What has God prepared you for?
Ben Malczyk was born and raised in upstate New York, the same birthplace as his favorite game, baseball. After a mission in Recife, Brazil, Ben returned to BYU Provo. While attending BYU, Ben met and married his wife Jen, making them a Bennifer.
Ben earned his bachelor's degree in Marriage, Family, and Human Development. Ben and Jen then loaded up all of their earthly possessions into their 2005 gold Chevy Impala, driving back to New York with Jen 8 and ½ months pregnant with their son Robert, born one week after Ben started graduate school at SUNY Albany. Ben earned his Master of Social Work degree a few weeks after the twins Monica and Marie were born.
In 2015, Ben earned his PhD in Social Welfare and a certificate in Online Learning and Teaching. That same year, Lydia, child number 4, was born, and Ben began a 6 1/2 year run as a social work professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Harriet, child number 5, was born in 2017.
Ben joined Ensign College in January of this year (2022) and serves as the Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction.
What has God prepared for you? What has God prepared you for?
Having served as both an early morning seminary teacher and High counselor, I have realistic expectations about how many of you will be awake in 25 minutes from now. That being said, I'm grateful that you did hold up your notebooks earlier and in recognition that what I say matters less than what you hear. Please write down those impressions and heed those impressions that come to you. As I approached the end of my time as a full-time missionary in Brazil, I had to think at least a little about what life would be like when I returned home. I didn’t want to be one of those missionaries who were thinking about home all the time and so I asked my mother if she would accept an assignment. I asked her if she would register me for classes. She accepted the assignment and I didn’t give it anymore thought.
When I finally returned to Provo, I looked at my schedule for the first time, my mother and her wisdom had signed me up for general education classes. She had signed me up for a religion class, one each semester just like each of you should take. But then she also signed me up for, as you could have guessed, marriage preparation.
It was not my first choice, but it was a wonderful class. And, frankly, a class that I still remember that had an impact on my career, education, but no class could have prepared me for the unparalleled joys of marriage. Additionally, no class could prepare me for the challenges of parenthood, sleepless nights, three kids in diapers at the same time, and the daily stress and daily heartburn associated with trying to provide for a family of five on a meager $14,000 income as a graduate assistant while teaching early morning seminary, but at the same time, no class on marriage could prepare me for the pure joy that I felt, I still feel as I think about kneeling at an altar with my beautiful bride. I'm grateful that I get to walk the path hand in hand with her or the wonderful feeling that comes with a parting of the veil and the birth of a child and you hold that infant in your arms. No class will prepare you for how wonderful that feels perfect today is 10 year is this my twin daughter's 10th birthday. So I can still remember that.
Now before you think I'm against higher education, I am a firm believer in higher education and colleges and courses and papers. But if I have learned anything in my mortal journey, it is that God prepares the way. It's on this topic that I wish to speak to you today. The topic of preparation. A topic which we should all be familiar with is the first step in our learning signature prepare act to demonstrate this pattern that extends far beyond the classroom.
To illustrate the powers, the power blessings that come from preparation, I would like to share a series of simple stories with you and the associated principles. President Kusch, I know you're a fisherman so I think it's okay if some of my stories aren't 100% accurate, but they portray true principles.
First story, Johnny and Julia. Johnny and Julia were two lucky kids. They were the children of a very, very, very wealthy man. He was so wealthy that his children affectionately called him Daddy Warbucks and Daddy Warbucks embraced the name. He loved to shower his children. Last Christmas there were so many presents that it filled all of the space underneath each of the families 12 Christmas trees. They spent the entire day opening presents and still couldn't open them all.
This Christmas Daddy Warbucks was determined to do something extra special. Julia woke early in the morning in anticipation of hundreds of presents. She went and got Johnny and ran down the hall for the library to check the first tree, but there were no presents. Then to the den. No presents. After checking all the trees, Julia and Johnny finally found Daddy Warbucks in his favorite leather chair next to the fireplace in the ballroom. Daddy Warbucks had a big smile on his face. And he pointed to two presents under the tree. A small lavender box for Julia and a bright orange box for Johnny.
