Take Charge of Your Thoughts
My dear brothers and sisters, it’s a privilege to be here with you today. Each time I’ve had the privilege of visiting with students at the LDS Business College I have come away a better man. My mother studied here as a young girl, and I was pleased that with the first invitation I received to have sent to me a transcript of her record at LDS Business College, which wasn’t called LDS Business College at the time, but it was the institution that preceded what we have today. And I credit what she experienced here as being the precursor to much of what has enriched my life over the years. And so I’m indebted to the institution, to your wonderful president, and commend to you his unique leadership and abilities. And to you, as the student body, I have the opportunity of walking the halls of this institution from time to time as I have to get money out of the ATM machine, or come over just to see how the students are doing, and it’s wonderful to be next door and to be part of this wonderful campus.
My mind has gone this past week to the process of thinking, and I should like to share with you some impressions about thinking that I hope will be useful to you. Perhaps it is because the business that Deseret Management Corporation is in, in large measure, has to do with the theater of the mind—a theater that receives things and plays them out, either in drama or in news or in the spoken word over the radio, or in music—all for the purpose of creating impressions and feelings and motivations, and we hope good ones. While some of the broadcasts that we carry are not totally within our control and don’t meet the standards that we would otherwise expect, we are working on that. It will improve with time.
But this idea of the theater of the mind has occupied my attention because of those responsibilities, and in that theater of the mind there unfolds the processes of thinking and the formulation of thoughts, and hence the reason for the remarks today.
Have you ever wondered, “Where did that thought come from?” I should like to share with you an experience, maybe one of the most dramatic that I ever had in my life to date, and it was that question that came to my mind twice during the course of this experience, which I think sets a proper stage for what will follow. I was on a Church assignment to Africa. I found myself in a large West African airport. I was en route to the country of Ethiopia. I had to catch the flight out at midnight. When I arrived at the airport, I found that there were thousands upon thousands of wonderful African people whom I deeply love, also having to catch the flight out at midnight. It was a Muslim holiday and they were making a trek, and so I found myself in the milieu of a large and very bustling air terminal.
In those days, it was very difficult to come and go in the country of Nigeria, and one had to declare how much currency one brought in, and one had to declare how much was taken out. No local currency could leave the country, and there were very strict controls on that. And as one left, one had to account for each form of currency that one possessed, and record the passport number that you carried so that the officials could check you off and allow you to leave. I was in the process of looking through my Traveler’s Checks and recording my passport number when I realized that there were three or four men standing around me and getting ever closer. And one spoke to me and said, “May I help you with that?” and before I could answer, he had grabbed my passport and my Traveler’s Checks and the four of them disappeared into the crowd and down a hallway. I had just been robbed.
Then came the first thought: “Go after them.” And I wondered, “Where did that thought come from?” But being younger and more impetuous than I am today, I went after them. Now mind you, it’s late at night, none of the offices in the airport are open. The only place where there is anything happening is out in the main terminal. These men had disappeared down a long hallway, and I went in hot pursuit. I came to the end of the particular hallway I was in, and it branched both ways, and as I turned to the right, there came another thought: “Do not take one step farther.”
I stopped midstride, and I turned around and went back to the middle of the airport, wondering, “And where did that thought come from?”
And so, the idea of what transpires in this theater of the mind is no simple question, no simple issue to treat. Lots of things pass through our minds during the course of a day. You hear things from your instructors, you see things in the media—television and other forms of media, you hear things, and all of them are coursing through this mind of ours. And in the process of these things coursing through, there is going on what we call thinking and the formulation of thoughts.
What is thinking, and what are thoughts? A definition says that thinking is “to have or formulate in the mind something, to reason about, or reflect on, to judge or regard.” So when something comes into your mind, if you pause for a moment, you start to process it, you start to wonder about it. And the more profound the thought, if you are a person given to reflection, the more time you take to digest it, and to see what it really means as you look at all aspects of what has just been placed in your mind.
The dictionary also says that a thought is the product of thinking. It is “an idea; the ideas, concepts, judgments, imaginations, fancies, opinions, dispositions, and intentions that arise in the hearts and minds of men and women, boys and girls.” That’s what thoughts are, and they are stimulated by this thinking process that takes place in our minds.
