The 7 Habits of Holiness
That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you, choir. Thank you, Don, for your talk; Mitchell, for your prayer. President Richards, for finding out things about me that I’m not even sure I’m totally aware of, but I’ll try and make them come true. President Richards, you are very kind, and you have been so gracious to me and to Cindy and our daughters who are here. You are held in such high regard for the work that you do.
We hear a lot of—when you are in meetings with the Twelve, you hear a lot of things, of course, and one of the things we hear is how much they love President J. Lawrence Richards and those who work so closely with him. And how much they love you! This very morning, in a meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they mentioned the fact that I would be coming here, and it’s the unanimous feeling of each of those Brethren in that Quorum that they love you so much. President Nelson said, “Do you want me to come?” and I said, “Well, President Nelson, if you would, then I wouldn’t have to speak.” He said, “Well, we’ll just support you from a distance.” I’m sorry that he isn’t here, but President Richards, maybe in the future. It’s not a bad idea to invite him to come.
As was mentioned, I spent a lot of time—a number of years—with President Hinckley, and when he would come to an audience like this, sometimes he would say, “You don’t look like much, but you’re all the Lord has.” I don’t feel that way at all—he was only kidding, of course—but I don’t feel at all that way today. You look incredible. Think of where you are and what you are doing; it’s just an amazing time of life—one in which you are struggling, wondering what the future will hold, excited about what is happening today, anxious about what’s happening tomorrow—and so many great things are happening. I remember those days extremely well. And the best thing that happened to me is sitting right over here. I was married to an angel. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was so lucky, and I’m so happy that she turned out to be perfect. And we have five perfect children. It’s a miracle. It all happened despite their husband and father, and it can happen for you. We’ll talk about that—not about marriage, we’re not going to talk about that. But we’ll talk a little about how to make things happen for you that are the things you want to have happen.
Another thing President Hinckley used to say is, “Smile! Smile! Put a smile on your face!” Now, there are some gorgeous smiles I am seeing. I love that. We ought to be the happiest people on the earth. We know more than anybody, and we can do more than anybody, and we have the privilege of sharing what we have with everybody. We ought to be the happiest of all.
I love it when Moroni says, speaking of the final judgment, “And then cometh the judgment of the Holy One upon them.” Just that phrase alone can make you a little scared about that final judgment. But then he says, at the final judgment, “He that is happy shall be happy still.” So why not be happy now? Then when we get there—by the way, the rest of that verse says, “And he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still.” So, if you want to be unhappy through all of eternity, well then, be unhappy now. But if you want to be happy forever, then be happy now.
It doesn’t mean you won’t have difficult times, and challenges, and times when you are sad, maybe even depressed. But underlying all of that can be a foundation of happiness that can bring joy to your life and help you to get through the times that are a little bit tough.
Now, from my perspective, the key to happiness is holiness. That’s an interesting thing, a fascinating word, even. The opening hymn, “More Holiness Give Me.” What does it really mean to be holy? And is it possible for us—just normal, average, everyday human beings—is it possible for us to be holy? We ascribe holiness to those who preside over us, those who lead us. There are a few people we might consider to be holy. But is it possible for each one of us?
That’s what I’d like to talk about today. With apologies to Stephen Covey, I’ve entitled my talk “The Seven Habits of Holiness.” And I think if you listen carefully, there will be something said today that will touch your heart. It may not come from me; I would be surprised if it did. But it will come from the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost will aid you in your effort to become holy.
In the very early days of the Church, just after the Church was organized, the Lord was giving initial and foundational instructions to the Saints. And one of the things which He said, which is so impressive, He says, “[The people of the Church] are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart.” And He finishes that revelation with a remarkable imperative, to which I think we must pay strict attention. He said, “Ye must practice virtue and holiness before me continually.”
Now when you have must on one hand and continually on the other, there’s not a lot of wiggle room in between. “Ye must practice virtue and holiness before me continually.” Since He says practice, I guess that gives us some sense that you don’t have to perfect at it in the beginning; you just have to practice it. Keep practicing.
