Brother Ashton received a bachelor of arts degree from Brigham Young University and a master of business administration degree from Harvard University. He has worked as a business manager, as an executive and as a board member at various companies since 1998.
The Ashtons are the parents of seven children.
If Ye Desire, You Shall Be the Means of Doing Much Good
Brothers and sisters, today I want to speak about desire. My prayer is that the Holy Ghost will accompany us, help us to understand how Heavenly Father sees us individually, and teach us which desires will bring us the most joy.
Desire is essential to obtaining higher education. Only by having a desire to learn will we persist in doing the work necessary to obtain a college degree. Furthermore, a strong desire to learn, combined with faith in Jesus Christ, can overcome lack of opportunity and our own doubts and weaknesses. In this regard, President Russell M. Nelson has taught, “I believe that in the pursuit of education, individual desire is more influential than institution, and personal faith more forceful than faculty.”1 He has further added:
"Educational opportunity is not confined to time or place. There is nothing magic about an institution, be it Harvard, Stanford, MIT, BYU or any other. Personal motivation is more essential to education than campus setting. …Exciting, entertaining, charismatic teachers are not nearly as fundamental to the attainment of your goals as are your desire and determination.”2
One of my hopes for you is that you will have a strong desire to learn both secular and spiritual truths. Hopefully, that is why you are here at Ensign College, where you can learn both.
The desires we develop as we pursue higher education will likely stay with us for many years, if not for our entire lives. At a minimum, we usually choose our careers based on the desires we have in college, and that choice will determine how we spend much of the rest of our lives.
Which desires we develop is critically important, not just because proper desires can help us gain an education and have a fulfilling career, but ultimately because our desires shape what we become and whether we will attain the Celestial Kingdom.
The prophets have repeatedly made this point. President Dallin H. Oaks has taught, “Desires dictate our priorities, priorities shape our choices, and choices determine our actions. The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming.”3 Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it this way, “what we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity.”4 In the Book of Mormon, Alma the Younger declared, “… I know that [God] granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.”5
Thus, it is never too early to begin molding our desires so that throughout our lives, and ultimately in the end, we get what we really want.
Now it is normal to want a successful career, to want to purchase a beautiful home, to have nice cars, to have the means to live well and to take vacations. But these desires are not what will bring us lasting happiness and joy.
Several years ago, I purchased a car that I had been dreaming about for years. For the first few months, I had a wonderful time driving it. But then the car started having mechanical problems, and it was expensive to fix. This was a hassle and diminished my enjoyment somewhat. Then I was called as a bishop. I clearly remember one Sunday, a sister came to see me after church and told me that she hadn’t eaten in three days. We fed her, helped her obtain the things she needed, and found a way to improve her temporal situation going forward. But my nice car suddenly became an embarrassment to me. I kept thinking why would I spend so much money on a car when those around me, who were just as loved by their Heavenly Father, had so little? I have since learned that what brings happiness is not having nice things, but rather serving and helping others. In fact, if we seek for riches, we should seek those riches with “the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and afflicted.”6
Of course, if we set our hearts on the wrong desires, it can lead to unhappiness, and eventually, spiritual death. The Lord taught, “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.”7
Now among all the good desires that we could seek, the Lord has explained that some are better than others. In your Come, Follow Me study of the Doctrine and Covenants this year, have you noticed what the Lord taught the early Saints about the best desires? For example:
- Section 7 describes what the Savior said to His Apostles Peter and John when He asked them what they desired. As you may recall, Peter asked that when his work was finished that he might “speedily come unto [the Lord] in [His] kingdom.”8 John asked for power over death so that he could bring even more souls unto Jesus Christ.9 When Peter apparently expressed some qualms about John’s request, the Savior taught, “I say unto thee, Peter, [your desire] was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done.”10
- To Hyrum Smith, the Savior declared, “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation. Keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.”11 The Lord further added for Hyrum’s and our benefit, “Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded to you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.”12
- To Joseph Knight Sr. the Lord instructed, “… I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion. Behold, I speak unto you, and also unto all those who have desires to bring forth and establish this work.”13
- To both John and Peter Whitmer, the Lord said, “And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father.”14
Thus, we can see from just these few scriptural references that the best desires are to bring souls unto Jesus Christ and establish the cause of Zion. Isn’t that what President Russell M. Nelson and his predecessors have asked us to do for years?
