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Devotionals

Elder Allan F. Packer

Become Well-Educated in Spiritual Things

Thank you. I wanted to share this with you, and I’ll explain that in just a moment, but the introduction reminded me of my experience in South America as a young missionary. This is intended to be a message of hope, this little story that I’m going to share with you as you begin a new semester. I know and remember—as a matter of fact, as I went to school, especially in the university-level classes, I found myself having nightmares, about missing a class or, worse, missing a test or not being prepared. Have any of you had that experience? Two or three. I still have those nightmares, and I’ve not been in classes for a long time. But there is something about the intensity of being in school, and particularly after graduation from high school, that puts an emotional demand and sometimes a drain on each of us.

My experience is this: that you can succeed, that you can accomplish and do. And I suspect, and I feel very comfortable in promising you, that you will do things you have not dreamed of. When I was preparing to go to South America, they had us attend language training classes, which were then held in the predecessor of the MTC. It was called the LTM—Language Training Mission—and it focused on the language, and there was a little bit of doctrinal or scriptural work that we would be taught.

I was not the shiniest or the brightest star in the LTM. My companion and I were paired up together, fortuitously. Both of us struggled with trying to learn Spanish. And we just kept plugging away because that’s all we knew what to do, but at the end of our time, just as we were leaving to go to South America, our teacher told us, “You were the two worst Spanish-speaking missionaries ever to attend the LTM and still go to the mission field.”

Well, that gave us lots of encouragement. Fortunately, I wasn’t shiny enough to even realize what he was trying to tell us, and we went anyway. And we had a wonderful experience, as is evidenced by the miraculous growth that has occurred, and that we can see and measure in the Church as it grows around the world, but that same thing happens inside of you as individuals, as you go through life. You grow and change and develop and do things you never dreamed of.

Both my companion and I stayed and had successful missions. The mission was divided—he ended up staying in Peru and I ended up in the Colombia Venezuela Mission. Later in life, both of us had an opportunity to serve as mission presidents. He returned to Peru where he served, and we were assigned to serve in the Spain Malaga Mission, which meant learning another language. The Castilian Spanish is a little different than the Spanish I learned in South America. My wife actually speaks much better than I do. I can get the message across, but her pronunciation and accuracy is far better than mine.

What I had brought to share with you is our name tags. Some of you have been on missions; some of you will go. But this is the name tag we had when we served in Spain. The reason this came about, having these name tags posted in the frame, was as I interviewed missionaries as they were completing their missions, we visited about their experience. And a couple of things I would talk to them about, and that’s what I want to share with you today.

One of those was the suggestion that when they got home, they took their name tags and they put it into some kind of a plaque, a frame of some kind, and hang it on the wall near the door of their bedroom so that as they came and went they could see and remember their experience that they had while serving in the mission field—what they learned, who they had become. Every missionary that went home was different than when they had arrived, and if they went back to try to fit in where they left off, they would find themselves not fitting. And if they tried, it would be a mistake anyway. So I tried to give them just that much encouragement anyway, to remember who they had become and what they knew, what they had experienced, so they might move on in their lives and move forward.

They were thinking about careers and trying to decide what classes to take, what they wanted to be when they grew up. What I knew that they didn’t know is that it probably didn’t matter what they started with, because it would probably change in their life over time. I’ve had probably a dozen careers—not only jobs but different roles that I’ve worked in. And each one, drawing upon basic skills, but each one a little different. And if I hadn’t gone to school to train for that one career, I might have taken different classes than those I did. So my objective was to encourage them to move forward, like they had in the mission field. And one of the things I would ask them is, “What are the things that have helped you be successful in the mission field?”

And inevitably, it would always go back to this little pamphlet called the Missionary Handbook. Some call it “The White Bible.” What it has in it is principles to be a successful missionary. These have been prepared by the Brethren along with the other material that missionaries were given. In those days—this was pre-Preach My Gospel—that was being just introduced as we returned home. But in this pamphlet, there are guidelines and what they will refer to as mission rules. There is a schedule that’s outlined; there are suggestions on what to do on Sunday and holidays and preparation days, suggestions on writing letters. Most missionaries start writing quite a few letters, but by the end they start to slow down a little bit. The moms like to have letters that come. Mission presidents get phone calls from mothers when missionaries don’t write letters. So there’s an encouragement to do that. There are other guidelines and suggestions.

Many of you who have been on missions probably have this. But I would ask this question: “Did this book or pamphlet help you become a successful missionary?” Inevitably the missionaries would say yes, that what I learned here helped me become a missionary much quicker and much more effective than I might have been otherwise. And I pointed out that this would no longer be a guiding standard for them as they went home, but that as they met with their stake president and were released that that would then release them from the obligation and commitment they had made to study and follow the principles in the white handbook, or the Missionary Handbook.

