The Lord Loves a Willing Heart
Good morning, brothers and sisters. It’s an honor for me to be here with you today. I’m grateful to have my wonderful daughter here with me. I wish my sweetheart could be here with us; she’s not here because she has a court date. I should clarify that—she has been called to jury duty today. I told her I was going to say that, and she said, “You won’t say that, will you?” But I did. I miss having her by my side today, and want you to know I am so grateful for the support that I’ve had from her for a long, long time.
I love being here on campus. I love looking into your eyes, and I feel a connection with you. I wonder where your path came from. Some of you have come from other countries. We had the good fortune last semester of having one of the students here at LDS Business College from Brazil live at our house, and she commuted, lived with us, and would come down to school each day. And I’ve heard many LDSBC stories from her and from Laura, and from our other family members as well.
I love the enthusiasm that you bring and the spirit that you carry. And I want you to know it’s palpable. When I come on campus I feel something warm and wonderful, and I know what it is. It’s the Spirit of the Lord. And I also know that your lives are here for a reason. You are sitting at the feet of prophets; you are hearing and learning the doctrines of the gospel so that you can do something with it and so you can make a difference in the kingdom. And I know that for sure.
I wanted to just share a few thoughts today on a subject that is important to me. I know that academic life can be very challenging. By definition, it’s a life where you are ranked and graded and you’re evaluated and judged on a regular basis. Before you came to LDS Business College you took tests and you were ranked and evaluated on how well you did on those tests. Your worthiness was a factor. And I think for some of us, we become weary along the way because we realize, in almost any subject, in almost any activity, there are others who are better at almost anything than [we are]. And it would be rare that any of us would be the very best in any particular topic.
Fortunately, however, God’s evaluations are based on a totally different pattern, and God does not rank and evaluate us against our peers. There’s not even a grading against the curve, if you can believe that. It really comes down to this: God judges us based on our works and the desires of our hearts. In other words, if we are willing, every one of us are fully qualified to get top grades and top honors and to graduate from this life at the top of our class—every single one of us, simply as a matter of our choice.
Let me refer you, if I can, to a scripture that I find most informative. It’s not one that we talk about all that much. It’s in the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. I’m going to be referring you to verse 32, but as a little bit of a preface, this section, Section 88, is often called “The Olive Leaf.” It was received by the Prophet Joseph Smith, we are told, December 27 and 28 of 1832, and a subsequent revelation in the first few days of January 1833. In this middle section of Section 88, it talks a little bit about those who are going to be resurrected and the kind of reward they will receive after they are resurrected. So the verses kind of go down through, and it says those who lived worthily of a celestial glory will be quickened, they’ll be resurrected, and they will receive that glory which they merited. And it goes down through the terrestrial and the telestial.
And then it comes to a very sad and, I think, a poignant verse, in verse 32. It talks about all of those who will be resurrected not to a place of glory, those who are left after the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial glory is given to others. And it says this: “And they who remain shall also be quickened”—meaning they too shall be resurrected—“nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place”—and here’s the key part of the verse—“to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.”
Isn’t that a stirring call to us? So they will enjoy that which they were willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
So today I’d like to share with you, if I can, a few thoughts on the subject of willingness. And I haven’t heard it called the principle of willingness, but I’m going to call it that today. This is a principle that, to me, is a very hopeful doctrine. It’s related to the doctrine of obedience and finally, as I’ll try to point out later, to the concept or the gospel doctrine of consecration. But it’s just a simple idea of us being willing.
Thanks to the blessings of the Atonement and also the accompanying principle of grace, our eternal destiny and progress are contingent only on our willingness to do that which God has asked of us and that which we are fully capable of doing if we only so choose to do it. In other words, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. It doesn’t matter how tall you are. Your personality doesn’t matter. Your skills don’t matter. What matters is your heart, your willingness to give everything you can.