We committed to assist in the work of the Lord in the premortal life. Elder John A. Widtsoe taught:
"In our preexistent state, in the day of the great council, we made a certain agreement with the Almighty. The Lord proposed a plan. …We accepted it. Since the plan is intended for all men, we became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves but measurably saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work. The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation."15
It is this work, helping to bring souls unto Jesus Christ, that will ultimately bring us joy.16
The good news is that all of us can assist in the Lord’s work. To Joseph Smith Sr., the Lord stated, “Therefore if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.”17 What’s more, to Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith and “unto all who have good desires, and have thrust in their sickle to reap,”18 the Lord has promised the following, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so shall it be unto you; and if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.”19
You see, if you and I have the proper desires and are willing to work, we can be the means of doing much good among our fellowmen. There is a role for each of us that will lead to lasting joy and happiness. We can partner with “The God of the whole earth”20 to make a lasting, even an eternal difference, in the lives of our families and others around us. What an opportunity!
Now, I invite you to please consider what is it you desire and where will your desires lead? If you decide you need to change your desires, may I suggest three things to help you improve them.
First, pray for good desires. We are promised in the scriptures that God “doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive.”21 The best desires are among those things that are right.
Second, seek to have the Holy Ghost in your life. Have you ever noticed that when you have the Holy Ghost with you, you have righteous desires? Good desires are spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given by God through the Holy Ghost.22
And third, seek to understand your divine nature, what you can become, and your purpose in life. President Dallin H. Oaks has taught, “When we have a vision of what we can become, our desire and our power to act increase enormously.”23
We can see the impact of doing these three things in Jesus Christ’s visit to the Nephites. On the first day of the Savior’s visit, Jesus helped the Nephites see themselves differently as He prayed “great and marvelous things” to the Father on their behalf.24 On the second day, the Nephites “did pray … that the Holy Ghost should be given to them.”25 Then later in the day as the Nephites were once again praying, we read these words, “… for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.”26 Due to their prayers, having the Holy Ghost with them, and their newfound vision of themselves, God filled these people with righteous desires. He can and will do the same thing for you if you will let Him.
Brothers and sisters, I testify that in partnership with the Savior, Jesus Christ, you can make a truly lasting difference in the lives of God’s children if you so desire. As you cultivate the best desires, God will give you unexpected and wonderful opportunities, mostly out of the limelight, to assist family, friends and others to come to know Jesus Christ better. By taking advantage of these opportunities, you will feel the love of the Savior and find great joy and happiness.
That our desires may be the best desires, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 Teachings of Russell M. Nelson, Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book , p. 92.
2 Ibid, p. 93-94.
3 Dallin H. Oaks, “Desire,” April 2011 General Conference.
4 Neal A. Maxwell, “According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts,” October 1996 General Conference.
5 Alma 29:4.
6 Jacob 2:19.
7 Doctrine and Covenants 3:4, emphasis added; see also Mosiah 12:29; Helaman 7:21-22; 13:19-21, 38; Doctrine and Covenants 56:16.
8 Doctrine and Covenants 7:4.
9 Doctrine and Covenants 7:2.
10 Doctrine and Covenants 7:5.
11 Doctrine and Covenants 11:9.
12 Doctrine and Covenants 11:7; see also Doctrine and Covenants 6:7.
13 Doctrine and Covenants 12:6-7; see also Doctrine and Covenants 6:6; 11:6.
14 Doctrine and Covenants 15:6; 16:6.
15 “The Worth of Souls,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Oct. 1934, 189, as quoted in Introduction to Family History Student Manual, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012 ( https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/introduction-to-family-history-student-manual/chapter-3?lang=eng ).
16 See Jacob 5:75; Doctrine and Covenants 18:15-16.
17 Doctrine and Covenants 4:3.
18 Doctrine and Covenants 11:27.
19 Doctrine and Covenants 6:8; 11:8.
20 Isaiah 54:5; see also 3 Nephi 11:14; 22:5.
21 Mosiah 4:21.
22 See Doctrine and Covenants 46:11, 26.
23 “Desire,” April 2011 General Conference.
24 3 Nephi 17:16-17.
25 3 Nephi 19:9.
26 3 Nephi 19:24, emphasis added.