Guide Me to Thee
by Cory H. Maxwell
One hundred and ninety years ago last Friday, Joseph Smith obtained the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph records that, when he received the plates, Moroni gave Joseph a charge that “I should be responsible for them; that if I should let them go carelessly, or through any neglect of mine, I should be cut off; but that if I should use all my endeavors to preserve them, until he…should call for them, that they should be protected” (JS-History 1:59)
The Prophet Joseph had a unique responsibility regarding the Book of Mormon. None of us can fully know how that responsibility made him feel, but can we apply some of the counsel he was given to our attitude and our use of the Book of Mormon? Am I “neglecting” the Book of Mormon (or the other standard works)? Am I being “care-less” about them. Am I using “all my endeavors to preserve them” in my heart and mind? If we use all our endeavors to instill their doctrines in our lives, might that help preserve them for future generations and help us influence others in a lasting way?
I’m not so far removed from my college experience that I don’t remember how challenging and stressful it could be. I remember the first semester after I returned from my mission. I was taking an accounting class I found very difficult. I had just changed my major and was taking a class in my major that was fascinating, but also difficult. I was taking the German class for returned missionaries. The grade I got would count for 15 credit hours, and would have a major impact on my ability to be admitted to law school. I was feeling weighed down. I didn’t know if I had the smarts and the energy to succeed. I felt I was treading water and I was concerned that I might go under, at least emotionally and academically.
Fortunately, I had kept up my habit of studying the Book of Mormon after I returned from my mission, and at this time, I came across the story of the people of Alma and Amulon. Amulon put tasks on them, and taskmasters over them
We read that so great were the afflictions of the people of Alma that they cried mightily to God. Amulon commanded them to stop praying and threatened to put to death anyone who prayed. Alma and his people did not pray vocally, but poured their hearts out to him, and it says that God knew the thoughts of their hearts.
Here’s the thing that caught my attention. It says the voice of the Lord came to the people and told them to “lift up your heads and be of good comfort,” and that they would be delivered from bondage. The Lord said, “I will ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders that even you cannot feel them upon your backs…and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter.” (Mosiah 24:13-14). The burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren “were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15). The Lord did deliver them out of physical bondage. I was not concerned about physical bondage, but I certainly felt heavy emotional burdens.
If the Lord could ease the burdens for the people of Alma, perhaps he could ease my emotional and academic burdens. I prayed for that. Over the coming days, my burdens were eased. I no longer felt distressed and in over my head. I had a great experience that semester! I got far better grades than I expected to. That was also the semester when I met my wife. Like the people of Alma, I know the Lord can dramatically ease our burdens. After the people of Alma escaped, we’re told that “they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful to them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them.” (Mosiah 24: 21). I know it was the Lord who eased my burdens and brought me peace, and I will always be grateful to Him for lifting my burdens at that time.
When Brother Brooksby invited me to speak, he urged me to select a message based on my life lessons learned, or a gospel topic I am passionate about, or advice for how LDSBC students can get from where you are to a position of temporal and spiritual self-reliance. I would like to share some “life lessons” from my experience.
Many years ago, I skimmed through a compilation of talks by General Authorities on the topic of excellence. The title of one chapter written by Elder Bruce C. Hafen, caught my eye. It was entitled “Two Cheers for Excellence.” I was intrigued that a principle that is worthy and desirable could be carried to an extreme.
Goals are one way we can respond to the Savior’s injunction to “be ye, therefore perfect.” Goals must be important because Heavenly Father has a clear goal—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). However, I also believe that our commitment to goals must be tempered to allow room for the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, to change our plans or send us in a different direction—a direction that will bless our lives and perhaps allow us to bless other people’s lives more than if we achieved all the goals we set for ourselves.
I thought briefly about entitling my message “Two Cheers for Goal Setting.” Why two cheers, rather than three?
In pursuing our plans, the overriding goal should be that our plan will align with Heavenly Father’s plan for our lives. Elder Ballard gave a wonderful talk in General Conference last April entitled “Return and Receive.” He pointed out that “goal setting is essentially beginning with the end in mind.” He bore witness that:
“There is no greater goal in mortality than to live eternally with our Heavenly Parents and our beloved Savior….But it is more than just our goal—it is also Their goal….We are Their work. Our glory is Their glory. More than anything else, They want us to come home—to return and receive eternal happiness in Their presence.”