And what happens when we practice? We’ll get better and better and better. “That which we persist in doing becomes easier . . . —not that the nature of the thing is changed, but that our [ability] to do [has] increased.” So, we practice virtue and holiness every day. And what happens when we practice? Well, if you are like me, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. That’s why you are practicing. But it’s okay to make the mistakes. That’s part of the practice effort.
I loved it when the prophet Mormon speaks of Moroni in the book of Alma, and he says if all men were like Moroni, then the devil would never have power over the children of men. And we know that. Moroni was perfect. He was a holy man. In the next verse down, Mormon says—and I’m not quoting it exactly, I apologize—he says, that the sons of Mosiah were just the same. And who were they? Ammon, Aaron, Omni, and Himner—they were terrors in the beginning, and Alma the Younger also—they were later the same as Moroni. They didn’t start out that way, but they practiced holiness, overcame their challenges, and ultimately became as good as Moroni, who probably never tried to destroy the Church, as those boys did. So the possibilities for us are certainly excellent.
Now when we think of holiness, we might think of some high level of morality or spirituality or consecration and devotion to God. We might think about shunning worldly pursuits and all of these things undoubtedly are things that would characterize a holy person. But I think it’s easier to think of it if we think about just being in harmony—in harmony with God. To be holy is to be in harmony with God—His will, His commandments, and everything about Him. And that holiness, or that harmony, will allow us to overcome the natural man, who is “an enemy to God,” and those carnal tendencies that are innate in each of us. It is interesting to think that we are hard-wired—in the process of the plan of happiness, the plan of salvation, in the process of mortality—we are hard-wired to want to do things we shouldn’t do. It’s built right into us. It’s our nature to do things that are contrary to the will of God. That’s why we’re called the natural man, or the natural woman—the natural human being. But we can overcome that and ultimately develop the level of holiness that will bring happiness and joy into our lives.
Holiness is not situational. It doesn’t depend on your circumstances. We can’t justify ourselves by saying, “Well, I was down, so I couldn’t be what the Lord wanted me to be,” or “I was too busy. It was that time of life. I had too much homework to do. I have a final to study for. Holiness—I can set that aside for a while.” Holiness is not situational. It is a way of being that will be innate in you, and not subject in the least to the situation in which you may find yourself at a particular moment. It’s possible just for us to achieve this.
When President David O. McKay was asked once, “What do you hope for your grandchildren?” his response was, “A happy normalcy.” To be happy. To have a normal life. Holiness is possible in a normal lifetime, a normal life situation, without any question.
The Lord will bless us all. Every laborer is “worthy of his hire.” The Lord doesn’t say, “You’re in the wrong field. I won’t bless you.” He will bless you wherever you are and whatever you are doing.
I wonder if, Don, you are planning to go back to Nigeria after you finish your studies. Are you? [Don responds.] Good. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you, but I’m really glad. I’ve been to Abah and to Port Harcourt, not to Lagos, but it’s a great country. It’s a beautiful country with incredible people. We’ve got one sitting right here as an example. And the Church is incredible there—so powerful and so strong. And Don will be a great leader in the Church as he goes back and contributes. It doesn’t matter what field you are in.
But achieving holiness does take work—hard, consistent, sometimes heartbreaking but often exhilarating work. A.W. Tozer in his book The Pursuit of God, said,
Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.
So yeah, it isn’t easy. But it’s worth it. It just takes that focus, that determination, that commitment, that consecration. And holiness can be yours.
We have to recognize the fact that it is in us. We have that potential. Our Father in Heaven, one of His names is “Man of Holiness.” And we are His children. Could we not then be referred to as children of Holiness? I think we can. I think we must see ourselves that way.
We have to understand that we are dual beings. I mean, you look at me and you say, “There’s not much holiness there to observe.” But on the inside, I guarantee you, there is an eternity of holiness. Otherwise, would I, with you, have been foreordained to come to the earth? To receive the blessings of the Melchizedek priesthood? To partake of the fullness of the gospel? We had to have exhibited some measure of holiness before we came to this earth. And whatever we had, it’s still in there.
