taste better. ‘I didn’t realize,’ he recalls, ‘I was learning a most powerful and important lesson about caring for those less fortunate’” (Heidi S. Swinton, To the Rescue, Deseret Book, 2010, p. 30).  Tommy’s parents gave to him what money could not buy—compassion and service to others.
It is in the home where we must teach the gospel by precept and example. Have you heard these words before? Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I’ll remember; involve me and I will understand.
The next one is to be prayerful. I love how James E. Faust explains prayer. He says that “access to our Creator through our Savior is surely one of the great privileges and blessings of our lives. I have learned through countless personal experiences that great is the power of prayer. No earthly authority can separate us from direct access to our Creator. There can never be a mechanical or electronic failure when we pray. There’s no limit on the number of times or how long we can pray each day. There is no quota of how many needs we wish to pray for in each prayer. We do not need to go through secretaries or make an appointment to reach the [heavenly] throne of grace. He is reachable at any time and [in] any place” (“The Lifeline of Prayer,” Ensign, May 2002).
As far back as I can remember, prayer has always been a part of my life. My mother taught each of her nine children to pray. We would pray over the food, when somebody was ill, or when we had a test. And yes, even when we ran out of gas. When I was about 7 years old, this incident changed my life. I knew that it was important to say your prayers every day, but this experience cemented it deep within my soul.
Every year we took a family vacation, all 11—Dad, Mom, and nine children would pile into a Chevrolet station wagon. We didn’t have DVDs or CDs, or even AC, for that matter. For entertainment, we read out loud and sang Primary songs. These family trips were the best of times, and the worst of times. There was never enough room, never enough time spent at the beach, and a day at Disneyland was never long enough.
For all the family trips taken, there is one that stands out even more than the others. Once again, we headed to California—this time a quick stop at Lake Mead. It was very hot, with the temperature reaching into the 100s. We were tired and restless and couldn’t wait to go swimming. Between the heat and the mosquitoes, our smiles soon faded. Sleeping that night was next to impossible. We couldn’t wait to be out of that inferno. We were up at the crack of dawn and on our way—my dad behind the wheel, my mother with her trusty map, and all the children packed in. We were off.
As my dad mentioned to my mother that the gas gauge was low, she turned to the map and said, “Oh, there’s a town not far; we can fill up there.” Somewhere, somehow, we took the wrong turn and ended up in the middle of nowhere—desert and more desert, and not a car in sight. Where was that town at, anyway? By this time, the gas gauge read “empty.” My brothers and sisters became very quiet. We didn’t want to die in the middle of nowhere, and we could feel the urgency of the situation. My dad said that we probably had just enough gas to make it up the next hill, and then we’d have to coast. It was looking very bleak, even at the top of the next hill—still no other cars.
It was at this point my mother said, “I think that we should say a prayer and ask Heavenly Father to help us,” which we did. And you can bet that every eye was closed and every arm was folded, and we all said “Amen” in unison. My dad proceeded to put the car in neutral, and we coasted down the hill and around the bend. As the car lurched to a stop, there on the side of the road was a white truck, just sitting there with a man inside. It was as though he was waiting for us. It was a strange sight to see a truck in the middle of nowhere, with no construction going on and no road closures. That is strange.
On the back of the truck was a big tank with a nozzle, which was filled with gas. He graciously filled our tank and would not accept any money. Wow. We were finally on our way. Our hearts lifted in knowing that we truly had a direct line to heaven. As a young 7-year-old, I knew for sure that Heavenly Father answered prayers.
Spencer W. Kimball states that “there is knowledge that our Father in Heaven wants each of us to have, and that is personal knowledge that He hears and answers our prayers.” Elder Richard G. Scott explains it beautifully when he says, “Heavenly Father is our perfect Father. He loves us beyond our capacity to understand. He knows what is best for us. He sees the end from the beginning. He wants us to act and to gain needed experience. When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence. And when He answers no, it is to prevent error. When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth.”
It fills my soul when I hear my children pray, asking for help and guidance and protection. I know that their testimonies are growing, and that they, too, know the importance of prayer. A mother’s example will speak louder than words. Live your life in such a way that it is crystal clear to those watching you that you love the Lord, and the only way for true happiness is living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be clear on the roles you choose. Study the scriptures. Pray. Attend your Church meetings. Make it a part of your life now. If the gospel principles are so engrained in your very fiber, you will not have to keep making those decisions over and over again.
Let us show an outpouring of love, as Eve, the mother of all living, did. Let us have faith and be faithful like Mary, the mother of Christ. And let us trust in God, as the mothers of the 2,000 stripling warriors did. Teach by example, as Lucy Mack Smith did, and show compassion by serving, like Gladys Monson did. Be prayerful. Always be prayerful.
And last, have a sense of humor. I know these things have helped me in my life. I’m grateful for my mother and her example, and if anybody ever wanted to pay me a compliment of the highest order it would be, “You are turning into your mother.”
I am very grateful for the opportunity to be here today, and I want you to know that I have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that we have a loving Heavenly Father, who loves us and wants to be in the details of our lives. I am grateful for His Son, our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, for the atoning sacrifice that He has made for us. And I’m so grateful for a living prophet today who leads and guides us, President Monson. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.