Brothers and sisters, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be with you this morning at this devotional. Thank you, President Kusch, for inviting me to speak to this wonderful group. Thanks also to Tanner and Aylish for inviting the Spirit to be with us here through song, music and testimony. As president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, I often have the opportunity to speak at different gatherings and different groups. But I am especially grateful whenever I have the chance to speak to students. Students hold a special place in my heart because outside of my professional work, as President Kusch mentioned, I spend much of my time serving as a YSA stake president and many of the members of our stake are students.
Even though I speak to many groups, preparing my remarks for this setting was particularly formidable. It speaks to the importance that I place on the topic and what I want to share with you. It also speaks to the importance that I place on you and the role and the importance that you have in our community and in our world.
In addition to students holding a special place in my heart, teachers also hold a special place in my heart. Both of my parents are teachers. Both of my grandmothers were teachers. My great-grandmother supported her family by becoming a teacher in a one-room-schoolhouse on the frontier when she was unexpectedly widowed at the age of 23 with two very young children.
My mother is an English professor. She taught me three wonderful things about being a good communicator. I want to share them with you. The first thing she taught me was anyways is not a word. That was the worst word we could say in our home growing up, if we ever used the word anyways. She would often say to me, if I ever got up enough courage to take her one of my papers that I was writing either for high-school or college, it would come back to me covered in red ink with edits and comments.
She would often say to me, “Derek, in this paragraph right here, what were you trying to say?” I would try to get the paper back from her and she would hold onto it and say, “No, don’t read it to me again just tell me. What were you trying to say?” And so I would try to express it to her in words, and then she would hand the paper back to me and say, “Why don’t you say that instead?” And then she also taught me, maybe the third and most important thing, was to put the most important thing first in whatever you’re writing or whatever you’re speaking. Put the most important thing up front. She taught me the value of clear communication.
My father is also a professor. He is an engineering professor. My mother has the ultimate literary mind, and as an engineer, my father has the ultimate pragmatic mind. He taught me the value of hard work.
Just the other day I was relating a story to my own children and using my dad, their grandpa, as an example of hard work. I told them the story about the many years that he spent doing his Ph.D., his doctoral research. He was in school in California, but every summer he would go back to his home in Idaho, and he would study what was happening in the thermodynamics in Yellowstone National Park. They lived, while he was studying that, just outside the national park in west Yellowstone. If any of you know anything about west Yellowstone in summer, you would know it is very hot. If it weren’t enough to be living in a place that was hot, he spent the time, when he wasn’t doing research, at a part-time job to earn money that would support his family. His part-time job was to sell film. But not just sell film in an easy way, the way that he sold film was to dress up in a bear costume and stand on the street corner encouraging people to come into the store and buy film. Do you know what my kids said to me when I told them what a hard worker their grandpa was? “What’s film?” was their response.
Now I noticed a few of you laughed at that story, but many of you are scratching your heads and wondering, “Yeah, what IS film?” If you are one of those people, you are part of a unique generation. In fact, I read about you a few years ago when you were just starting college: because you are part of a cohort of college students who have never known the world without the internet. In this way, we actually share something in common because I was part of the incoming college class when the internet was just becoming a “thing.”
In fact, I remember returning from my mission in Belgium and hearing, for the first time, the word “email” and someone asking me what my email address was. When I left on my mission no one was using email, but in two years, suddenly, everybody was. I also remember watching the nightly news soon after returning home from my two-year mission and listening to the news anchor talk about how the internet was going to change the world.
He used, as an example, that soon, because of the internet, instead of driving down to the library to check out a book, we would be able to get on our home, personal computer and look whether that book had been checked out or not, before we got in our car. That was the best use he could give, the best example he could share, about how the internet might be used.
Well, a lot has changed since I was in your shoes in college starting in 1990, almost exactly 30 years ago, over this period of time that we refer to as the Information Revolution.
Many of those changes revolutionized not only the way we get information, not just because we don’t have to look up if a book is available at the library, but we can actually access that very book without needing to go to the library at all.
But my point today is not to catalogue how the internet has changed our lives or how information technology has changed the world. In fact, my purpose today is just the opposite – to share with you that the true source of information hasn’t changed at all – not in the past 30 years, not the past 300 years, not in the past 3,000 years.
As the internet has developed, it went from its inception as being a source of information, to today where it is a vast source of disinformation. In fact, one of the great public policy debates of our time is the responsibility of social media companies to assess the accuracy of information posted on their platform. It can leave us wondering: What is real? Where can I find truth?