Julia knew it must be a very special present. There was only one gift after all. She opened the box before Johnny had even started and found a set of keys. Knowing what this meant she ran to the garage where she saw her gift. Daddy Warbucks had followed to watch her reaction. Julia screamed with delight. This newly licensed driver was now the owner of the car of her dreams. A brand new custom lavender Lamborghini. She screamed as tears of joy ran down her face. She hugged and kissed her father over and over again and thanked him over and over again. When they finally caught their breath, they realized Johnny wasn't there. Next to Julia's purple Lamborghini was his orange Lamborghini. They knew how much Johnny loved cars and so they were wondering where he was.
They returned to the ballroom and found Johnny sitting on the floor - sucking on the keys. Johnny in all the wisdom of a child of only 14 months was enjoying his gift in the way he thought best. He had no idea the horsepower and the luxury associated with keys now in his mouth. Well, Johnny and Julia had received the same gift, the gift is a metaphor and had a greater impact on Julia. She was prepared to receive the gift. While the gift was the same, the impact varied according to the preparation of the recipient.
Our first principle, attributed to Thomas Aquinas, “That which is received is dependent on the condition of the receiver”. Let me repeat. “That which is received is dependent on the condition of the receiver.”
We are children of God, a father far wealthier, wiser and even more loving than Daddy Warbucks.
Matthew 7:911, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
What God gives and what we receive may not always match. Often what we receive is limited not by God's generosity or love, but by our states as receivers.
My life has been deeply impacted by individuals who understood this principle and were prepared to receive what God had prepared for them. Our next story, a personal favorite. My grandmother, Grandma Helen was an extremely generous and kind person. Her heart was open and prepared to receive the gospel and God had prepared a way for that to happen. God prepared two missionaries to stop their bikes at the top of a dirt road in Princetown, New York and walk to a small family farm at the end of the road. No systematic mapping of doors to knock would have ever reached this remote location. It was the only house they knocked at, a half mile from any other house. The elders had heeded the impression and found grandma Helen ready to receive the message. As she learned and was invited to attend church and to make a really challenging choice between generational Catholicism, a deeply rooted cultural and religious tradition among my Polish ancestors, my grandfather asked her a question that she didn't have the answer to. It all sounds so good and so true, but if it's so true and so good, why don't we know anyone who is a member of this church, not a single person? My grandmother didn't have an answer, but God did, He prepared a way. After several lessons, my grandmother finally accepted the invitation to attend church, but that Sunday morning, she was faced with that decision of what to do. She decided it would probably be best to stay with her husband and to go to Catholic mass and apologize to the missionaries later. My grandfather's question still weighed on her mind, but that very Sunday, God sent a missionary, another missionary unlike any missionary that you've ever seen.
This missionary wore a tag, but it was engraved on a metal plate worn around his neck. This missionary did not speak a word of English, but that didn't matter. His diet was not fit for human consumption. Nor should it have been. This four legged missionary, yes a missionary dog was a direct answer to my grandfather's troubling question. The dog had gotten loose from one of the neighbors somewhere and had found its way onto the Malczyk family farm. My grandmother, a lover of all things living, calmed the dog down and read the collar. It had the name Metzger on it. She grabbed her phone book, looked up the Melzgers and gave them a call. No answer. She waited a little while longer and called again. Finally she called her friend Dorothy who lived closer to the Melzgers and asked if she knew them and explained that she had their dog. Dorothy replied Oh, I know the Melzgers, they're a terrific family, but don't bother calling them today. They're Mormons. They're gone to church all day! Thus began a terrific friendship that answered my grandfather's question and assisted my grandmother entering the waters of baptism. God prepared the way even through a dog or perhaps especially through a dog.
