The Vital Guide in Our Journey
There is sunshine in our soul today after that beautiful musical number. Thank you, Brother Decker and the choir, for that wonderful, wonderful music. President Richards, thank you for that kind introduction. The story of Sister Kusch and I coming here is a very tender and sacred one for us, but when people ask us why we came and why we are here, our short answer is, “The Holy Ghost.” And we felt like this is where the Lord would have us be and serve at this time in our lives.
I am very grateful this morning to share this pulpit with one of our missionaries. We had the—maybe someday I will be able to talk about my mission and not get all choked up—but we had the great experience in Mexico of serving with nearly 600 faithful and stalwart young people from 17 different countries around the world. When Elder Rafael Sarsosa arrived in the mission from Monterrey, Mexico, to my recollection, he spoke no English, or very little English. Or if he spoke any, he hid it very well from me and from Sister Kusch. And to hear him bear his testimony in a language that is not his own with power and with authority is a great blessing to us this morning and a tender mercy.
I am grateful to be with you this morning, brothers and sisters, as we gather in this historic place. It gives me a feeling of great reverence to think about the fact that prophets and other Church leaders have stood at this pulpit to address the Saints for well over a century. I commend you for being here today and hope that you will make regular devotional attendance a part of your weekly worship.
I wonder if we fully appreciate the blessing that is ours to gather here together every Tuesday in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, to be taught the gospel, to sing the hymns of Zion, and to be edified by the Spirit. How many members of the Church all over the world would long to be here just once? And yet, we have the opportunity each week to come here and worship.
A year before the Church was formally organized, the Savior taught Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them—even so am I in the midst of you.” And so my prayer today is that we will feel the Savior’s influence as we learn and worship together.
A number of years ago while on a business trip to Arizona, I was invited to have dinner with some friends that we had known during the time that we lived in California. It had been a few years since we had seen each other, and none of their five children remembered who I was. Their youngest daughter, Melissa, who as I recall at the time was around five or six years old, decided that she wanted to make little name cards to put at everyone’s place so we would know where to sit when dinner was ready. As we walked into the dining room, we saw the name cards neatly arranged at each place. “Mom,” “Dad,” “Eric,” “Tera,” “Kelly,” “Brandon,” “Melissa,” and at my place, the card just said, “Other.” Melissa could not remember my name, and “Other” was the only appropriate name that she could think of.
Now, we have laughed about this experience for many years now. Whenever I get an email or a Facebook message from them, it is usually addressed to “Dear Brother Other.” I might add also that forgetting someone’s name is not a new experience for me. I forgot my wife’s name on our first date—but that is a story for another time. I’m just grateful for the eternal principle of repentance.
I know that to our Heavenly Father, we are not “Other.” He knows us. He created us. And He knows us by our name. We know this because of Joseph Smith’s experience in the Sacred Grove when the Father called Joseph by name as He introduced His Son. A similar experience is recorded in the first chapter of Moses when Moses heard these words: “I have a work for thee, Moses, my son.” And Jeremiah received the assurance that before his birth, God knew him.
Because God knows us and because He loves us, and because He desires that we will someday return to His presence, He has given us every resource and every gift necessary to be able to accomplish this. None of these resources or these gifts are greater than the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is a gift directly from Heavenly Father.
President Wilford Woodruff taught that “the gift of the Holy Ghost is the greatest gift that can be bestowed upon man.” It is this vital and remarkable gift that I would like to speak about today.
Several years ago, while pondering about my grandchildren and what would be the most important thing to help them successfully navigate life’s challenges, the impression came: make sure they know how to recognize and follow the promptings and influence of the Holy Ghost.
And so, brothers and sisters, my testimony to you today is that learning to recognize and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, seeking the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, and living worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, are among the most important things that any of us can learn and desire to do in mortality.
You will recall in 3 Nephi 19, following the Savior’s initial visit, that the Nephite disciples prayed unto the Father “for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.” It is no trivial thing that when each of us was confirmed a member of the Church, that hands were laid upon our heads and, by the power and authority of the Melchizedek priesthood, the words “Receive the Holy Ghost” were pronounced. In that ordinance, we were given the gift of the constant companionship of the third member of the Godhead.
