Follow-Through Is Vital in All Aspects of Life
Brothers and sisters, I am humbled by this assignment to speak to you. I have made it a matter of prayer to know on which subject I should speak. It is apparent by the answer that this subject will be as much a value to me as it may be to you, perhaps even more.
In many sports, especially those involving hitting, throwing or kicking a ball, it is not just connecting with the ball that is important, but just as important is the follow-through.
I am a lousy golfer, even though I can hit the ball almost every time. I like to blame it on being left-handed and golfing right-handed, but that is not the real problem. It is what happens as I hit the ball where the problem starts. I’m told that I don’t rotate my hips correctly, continue my swing, and several other problems. In any case, the ball always seems to take a dramatic arc to the left, called a slice. A pro told me that my problem is I don’t continue my swing to its conclusion, I lack follow-through.
I have entitled my talk “Follow-through,” although it also could be entitled “Enduring to the End.”
We are at the Business College for similar reasons. The Lord directed me to apply some 25 years ago to be an instructor in what was then called Data Processing, a term long outdated. I was hired based on my qualifications and an interview with President Beesley, then president of the College. My professional experiences prior to my coming here I believe were to prepare me to be able to fill the responsibilities that I have been given.
You also have gone through the process of applying for admission to the College and have been accepted based on your qualifications and the answers you gave on your application. The College staff weighed your qualifications and felt that you have the ability to benefit by attending here. You are an extremely small number compared to the total membership of the Church who could benefit by attendance. You have promised to abide by a code of honor that you signed, and then priesthood leaders attested that you agreed to live in harmony with that code of conduct.
We, as College employees also agree to abide by the code. Annually, we as well as our Bishops and Stake Presidents confirm that we have agreed to live in accordance with the principles of the gospel and are worthy to hold a temple recommend.
We, and you, then must follow through on those commitments.
The ultimate goal is the same for all of us, but we take diverse paths to get there. Some will for various reasons leave the College prior to completion. Others will finish their education here and join the workforce in the United States or in their home countries, while others will continue their education at other institutions of higher learning. But that is not the ultimate goal.
The new General Handbook of Instructions expresses the ultimate goal.
Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be cleansed and sanctified from sin and prepare to enter again into the presence of our Eternal Father. To receive this blessing, we must follow the principles and ordinances of the gospel (see Articles of Faith 1:3). We must:
Exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God.
Turn to God through sincere repentance, having a change of heart and confessing and forsaking sins.
Receive the saving ordinance of baptism for the remission of sins.
Be confirmed a member of the Church and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
Endure to the end by keeping sacred covenants.
Most of us have demonstrated by our actions that we have complied with points three and four, they are one-time achievements. Points one, two and five are journeys that we must pursue throughout our lives.
My talk today is centered on the fifth point; enduring to the end, or, as I refer to it, following through.
A question we must answer is: Is the journey worth it? Elder Cook of the Council of the Twelve Apostles answered that question this way: “Even though our journey may be fraught with tribulation, the destination is truly glorious.”
There are many examples in the scriptures that demonstrate both the positive and negative sides of this principle of following through. We read of the commitment made by the Anti-Nephi-Lehites in Alma 24:17-19
And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.
And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives …
And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm , and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin …
It wasn’t defending their country they were afraid of, for that is a righteous endeavor. They were concerned that they could not be forgiven again for the sins they had once committed and been forgiven. You will remember that their protectors, the Nephites, granted them that opportunity in return for helping support their armies.
What a wonderful example of commitment. We read later on in Alma 24 how the Lamanites attacked the Anti-Nephi-Lehites, and they followed-through on their commitment by refusing to take up arms, and many gave up their lives rather than break their covenant. Their example caused many of the Lamanites to lay down their weapons and join with the Anti-Nephi-Lehites.
We have no need presently to make a similar commitment, but when we entered the waters of baptism we did agree to do as it says in Mosiah 18:8-10:
. . . bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light . . . mourn with those that mourn . . . comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life. . . .
Within that baptismal commitment is a great amount of room for us to follow through.
Negative examples are found in the scriptures as well. We don’t have to read very many verses into the Book of Mormon before we read of the exploits of Laman and Lemuel. They were given many opportunities to change their ways but were not able to follow through, and through their bad example many followed them and were led astray.
In Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life in 1 Nephi 8:20-25, we read:
And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.
And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.
And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed. (Emphasis added.)
In this scripture we read of two different groups: The first wanted to travel to the tree and partake of the fruit but got lost along the way; the second group that did get to the tree, and in fact caught hold of the iron rod, reached the goal, and then were ashamed that they had partaken of the fruit. In both cases the groups lacked follow-through. Of course we know that a third group never had intentions of partaking of the fruit, and a fourth group were those that took hold of the iron rod and persevered and obtained the fruit they were seeking and found it desirable above all other fruit.