Now, from whence comes the ability to think? The Scriptures say, “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” (Job 32:8) To understand where this gift of thinking comes from, and the various things that play into it, it might be well to reflect upon the experiences of one Oliver Cowdery from Church history. All of us know the name Oliver. He had a hand in writing as scribe for the Prophet Joseph. He had a unique invitation from the Lord that he, too, would be able to translate from the plates, and therein we find a little chapter in the human side of Oliver that all of us can relate to.
First of all, the Lord said to him, in the sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, preparatory to the invitation for him to also help translate. He said the following:
“[Oliver,] look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” (v. 36) Now, remember what a thought is—it’s the formulation of an idea, a fancy, a purpose. “Look unto me,” the Lord said, “in every thought.”
Further, when he received the invitation to translate, the Lord gave him some assurances about these thinking and thought processes. He said, in the eight section, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart.” (v. 2) I will say that again, so that you catch the emphasis: “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
“…Behold,” the Lord continued, “this is the spirit of revelation …this is the spirit by which Moses [led] the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.”
So as the Lord is schooling Oliver on thinking and thoughts, He alerts Oliver that not only should he look to the Lord in all of his thoughts, but the Lord would tell him how those thoughts should mature. Oliver, as you recall, didn’t learn the lesson quite as well as he might have done. His efforts at translation failed, and the Lord then instructed him further, with these words:
“[Oliver, ] you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
“ But if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings.” And of course the Lord goes on to explain, “but [rather] you will have a stupor of thought, [which will] cause you to forget” that which you have been pondering over. (D&C 9:8-9)
In these few verses, the Lord is explaining to Oliver and explaining to us the manner in which thinking and thought controls our being, and how important it is that we master both of those aspects that are playing out in this theater called the mind.
It is important for us to realize the following, from an apostle: “The power to think is an inheritance which all men and women receive because they are the spirit children of an Omnipotent Father.” Now note this: “It is the spirit that thinks, not the mortal tabernacle.” (McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine, p. 791, Bookcraft, 1966) It is not simply the mind that one uses to process these things. It is the spirit that is within you. It is that eternal part of our character that processes thoughts and formulates thinking into something that’s usable.
In my judgment, and this is certainly not doctrine, but I think it’s the mind that enables that spiritual process to be translated into our mortal sphere so that it can be acted upon.
Now with respect to thinking and thoughts, there are those that build up, and there are those that destroy. Let’s turn our attention first to thoughts that destroy. Satan’s war for the souls of men and women is waged first in the mind and the heart. No man or woman who commits grievous error or transgression begins at the point of the transgression. That which we do which is wrong always starts with something in the mind. A thought has been transmitted to us, we begin to process it, we labor over it, we entertain it, we allow it to remain (if it’s something that is wrong), and inevitably it will bear some fruit—little or full ripe, it will bear some fruit, if it’s allowed to remain. That’s the way the adversary works. He uses this process of attacking our spirits just as the Lord uses the process in lifting and edifying us, his spirit children.
Jesus said the following about the devil’s efforts: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
“Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.” (Mark 7:21-22) And what else could He have mentioned, that is evil? It all begins in the mind, and Satan has great influence over us if we allow him to have, in that process of thinking and the formulation of thoughts.
You remember the loss of the 116 pages of manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Joseph was chastised or upbraided for having allowed them to fall into wicked hands. And the Lord said this: “Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words.” (D&C 10:10) In other words, Satan is using that process of thought and feeling to cause evil to come about, and the book of Lehi, those pages translated from the book of Lehi, we do not have, but we have all that was important in the book of Lehi, for the Lord had foreseen the efforts of the adversary and made ample provision for that.
Another example we have from scripture is the Lord speaking about the children of men prior to the flood. This is what He said about them: “God saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) So you can see how corrupt the human family had become. Every thought imaginable in the heart was evil before God. And why was that so? Because they had allowed that little thinking process to accept that which was wrong. They had dwelt on it, they had cultivated it, and before long, it had blossomed into deviant behavior.
In Proverbs we read, “As he [a man] thinketh…so is he.” (23:7) Therefore, it is incumbent upon you and me, as children of our Heavenly Father, to get control of that process of thinking and the formulation of ideas that arise from it.