The most sacred and essential ordinances of the Church are done in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Regarding the ordinance of confirming the Holy Ghost, Elder David A. Bednar taught,
The simplicity of this ordinance may cause us to overlook its significance. These four words—“Receive the Holy Ghost”—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed “receive the Holy Ghost” and its attendant spiritual gifts.
As I have studied the scriptures and pondered the mission and multiple roles of the Holy Ghost, I have come to more deeply understand that He guides us to, and is, the teacher and testifier of all truth, the testifier of the living reality of God and Jesus Christ—their doctrines and restored Church in these latter days. He is the first Comforter promised to His Apostles in John 14.
The Holy Ghost motivates us to keep the commandments, and His presence in our lives can show us all things that we should do. Yielding to the enticings of the Spirit unlocks the enabling power of the Atonement for each of us, and as we do so, we are cleansed from sin and sanctified. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is a qualifying prerequisite for entrance into the kingdom of God. By the power of the Holy Ghost, both ancient and modern prophets have and do prophecy and receive revelation. By this same power, we can seek for and are blessed with spiritual gifts, and we can receive personal revelation meant just for us.
The Holy Ghost is instrumental in inspired learning and teaching, and strengthens us in fulfilling our responsibilities in the Church. Is it any wonder, then, that the Lord would state that “they that are wise . . . have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide”?
In conversations with our missionaries, they would often wonder and worry if ideas or impressions they received were their own or if they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. At times, they also expressed doubt in themselves and their ability to do what the Lord had called them to do.
Inspired scripture does not leave us on our own to figure this out. Mormon taught that the way to judge is plain, and that we can know with a perfect knowledge good from evil. He said,
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
Brothers and sisters, there are only two voices that compete for our attention—the voice of good or the voice of evil. Mormon’s teaching is very clear: for us, anything that persuades and invites us to come unto Christ—to follow Him, to serve Him, and do righteous things—is inspired of Christ through the Holy Ghost. Conversely, anything that would lead us away from Christ is inspired of the devil. It is just that simple. Seeking, recognizing, and following the promptings and influence of the Holy Ghost is vital in always following Christ. It is vital for you, and it is vital for me.
Just a minute ago, I referred to the Savior’s statement about the wise taking the Holy Ghost for their guide. This is recorded in section 45 of the Doctrine and Covenants. I would like to read the entire verse, which comes after a reference to the parable of the ten virgins.
For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.
I learned about guides and not being deceived while on a trip to Brazil that included time spent in the Amazon jungle. We stayed in a floating hotel on the Rio Negro, and one day we decided to take a canoe trip and go on a hike to experience firsthand a real jungle.
Our guide was Moreno—an Italian by birth, who was in his mid-30s, who had dreamed all of his life of living in Brazil and living in the Amazon jungle. He was skilled and extremely knowledgeable. He had studied the customs and the history of the natives, and now he was living his dream.
We traveled by canoe for about an hour, then we beached the canoe, and off we went hiking into the jungle, far away from the river. We stayed close to Moreno. We listened to every word. He taught us about the plants, the insects, the trees, and how the people lived. He was a master teacher, and soon we came to trust him implicitly and completely. We knew that if we did not stay close to him that we would get lost, and that could be a very serious problem.
At one point, we stopped and he said, “If someone got lost in this jungle, they could die within a matter of hours because of the heat and humidity and lack of water. But for those who know the jungle, water is not a problem. There is water all around us if you just know where to look.”
We looked around, and we saw nothing that resembled water. Frankly, we were a little unbelieving. Moreno sensed our skepticism, and then he said, “Water is right here.” He took his machete, he grabbed a piece of vine that was right in front of us, chopped it off, tipped it vertically, and water came flowing out. He began to drink. As we looked around, we realized that we were surrounded by vines that were full of water. One by one, we each took our turn drinking from a vine of real water—water that would keep us alive if we listened to the guide and trusted him.
Now, there were other vines in that jungle, too—vines that could cause one to become very sick or die if you even touched them. Because we trusted Moreno and listened to him, we could not be deceived had there been someone else encouraging us to partake of something that looked enticing but was more poisonous and deadly than we could possibly imagine.
As I’ve thought about the various gospel applications from this experience, it was a powerful reminder that just as important as following and trusting Moreno was in the Amazon jungle, taking the Holy Ghost as my guide was vital in navigating life’s jungles so that I would not be deceived.