Perhaps the saddest of all scriptural accounts is that of King David in the Old Testament. He was a good man and supported by the Lord, but he was also guilty of many grievous sins for which he was forgiven, except for the murder of Uriah. And for his lack of follow-through we read in the D&C 132:39 “he hath fallen from his exaltation.”
Following through is important in all aspects of life. In fact, if we didn’t have to follow-through, your life would be very different. Those regular class assignments that seem to come far too often would never have to be turned in; tests wouldn’t have to be taken, and myriad other things could be ignored. Of course the consequences would soon mount up.
In College, I took an anthropology class from a professor named Dr. Charles Dibble. I’m not surprised I can remember his name. I missed several of his classes during the quarter and felt I was in danger of failing class. So I went to him and made some silly excuse, maybe like ones some of you have used, and he told me he would give me an incomplete if I would make up the class the next quarter.
That experience has given me a recurring dream, more like a nightmare, that I often experience even today. It goes like this: I sign up for a class and never attend until the last class period and then try to finagle my way out of a failing grade. It is always Dr. Dibble’s South American Indians anthropology class. Sometimes, I wake up wondering if I will ever get out of his class. It’s a kind of Groundhog Day experience.
Do any of you ever have experiences when you said you would do something and then didn’t follow through?
There are four principles that I believe that we can use to improve on our follow-through: First, we have to gain control of our time; second, gain control of our thoughts; third, respond to impressions, and fourth, be what we want to be.
There was a time a number of years ago when I was particularly busy. I was the bishop of the ward, president of the Ogden Board of Education, chairman of the Board of the Ogden-Weber Applied Technology Center, and I commuted from Ogden to Salt Lake each day for my work. My wife did a great job of holding the family together in my absence.
Each day as I would drive home in the late afternoon I would pass a house where the father, mother and two children would invariably be seated on the front porch watching the cars go by. I often thought I wish I could buy some of their extra time. Time is the one thing that regardless of who we are, how much we make, or who our parents are, we all have the same number of minutes in a day and hours in a week.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were presented with a gauge like a fuel gauge on a car that showed us how much time we have in our lives. Personally, I think it would be terrifying. The reality is that we don’t know; lives are cut short through illness, accident, war or carelessness. We don’t know how much time we have, and that is why we need to guard the time we have.
Don’t interpret what I to say to mean that we should not have fun and entertainment in our lives. I just mean that time is something we need to control and not have it controlling us. The extremely busy time I referred to earlier is a time that I regret. My children grew up during that time with a great and involved mother and an ever-absent father. It was their mother who was their baseball coach, not me.
A proverb attributed to James Howell in 1659 says “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” A second approach to the proverb was added in 1826 by the Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth: “All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.”
It is that tension that we must learn to control in our lives. Preparing for this talk for the last three weeks has been for me an enlightening experience. As I have tried to live the subject of the talk, I have been rewarded with a flood of feelings, thoughts and inspiration. It is this first principle of controlling my time that has helped me.
The second principle is gaining control of our thoughts, and it is associated with the first.
On the way to work most mornings I listen to sports radio to hear how the local teams have fared the night before until I get so worked up that I change the station. Most of the time, it is just a couple of sports geeks who like to hear themselves as they use up the four hours they occupy the microphone. It is mostly entertaining and it passes the time. There is that first principle of controlling again.
After receiving this assignment I started turning off the radio and just using the time to think about a variety of things while I drive. An amazing thing happened; I actually had thoughts and feelings on my way to and from work.
There is a part of the teaching model that supports this principle, that of pondering. Six times in the Book of Mormon and four times in the Doctrine and Covenants we read of this principle of pondering. When the Lord repeats Himself, it is because it is important.
Synonyms for ponder are consider, reason, think and study. The results of our pondering form the basis for opinions and later actions. In other words pondering can help us follow through.
Have you ever wondered where your random thoughts both negative and positive come from? Perhaps more importantly we should ask when do we make time for thoughts? Are they all just the results of our thinking? Could there be other sources? Could some negative thoughts have their source in the adversary? Could some of our positive thoughts have their source in heaven?
Reading in D&C 42:61:
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things – that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth eternal life.
I find it very comforting to know that source is available to me, that my Father in Heaven cares enough to answer my prayers.
President Boyd K. Packer, in a talk entitled “Reverence Invites Revelation,” said:
“The world grows increasingly noisy, clothing and grooming and conduct are looser and sloppier…. Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit.”
It is my belief that by keeping those channels of revelation open by minimizing the noise and improving in our dress, grooming and conduct, we will be able to do a better job of following through on our commitments, because we will not only understand the consequences both positive and negative, but we will know God’s will.
I have noticed both in myself and by observing others that often there is a need for constant external stimulation. We listen to the radio, music, text, play computer and video games or watch TV most of our waking hours. Some would even have us listen while we sleep.
