Thank you, President Kusch, for that kind introduction. I deeply appreciate and value the friendship of your outstanding college president, President Bruce C. Kusch, who actually invited me to be a devotional speaker before I was called into the Young Men General Presidency. It is an honor for me to be here with you and address you and your friends.
TRUE PURPOSE OF HIGHER OR ADVANCED LEARNING
Brothers and sisters, how does the Lord see education or higher education? Please ponder this general question as I remind you of something He has said about its purpose: “…[A]s all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (If you’d like to follow along, this scripture is found in Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.)
The commands to “seek learning,” and seek words of wisdom out of the best books, and do so “diligently” seem clear enough. But why does the Lord preface these commands by saying, “as all have not faith[?]” If someone said, “As all have not good grades,” or “as all have not money,” you would expect them to then say what needs to happen for more people to have good grades or money. The same is true with this scriptural phrase: “because everyone does not have faith here’s what needs to happen to increase faith.” Why does the Lord tell us to “seek learning even by study and also by faith” to increase our faith? And what is learning by faith?
We know what learning is, but just to be clear, let’s ask SIRI: “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study or by being taught.”
Then what is faith? So much has been taught and can be shared about faith that we could spend the next three semesters on this subject alone. What I would like to share with you today is how education and learning produce not just faith, but what the Book of Mormon calls exceedingly great faith.1 After I share some scriptural background, I will tell you a short story about how I learned this more deeply.
In one of his great sermons on faith, Alma, one of the leading teachers of faith in all of scripture, describes what I hear to be three stages of faith that correspond to degrees of conversion. After comparing the word of God to a seed, he described the first stage as a particle of faith, a desire to believe or know if the seed is good or if the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Once the seed starts to sprout and the beginnings of testimony appear, faith begins to grow because the initial belief is confirmed. Note Alma’s many references to beginning in this first level of faith: “(the word of God) will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”
The second stage of faith I hear Alma describing is like a small tree. This person has progressed beyond the initial sprouting of the word and confirmation that the gospel is true. Now he or she must deepen his or her knowledge by doing the basics that everyone understands: prayer, scripture study, keeping covenants and following the prophets. Alma says it this way, “as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us.”
But Alma says our faith cannot stop here. It is not grown up. He says that, “When (not if, but when) the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth the tree), because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.” Does this mean someone who knows The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ – a faithful youth, a returned missionary who was obedient and who once bore powerful testimony, even an older adult who has served with gospel conviction – can such a person simply pluck it all up, cast it out and walk away?! The sobering answer is yes. (And some of us are saddened by individuals who have done so.) But why? Alma explains, “it is not because the seed was not good, it is because your ground is barren,” meaning unproductive. But wait. This person was very productive and did a lot of service, and that is no doubt true. But there is an important principle of faith that Alma teaches is key to graduating to that last stage of powerful and permanent faith, what he calls elsewhere “exceedingly great faith.” That principle is to look forward with an eye of faith.
He said “…if ye will not nourish the tree, yea nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”
In the fifth chapter of his book, Alma unpacks “exceedingly great faith” in a really clear way. He asked, “Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you?” I almost hear him then say, “In other words, do you take the following steps to exercise faith?” As I read the rest of Alma 5:15-17, think about the steps of faith he is teaching, then we will review them:
15 …Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?
16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?
17 Or do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day, and say—Lord, our works have been righteous works upon the face of the earth—and that he will save you?
What components of faith did you hear? As I review them with you, think of how they relate to your college experience.
In verse 15 I hear Alma teach us to “look” as with Enoch, Nephi, the children of Israel smitten with a dreadful disease, and many others, the Lord calls upon his children to look. This is especially so when we may feel down and he wishes to lift us or feel unsure and He wishes lead us; to look seems to be the first of many required acts of faith; antonyms of “look” include “disregard, indifference, ignorance and neglect,”2 the opposite of learning and diligence.
Where to look? Look forward as opposed to backward to be chained to the past, or past failures, or sideways toward distractions of the present. “[F]aith is always pointed toward the future,' Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught. “Faith always has to do with blessings and truths and events that will yet be efficacious in our lives," he said.”3
We look forward, how? With an eye of faith. Fully expecting to see.
And view or see. This implies revelation; to see what the Lord will do, or His promise fulfilled, as in this case; we know, “Where there is no vision the people perish.”)4
In verse 16, I hear “imagine to yourselves” how you will experience or enjoy the fruits of your vision, or in this case the promised blessing; perhaps Alma learned this principle from the experience of Enos who had great faith. Enos said, “I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father." Enos imagined.