I hope no one will feel my talk undercuts the value of goal setting. There is great spiritual and temporal value in setting goals. But, just as Elder Hafen had some reservations about a full-throttle pursuit of excellence, I believe we need to recognize that, if we take a no-holds-barred approach to our goals and life plans, we may lose sight of important principles about the larger purposes of our mortal existence. Our primary goal is to follow God and to be open to the experiences that He knows will enlarge our souls and enrich our lives, and best prepare ourselves to return to Him.
There is a sobering quote I read years ago in a talk by President Boyd K. Packer that makes this point very forcefully:
“It is the misapprehension of most people that if you are good, really good at what you do, you will eventually be both widely known and well compensated…The world seems to work on that premise. The premise is false. It is not true. The Lord taught otherwise. You need not be either rich or hold high position to be completely successful and truly happy…The choice of life is not between fame and obscurity, nor is the choice between wealth and poverty. The choice is between good and evil. That is a very different matter indeed” (“The Choice,” October 1980 General Conference).
We are told that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). But working together for our good is different from all things working together for our success according to our own best-laid plans. God is more interested in our development, in our growth and in our becoming who He wants us to become than in our short terms success. So working together for our good might include tests, disappointments, afflictions, frustrated goals and seeming detours that, at the time, may seem beyond our ability to understand.
I don’t normally share a lot of autobiographical information in talks, but I’d like to share a few experiences to help illustrate how my life has been blessed as the Lord has, I feel, re-directed my path at times. I know it is risky to generalize. I heard someone observe wryly that “All Indians walk single file—at least the one I saw did.” Your experience may not be the same as mine.
When I left on my mission, I hadn’t done much goal setting. I wanted to serve a mission and I wanted to get a degree from a university. I thought I might want to be a doctor, but I was pretty vague about my plans. I hadn’t gone much beyond that point in my life planning. I remember a missionary who arrived several months after I did who had an impressive goal. He planned to be president of the United States. It wasn’t just a hope. It was a plan. He knew the year he would run and had specific ideas about the platform he would run on. I admired him then and I do now for the price he had paid to set that goal—before he left on a mission!
But only so many people can become president of United States. I don’t know where he is now. He was bright, hard-working, and a leader, so I would not have been surprised if he had run for president. But, as far as I know, he never did, but I’m confident he is making great contributions in some other area. I am not saying we shouldn’t make grand plans. A proverb says, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” But I think it is good for someone in your stage of life to realize that events beyond our control can change our plans. More importantly, the Lord can alter our plans. This has certainly been true in my life. I had planned to talk to you about some major changes in direction in my life—things I would never have dreamed would happen, but that have blessed my life. On reflection, I thought it would be more interesting for you to hear about my father's career path.
He was a Political Science major and received his bachelors and master’s degree in that area. He ended up working in Washington D.C. in the intelligence community. A couple of years later, he worked as a legislative assistant for U.S. Senator. At that point, he decided that he wanted to pursue another career path. He had a few offers, some back in the Washington D.C. area, and one to become an Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Utah. That job offer didn’t interest him much. However, he and my mother counseled about the options. Mom encouraged him to take the job at the University of Utah. She said, “You might be able to influence young people.” That didn’t make sense to him. His job description involved mostly preparing press releases. How would he influence students? But he realized my mother was operating on a spiritual impression, and those impressions are sometimes difficult to explain logically. So, he came to the University of Utah. He eventually became the Dean of Students and later the Executive Vice President. After serving in that capacity for a time, he was asked to serve as the Church Commissioner of Education for the Church. As a political science major, do you think he ever thought he’d end up spending most of his career in Education? Did he have a degree in Educational Administration? No. He made plans, set goals, and then was willing to adjust his plan if other opportunities came or there were spiritual impressions that a change of plans might be what the Lord had in mind for him and my mother.
You might think his situation is unusual. But about six weeks ago, I was sitting in a high priests group class and the instructor was teaching from the talk of Elder Ballard’s that I quoted earlier. I was already thinking I might talk here on goals and the paths lives take us down, so I was fascinated to hear the comments of two men in that group who are either retired or nearing retirement.
- A man who is now dean of a college at one of the major state universities said what he is doing now is “a complete accident.” When he was younger, he ran for a federal office, which was his life’s dream, but lost. He said “The goal that I particularly sought is the one I did not achieve, but other opportunities came up that have been rewarding.”
- Another brother, now a respected federal judge said, “I never had a plan to become a federal judge.” But he practiced law, and was good at it. When there was an opening for a federal judgeship, he applied and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve in that high profile and highly-respected position. But that was never in his life’s plan.