Take some time and watch those around you in the halls and the elevators and see how much and often that stimulation is present. I’m not suggesting that it is all bad, just that we take some time to disconnect, ponder and interact with others. I was talking to a student in the elevator the other day and asked her about a student in her class. Her answer was not unlike mine would have been when I was in College, “I really just stay to myself.”
At LDS Business College we have a unique environment. If you don’t think so, just listen to the conversations that occur in the hallways, that is if you can understand them. There is so much to learn from those we work and study with. I can’t imagine another institution that has such a wonderful environment with students from so many walks of life. I suggest you take time to become involved in college activities and recreate with your peers.
The third principle is to listen to our feelings.
A noted Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled “The Screwtape Letters.” Screwtape is a devil who via letters to Wormwood his nephew, schools him on how to be a devil. In one of the letters Screwtape writes:
“ . . . active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often [a person] feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel” ( The Screwtape Letters, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1982, p. 61).
I believe that this is the way the Spirit works within us. An impression comes, and depending on how we respond, determines whether other and perhaps more important impressions will come. If they are ignored or pushed to the back of our priorities, the Lord will not trust us with other impressions. We should actively seek impressions by both praying and making time for them. It is my belief that the Lord will be as involved in our lives as we will let Him be.
We pray to be tools in the Lord’s hands for the betterment of others. It has been said that we are the Lord’s hands and the answers to other people’s prayers.
Jack H. Goaslind former General Young Mens president in an April 1991 General Conference talk said:
“How many of you have heard an inspiring thought, hymn, or story, and then had a desire to go do something good? This is not unusual; it is a healthy, spiritual feeling that is essential to our progress. But how often have you followed through on those feelings?” . . .
It has been said, “Our feelings were given us to excite to action, and when they end in themselves, they are cherished to no good purpose.” (Daniel Keyte Sandford, in The International Dictionary of Thoughts, comp. John P. Bradley, Leo F. Daniels, Thomas C. Jones, Chicago: J. G. Ferguson Publishing Co., 1969, p. 291.)
The fourth principle is to be what we, and the Lord, wants us to be.
Do you remember the hymn we sang as we began this devotional? I’ll go where you want me to go dear Lord. Most of us have no problem with those words; we are willing to go where he wants us to go. The last phrase of the chorus is “I’ll be what you want me to be.” Do you believe that? Don’t we each want to be what the Lord would have us be?”
Elder Scott of the Council of the Twelve in his October 2010 Conference talk said it this way:
We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.
Each one of us, I believe, has a vision of ourselves that is our ideal self. It is the natural man that gets in the way of that vision. It is so easy to procrastinate and decide that I eventually will become what I really want to be.
If you don’t know what you want to be, then take the time to think about it. Set some goals for yourself, both long- and short-term achievable goals. It gives you something to shoot for, and when you achieve a goal comes a great sense of accomplishment.
I wish I could say that I have followed my own advice and have become the ideal I have in my mind. I have not. The road to our ideal is not a short trip, it is a lifelong journey.
I remember the principles of the Plan of Salvation I taught in the mission field. There are three reasons we have been granted this earthly experience. I’m sure all of you know them as well. First, we are here to gain a body, which we have all done. Second, to gain experience, which we do each day, and, third, to prove to ourselves how we will act in this earthly sphere and how well we overcome the natural man within us.
It is this third reason that we struggle with each day. There is a constant tension occurring between us, the adversary, the Screwtapes and Wormwoods if you will, and the Savior. It is often not a conscious struggle but one we fight nonetheless. Embedded within those outside voices are our own thoughts and feelings, if we have given ourselves sufficient time to build our own beliefs and understandings.
We have exemplars all around us of those who have that self-assurance that they are headed in the right direction, those who believe in what they are doing and, without wavering, work to that end.
I recently reread a conference talk by Elder Bednar of his experiences as a stake president. I encourage you to read it. It is entitled “And None Shall Offend Them.” It tells of his quest to help bring less-active members into activity. It’s obvious by his actions he knows who he is and what he wants to do with his life and hasn’t let trivial pursuits get in his way. As a result he has affected the lives of countless members and nonmembers and helped them get closer to their ultimate goal.
Another good read is President Monson’s biography “To the Rescue.” You can’t read that book without gaining a testimony of the knowledge that President Monson has been inspired and prepared his whole life to serve as our prophet. It is a singleness of purpose that he has shown since a small child. As much as he shows a singleness of purpose he also takes time to have fun. I hear that he attends an occasional Jazz basketball game and I have seen him in restaurants and at a play. He truly is in the world but not of the world.
I am not suggesting that we should try to become like Elder Bednar or President Monson but that we decide who it is we want to be and then sail in that direction pausing from time to time to make midcourse corrections if necessary.
King Benjamin said it best in Mosiah 3:19
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 enticings 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, 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 the time I have spent at LDS Business College and have a testimony that my time here has been ordained of God. It is my prayer that each of you will have that same comforting assurance that you are to be here and then be all you can be.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.