Now, there may be times when we are prompted to do something and we don’t know exactly why. Or we may not even recognize that in the moment we are being guided by the Holy Ghost. An experience that I had in Mexico taught me just that.
Not far from the mission home was the campus of a private university that offered programs in international business. We drove by this campus often, sometimes several times a day. Well into our time in Mexico, I began to have the distinct impression that I should go to this campus and tell anyone who would listen why I was in Mexico—that I was there as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but to tell them that before coming to Mexico, I was a university professor of international business and that I would be happy to volunteer, perhaps speaking to a class or helping out in some small way.
Weeks passed, and the demands of the mission did not permit me to make the visit. However, the impression would not and did not leave. And so one afternoon, I found myself with a few free hours, and I told Sister Kusch that I was going to the school. For those not familiar with Mexico, you should know that posted at the entrance of just about every school and every business is an armed guard with a pistol, or a rifle, or a shotgun, or some assortment of all of these. We never found out if the guards would actually use them, but they were always very imposing. For those from Mexico or other Latin American countries, you know exactly what I am talking about.
So I went to the school, and I walked up to the main entrance. There I was met by an armed guard with a very big gun. I told him why I had come. “I am a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am in Mexico to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, before coming to Mexico I was a professor of international business. I am here today to volunteer my services if anyone is interested.”
He looked at me with a strange look on his face, like, “This is weird.” However, in spite of carrying a gun, he was friendly, and he said he would see what he could do. He came back in a few minutes, and he said, “I found someone to talk to you.” “Awesome,” I thought.
He led me to the back of campus, we walked upstairs to the administration office, he pointed to a pleasant young woman, and he said, “She can help you.” I repeated my story, and I got the very same look—“This is weird.” She was very kind and proceeded to explain to me how they hired professors. She gave me a stack of documents to complete—an application, how to submit a résumé, proof of residency, passport information, and several other things. And all the while I am thinking, “I am not going to fill any of these documents out. I did not come to Mexico to be a part-time college teacher.”
So I left my business card with her, I thanked her for her time, I took the stack of documents, and I returned to the mission home. I told my wife about the experience, threw the documents in the trash and said, “Well, I did what I was prompted to do, but this was not at all what I had expected.” I suppose what I had expected they would say was “Oh, Señor Kusch, we are so grateful you are here. Why did you wait so long to come and tell us that you were living in Mexico?” Or something to that effect.
But I got back to mission business and put the matter out of my mind. Several months passed, and one day I received a call from a wonderful young woman, a returned missionary from one of the nearby wards. She told me she had a reference for a great family and asked if I would pass it along to one of the missionaries in the assigned area. I told her I was happy to do that, and I made sure they got it the very same day. Two weeks later she called again.
“Presidente,” she said, “I am not at all happy with your missionaries. Remember that family whose name I gave you?”
I said, “Yes.”
She said, “Well, we had a family home evening the other night. Your missionaries were not prepared. They had nothing to teach, and I had to take over the lesson.” She assured me that the family still had interest in hearing the gospel, but she let me know that our missionaries needed to be much, much better. Needless to say, those two elders got a phone call from their mission president with some very direct instructions and an invitation to improve.
Before long, in the weekly letters from this companionship, they were raving about this family they were teaching. “President, you can not believe how amazing this family is! They’re coming to church. They’ve committed to a baptismal date. They’re reading the Book of Mormon. When we go to teach them, they’re prepared and teaching us everything they have been reading and studying. This is amazing!”
I thought, “I need to meet these people.” And so I asked the missionaries to schedule an appointment so that I could accompany them on the next lesson. We arrived at the house, and we were warmly greeted by Talina, Jose Luís, and Sulam—the returned missionary—and the precious little daughter of Talina and Jose Luís. We exchanged pleasantries, had an opening prayer, and the missionaries began their lesson.
I sat there looking at Talina, staring at her, thinking, “I know you from somewhere. I have met you before.” We were both thinking that at the very same time, and at just about the same moment, we knew. Talina was the woman I had met at the university. And then I knew why the Holy Ghost had prompted me to visit that school.
Three weeks later, Talina and Jose Luís were baptized. Not long after that, Jose Luís’s widowed mother joined the Church, and on a recent trip to Mexico, I learned that because of their influence three more complete families have been baptized. Talina and Jose Luís and their precious daughter have recently been sealed in the Mexico City Mexico Temple. She now serves as the Young Women president in her ward, and Jose Luís is serving as a counselor in the elders quorum presidency.