The next point is “works of righteousness” mentioned in each of these three verses; as we know, faith without works is dead.
In verse 17, “don’t lie or imagine lies.” The Book of Mormon calls these “vain imaginations.”5
And finally, “avoid inappropriate conduct or works of darkness.”
Do you see the difference between these levels of faith. Faith vs. exceedingly great faith – Belief and testimony that the Church is true, in the beginning of our journey vs. looking forward firmly with an eye of faith, seeing and permanently embracing the Lord’s vision and His promises with certainty. In my ministries over the years, I have seen that the inability to look forward and move forward toward the Lord’s vision is one of the greatest factors in losing faith and falling away from God’s Kingdom on earth. Looking forward with an eye of faith also tends to be more difficult the more formally educated we are. This is another reason why the Lord commands to “Seek learning by study and also by faith.” Such people divert their vision elsewhere, or convince them of another vision. They begin to imagine lies and no longer see their future selves as the Lord sees them. They slack their diligence, lose patience in the Lord’s timing, and go in a different direction and sometimes “forbidden paths.”6 But we will always see our way through “exceedingly great mist(s) of darkness”7 and “exceedingly great wickedness”8 by looking forward with exceedingly great faith.
While these simple steps of faith apply to redemption through Christ, they also apply to exercising faith, in general. Let’s apply them to seeking learning, or acquiring knowledge or skills. You may have already done so. You are in college because you look forward and see a vision of yourself with more education or skill. With an eye of faith, you hopefully imagine yourself with a joyful profession, occupation or calling in the home. This vision gives you a hope, a feeling of assurance, that by acting – going through the process and work of your college program – you can become that person you envision. This hope and assurance make your vision more sure and help you feel you can achieve your goals. This, in turn, makes you more confident and happy. These hopeful feelings help you work hard, attend class and be on time. They help you push through the challenges of studying for exams, writing papers and working on projects. You know that college is a sort of probationary experience and that how you prove yourself here will largely determine the extent of your opportunities hereafter. In times when assignments are piling up and time is running out, when it seems like others are way ahead of you or way smarter than you, or, for some, you’re just not sure if you’re going to make it, this vision of your future can actually fill you with joy in the present, and help you keep moving forward happily. When the temptation comes, as it always does, to maybe feel overwhelmed, or like it’s impossible to keep going, or perhaps to relax or play before your work is finished, you might be tempted to “imagine to yourself that (you) can lie.” What are some lies college students might imagine or tell themselves? I wish I could hear your answers. If you like you can pause me and I’ll just stand here while you write 2 or 3 or 4 untruths that you might be tempted to tell yourself while in college. How about,
- “I can’t do it!”
- “It’ll be alright if I get a lower grade like I have in the past.”
- “I’ve worked hard, so I’m just going to go enjoy myself!”
- “He or she is really cute, so I can skip homework this time.” (The first part may actually be true, but the second part is a lie.)
These lies are also ways to look backward or sideways rather than forward. Fear, including fear of failure, has the same impact. It distracts us from looking forward and encourages us to believe lies. The more you entertain and come to believe any such lies, the less likely you will achieve your academic and post college goals. This is because imagining or believing lies diminishes faith and the feelings of happiness and joy of our vision. On the other hand, the more firmly you embrace that envisioned person from your future, and the more certainty with which you see yourself accomplishing your righteous goals, the harder you will work, the more easily you will reject lies, and the more you will act consistent with that envisioned reality. This is the essence of “looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof” and “seek[ing] learning by study and also by faith.”
UNIVERSITY EDUCATION IS A PERFECT MODEL OF FAITH. AND HOW DOES LEARNING INCREASE FAITH?
Do you see what a perfect model of great faith the process of seeking education is? Learning, including college education, doesn’t just help the learner believe. Rather, this process helps the learner apply the very elements of faith that Alma taught while in being educated. Also, as the student achieves his or her goals and vision through hard work and good decisions (the process of faith), he or she is better able to help others achieve their goals (of any kind) through these same steps of faith. However secular or unbelieving in God a college student may be, he or she is becoming skilled and learned in the process and exercise of faith. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that faith is “the principle of action in all intelligent beings[.]"9 No wonder the Lord declared education’s inspired purpose was to increase faith! And yet is it any wonder that our adversary works so hard against higher education and its primary demographic, young adults? As you know, in much of the world higher learning has, ironically, morphed into a tragic opposite of the laboratories of faith the Lord intended. In stark contrast to experiencing increased faith, it is increasingly common in many institutions of higher learning for believers in God to have their faith questioned, and, in extreme cases, openly challenged or mocked. What a blessing you have to be at an institution whose leadership and charter are informed and inspired by the principle and power of exceedingly great faith.