The concept of willingness is eminently fair. It means every one of us has an equal opportunity to receive the full blessings promised from our Father in Heaven. Elder [Neal A.] Maxwell said it this way: “God does not begin by asking us about our ability but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability!” (“It’s Service, Not Status, That Counts,” Ensign, July 1975, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1975/07/its-service-not-status-that-counts?lang=eng )
So I would say this, brothers and sisters—so often we feel that our destiny, our future, our success, our happiness, is contingent on things that maybe we won’t measure up in giving. And I’m here to tell you that, in eternally significant ways, we all have everything we need to fully measure up.
Our willingness is a choice we make many times every day. It’s a decision we make about whether we will magnify our calling, go on a date, tell someone about the gospel, sacrifice our time to help a friend, or even our willingness to attend the devotional at LDS Business College.
A few years ago in our stake, we held a youth conference. It was a stakewide conference, and there were some 450 youths from our stake that were involved. The basic idea was to do grand-scale reenactments of some of the famous scenes out of the Book of Mormon. So we took these 450 youths in our stake to a somewhat removed location up in the mountains and built a wonderful stage and a sound system and things, and for three days reenacted Abinadi and his life, and Nephi and the ship. I will never forget some of the impressive reenactments that we had there, where the Book of Mormon really was reinforced to us in our lives.
But I think the thing that was most impressive to me about that situation was not the 450 youths, or even the reenactments, but it was this unheralded host of hundreds of adults that willingly gave in very quiet and, some would say, insignificant ways to make that happen. One man owned a construction company. He took all of his workers for a week, pulled them off of their paying jobs and had them build the stage.
Another man, for three days, dragged a “Water Buffalo” [water trailer] behind his truck, ferrying one load of water after another to this remote mountain site so there would be water for those who were there. A whole group of people cut up mountains of potatoes and carrots in order to feed the ravenous teenagers that were out participating in the activity that day. And perhaps with the exception of a small note in the stake newsletter, I don’t think any of them were recognized for what they did. But their willingness changed not only the youth who participated in the youth conference, but their willingness changed them as well.
Often I think, brothers and sisters, in ways that we do not consider, and sometimes in ways that we think are too small to even notice, we hold back a portion of ourselves. We aren’t truly willing to give what we might have given, what we could have given, what might have made a difference in somebody’s life, and what surely would have blessed us as well.
We know from the Book of Mormon that Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel, were chronically unwilling to do that which needed to be done. And with a little coercion and angelic intervention, then did get involved in going back the third time, going back to Laban. It’s hard to fault them, but they did not want to go to get the plates. And they eventually went. When Nephi said, “The Lord has asked me to build a ship,” Laman and Lemuel were very unwilling.
Conversely, if we think about it, Abraham on the other hand was very willing to offer Isaac—I’m sure with trepidation and heartache, but fortunately he was not called on to make that sacrifice. On the other hand, his willingness is what makes that story significant. And I would say you might find in your own life that there are things you are willing to do—not called upon to do, but your desire, your willingness, your attitude will be the blessing you needed to get from that.
Have you ever noticed that in your ward or branch, wherever you come from, that there is usually a very small group of people that volunteer over and over again to do the simple assignments that are asked? It’s usually a minority, isn’t it? And for whatever reason, there seem to be others that have chronic scheduling conflicts, they’re not quite available, they can’t arrange it, they can’t be there. And it’s the simple tasks—cleaning the cannery, doing some work in a widow’s yard, taking the sacrament to a sick member, or maybe helping the deacons collect the fast offerings. And my question is, are you amongst that select group that truly is willing to do the insignificant and unheralded and simple tasks? Or are you among the others that can’t quite see it as a possibility for you?
You know, we are commanded to be proactive in doing many good things. In the 58th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 27-29, the Lord says, “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”
I think we are often, in the Church, in a pattern of waiting for someone to ask us to do something. And that’s a good level of motivation, and to respond to that is wonderful. But how much better it is, I think, that we simply follow the prompting of the Spirit, and I think no one is better at this than President [Thomas S.] Monson, of knowing that someone needs a visit, someone needs to be cheered up, someone needs a phone call or a card, or some very simple thing that every one of us could do without a calling, without a request, without an invitation, that would ennoble and bless everyone concerned.
Our willingness grows as our conversion deepens. And conversely, as we become more willing, we find that we receive the blessings of a deeper conversion. And I believe that the simple willingness we have to extend ourselves is really the whole course of progression on this earth.