In the 19th century, there was a common little saying that was often heard. It went like this:
"We sow a thought and reap an act.
We sow an act and reap a habit.
We sow a habit and reap a character.
We sow a character and reap a destiny."
[This saying has been attributed to numerous sources, but no original source has ever been conclusively isolated.]
That is the way the process works, with those thoughts that destroy, as well as with those thoughts that can bless. In Alma’s words, we read, “For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not bear to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us [and] to hide from his presence.” (Alma 12:14)
I won’t ask for a show of hands, but has anyone here ever felt guilty because of the thought being formulated in your mind? Have you ever felt a pang of regret, remorse, even pain by something you suddenly discovered you were thinking about? It is part of this mortal experience to encounter such things.
In the Scriptures, we often read about Jesus’ experience that He “suffered temptation.” (See, for example, Mosiah 3:7; Alma 7:11) I can’t help but wonder if that references, at least in part, that He suffered from the burdens of thoughts and things that were introduced in His most holy mind, that caused Him to anguish over it. And we have but a glimpse of it as we find ourselves delving into thoughts and thinking processes that we know are wrong—that pang of conscience that suddenly reveals itself when we are in forbidden territory.
How do we combat these warring thoughts? Let me suggest an approach. I would call them the five ‘R’s, for the sake of writing something down.
First of all, resist. James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) It is a very simple thing to do. “I am not going to think about that.” That’s all you have to do, and you will find yourself imbued with added power and authority to rebuke him who is seeking to destroy and that which he has introduced into your life. You simply have to resist: “I’m not going to do that! I’m not going to entertain it any longer. Get out of my mind!” And by resisting, you will find that it will begin to flee. And more importantly, you will become stronger.
Next, remove yourself. Remove yourself to a better place. It means taking charge. It means standing for that which you know is right. It means getting out of the circumstance that you find yourself in. If it’s listening to a certain type of music, you change it. If it’s looking at something, you change it. You remove yourself from where you are, because where you are is obviously causing something wrong to blossom within you, and it’s something that you do not want to have happen.
Next, replace—replace that which is evil with something that is good. If, for example, you have an evil thought, you have heard the counsel of the Brethren—begin to sing a hymn. How many of you wake up with a song in your heart in the morning? How many of you step in the shower and begin to sing? I do it every morning, to my wife’s chagrin I might add, when she is trying to doze. But I find that it starts my day and takes that morose feeling away. And suddenly I can be filled with an excitement for that which is to transpire during the course of the next eight to ten hours. So you replace that which is evil with that which is good, that which is morose with that which is uplifting and wholesome, whether it be a song you sing or entertainment you switch to, or people that you associate with. But you replace that which is evil with that which is good.
Then you read and write. You read and write wholesome things. The Scriptures are good things to read. I commend them to you. I read them daily. And I always am in the Book of Mormon, not to the exclusion of the other Scriptures, but I find that it has great power for good in my life. But read in the Scriptures every day, if you wish to control your thoughts, because you will find that you receive great strength. And, write in your journal. When the day comes to a close or the new day is dawning, you write the things that are transpiring, and you will find that you will gain great strength in processing the right and rejecting the wrong.
And finally, of course, that word that begins with R with which we are all familiar—repent as needed. If it means praying, pray. If it means committing, commit. And then carry on in doing what you know you should. Repentance is not all that difficult to figure out. You simply pray, stop doing, and begin again. And you do that which you know you should. And everything will work out as it ought to work out.
So much for thoughts that destroy and how to deal with them. Now thoughts that build and bless. How do we cultivate thoughts that build and bless? First of all, take a stand. Realize that you are in charge of your world. The devil isn’t manipulating you, the Savior isn’t countering; you are not simply an object caught between two forces being buffeted here and there. You are in charge. You are the only one that can decide on what day you are going to resurrect—whether it be the first or the last, the morning or the evening. You are the only person that can decide that, and you have complete capacity to make that decision.
I said to Sister McMullin one day, “Sweetheart, I have made a decision.”
She said, “What’s that?”