When we are prepared with humble hearts, God will perform miracles in our behalf. He has prepared away. He similarly prepared the way for my father as he investigated the church. One of the most challenging things for him would be to give up his Sunday morning basketball with his friends. Sure enough, he was soon invited to play basketball with a group of saints on Saturday morning at the Albany stake center. God prepared the way!
My mother felt the Spirit as she as she heard the recounting of the First Vision. It touched her heart in a profound way and while this spiritual witness played a key role in her conversion, her decision to join the church was deeply impacted as she attended family home evenings with other young couples in the Schenectady ward. She tasted the joy and the spirit that accompany family home evening knew that is what she wanted for her family. God prepared the way this year my parents will celebrate their 44th anniversary of their sealing and hopefully, each of their six children who have been sealed in the temple can attend and join with them. God has prepared a way for each of us. Yes, even you and me, all of his children. This witness was strengthened for me as I visited my parents as they were serving a mission in Minnesota. Part of their mission included attending a ward of Hmong and Korean saints and Minnesota. A Korean convert to the church bore his testimony about attending the temple and receiving his endowment. It was a simple, yet heartfelt testimony. What made it even more remarkable was that this beloved Son of God, for him to receive essential saving ordinances took a little bit of work. The man spoke very little English and there was not a translation of the endowment in his native language. And so under the direction of temple and mission presidents, faithful missionaries had attended session after session after session for weeks on end to translate the endowment for one son of God. Well, this translation may serve other Korean members. The principle is that God will prepare away for the one. God always prepares the way. Principle 3 God has prepared a customized curriculum for each of us as Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “I believe with all my heart that because God loves us, there are some particularized challenges that he will deliver to each of us. He will customize the curriculum for each of us in order to teach us the things we most need to know. He will set before us in life what we need, not always what we like.” Unquote. While I strongly believe in a customized curriculum, I also know there are some general guidelines we are all to follow, a commonly shared path or way. Genesis 22:3 “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.
6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father….Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb.”
God prepared a way to save Isaac the same way he is prepared for us to be saved. Through the providentially provided Lamb, the one prepared from before the foundation of the world, even Jesus Christ. I testify the divinity of Christ. That He who we call the Savior of the world is my Savior, is your savior, that he was prepared and willing to offer Himself a sacrifice out of love for each of us. And for his love and devotion to his father.
Jesus Christ was prepared from before the foundation of the world to be our Savior. Well, there can be no greater sacrifice and this selfless sacrifice made by the Son. God's gift giving doesn't stop there. Consider the commandments. As a youth I often saw the commandments as restrictive as excessive rules that meant I couldn't watch certain shows, drink certain things, or participate in the same activities of my friends, or that I had to read boring scriptures. Too often we approach a commandment keeping life as a cheerless chore and try to push the limits of God's gracious guidance. The attitude we often display about the commandments reminds me of a Shel Silverstein poem.
How do we tell if a window is open?
Just throw a stone at it.
Does it make a noise?
Well, it was open.