PROPHETS AND APOSTLES TEACH US TO LOOK FORWARD WITH AN EYE OF FAITH
Let me now share with you how I learned to apply this principle of faith more fully in my life and ministry. My wife and I were called to serve as mission leaders. We served from 2014-17. While we were in the Mission Leaders Seminar in June of 2014, President Russell M. Nelson gave what was for me a landmark talk. He told the story of the eventual conversion of a fellow cardiac surgeon, Dr. Zhang, and Mrs. Zhang, from China. Looking forward with an eye of faith, when he first met Dr. Zhang, he envisioned him in baptismal clothing. Upon later meeting Mrs. Zhang, President Nelson imagined the couple in white temple clothing being sealed as an eternal family. Of course, he did not share this vision with them at that time. Years later, the couple emigrated from China to Canada and were baptized into the Church at their request and seeking. A year later, they were sealed in the temple by then-Elder Nelson, himself. Quoting the Book of Mormon, the prophet then “saw with [his] eyes the things which [he] had beheld with an eye of faith and [he was] glad.” (Ether 12:19.) Sister Corbitt and I faithfully and repeatedly taught these principles of faith to our dear missionaries. They were not only successful in preaching the gospel in unity and in love,10 but their lives were forever changed as they applied and still apply their exceedingly great faith according to this prophetic teaching. In President Dallin H. Oaks’ words, “we saw the end from the beginning.”
We look forward with an eye of faith as we come unto Christ. Let me share some examples of Church leaders who have taught this very principle. President Henry B. Eyring taught, “we promise to take (Jesus Christ’s) name upon us. That means we must see ourselves as His.”11 Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “In your mind’s eye you will see yourself entering the house of the Lord for an eternal marriage and family.”12 Elder Quentin L. Cook has invited the entire Church to “honor the Savior and make any necessary changes to see ourselves in His sacred temples.”13 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland appealed to the ministers of the Church to “lift your vision (and) in newer, better ways see yourselves as emissaries of the Lord to His children.”14
LEARNING BY STUDY AND LOOKING FORWARD WITH AN EYE OF FAITH HELPS US “HEAR HIM” (ADD REVELATION)
Looking forward with an eye of faith and learning by study and also by faith help us “hear Him.” President Russell M. Nelson has asked us in this two hundredth anniversary of the First Vision to increase our ability to “hear Him,” that is Jesus Christ. The proclamation, “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World” declares, “Two hundred years ago, on a beautiful spring morning in 1820, young Joseph Smith, seeking to know which church to join, went into the woods to pray near his home in upstate New York, USA. He had questions regarding the salvation of his soul and trusted that God would direct him. In humility, we declare that in answer to his prayer, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph and inaugurated the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) as foretold in the Bible.”15 Before he had that world-changing experience, young Joseph also exercised great faith. I was 17 years old when missionaries stopped by our home and I first heard Joseph’s account. I instantly believed it and have never doubted it in my forty years as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During some of my teenage years I had been wondering if there really was a God and desiring to be closer to Him. One of my immediate reactions to hearing the account was a spiritual confirmation that I, too, could have my prayers answered by God. I began to “hear Him.”
Today, I find that as we look forward with an eye of faith we can “hear Him.” When we envision a righteous outcome – such as when I look forward and see you feeling the Holy Ghost’s influence helping you understand and embrace what I’m sharing – the Spirit often lets us know whether or not our vision is true. We know that if we have faith we hope for things which are not – or not yet – seen, but which are true.16 Truth is important in matters of faith. It is similar
to having faith in that “which is right”17 or “which is good.”18 If we don’t feel a confirmation of what we desire, but it is a good thing, we continue to hope and work for it. If the Spirit witnesses that it is true, because we know God cannot lie, we see it with certainty, almost as if it has already occurred, or like looking forward to the certain fruit of a planted tree. “[A]nd thus by faith, (we can) lay hold upon every good thing.”19 “And in Christ there should come every good thing.”20 We then go to work as diligently and creatively as possible, including increased repentance, to bring to pass what the Lord has promised, with patience in His timing. Elder David A. Bednar taught, “True faith is focused in and on the Lord Jesus Christ and always leads to righteous action.”21 Perhaps you already follow this same Book of Mormon pattern. In this way, you and I will eventually and inevitably – again – see with our eyes the things we had beheld with an eye of faith and we will be glad.22 Thus, our eye (of faith) helps our ears (and hearts) to “hear Him,” Jesus Christ.