Of course, every one of us knows the simple and profound answer to that complex question. That God, our Father in Heaven, is the source of truth, and the Holy Spirit is the communicator of that truth. Now, we know this, but to make it work in our lives, we have to make it real in our lives. And that is what I want to speak to you on today: How can we have the Spirit as our constant companion? Constant is the key word here. I’m not talking about feeling the Spirit every once in a while, or just at church or when we pray. I am talking about how we can actualize God’s promise to us when we were baptized. The promise to have the Holy Spirit as our constant companion, as it is articulated in the sacramental prayer – that we may always have His Spirit to be with us.
What I would like to do is share with you principles that I have learned in my life about living close to the Spirit - living a spiritual life in this temporal world. As part of sharing these principles, I want to share some personal stories with you, but please understand that in doing so, it is not my intent to hold myself out as a perfect example, but rather in sharing my experiences, I hope to cause you to think about how your Heavenly Father deals with you and your own personal experiences in your own personal life.
Principle number one is to take your spiritual vitamins daily. That means that we pray, that we study the scriptures, that we take His name upon us by being a disciple of the Savior in word and in deed. We do it every single day.
When I first moved back to Utah from Washington, D.C., Sister Miller and I had lived in our ward for a couple of years when I was called to be the bishop. People would come to visit with me often. My neighbors and my friends with serious challenges that they were facing in their life. In some cases, it was for advice. In some cases, it was to help them along a path of repentance. I would begin each one of those interviews by asking those good friends and those good neighbors of mine, “Tell me about your daily prayers. Tell me about your daily scripture study.” More often than not, they would tell me that daily prayer and daily scripture study was not a part of their lives. Then, I would share with them, “Let’s start with the simple things. Why don’t you start by doing that, and then let’s meet again in a few weeks and see how things are going.”
Now let me be clear with you. Doing these things does not mean you will not have challenges in life, but it does mean that you will have spiritual strength and spiritual guidance that you need to overcome your challenges.
Principle number 2: Attend the temple frequently. This is like taking spiritual super-vitamins. Do you remember the story from church history, after the prophet Joseph Smith was martyred along with his brother Hyrum? The clouds of despair descended upon the beautiful city of Nauvoo along the banks of the Mississippi river, and the mobs began to convene. Even federal government forces rumored to be coming to drive the saints from their homes. It wasn’t enough that their prophet had been taken away. Those mobs and those evil forces wanted to take their very lives away from them. It soon became evident to Brother Brigham, and to other church leaders, that they would need to leave Nauvoo, so they began their preparation. They began their plans to leave to come to the west, to go to the Rocky Mountains.
It was under those circumstances that the leaders and the members of the church set as their highest priority: finish the temple. Now, think about that, brothers and sisters, for just a moment. Does that make any worldly sense at all? Given the plans they needed to make, and given the trek that they would need to undertake, that what they would want to do more than anything else would be to finish the temple. A building that they knew they would soon have to leave. Well, of course it was not for worldly reasons that they set this as their number one priority. It was because they knew that they would need the spiritual strength that would come from entering the house of the Lord and making sacred covenants with Heavenly Father. That spiritual strength that would be needed to accomplish the tasks and the challenges that lay ahead.
Do you ever find yourself in a situation where clouds of temptation or despair may be gathering? Where forces of the world may be conspiring against you to take you off track? Do you ever find yourself facing the need to make plans to undergo your own trek? If you do, I encourage you to look at the example of those early saints and set as your top priority the temple.
Principle number 3: Once we have taken our spiritual vitamins daily, and we are attending the temple, we must move forward with faith. Joseph Smith taught that when we are living the commandments, we are worthy of the blessing to have the Holy Spirit with us always to guide us in our daily lives. Some of you, in fact many of you, will remember a game from your childhood. The game of “Hot or Cold” where something was hidden and you had to find it. As you moved closer to that thing, someone would call out, “Warmer, warmer, you’re getting warmer.” As you were moving away, the person may call out, “Cold, you’re getting colder.” That won’t work if you’re not moving. Life won’t work if you’re not moving. This is the way that our Heavenly Father is able to communicate to us through the Holy Ghost - to move forward in faith, where the Holy Spirit will let us know, “Warmer, warmer, you’re getting warm.”
Principle number 4: Have faith that sometimes the answers you receive may seem misaligned to the question that you’re asking. Let me share a personal example to illustrate the point. My first job out of college was to work as a management consultant, and I loved the job - it gave me all kinds of varied experiences. The firm that I worked for was very good at providing training for the skills that I needed to be successful. After a few years of working for that firm, I was faced with a choice. I was either going to continue along with what they called the “Partnership Track” or I was going to make a change.