President Ezra Taft Benson said, “When obedience”—and I’ll add the word ‘willingness’ to that—ceases to become an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power.” (Quoted without attribution in Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Great Challenge, April 1998 general conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1998/04/obedience-lifes-great-challenge?lang=eng ) And I know that is true.
When we talk about this idea of a deeper conversion, we are so blessed with the example of the Brethren, and to see the comprehensive willingness they have to give of themselves. I’ve known a few of the Seventy who have been called for years at a time to be away from their families, to live in one foreign country after another, and I marvel at their willingness to freely give all that they have in any way to build the kingdom. It is not done in a spirit of drudgery; it’s done in a spirit of love, and it’s done in a spirit of gratitude and humility.
There’s a story that I like about President [Spencer W.] Kimball that I will share. In March 1972, President Kimball was acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Some of you might know that his health was fragile for many years, but at this particular time he was suffering from heart failure, and thinking that his life was short. He decided to confer in a counsel with his file leaders, who happened to be the First Presidency. So he called his doctor, Dr. Ernest L. Wilkinson, [and] he called another surgeon, who is now Elder Russell M. Nelson, and he had them go, in 1972, with him for an interview where they talked about President Kimball’s health.
President Kimball said that his heart was failing. He sensed that death was nigh, and he thought that he had perhaps two months more to live. And then he said, “Now I would like my doctor to present his views.” Dr. Wilkinson, his main cardiologist, then confirmed President Kimball’s feelings, saying that a “recovery would be unlikely and [that] death would ensue in the not-too-distant future.
“Then President Kimball called on [Elder Nelson] as a cardiac surgeon, and [he] asked, ‘What can surgery offer me?’”
Elder Nelson reports: “I indicated that an operation, if it were to be done, would consist of two components. First, an aortic valve replacement would be required. Second, an important coronary artery with a blockage should be treated with a bypass graft.”
“President Harold B. Lee of the First Presidency then asked the crucial question, ‘What would be the risks with such a procedure?’
“‘I don’t know,’ I [Elder Nelson] replied. ‘In a man aged seventy-seven, the risk of either of these operations is significant. But to do both on one whose heart is failing would entail risk so high that the operation cannot be recommended….’
“As a weary President Kimball [then] responded, ‘I am an old man and ready to die,’ President Lee [then] interrupted. He rose to his feet, pounded his fist to the desk, and said, with his prophetic power, ‘Spencer, you have been called! You are not to die! You are to do everything you need to do to care for yourself and continue to live.’
“President Kimball [then humbly] replied, ‘Then I will have the operation.’ ”
He was willing. “He underwent that complex operation not because it was deemed…safe [in any reasonable way] but because he was [willing to follow] the counsel or the Lord, expressed through the leaders of the Church—regardless of [his] personal risk.” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, “Spencer W. Kimball: Man of Faith,” Ensign, Dec. 1985, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1985/12/spencer-w-kimball-man-of-faith?lang=eng )
My hope, brothers and sisters, is that as the years go by we can attain that level of conversion and that level of willingness in our lives. “The outcome [of course] is well known. He was blessed to survive the operation.” The following year, in 1973, he was ordained the prophet. He became the prophet at that point in time, and he served for the next 13 years as the prophet in the Church, making a great impression on so many of us, even to the point where we named our second son Spencer, after one of the great men on this earth.
Last Sunday, to bring this to a closer level, I was visiting with a member of my ward. And I explained a situation to them. We had a wonderful young man who left on his mission about three months ago. And his parents, in spite of their best efforts, have contributed a certain amount to his mission. The young man contributed a certain amount, and once a month we get a check written out from his grandparents with very, very shaky letters. You can see the faith as they write out this check for their grandson. But there’s still a meaningful shortfall in the contribution and sustaining that he needs to keep him serving.
I explained this to this member of our ward, thinking that we could find some inspiration on who to contact or how to approach our ward members in making up the shortfall. And he simply looked me in the eye and he said, “Done.”
And I said, “Do you mean, then, that we’ll approach the members of your quorum or the ward to get it done?”