One of the popular things that we view these days is Les Misérables. I hope you’ll get beyond the play or the movie; I hope you’ll go to the book, and I hope you’ll read the uncondensed version. Well, read the condensed version first, and maybe later the long version. I love that story. One of the things that I’ve treasured from that is a quote from the author, Victor Hugo, when he says, “The soul helps the body, and at certain moments uplifts it. It is the only bird which sustains its cage.”
So, think of yourself as a glorious, beautiful bird. Imagine the most beautiful bird you can see in your mind’s eye. And now put it in the cage that you see in the mirror, and realize that that bird is still there; behind that cage is this glorious and beautiful bird with the most wonderful, colorful plumage you can imagine.
Now, people can harm the cage. It’s always been tragic to me—the most tragic of all statistics is that one in four young women will be sexually abused, and one in six young men will have a similar experience. I just hate that thought. But it is relieving and I am much satisfied to know that no matter what they did to the cage, they never got to the bird. So, the bird is free. The bird can sing its beautiful song regardless of what happens to the cage.
So, see yourself as this dual being, and then pay attention to that innate spiritual power, that holiness that is in you, and let it shine. Let it sing. Let it be all that it can be. Forget about the cage; it’s so almost irrelevant. Care for it. I mean, you don’t want a bird living in a dirty cage. But nonetheless, don’t let the cage be the focus; focus on the bird.
Now, the seven habits of holiness. I’ll have to be a little quick, I think. They come from Mosiah 3:19. I’ll read that verse very quickly: “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 now the seven habits—“and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love,”—and then he repeats—“willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”
So, to be a saint: to be as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, and again, 1A or 1B, whatever, willing to submit. Let’s talk about each of those, not necessarily in that order. Each of those very, very important habits, which, if we practice, will bring holiness to our life.
First of all, to be submissive, to yield our agency, to do what the Lord would have us do, to listen to the impressions of the Spirit and let that voice be the voice that guides us. I see three ways or three elements that are associated with this wonderful habit of being submissive. The first—to be obedient.
President Boyd K. Packer said,
Obedience—that which God will never take by force—he will accept when freely given. And he will then return to you freedom that you can hardly dream of—the freedom to feel and to know, the freedom to do, and the freedom to be, at least a thousandfold more than we offer him. Strangely enough, the key to freedom [and one of the keys to holiness] is obedience.
When Jesus was spending His last few hours with His disciples at the end of His earthly ministry, what did He talk about? You should read that frequently to know what the Lord would say to them at that point in His ministry, as He was about to leave them. What did He say? He said,
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
Obedience—so vital and such an important part of being submissive.
Number two in submissiveness is to be available. Available as an individual so you can do random acts of kindness, do what the Savior would do if He were standing right there at that moment, and available institutionally so that when the Church, the institution, calls you, you go, you do.
Right now, you’ll see in the Church News that many new mission presidents are being called. I guarantee you that for the vast majority of them, it was a great surprise and not something they anticipated. Now they will leave everything behind and go and preside over a mission for three years. And the things they leave behind, they still have to pay for. So, it’s not like it’s a free ride, by any means.
It's fascinating to me also that every week in this Church—every week, 52 weeks a year—an average of 952 young people are called to serve full-time missions. Now, many of you have had that opportunity—called, assigned by a prophet of God. Called by a prophet of God. They take that extremely seriously. And off you go for 18 months or two years to be completely available to the Lord to do His will.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we prove our dependability, he will increase our capability!”
To be available. First obedient, and then available to live as the Lord would have you live.
I probably don’t have time to tell you a story, but I’ll tell it really fast anyway. What I wanted to do when I was your age, more than anything, was what I had been doing since I was a little boy. I wanted to go as high as I could, and I wanted to go as fast as I could. One of the most fun things for me was to climb a pine tree in a windstorm and just ride that thing back and forth, as high as I could go, as fast as I could go.