Now, when I had the impression to go to that university, I did not understand why, but I acted on the impression. And even when I went and nothing immediately resulted, I took comfort in knowing that I had followed a prompting. But soon I came to know, and I could see the Lord’s hand in blessing my life and many other lives in remarkable ways.
Seeking to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is a choice we make as we wisely exercise our moral agency. Latter-day scripture teaches us how we can best accomplish this. It is by worthily partaking of the sacrament each week, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, with real intent—and in so doing, always remembering the Savior.
When the sacrament was instituted by the Savior among the Nephites, He said, “If ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.” In the sacrament prayers, we renew our covenant to willingly take upon us the name of Christ, to be willing commandment-keepers, and to always remember Him—with the promised blessing of always having His Spirit to be with us.
And so I would remind us of two key words: always and remember. If we always remember Christ, and all that entails, we will have a greater disposition to be obedient. Willing obedience to the Savior’s commandments without rebellion is an expression of our love for Him and a key indicator of our desire to receive associated blessings and enjoy a greater measure of the Holy Ghost in our lives, even to always have His Spirit to be with us.
So, there are two questions I would ask you to consider: First, how would my Sabbath worship improve if each day of the week I did something to be more prepared for taking the sacrament? And second, how would my behavior change if each day of the week I was doing something to be more prepared to worthily partake of the sacrament?
Remember the Savior’s promise in 3 Nephi and in the sacrament prayers that if we always remember Him, we will always have His Spirit to be with us. If you feel distant from Heavenly Father or feel that you are lacking in receiving spiritual guidance, you can fix it. And there is no better way than to make the sacrament the focus of your weekly worship than by preparing every single day.
It would seem that Satan knows just how to attack each generation, and all generations for that matter, with things to keep us from doing and being what Heavenly Father hopes we will do and be. After all, Satan desires to sift us as wheat. The standard for us as Latter-day Saints is clear as taught by Elder David A. Bednar:
If something we think, see, hear, or do distances us from the Holy Ghost, then we should stop thinking, seeing, hearing, or doing that thing. If that which is intended to entertain, for example, alienates us from the Holy Spirit, then certainly that type of entertainment is not for us. Because the Spirit cannot abide that which is vulgar, crude, or immodest, then clearly such things are not for us. Because we estrange the Spirit of the Lord when we engage in activities we know we should shun, then such things are definitely not for us.
There is no better way to shun unworthy actions than to make daily preparations to worthily partake of the sacrament each Sabbath day an integral part of our daily lives. It is how we more fully keep ourselves unspotted from the world. If we always remember the Savior, then the power and influence of the Holy Ghost will warn us if we are approaching spiritual danger, or if we are indulging in thoughts, actions, and activities that would offend Him and cause us to lose the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
The strength that comes from worthily partaking of the sacrament will give us the courage to follow the Savior’s example of not yielding to temptation. He suffered temptations of every kind but gave no heed unto them.
I’d like to share one final experience and important principles that I promise you will benefit you this semester and throughout your lives. My colleagues have heard me refer to this on several occasions, and I call it the Parable of the Barbecue Sauce.
In September of 2007, while a member of the business management faculty at BYU—Idaho, we were preparing to introduce the learning model to our students. It’s similar to our learning pattern, and it is based on the principles of “Prepare, Teach One Another, and Ponder and Prove.” In preparation for the beginning of fall semester, a two-day department meeting was held. In that meeting, we discussed the learning model and its introduction and application in great depth.
As the first day was coming to a conclusion, the department chair said, “If we’re going to require our students to use the learning model, it’s only fitting that we learn to use it too. So tomorrow we’re going to practice. Here’s the assignment. I’d like you to go home tonight and research recipes for barbecue sauce. Bring three or four tomorrow to share with everyone, and we’ll talk about what we learned and how we learned.”
We were just a few days away from the beginning of the fall semester, and at the time I was scheduled to teach four classes. I still had a lot of work to do to get them ready. I was serving as a stake president, and I was also right in the middle of PhD studies. My personal plate was very full, and I did not want to think about having to do one more thing. So when our department chair said, “Tonight and tomorrow we are going to learn about barbecue sauce,” I said to myself, “Not me.”