And he said, “No. Done.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
He said, “I mean, I’ll pay it. I’ll write the check. It’s not a problem. It’s done.” He then explained that someone had done that for him when he was growing up and leaving on his mission. But I loved that example of complete and utter willingness to do whatever was asked.
When I was first called to be the bishop of our ward, I was warned that I should be very careful what I asked of the members of our ward, because if I asked for some help I would find that it came in a wave and would often and always be far in excess of that which would be required. And it is wonderful to witness in our own area, amongst the people around us, such a willingness to do whatever is asked.
Let me say this, brothers and sisters. Truly willing people are happy. Truly willing people are filled with joy. And I dare say, if you think about the lives of that smaller group that constantly says “yes” in your wards and branches, that you will see that those people emanate a light, they feel a joy, they have happiness, there’s something wonderful going on in their lives. And those who are cowering in the corners or sneaking away or maybe slacking off a little bit, don’t quite feel that same level of joy and reward as the others.
Too often, I think, we are afraid of doing things that are hard. But if there is anything that is clear at all in the gospel plan, it’s that the Lord does not spare the Saints from things that are hard. He teaches us with hard things. And if we get in a pattern and in a mode of our lives of avoidance of things that are difficult and challenging, we will miss in large measure the whole point of this earthly life. And so I don’t know that we necessarily pray, as President Kimball did, for a mountain to climb. (See “Give Me This Mountain,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, http://www.lds.org/ensign/1979/11/give-me-this-mountain ) I haven’t been quite that brave, to ask for challenges. But I can say that I’m not afraid of them and that I’ve learned that hard things bring wonderful and great results. And so I would encourage you, with God’s help, to simply accept the challenges that are uniquely assigned to you. Submit to them with faith, with diligence, and with a willingness, and you will be amazed at what God will do with you, and who He will help you become.
President Howard W. Hunter said this, and I love it: “I have never been on a gloomy welfare project. I have climbed trees and picked lemons, [I have] peeled fruit, [I’ve] tended boiler, carried boxes, unloaded trucks, cleaned the cannery, and a thousand and one other things, but the things I remember most are the laughing and the singing and the good fellowship of the people [who have been] engaged in the service of the Lord.” (Howard W. Hunter, Pure Religion: The Story of Church Welfare Since 1930, 1995, p. 379. Originally in “Welfare and the Relief Society,” Relief Society Magazine, Apr. 1962, p. 238.)
I think of that often. “I have never been on a gloomy service project.” You think about your own experience, and you will probably relate to that. One of the happiest passages in all of the Book of Mormon that I know about is the reunion of Alma and the sons of Mosiah. They had been serving as missionaries on a mission that’s a little longer than ours. If you think about it, fourteen years they had been serving. That’s a willingness, isn’t it? For fourteen years. They were converted, they had abandoned their sins, they went willingly and anxiously into enemy territory, and they did many hard things.
Alma himself gave up his role as the chief judge of the land, a position that I’m sure had with it much honor, much respect. (See Alma 4:15-19) And our family just read out of Alma chapter 8 this past week of Alma, after he gave up the chief judgeship to Nephihah, he then goes to Zarahemla [and later to Ammonihah], and it says the people spat upon him, their former chief judge who now was the prophet, if you will, a full-time missionary. And they said, “You have no authority over us. You have no power over us. We don’t have to do anything you say to do.” (See verses 11-12)
And Alma, with that kind of a background, then goes out and for fourteen years faithfully preaches the gospel. But if you have a chance, read in Alma chapter 17, his comments about rejoicing in the reunion with the sons of Mosiah, his brethren in the gospel. And you can answer for yourself the question, are willing people happy? He was very happy.
The final thing that I wanted to say on this topic is this: Our consistent practice of willing obedience eventually leads us to become consecrated. And if you think of this audacious vision of us as fully consecrated, of purified, righteous people, Christlike in every way, I wish to assert to you today that that happens through the simple, willing acts of obedience that we give on a daily basis in our lives.