So, I began to pray. I prayed, and I prayed and I made it part of my daily prayer that Heavenly Father would bless me with guidance. I prayed over the course of about six months with that question in my heart. One day, and I remember it very clearly, I was saying my prayer in the evening, and as I have always done in my daily prayers, I was asking Heavenly Father for guidance in what I should do in my career. I received an impression, a prompting. The prompting was this, “Derek, it’s time for you to get your food storage.” I thought, “Well, that’s a strange answer. Heavenly Father, have you been listening to the question I have been asking for the last six months?” And again, the impression came, “It’s time for you to get your food storage.”
Well, unbeknownst to me at the time, but what clearly became evident in the next few months, was that the firm I was working for had been doing some work for a company in Texas that was about to go belly-up. And not just that; it was discovered that the firm I was working for had been complicit in some illegal activity that that company had been engaged with. Suddenly, I found myself facing the prospect of unemployment. How grateful I was that I had followed that prompting to get that food storage in order. That seemed very misaligned, at the time, to the question that I was asking.
Principle number 5: This is an important one - please don’t assume that the inspiration you received was wrong just because things turned out differently than you expected. Especially in the short run.
President Kusch mentioned that I am currently serving as a Young Single Adult stake president. When we have ward conferences, we append the second hour of every ward conference doing question and answer among the entire ward. One of the questions I have almost always been asked relates to this principle: “How do I know that the direction that I thought was from the Holy Spirit was correct when I followed it and things didn’t turn out the way that I thought they would?”
I typically respond by asking those members, and I ask you if you have found yourself in a similar situation, to remember the story of Joseph in Egypt. Joseph, as a young man, received many beautiful and glorious promises from the Lord. Then what happened? He was thrown into a pit. He was sold into slavery by his very brothers, those who should have been looking out for him. When he tried to make a good decision as a slave in Egypt, he got thrown into prison. Things went from bad, to worse. Now, I don’t mean to impose or project my own weaknesses on that great Old Testament prophet, but I have to believe at some point Joseph was wondering, “Lord, what happened to those promises that you made me? Because, I am moving in the completely opposite direction that I should be going.” Now, we know, brothers and sisters, with the blessing and benefit of hindsight, that the Lord was leading Joseph exactly in the direction that he needed to and having the exact experiences he needed to have for the Lord to fulfill His promises to him.
Principle number 6: Be flexible and be prepared for major course corrections. This year in 2020 we have the wonderful opportunity to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the First Vision. Do you remember the question that Joseph had when he went into the Sacred Grove? He was not expecting the answer he received ,and he was certainly not expecting the major course correction that the Lord would give him to restore His true church again upon the face of the earth. He wanted to know simply which church he should join, but the Lord had other expectations for Joseph. You, like him, should be flexible when the Lord takes you in a different direction.
Principle number 7: When we make mistakes, and I say “when” because we all do, remember that we came to the earth to learn from our experiences. We can’t use it as an excuse, but we must use it as an opportunity to learn. We do that by calling upon the Atonement for forgiveness of our sins and strength in our weaknesses. Ultimately, that is the purpose of life, to learn from our mistakes and to be forgiven and strengthened in our weaknesses.
In some ways, it would be very easy to say, “Won’t someone just tell me what direction I should go to or what path I should take?” Doesn’t that sound, brothers and sisters, temptingly easy? To have someone else just tell us what to do? Of course, that’s not how life works. God expects us to do our part, to struggle, to work it out, to ask it be right and sometimes even to fail. Why? Because our loving Father in Heaven knows that it is in struggling and sometimes failing that we learn and grow. It is in this personal struggle that you come to know yourself, you come to know God, you come to recognize and act on the voice of the Holy Spirit, and you come to humbly accept the need for the Atonement in your life. And you come to accomplish the very purpose of your life, to act for yourself and to know for yourself. In this way, and only this way, you become like your Heavenly Father and your Heavenly Mother.
Eve taught this principle so well when she told Adam that she had partaken of the forbidden fruit and would be cast out of the Garden of Eden. She comforted Adam by teaching him that it was better that they go through sorrow that they may learn by experience.
This is what I hope you will remember from my remarks today. While it is challenging to live a spiritual life in a temporal world, it is certainly easier than the alternative, and that is with trying to live with one foot in each.
It is my prayer, brothers and sisters, that each one of us will decide today to give ourselves over wholly to the Savior and be one of His disciples. It is the purpose of life to constantly strive for perfection and inherent in that striving, to seek always for forgiveness. Forgiveness for our mistakes and strength in our weaknesses. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.