Now let's try another…
Is this how we approach the commandments. Must we break them to test them? Or can we instead express our faith in God and choose to trust His guidance? Cecil B. DeMille. The director of the movie, ‘The 10 Commandments’ said, “We cannot break the 10 commandments. We can only break ourselves against them or else by keeping them rise through them to the fullness of freedom under God. God means us to be free. With divine daring he gave us the power of choice.” Consider for a moment the fruits of keeping the commandments. I think you will come to see us I have that commandments are in fact a gift from a loving Father in heaven. Imagine just for a second, a world where everyone chose to, out of love for God keep the commandments. A world with no violence, no war, no divorce or abuse, no tragic alcohol related accidents. The poor succored and the love of God abounding. A place of unity a place of peace. Truly how great a gift are the commandments of God? They show us the way and then paired with He who is the way, even the Son of God we draw closer to God through living His lifestyle and thus partake of His love and goodness. I'll take some literary liberties and modify a quote from David O McKay. Let us realize that the privilege to keep the commandments is a gift, that the power to keep the commandments as a blessing. That the love of commandments is success. Our love of God is measured in manifests by our willingness, longing to and eventual love for keeping His commandments. Not to be like the Pharisees and Sadducees to say that we're better than others, but as a means of expressing our love and trust in God. As Jesus said, “If he loved me, keep my commandments. If a man love me, he will keep my words and my Father will love him and we will come unto him and make Our abode with him.” The Savior's love for us like the Father's is eternal. It is not in question. The cross and the wounded hands and feet bear witness to this. What is in question is if we as receivers of this love, return the favor. Principle 5 The commandments are a gift from God. Are we prepared to receive them as such? Let's consider one more commandment, our attitudes and actions related to scripture study. How do we view them? How do we view our scripture study? Do we view the scriptures as some nasty oozy concoction of vitamins we plug our noses at and swallow. In doing so we fail to realize that God has yet again given us a precious gift, our very own keys as it were. He invited us to feast on His word to come to the banquet filled with beautiful and marvelous fruits of His words. Don't be like the kid who goes to the salad bar and comes back with a few stale and crusty croutons and complains about the cooks. An experience where I let go of the metaphorical iron rod, God's guiding gift will illustrate the problematic attitude we often have about scripture study. A few summers ago my wife and I were fortunate to celebrate our 10 year anniversary in old forge New York. A truly beautiful place. While my sister watched our five children my wife and I embarked on our maiden voyage as companion canoeists. We started at Old Forge Pond where we loaded our canoe with camping supplies and food and a hastily folded map of our journey. It was a picturesque scene as we paddled from First to Fourth Lake, it took hours to our eventual camping ground on Alder island in the middle of Fourth Lake. The next morning, we awoke to return home to rescue my sister from our children, and to attend to other family matters. We awoke to a fog unlike any I've ever seen. Waiting for the fog to lift was not an option that could take hours. So we determined our plan. We had honed our strokes and determined that if we alternated paddling sides every three strokes, we could go pretty straight. Despite this, we could see no shore and leaving the shore 10 or 15 feet, we would be completely surrounded by this mist that you see. We decided that our best course of action was to go straight north to the shore and then stay close along the shore and with our map out and sure that we were following the contours and going the right direction. It was much slower this way. We couldn't just go straight across the lake. That meant additional hours of paddling since we had to follow the shoreline. After about an hour of paddling I saw that there was a slight curve on the map. I couldn't see where the curve ended, but the map said it wasn't that far and so I decided that if we just left the shoreline just for a little bit and went straight, we would surely hit the shore. We would get to that channel between fourth and third lake. We left the certainty and safety of the shore and followed our own path through the midst only 10 feet from the shore and we were completely surrounded. We did eventually find the shoreline again, off to our right as it should have been. But then shortly after, off to our left came a familiar sight- Alder Island. We had missed the channel and had literally completed an hour of paddling and a complete circle. We were right back where we had started.
We had let go of the iron rod, our shore map and shoreline, thinking we knew better ourselves. So, we circled the island and we did it all over again. This time never letting go of the shoreline and our map. Principle 6
The scriptures are a gift from a loving Father. God prepared the way for us to have them. Are we ready to receive them as such. Now we could spend days recounting all that God has prepared for us, but in the time remaining I wish to slightly shift our focus. Instead of discussing further what God has prepared for us, I wish to highlight a few things that God has prepared us for. As we read this year in the Old Testament, God made secret and eternal covenants with Abraham that through his seed all, all would be blessed. We are that seed. God has prepared us to be fellow laborers and fulfillers of the Abrahamic covenant. We have been prepared to assist in a great work.
In the words of the youth song,
There is a work to do
that was prepared for you
long before the world was made.
You have the strength you need
to cross the stormy (or misty) seas
If you give Him your heart,
He’ll show you who you are
and all His hopes and dreams for you.
And when you follow Him,
the great work will begin
and perfect love will win.
This is a great work that we’ve been given.