I went home that night more than a little perturbed, and I told my wife that I wasn’t going to participate in such a silly assignment. And I didn’t. I will also admit that I was secretly hoping and praying that there were others in my department who felt the same way.
I arrived the next morning at the meeting completely and totally unprepared. But there was a noticeable excitement amongst everyone—that is, everyone but me. It soon became apparent that of the nearly 20 of us in the department, I was the only one who was there unprepared. We were assigned to small groups where recipes for barbecue sauce were enthusiastically shared. My colleagues were kind and shared their recipes with me, and gratefully, no one put me up for public scorn for being such a slacker. And I learned something about barbecue sauce that day, but not nearly as much as everyone else.
They contributed to my learning, but I had nothing to contribute to theirs. My bucket was empty. I was chastened by the Spirit, and I knew that I needed to repent. So here is the lesson that I learned: I learned that, as a learner, when I pay the price of personal, prior preparation, I am entitled to a greater measure of the Holy Ghost to teach me. I learned that if I do not prepare, I may learn something but I will not learn as deeply what I could have learned with a personal investment and preparing in advance.
At that moment, I made a personal commitment that I would never again participate in a learning experience and be unprepared. As I have consistently applied this principle, I have been schooled by the Spirit in remarkable ways. This principle applies not only to school, but it applies to our Sabbath worship. Prior preparation for sacrament meeting will deepen your experience. If you will read and study the Sunday School, priesthood, and Relief Society lessons in advance, you will learn more because the Holy Ghost will reward your efforts.
Now, the real irony of this parable is that one of my favorite things to do now is to make barbecue sauce.
At the beginning of my remarks, brothers and sisters, I told you that learning to recognize and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, seeking the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and living worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost were some of the most important things we can learn and desire to do in mortality. Cultivating the capacity to be sensitive to the Spirit’s promptings will not come all at once, but I can testify that as we seek to do this with real intent, our ability and our capacity will increase.
Elder Richard G. Scott taught,
Have patience as you are perfecting your ability to be led by the Spirit. By careful practice, through the application of correct principles, and by being sensitive to the feelings that come, you will gain spiritual guidance. I bear witness that the Lord, through the Holy Ghost, can speak to your mind and heart. Sometimes the impressions are just general feelings. Sometimes the direction comes so clearly and so unmistakably that it can be written down, like spiritual dictation.
What a blessing it is to know that a Heavenly Father who knows us has blessed us with such a gift as the Holy Ghost. He can guide us, warn us, teach us, comfort us, and testify of truth. Now, I have testified of some of my experiences today regarding the Holy Ghost—how I have been led, how I have been taught, and how I have been corrected. I would invite you today, in a quiet moment, to think about your own experiences with the Holy Ghost. As you do so, I promise that He will help you see how you have been led and guided in your life. Undoubtedly, brothers and sisters, we can all make improvements to enjoy a greater measure of the Holy Ghost in our lives as we seek His companionship, His constant companionship, every single day.
I testify that God does indeed live, as does His Holy Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I know the Father and the Son have bodies of flesh and bones as tangible as ours. I also testify that the Holy Ghost is real, a personage of spirit who can dwell in us as we live worthy of His presence. I am grateful for this revealed truth. I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who has bestowed upon each and every one of us this remarkable gift. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 See “There is Sunshine in My Soul Today,” Hymns, no. 227.
 D&C 6:32.
 See Joseph Smith—History 1:17.
 Moses 1:6.
 See Jeremiah 1:5.
 “Chapter 5: The Holy Ghost and Personal Revelation,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, (2011).
 3 Nephi 19:9.
 David A. Bednar, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” Oct. 2010 General Conference.
 See 2 Nephi 32:5.
 See Mosiah 3:19.
 D&C 45:57.
 See Moroni 7:15.
 Moroni 7:16.
 See D&C 59:8–9.
 3 Nephi 18:7.
 See 3 Nephi 18:7, 11.
 See Luke 22:31; 3 Nephi 18:18.
 David A. Bednar, “That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us,” Apr. 2006 General Conference.
 See D&C 59:9.
 “BYU-Idaho Learning Model,” http://www.byui.edu/about/defining-aspects/learning-model.
 Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Oct. 2009 General Conference.