The wise instructor in the High Priests Group, commenting on the changes in their life plans, was quick to point out that, even though they ended up taking a different path from they had planned, they still needed to prepare. He said, “No judge was appointed who did not graduate from law school, no doctors are admitted to practice medicine who do not graduate from medical school, pass the medical board exams, and complete an internship and residency.” The college dean would not be in that position if he hadn’t obtained a graduate degree.
My point is that preparation and planning are important. We shouldn’t wait for a lightning bolt to illuminate our career path without doing our homework. But we also should be careful to make our goals knowing that at some point the Lord may steer us in a different direction.
Decisions about educational and career goals are very difficult. I remember a time not too many years ago when I had someone approach me about a job opportunity. It would have meant work at an institution that I loved, in a location where I knew I could be happy. And yet I loved the job I had. I struggled with that decision. I remember talking with my father. Because of my respect for his wisdom and his calling, I would have been happy to have him make the decision for me. I trusted his judgment completely. Not a great example of self-reliance, was I? Instead, he gave me advice not about what my decision should be, but about how to make the decision. It was not breath-taking or dramatic counsel, but it was wise counsel. He said to list the plusses and minuses of each option, review them, think about it, and pray for guidance. That’s similar to the scriptural description that the Lord will tell us in our mind and in our heart, isn’t it?
There is a delicate balance between wanting to seek the Lord’s guidance, but to also be self-reliant. President Packer provided thought-provoking counsel on this subject:
“The question I’m most often asked about revelation is, “How do I know when I have received it? I’ve prayed about it and fasted over this problem and prayed about it and prayed about it, and I still don’t quite know what to do. How can I really tell whether I’m being inspired so I won’t make a mistake?”
“First, do you go to the Lord with a problem and ask Him to make your decision for you? Or do you work, read the revelations, and meditate and pray and then make a decision yourself? Measure the problem against what you know to be right and wrong, and then make the decision. Then ask Him if the decision is right or if it is wrong...Listen to this sentence if you don’t hear anything else: If we foolishly ask our bishop or branch president or the Lord to make a decision for us, there’s precious little self-reliance in that. Think what it costs every time you have somebody else make a decision for you” (“Self-Reliance,” August 1975 Ensign).
In the time remaining, let me mention a few principles that come to mind as I reflect on the course of my life.
1) My father taught me that some things are matters of principle, and others are matters of preference. One of life’s challenges is to determine whether a particular decision is a matter of principle or of preference. President Packer also made this point.
“We often find young people who will pray with great exertion over matters that they are free to decide for themselves. Suppose…that a couple had money available to build a house. Suppose they had prayed endlessly over whether they should build an Early American style, a ranch style, modern style architecture, or perhaps a Mediterranean style. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps the Lord just plain doesn’t care? Let them build what they want to build. It’s their choice. In many things we can do just what we want.
“Now, there are some things he cares about very much. If you’re going to build that house, then be honest and pay for the material that goes into it and do a decent job of building it. When you move into it, live righteously in it. Those are the things that count” (“Self-Reliance,” August 1975 Ensign).
2) The Lord often expects us to show initiative and not wait for guidance.
I’ve thought recently about some of my heroes in the scriptures and wondered whether their major decisions were made as a result of careful planning on their part, or based on clear divine guidance. I believe the answer is yes—both—though I’d like to spend more time reading the scriptures with that question in mind.
When Nephi was asked to obtain the brass plates, he was required to show considerable initiative, but when the Lord instructed him to build a ship, the Lord apparently gave Nephi fairly detailed instructions. (1 Nephi 17:8)
Captain Moroni was incredibly resourceful in building fortifications, providing armor, and winning battles by strategy, but in at least one instance, after showing initiative in sending out spies, Moroni also sent men to Alma, asking him to inquire of the Lord where the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites. (Alma 43:23)
3) Making educational and career decisions requires faith. With our mortal eyes, we often can’t see the end from the beginning. President Packer provided inspiring and very practical counsel on this question.
“Shortly after I was called as a General Authority, I went to Elder Harold B. Lee for counsel. He listened very carefully to my problem and suggested that I see President David O. McKay. President McKay counseled me as to the direction I should go. I was very willing to be obedient but saw no way possible for me to do as he counseled me to do.
“I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, ‘The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.’ I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: ‘You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.’” (“The Edge of the Light,” BYU Magazine, March 1991).
4) Generally, the guidance will be subtle. From time to time, we will receive guidance in dramatic ways, but based on my observations and the teachings of Church leaders, it is much more often subtle guidance.