“Well, I’ve made an appointment in my mind. The appointment is that, on the morning of the First Resurrection, I’m going to be present.” Now, that means the morning when those who are resurrected are going to the celestial kingdom. I’m going to be there. I’ve made an appointment, just like I make an appointment for the doctor or the dentist. “I’ve made an appointment to be there. Would you like to join me?”
And she said, “Yes, I think I would.”
That’s the way you get to the celestial kingdom, simply put. You decide that that’s where you’re going to be, and then you live accordingly. And because of the mercy and grace and power of our Lord, it’s possible, and it happens. But if you do not decide, you will constantly go over that process and wonder, and you will find that in your wonderment, some not too wonderful things transpire.
So you take a stand. You make a covenant. The Lord says, “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” (Proverbs 16:3) So when you make the stand, when you commit yourself, you will suddenly find that you will start to establish the thought pattern consistent with that which you have decided. And every time something contrary to that which you have committed yourself to, covenanted yourself to, taken a stand on, creeps into your mind which is contrary, you will recognize it as such and you will be able to establish the right instead of the wrong.
Next, do not be idle in your mind. Another 19th century saying with which perhaps some of you are familiar—perhaps your grandparents or great-grandparents recited it to you—“An idle brain is the devil’s workshop.” Have any of you ever heard that? It is true. You sit around and idle away, and you will find that it is the devil’s playground. Before long, through some medium, if nothing more than the experiences that you have had years before, there will creep back into your consciousness something that is evil and inspired of him who seeks to destroy you. It is inevitable if you allow your mind to be lazy and be idle. So one of the things that you can do is to keep it busy. Keep it busy with constructive things. Make sure that you point your mind to those things you are supposed to be doing that are good and wholesome. Elevate your thoughts by good music and good literature. Elevate your thoughts by good people and good activities. Take the positive approach. Don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen. Remember, it is your life and you determine its outcome.
Paul said this to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Now, just for your reference, so that you can look it up later and write it on your mirror in lipstick or some other… that’s taken from Philippians, 4th chapter, the 8th verse. And I think it’s worthy of writing down. Think on these things. Make it a practice, and you will find that wondrous things start to unfold in your mind.
Now with respect to the power of the Holy Ghost and his effect upon our minds, from Elder Parley P. Pratt: “The gift of the Holy Ghost… quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them”—note that—“and adapts them by the gift of wisdom to their lawful use.” (Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 1965, p. 101, quoted by Elder L. Tom Perry, April conference 1997) So all of those capacities that we have that are so easily diverted into forbidden paths—as we cultivate the gift of the Holy Spirit within us, we find that they are, they channel themselves into their lawful and legitimate purpose, because the Holy Spirit gives us the wisdom and the strength to do so.
Brigham Young said the following, regarding the power of the Holy Ghost. It’s one of the most insightful and encompassing things I have ever read. It’s rather lengthy; I’ll tell you when it’s over.
“I long for the time,” he said, “that a point of the finger, or motion of the hand, will express every idea without utterance. When a man is full of the light of eternity, then the eye is not the only medium through which he sees, his ear is not the only medium by which he hears, nor the brain the only medium by which he understands. When the whole body is full of the Holy Ghost, he can see behind him with as much ease, without turning his head, as he can see before him. If you have not that experience, you ought to have. It is not the optic nerve alone that gives the knowledge of surrounding objects to the mind, but it is that which God has placed in a man, a system of intelligence that attracts knowledge, as light cleaves to light, intelligence to intelligence, and truth to truth. It is this which lays in man a proper foundation for all education. I shall see the time,” he concludes, “that I can converse with this people and not speak to them, but the expression of my countenance will tell the congregation what I wish to convey without opening my mouth.” (Journal of Discourses, 1:70-71, April 8, 1952)
Now isn’t that a remarkable thing? Just think, that it is within all of our grasp, because we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. All we need do is pray and live properly and cultivate it, and lo and behold, it begins to blossom, and its fruitage is that whereof President Young spoke.
The Savior said it this way: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you,” be it here or be it there, or be it in the world to come. (John 14:26)
I think that it is of great help in controlling our thoughts, to decide “I am going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.” I find the declaration of Mormon in the Book of Mormon, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ the Son of God” (3 Nephi 5:13) absolutely stirring. And every time I have found occasion to repeat that, putting it in my own words, I have found great strength coming to me, not as a consequence of who I am or what I have said, but because taking a stand and making a declaration in some magical way opens the windows of heaven through the power of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of a loving and kind Heavenly Father.