But I said, “Are there things in this pamphlet that would help you be successful after your mission?” There are some things that don’t apply, like wearing white shirts and ties or the specific dress and grooming standards. Although we would hope that everyone would still dress and groom appropriately, it didn’t always need to be a white shirt and a tie. But there were things that they would find that, yes, if they continued to do it—like studying the scriptures and things—would continue to guide them and help them in their future life as students and then in their careers.

And so I made this suggestion. I said, “Why don’t you create your own handbook? Create a handbook of success for you. Create a handbook of successful principles, things that you could start with, perhaps pulling from [the Missionary Handbook] or perhaps pulling from The Strength of Youth that you’ve had and seen before. But after that, adding things that you discover as you move forward in your careers.”

I don’t know how many have done that, but I know a few have. Generally as you move through life, you discover along the way—sometimes by trial and error, and sometimes by mistakes—things that contribute to helping you become successful. And the essence of my message to you today is to create your handbook of success—principles that you learn, know now, and will discover that will help you become successful in whatever endeavor you pursue.

Now some of you aren’t quite sure. That’s all right. Most of us don’t know what we want to be when we grow up, even now. We still are learning and discovering things that interest us. Or we’re invited to serve in areas and ways that we did not know or anticipate. But if we look for those principles of success, they can apply to us and we can use them. And I would encourage the missionaries, and I encourage you, to review that on a regular basis. Review those principles so that they keep fresh in your mind things that will help you be successful.

Just a few months ago, Sister Packer and I had an assignment that took us to Asia. We visited a number of countries and had many meetings, and met many, many people—government officials and members of the Church and nonmembers and investigators. As we left, and as we entered each country, we had to show our passport. In the passport, we also had medical information that was required before a country would let us come into their country and do our work. We had to show who we were, where we were coming from, and that we would not bring a disease or something into the country that would be a problem or a concern for them. Security has become a greater issue in these days.

Even coming back into the United States we had to present the same documentation. They were credentials for us to even get back into the country, to prove that we were citizens and were legitimate to come.

Now each of you is on a journey, a journey of life. It has a purpose, sometimes known and sometimes unknown. Many people in the world—most, percentagewise—do not know of the plan of salvation. But nevertheless, it is the purpose of why we are here, to be born, have our bodies, to gain experience, to have good experiences and some bad experiences, to go to school, to learn, to find a companion, to marry, have families, to mature and grow old. And then we have graduation. And after the graduation, believe it or not, there’s still another final that is going to occur for each of us, where we will be asked to present our credentials. The test will include looking not only at what we have done, but at what we are—who we have become, what’s inside.

The scriptures teach us that we should become perfect. It says, “Be ye therefore perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) It has been interesting to me to note that it doesn’t say “Do things perfectly.” It doesn’t talk about what we do but what we are to be. And the Savior asked the question, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” and then answered, “Even as I am.” (3 Nephi 27:27) To become like He is.

I want to share with you a few things you might consider putting in your book of success, or your handbook of success. One is [to] look for and find and accumulate all of the credentials that you need to be able to return to our Father in Heaven. The plan of salvation tells us what that needs to be. The plan of salvation is the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it contains everything that’s needed so that we can work out our immortality and our eternal life. It includes the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement. It includes all of the doctrines, the laws and commandments, the principles that Heavenly Father wants and needs us to fulfill so that we have the right credentials. The plan makes it possible for all—every person can graduate and qualify with the right credentials, to be exalted and return to our Father in Heaven.

The scriptures teach us about that plan, and so in addition to the credentials, I would encourage to study the scriptures regularly, because in there we discover what it is that we need to do. This is the only way that we can return to our Heavenly Father, for it says in 2 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, “And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ.” (2 Nephi 31:21)

And so next to the scriptures, you might write, “Learn the doctrine of Christ.” And then as Elder Bednar teaches, act on the knowledge that you have. You are going to accumulate information and knowledge, some of process, some will be reference information. All of these different types and pieces of information are great to know but better when applied. And so act, and follow.

You may even want to create a list of standards of things you will do, things you will not do. Some are obvious. We don’t want to put our hand on a hotplate, because that has a detrimental effect. We’ve learned that, sometimes the hard way, but there are many other things that you can learn to avoid similar consequences, which leads me to the principle or law of consequences. We have our agency to choose, but along with the agency comes consequences of the decisions that we make. Those come automatically. If we pick up the end of the stick that is decisions, the other end has consequences on it. We can decide on the decisions, but we don’t get to vote on the consequences. They come automatically, sooner or later, in one form or another as consequences of the decisions that we have made.

The education that you are gaining now is of critical and paramount importance. I encourage you to get all that you can, both formal and informal. I have found in my career that, as I continued to learn and grow after graduation, that that really became the best and most important product of my education. It was the capacity to learn—to learn independently and on my own. And I discovered that those things that I had done early in my career are paying dividends now and along the way for things that I’ve been able to do.