So, I decided, well, what can you do that is high and fast, but fly airplanes? So I did everything I possibly could to get into the Air Force pilot training, which was very difficult. It’s still not easy, but I made it. Not only that, but I was assigned to the best pilot training base in the world. And a little ways through my training—which was so fun!. It’s so incredible to put on the helmet, strap on that oxygen mask, start those jet engines, one hand on the stick, other hand on the throttle, up it goes, and it’s fast and it’s fun and it’s high. We were having the time of our lives. But then something said—and I won’t go into all the details—something said, “Maybe you shouldn’t be here.”
After a lot of fasting and a lot of prayer, I said, “Heavenly Father, if I’m not supposed to be here, then I will go.” I bawled like a baby, but we went. Six weeks later, I was employed by the Church, and 41 years later now—41 and some—I stand before you having had experiences. . . . Now, would it have been okay to stay in the Air Force and fly? Oh my, yes! It would have been perfectly fine. But it wasn’t where I was supposed to be.
So I submitted—we, really, submitted our will to the Lord, and we’ve never gone wrong. So many wonderful things have happened as a result of our decision to submit to the will of the Lord.
The last part of submission is to cheerfully and patiently suffer whatever the Lord imposes upon us. And there are things He will do to us. There isn’t any positive connotation to the word inflict. It means you’re going to be hit really hard. In fact, as I understand, in Latin inflict means “to strike.” So, the Lord is going to knock you on the head occasionally, maybe knock you flat. But because you are submissive, you take it and you love it, and you’re grateful, and you say with Job, “It doesn’t matter what you do to me, I still know that you live, and when the worms eat my flesh I will stand before Thee and praise Thy name.” I don’t think He said it quite that way, but it was close. “Though he slay me,” he said, “yet will I trust in him.”
So be obedient. Be available. And be willing to take whatever He dishes out, because it is what will make you the best you can be.
Now, moving on quickly. I’ve been thinking about the difference between humility and meekness, and reached this conclusion. Humility is when you realize that you need other people, that you are not completely independent, that you can’t do everything by yourself. You need other people, so you humbly accept whatever they have to offer—the great blessings that come from listening to other people, from seeking counsel, from realizing that there are others who may know something that can benefit you.
When President Hinckley was the only functioning member of the First Presidency, he never acted alone. He could have—trust me, I know how it works. He could have. Nobody would have challenged him. The Quorum of the Twelve would have accepted just about whatever he may have suggested. But he never did, because he was a humble, humble man. He sought the counsel of his Brethren before decisions were made. And of course, other members of the First Presidency who weren’t physically able to function as well, also gave their input as decisions were made.
Meekness—now that’s a tough one because you just want to say that meekness is being humble. But I think that meekness actually is when you realize that other people need you.
Elder Maxwell, again, said, “Meekness . . . is more than self-restraint.” It’s not this cowering—even though, when you look in the dictionary it will give you a definition that is not very action-oriented; it’s always kind of being restrained—but Elder Maxwell says it is more than that. He says, “It is the presentation of self”—putting yourself out there—“in a posture of kindness and gentleness, reflecting certitude, strength, serenity, and a healthy self-esteem and self-control.” That is meekness. It isn’t being a cowering little flower. It’s being a powerful and controlled and strong and serene and certain, but still gentle and kind, human being. That is meekness.
I thought of an example of President Hinckley when he demonstrated that meekness, and I couldn’t think of a better one—although there were many—I couldn’t think of a better one than when he was on 60 Minutes. Imagine subjecting yourself to—I know that these are a little bit earlier than your time, maybe—but imagine subjecting yourself to Mike Wallace, one of the toughest interviewers that ever was. And I’ve got to admit that President Hinckley was a little nervous because once you give the interview, you have lost all control. They do with it as they please.