This is a part of His grand design.
So, don’t be weary. He will be with you,
And He will lead you through the night
in this great work. This great work. Yes, this great work.
What is this great work? It is fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant and gathering Israel on both sides of the veil. Elder Bednar stated, “It is no coincidence that Family Search and other tools have come forward at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. Your fingers have been trained to text and tweet to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord, not just to communicate quickly with your friends. The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation.”
Or as President Nelson, a prophet of God declared. “You were sent to Earth at this precise time. The most crucial time in the history of the world to help gather Israel. There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than that. There is nothing of greater consequence, absolutely nothing. This gathering should mean everything to you. This is the mission for which you were sent to the earth.”
Furthermore, God has a specific work for each of you. God doesn't need everyone to be an apostle, or 70, a Relief Society or Primary or Young Women’s President. He needs people to serve Him in their respective spheres. The impact of our service, the measure of our creation, is not quantified by our place in an org chart, but instead by the depth of our impact on those we are called to serve in whatever capacity God decides is best. Our faith is manifest as we trust and what God has prepared for us and lift where we stand. Principle 7
You have been prepared to join and God's great work. There is a work prepared for you. I conclude with one final silly car story and an invitation and a testimony. I can still remember the feeling pulling out of the driveway of Provo basement apartment with Jan eight and a half months pregnant, driving to New York. We had no insurance, no job, our bank account was quickly approaching single digits. Wondering what was to come, where life would lead us-- like being in the middle of a lake covered in mist? While I am far from perfect, I have sought to let God prevail in my life and I testify that he has prepared a way. I could not have predicted the path, the people, the joys and the trials that presented themselves along the way, but I know that He has prepared away. This witness came to me as I was driving home from work just a couple of years ago while we lived in Kearney, Nebraska now as a tenured faculty member with a bank account that was much better. I was driving the same gold Chevy Impala that we left from Provo in, now complete with stains and smells of five children. But I couldn't have even imagined when we left Provo. I stopped at an intersection and as I stepped on the accelerator, I began to laugh. A really big belly laugh a big laugh and I just continued to laugh the whole way home. Perhaps it was the end of the semester and I was stressed or a midlife crisis. But what was so funny to me was that I can just push my foot a little bit and this car, this 1000 pounds of metal, plastic and glass could carry me 50, 70, 80 miles an hour. All I had to do is move my foot just a little bit, move my hands just a little bit. Consider the complexity of a car. How many 1000s of inventions and hours of engineering were required for me to be able to move my feet and hands with great ease to drive. Surely, I was the beneficiary of the intelligence, the sacrifice and the God given inspiration of so many who had gone before. At that moment, I realized how lucky I was to be able to drive a car and how miraculous it was that the car actually worked.
Brothers and sisters if God can plan and prepare all the events that led to that very telestial car, consider the care the planning and preparation God has put into you, an eternal daughter or son of God, into your future, to you and into your life. God has prepared away. Are we ready to receive it? I invite you sometime today to kneel before your gift giving father with a note taking device of your choice and ask God these two questions.
- One what has God prepared for you?
- What has gone prepared you for?
I extend this invitation in the name of Him who was prepared from before the foundation of the world, even Jesus Christ, Amen.
- Neal A. Maxwell, “But for a Small Moment”, (1974) BYU Devotional.
- Shel Silverstein, “Stone Telling”, (1974) Where the Sidewalk Ends.
- Cecil B. DeMille, “The Ten Commandments and You”, (1957) BYU Commencement.
- David O. McKay The original quote read as follows
“Let us realize that the privilege to work is a gift, that power to work is a blessing, that love of work is success.” David O. McKay, “Pathways to Happiness” (1957) 381.
- Nik Day, “Great Work” (2020), 2021 Youth Theme Song.
- David A. Bednar, “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn” (2011), October 2011 General Conference.
- Russell M. Nelson, “Hope of Israel” (2018), Worldwide Youth Devotional.