It was Alma who said to his son Helaman, regarding this process of thinking in everyday life, the following: “O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.
“Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all [of] thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest, let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.
“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Alma 37:35-37)
Said the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Now, would you like to hear the rest of the West African story? Traveler’s Checks are gone, passport has been stolen, no way to get out of the country. I retrieved my luggage that had been checked with Ethiopian Airlines, and made my way back to the hotel. I knelt in prayer, and said, “O God, my Father, if Thou wilt that I travel on to Ethiopia, Thou must help me to get out of this country. I’ve lost my money; I’ve lost my passport. Nothing will get me out of this country unless I have Thy help.”
As I concluded that prayer, the thought came, “Call the U.S. Consulate.” I suppose I should have thought of that anyway, but I hadn’t. I was traumatized. I’d been robbed. So I called the U.S. Consulate, and a Marine answered the phone. I told him what had happened; he said, “Come down tomorrow morning; we’ll get you a passport.”
So, that taken care of, I went back to the airport, thinking that I would now use my prowess in negotiations and finagle a way out of the country. After all, I still had my ticket. I found that they wouldn’t accept my ticket. I had to go back downtown and be reticketed, and this was a Muslim holiday and there were a lot of people being ticketed. My travel downtown was fruitless. I went back to my hotel room. I knelt in prayer and said, “What shall I do next?” Go back to the airport, was the impression.
I argued a bit. “I’ve been to the airport. That didn’t help.” But the impression was indelible, and so I went back to the airport. This was midday. The next plane left at midnight. As I stepped into the airport, a wonderful African gentleman came up to me and said, “Where have you been? My boss has been looking all over for you.”
I thought to myself, “How would his boss remember me among all of those thousands of people?” I’ll leave it to you to figure that one out. But I stood out like a light bulb, let me just put it that way. I said, “Is your boss here?”
He said, “He’s right there, getting in a cab. Just a moment, I’ll get him.” He ran out the front door and came back in with his boss. He said, “Where have you been? I looked all over in this airport last night for you. I wanted to bring you home. I knew that you had been robbed. I didn’t know where you were going to stay.”
Now think of that. I said, “I need to get out of the country. I’m going on to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.”
He said, “You come tonight. I’ll get you on the plane.”
So I arrived at the airport a little before midnight. I was standing in line with my passport and ticket, and he came out and saw me. He said, “Come over here and sit down.” He had me sit where they pass the luggage through, and I sat there for some period of time. And each person in front of me had fistfuls of passports and tickets, people getting on the plane. And in the middle of them checking others on, the man doing the checking in called another man whom he had already checked in up to the counter and started an argument with him. In the midst of the argument, the boss came out, walked quietly behind the two who were arguing, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Come with me.”
I walked back of the…the back way through all of the ticket counters and out onto the concourse—where you go down to the airplane. None of the lights were on, there were no passengers there yet; none had been allowed through passport control. And here he was, leading me down to where the plane was. He led me up to the gate; the gate hadn’t been opened. Only the emergency lights were shining, you know.
He said, “You wait right here, I’ll be back in a moment.” So I stood there in front of the gate, ready to…I didn’t know what. And in a moment the gate opened up and there was the walkway down to the plane, and the lights were on, and there he stood. He walked me onto the plane and said, “Choose your seat.”
I said, “I’ll take this one here.”
He said, “Fine. I’ll take this one here. I am taking you to Addis Ababa.” And I arrived there and met Elder Carmack and we finished the mission. And where did those thoughts come from? You got it?
Now, my dear brothers and sisters, God loves His children. And He loves you. He is mindful of where you are in your minds, and He is mindful of where you are in your bodies, and He is mindful of where you are in your life. And He will guide you and He will strengthen you, and He will direct you aright. He simply asks you to take charge of your life. Live according to the things that bring happiness and peace. Allow Him through the power of the Holy Spirit to cultivate within you that which will bring you to flower and fruitage in the Kingdom of God.
I bear my personal witness, I know this is true. I know He is our Father, and I know His holy Son and bear witness of His divinity, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.