But he went forward anyway. Why? Because he was meek. He humbly sought blessings—literal blessings, and the prayers and the support and the sustaining influence of his Brethren—and then he meekly presented himself in an image of serenity, kindness, certitude, strength, and healthy self-esteem and self-control.
He was on Larry King Live three times. That’s a little easier in some ways because it’s live. They can’t fool with it after you’re done. But nonetheless, it’s live, with tens of millions of people watching, and he meekly put himself in that position because he cared about other people, he knew that they needed him, and he wanted to be there for them.
Now, patience. Usually when we think of patience, it is that we are kindly waiting until we get what we want. I think that’s more impatience. Patience is when you are kindly allowing someone else to grow and develop at their own pace, and loving them in the process.
Sister Staheli has manifested incredible patience in my regard. She has just let me foul things up, let me make mistakes, and allowed me to grow at my own pace, never expecting more than I could give but hoping that I would give my best, which I have tried to do. But being patient in my weakness. It’s not easy, necessarily. In fact, when the Lord refers to patience, He uses the term “long-suffering.” So, you may suffer a bit while the other person is growing, but because you love that person so much as a daughter or son of God, as your literal brother or sister, you can be patient with them and allow them to grow at their own pace.
To be patient—an essential element, an essential habit to cultivate in your journey toward holiness.
Now, the next habit is to be full of love. We know pretty much what that means, but let me talk about three elements, very quickly talk about three elements that really make this love come alive in a way that is powerful and will really contribute to your holiness.
First, offer the Lord a pure vessel. Timothy talked about the great houses of the world that have “vessels of gold and silver, …also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. [And] if a man therefore purge himself from these, [the sins of the world,] he shall be a vessel unto honor,” and the Lord, who is the Master, will use him.
So, if you want to be used by the Lord, if you want to be holy, make of yourself a pure vessel. A vessel is something that people can put something in, and the Lord will—if you are a pure vessel—He will fill you up. Now, with what will He fill you? He will fill us with His love.
Moroni said, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, [the pure love of Christ,] which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” So, if you make of yourself a pure vessel and then allow yourself to seek over, mourn over, pray over—in season and out—that the Lord will fill you with His love, He will.
Now, to this point, it’s all pretty self-centered, isn’t it? I’m going to purify myself; I’m going to seek the love of the Lord to fill me up. But if you keep going with that, if you keep practicing, then that love will overflow, and in the overflowing, it will become compassionate service—where you will not only be full of love, you will do things that are full of love. So, a pure vessel, full of love, overflowing in compassionate service to those who surround you.
Frequently in the scriptures, it’s mentioned that Jesus and others were “moved by compassion.” Moved—an action verb. They just didn’t sit back at the top of the mountain—although being at the top of the mountain is a great place to become pure and a great place to be filled with the love of God. But you’ve got to come off the mountain and be moved with compassion to heal and bless and help those around you.
Two more. Saintly—I’ll just give you a quick definition. A saint is someone who does more in order to receive less. If you are doing more in order to get more, there is nothing terribly saintly about that. But if you will do more in order to receive less, you can become a saint. That’s an important step on the journey to holiness. We could think of many who have been able to accomplish that.
Now lastly, to become as a child. Here I’d like to share a story with you. Years ago, when I was working in the Church Office Building—that’s the high-rise—President Spencer W. Kimball was the president of the Church. And when he would ride on the elevators, every now and then people would talk about their elevator experience with President Kimball. Well, I had one of those one time. It was on the 26th floor, and there was a little luncheon, and President Kimball spoke. Many of the Twelve were there, all the First Presidency, the auxiliary presidents, etc. It was a wonderful occasion, and after it was over I thought, well, I’ll get out of here before it gets too crowded.
I went over by the elevators on the 26th floor of the high-rise and was just standing there, minding my own business as best I could, and here came President Kimball and all the people that were with him around the corner. And I’m standing there by the elevator just wishing I could disappear. But he was probably as close to me as President Richards is. Pretty soon, the bell went “Ding!” and the light came on, and the elevator opened, and somebody said, “President Kimball, won’t you take the elevator?” So he was walking right in front of me, and when he gets to me, he puts his hands on mine and said, “Will you come?”