My initial field at work was programming as a software computer engineer. Later, to design computer systems that controlled factory automation systems, controlling robots and designing systems to improve manufacturing. None of my classes had some of those things in them, but what I learned along the way helped me as I moved into those opportunities. Some of that education is formal on disciplines of academic subjects, but some of it that you should not forget or miss, is what is missing from most universities. Fortunately, you are here attending the business college, where you get some of what is missing in other universities, and that is the education of the whole person. That, along with the education of the mind and the intellect, is the education and growth of the spirit.

I’d like to share with you some words that President [Boyd K.] Packer shared at a graduation ceremony at Weber University, then a college. He was asked to speak in 1983 at the graduation. He said the following: “And regardless of what your transcript of credit may say, one part of your education may have been neglected, leaving you developed only to a grade-school level. Now that you are graduating, you would do well to concentrate on those things that are scarcely touched upon in universities of our day.

“For instance, you who have studied chemistry can mix a complicated formula without blowing up the chemistry lab. But have you learned to blend the ingredients of a happy marriage without having it blow up in your face?

“You who have studied language can now construct proper sentences and convey even the finest shades of meaning. But will you use that ability to sell unwitting customers something that they neither need nor can afford? Or will you [make a] promise, without quite saying so, [of] great returns on investments that are actually worthless?

“You who have studied accounting can keep complicated ledgers of principal and interest and increase. But [can you and] do you intend to pay back your student loan?

“You who have studied drama can write or direct a play, or interpret the lines in any script. But can you get your act together offstage? Will your role in life be as a bumbling comedian, [or] as a villain, or as the star of a self-made tragedy?”

He continued: “For it is not necessarily the education of the intellect which is the crowning achievement in life. It is time you learn, if you have not already [done so], that there is a part of [y]our nature, the part we term spiritual, that needs training as well. It is the spiritual part of your education that is most easily neglected. And consequently, we see many who are academic and intellectual giants but morally are puny and stunted and diseased.” (“The Essence of Education,” Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled, p. 22-30, http://scottwoodward.org/Talks/html/Packer,%20Boyd%20K/PackerBK_TheEssenceOfEducation.html)

There’s a truth or a principle there that could be added to your book of success. Principles. Which brings me to the next suggestion, that of learning the language of the Spirit. Many of you already know a foreign language. Perhaps that foreign language to us is your native language, and English is the foreign language. Those languages require discipline, they require learning the words and the phrases, they require us to learn how to speak and articulate. They teach us also how to listen and distinguish from the sounds that we hear.

The language of the Spirit is how the spirit that is inside each of us communicates to the Holy Ghost, and it’s the means by which we receive inspiration and direction from the teacher who knows all. He can teach us things that are not written or seen. We can know of things of the past, of the present, and of the future. He can help us know things that are true or things that are false. While it’s helpful to accumulate knowledge, knowledge that is false can be a detriment.

Knowing how to distinguish truth from error becomes a great asset in one’s career. It will cause you or facilitate you to do things automatically, without knowing why, which when done and you look back, you will ask the question, “Why did I do that? Wasn’t it lucky that I turned or I stopped? How did I know how to help my child?”

When I was a young father, with our oldest or firstborn son, this little baby receiving his injections that are normal for a baby, he had an adverse reaction to one, causing a high fever. While we were in the car, the two of us together, he had a reaction and he had a convulsion that caused him to stop breathing. As I sat at the stoplight, I looked over and could see something was wrong. I could tell he was not breathing. I had to do something immediately. I did not have time to go find my Scoutmaster and to learn how to do CPR. I didn’t have time to go find a book to read on it. I didn’t have time to learn how to give a blessing. I didn’t have time to become worthy. I either was, I either had, or I didn’t, and it was critical in that instance that I could give a blessing and perform CPR.

Each of you will be faced with opportunities, with decisions where you will be asked to do something. And either you are or you are not; either you have and know or you do not. I challenge you to be prepared, to have the language of the Spirit with each of you individually, to cultivate and develop that talent. With my son, I was able to resuscitate him. We were not long in getting to the hospital, and now he is a Scoutmaster teaching others CPR and has his own children and, I suppose, having similar experiences.

The Lord will bless each of you as you move forward in your lives. I would encourage you to create your handbook of success, to accumulate principles that will help you succeed in this life as you move forward. Much of what is important you will learn by trial and error, applying what you have experienced and learned here. Learn all you can, go forward with faith, and He can teach you all things that you must know.

I bear witness of the Holy Ghost, that He is real, that He does communicate with us. I bear witness of the Savior Jesus Christ, that He is the Redeemer, that He activated the Atonement for us. I bear witness of our Father—your Father and my Father, for each of us are brothers and sisters—of our heavenly family. I bear witness of these principles in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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