5) A corollary is that the guidance we get is not always apparent in that moment. It may not be apparent until later. I remember talking to my father about patriarchal blessings when I was a young father. He said that the inspiration in patriarchal blessings in many cases may be more apparent after the fact than looking forward. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted my blessing to tell me what to do. But I have seen evidence that sometimes inspiration is more evident later.
6) The guidance will come on the Lord’s timetable, not ours. Elder Oaks, President Packer and other Church leaders have taught that it is the Lord’s prerogative to determine the time and the manner in which we receive answers. Elder Oaks has taught:
“We do not always receive inspiration or revelation when we request it. Sometimes we are delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own judgment. We cannot force spiritual things. It must be so. Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and to develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith” (“Eight Ways God Can Speak to You,” September 2004 New Era).
7) What do we do if we don’t get guidance in spite of our best efforts? Elder Richard G. Scott gave us invaluable advice:
“What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer?...When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust. As you are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, one of two things will certainly occur at the appropriate time: either the stupor of thought will come, indicating an improper choice, or the peace or the burning in the bosom will be felt, confirming that your choice was correct. When you are living righteously and are acting with trust, God will not let you proceed too far without a warning impression if you have made the wrong decision.” (“Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign, May 2007).
Obtaining guidance can be a difficult process, but I find hope in Elder Scott’s counsel.
8) Our experiences prepare us for service—and sometimes career choices—that will come our way later. When my wife and I attended the orientation for new mission presidents and wives, President Eyring taught that the experiences we had before our call prepared us for that calling. He was speaking to mission presidents and their wives, but I believe this principle is often true in our Church service and in our career paths
I had the opportunity in my position at Deseret Book to work with authors on a number of wonderful doctrinal and historical books. That has been a great blessing generally, but I found that it was particularly helpful during my service as mission president. I found that ideas would sometimes come to mind in counseling a missionary or preparing for a Zone Conference that I had read or heard, sometimes many years ago—things I thought I’d forgotten. Now, we can’t make that kind of “recall” happen by the flick of a switch, and I’m not saying that the Lord couldn’t have taught me those things if I hadn’t worked at Deseret Book, but I AM saying that the role of the Holy Ghost in bringing things to our remembrance is a very real thing.
Karen was a piano performance major at BYU. When we served our mission, her musical background was a tremendous blessing. Her abilities enriched our zone conferences and leadership meetings. She prepared Christmas and Easter musical programs that blessed thousands of people. I am convinced that some missionaries came to love music because of her background and talents.
I am not saying that every experience in our lives is the direct result of divine preparation, but I am convinced that these experiences helped prepare me to serve in a mission that had missionaries from about 30 different cultures. I am convinced that experiences that you are having now will prepare you to serve in future callings.
Brothers and Sisters, the Lord knows how to use our skills and our backgrounds to bless us but, more importantly, to move the work of His kingdom forward.
Let me leave with an invitation to act and my testimony. My invitation is a challenge that Elder Ballard gave in his April Conference talk:
“During the coming weeks, find time to review your life’s goals and your plans, and make sure they align with our Heavenly Father’s great plan for our happiness. If you need to repent and change, then consider doing so now. Take the time to prayerfully think about what adjustments are needed to help you keep your ‘eye single to the glory of God.’” (“Return and Receive,” April 2017 General Conference)
If we follow Elder Ballard’s counsel, I know we will be blessed to help keep our lives are aligned with Heavenly Father’s plans for us, even when they might seem to conflict with our goals and plans.
I bear witness that God is merciful. I read a verse in Psalm 73 recently that I must have read several times before but didn’t notice (another reason to be regular in our scripture study). It says, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalms 73:24). Isn’t that what we all want to see happen in our lives!
I am amazed at the many gifts our Heavenly Father has given us to help us stay on the path that leads back to His presence and His Glory. There isn’t time to discuss them individually, but let me list several. We have been given:
- The treasure trove of the holy scriptures
- The remarkable gift of prayer
- The incomparable gift of the Holy Ghost
- The guarantee of safety through the counsel of living prophets
- Counsel from other inspired leaders and from inspiring parents and friends
- Common sense. President Packer pointed out that, with all of our other gifts, Latter-day Saints are not exempt from common sense.
- Guidance from patriarchal blessings, which President Monson has called our “personal Liahona.”
- The evidence of the rich blessings we see from keeping the commandments.
- And so many, many others.