I said, “Yes, sir.” We got on the elevator, and he’s got me by the arm. His face is right here, and he asked me some silly question, and I gave a ridiculous answer. I don’t even know what it was. But then I thought to myself, “I’ve got to look into his eyes.” So I just turned my head, and there they were. Funny thing. And it was amazing. I didn’t stare. Actually, the elevator stopped and the door opened, and some boy was standing there, and he said, “I just came back from a mission to Denver.” And one of the Brethren said, “Where’s Denver?” And the doors closed. That was his elevator story.
The elevator got to the bottom, everybody left, and I just thought, “What was that about?” And I said to myself, “Those eyes—they are so beautiful. It was liquid love. I just saw liquid love in the eyes of the president of the Church.”
A few days later, it was a busy Saturday morning. We were bustling around the house getting things done, and our little daughter Emmy, who is not here today—tending a sick baby herself—started to cry because she was hungry. So I put her in the high chair—Saturday, Dad’s duty—and got a spoon of baby food and gave it to her. She stopped crying, and I went back to get another spoon, filled it up, and as I went to give her another taste, she looked up at me and my eyes met hers. And I said to myself, “Those eyes—I have seen them before.” And the whole elevator story came rushing back to me, and the Spirit spoke to me almost audibly and said, “Except ye become as a little child, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” So, I knew that President Kimball had achieved that. He was a holy man. He had recaptured the innocence, the purity, the imagination and wonder of youth, and coupled that with all the other habits. He had become a holy man.
Now, is that possible for you? I bear my testimony that it is possible. In fact, you must. You must practice virtue and holiness before Him continually. Practice. You may not be very good at it now. I’m not. But every morning I would wake up and say, “I’m going to practice.” And every night, the last thing on my mind is, “I’m going to practice tomorrow.” And so, every day I strive continually to find that level of holiness and still be a normal guy.
I love a little thing here, it’s called “A Missionary Prayer.”
Give me a mountain to climb.
Give me a river to cross.
Grant me the fire to refine
All the impure and the dross.
Give me some ground I can till,
And give me the seed and the rain.
I’ll plant by the light of thy will,
And consecrate all of the gain.
The fruit of my labors I yield
To the God of the harvest so kind.
Faith through my work is revealed,
With all of my heart and my mind.
Father in Heaven, make of me
All thy will can allow.
Then, for all eternity,
At thy holy throne will I bow.
He lives. He is the holy Son of God, the holy Son of the Man of Holiness. We—you—are children of Holiness. Of this I bear witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Mormon 9:14.
 “More Holiness Give Me,” Hymns, no.131.
 D&C 46:7.
 D&C 46:33.
 Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson; quoted in “Chapter 4 Persistence,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, (2011), 33–41.
 Alma 48:17.
 Alma 48:18.
 Mosiah 3:19.
 Luke 10:7.
 A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25141/25141-h/25141-h.htm.
 Moses 6:57; 7:35.
 Victor Hugo, translated by Chas. E. Wilbour, Les Misérables, Carleton, Publisher, Madison Square: New York (1862) pp. 70.
 Boyd K. Packer, “Obedience,” Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year Dec 7, 1971, 3–4; quoted in Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual, (2000), 46–48. Emphasis in original.
 John 14:15.
 John 14:21.
 John 15:10.
 Neal A. Maxwell, “It’s Service, Not Status, That Counts,” Ensign, Jul. 1975.
 See Mosiah 3:19; 24:1.
 See Job 19:25–27.
 Job 13:15.
 Neal A. Maxwell, “Meekness—A Dimension of True Discipleship,” Ensign, Mar. 1983.
 For example, see JST, 2 Peter 3:9.
 2 Timothy 2:20–21.
 Moroni 7:48.
 See “Compassion,” Guide to the Scriptures.
 See Matthew 18:3.