Probably the most referred to scripture on this idea of putting off the natural man is in Mosiah 3:19. The description is given of how we go from being a natural man to becoming a consecrated, Christlike man. It says: “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 enticing 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,”—and then this really key, key part of putting off the natural man—“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 that. Willing to submit—the key to putting off the natural man for us. In Helaman 6:36, it explains a little bit more how this process of consecrating happens. And so what it says, speaking of the Lamanites: “And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites.” Why? “Because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words.”
So what happened is they were willing to exercise that faith that submission. God blessed them with the Spirit, which instructed them, enlarged them, and blessed them with an ever-increasing desire to be better and do more in their lives. And consequently, they became a righteous, a consecrated people.
So, my brothers and sisters, I’ll end where I started, in the 88th section, verse 32, where it talks about “they could enjoy that which they were willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.” So my question to you is, What are we willing to enjoy? Because the blessings are promised. They are sure. God keeps His word. What are we willing to enjoy in our own lives?
One of my favorite paintings is just a few blocks from here. It’s in the Salt Lake Temple. It’s at the top of a stairway, one of the main stairways, and it’s a painting I haven’t seen replicated or reproduced anywhere. It’s of the Prophet Joseph F. Smith. He looks wise, he looks consecrated, and if you look closely, his eyes are bagged and sagged and he looks tired. He looks worn out. And if you think about his life, you can understand why. You know, his dad was Hyrum Smith, martyred when Joseph F. was five years old. And his mom, Mary Fielding Smith, took Joseph F. and his siblings, six children that Hyrum and his first wife Jerusha had, brought them all to Salt Lake and they tried to scrape out an existence here without a dad.
At the age of 15, he was called to serve a full-time mission in Hawaii, in the Sandwich Islands. He accepted, and he was ordained an elder at the age of 15. He left. He went to California without any money, and somewhere, we think near the town of Fremont, he worked for a while and earned money, eventually gained passage. He served for over three years in the Hawaiian Islands as a faithful missionary, at such a young, young age.
On the way back, in 1857, from Hawaii, he was called back to the Territory, and this is where that very famous event occurred. He was coming back—he hitched a ride with a wagon train coming back from California, three and a half years, roughly, after he left, and these outlaws came into the camp one evening. And they said, basically, that they were going to kill every one of those blankety-blank Mormons, and Joseph F., for whatever reason, thought, “Why should I fear these fellows?” And he marched up to one of the intruders, who had a pistol in his hand.
The man demanded, “Are you a Mormon?”
And Joseph F. responded, “Yes sirree, dyed in the wool, true blue, through and through.” He was willing to put himself out there.
And with that, the hoodlum grasped his hand and said, “Well, you are the [blankety-blank] pleasantest man I ever met. Shake hands, young fellow, I’m glad to see a man that stands up for his convictions.”
That was Joseph F. Smith, and his life was a pattern of willingness. He was willing to do whatever he was asked to do. My hope is that someday, near the end of my life, I’m going to look just like him. Now some of you might say I’m ahead of schedule, that I look like him already. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I will tell you that I’m excited about the idea of giving whatever I can. I rejoice in that privilege, and I would suggest to you that, although you are young, you are not too young to make that decision right now, to not be one of the naysayers in the shadows, but to be one of those that steps up regularly, constantly, and with joy in your heart to willingly give whatever talents, whatever gifts, whatever strength, whatever ability God has given uniquely to you. Because there is a reason for you to be here. And my testimony is that if you give of yourself in ways that are entirely capable for you to give, that you will find that your life is filled with joy and that you are well on the path to becoming the consecrated person you really want to be.
The 64th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, in verse 34, says this: “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; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.”
I want to bear you my testimony. I know that God lives. I know that LDS Business College is part of His grand design for building the kingdom of God, and that you and your lives are an important part of that plan. I want to testify to you that service in the Church and the decision to live a willing life is a joy, it is a privilege, it is a pleasure. And the opportunity to feel the sustaining help and support of the Holy Ghost in your life that comes always to willing people is the greatest reward we could possibly hope for on this earth. It’s the spiritual hug we need as we are on the path and moving forward.
I wish for you to know of my love for you, that you are in our prayers, and that we ask for Heavenly Father to bless you in all that you are doing, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.