SUSTAINING PROPHETS, SEERS AND REVELATORS, ETC.
Learning by study and also by faith helps us properly sustain Church leaders, which is an act of faith. The Lord has said that Church leaders are to be “upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the Church[.]”23 Let us always remember “to be learned is good if (we) hearken unto the counsels of God[,]”24 which include humbly sustaining our leaders.
See your faith in the same way you see your spirit, as a living organism that must be properly nourished. As Elder Neil L. Andersen said, “Your faith will grow not by chance but by choice.” He also said, "prayerfully ponder (your) honest questions—questions that will be settled with patience and an eye of faith."25 Look at some of the fruits of those we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators solely as relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact upon us as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Quentin L. Cook has pointed out that over the last several years, the Lord has issued revelations that prepared and now enable families and individuals to effectively worship while sheltered in our homes. I’ll just mention three:
- Improving sabbath day observance
- Home-centered, Church supported worship, including “Come, Follow Me,” “Teaching in the Savior’s Way” and
- All family members studying the same curriculum
During these same years, the Lord’s servants also helped prepare missionary work for its current limitations. President Dallin H. Oaks taught less than three years ago in 2017: “We are in an unusual and extremely important transition in our missionary work . . . We now have significant advancements in the technology available to accelerate our work … and we are overdue in finding ways this can be done to advance the effectiveness of our missionary work.”26 And what strikes you about this statement from President Russell M. Nelson at the seminar for new mission leaders five years ago in this month: “In this ever more technological world, the way to prepare these missionaries for their future is not to quarantine them from, but to prepare them for, technology.” What an inspired choice of words if there ever was one. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, continues to urgently advance the use of technology in missionary work throughout the world. How do you, or can you, use technology to follow their counsel in faith?
LEARNING BY STUDY AND LOOKING FORWARD WITH AN EYE OF FAITH INCREASES REVELATION
Finally, learning by study and also by forward looking faith increases revelation, as I alluded to previously. President Russell M. Nelson taught, “If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation." Revelation strengthens faith and brings forth fruit. He declared, “[I]n coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost."27 He then said, "My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation... Choose to do the spiritual work required to enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost and hear the voice of the Spirit more frequently and more clearly."28 I bear witness, brothers and sisters that “the spiritual work required” includes a higher, holier forward-looking eye of faith that sees and holds fast to the Lord’s vision for you and works hard and in patience to obtain it. As you apply this “exceedingly great faith,” revelation will flow to you more readily and clearly and yet another prophecy of our dear Prophet will come true in your life. This “exceeding faith”29 is perfectly typified by the education system you are in right now. I hope that every time you study for an exam, or go to class (when you return to them) you remember that you are squarely in the process of faith. I hope every assignment or project or internship helps you recognize that you are in one of the best faith practicums in all the world! Learning by study and also by faith helps us understand, exercise and share this powerful faith. “…[A]s all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” I bear witness that these principles are true, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Alma 13:3
 The Best Is Yet to Be, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Brigham Young University devotional address given on January 13, 2009.
 Proverbs 29:18
 1 Nephi 8:28
 1 Nephi 8:23
 Ether 9:26
 Lectures on Faith , 1, emphasis added.
 Mosiah 18:21
 That We May Be One, Henry B. Eyring, Ensign, May 1998.
 See the End from the Beginning, Dieter F. Uchtdorf , Ensign, May 2006
 See Yourself in the Temple, Elder Quentin L. Cook , Ensign, May 2016.
 Emissaries to the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland , Ensign, November 2016.
 “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World” 2020
 Paraphrasing Alma 32:21
 3 Nephi 18:20
 Moroni 7:26
 Moroni 7:25
 Moroni 7:22
 Ask in Faith, David A. Bednar, April 2008
 Ether 12:19
 Doctrine and Covenants 107:22
 Jacob 9:29
 The Eye of Faith, Neil L. Andersen, April 2019
 “Introductory Message“ Dallin H. Oaks, (address given at the seminar for new mission presidents, June 25, 2017), 2–3.
 Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives, Russell M. Nelson, April 2018
 Alma 13:3