Strive to Savor the Things of God
I need to make a little bit of a disclaimer. I appreciate the opening prayer that was offered, and I always want to speak by the Spirit. But it’s also important that you hear by the Spirit, and that’s why you have your books. And I am grateful you have those. Elder Bednar made an observation once when teaching the general authorities. He said, “If all you hear today are the words that I speak, then our time has been wasted.” And I would echo that. The real teacher here today will be the Spirit, and you can learn, even if my words aren’t in harmony with what you are thinking. And don’t worry about that. Just go with the Spirit and don’t pay too much attention to me if we go in different directions.
I think I need to make something of a disclaimer to start with. The disclaimer is that I know what I want to say today, and as I tried to organize it and put it down on paper, it hasn’t come very well. And so if you’re going to hear what I want to say, it’s going to be, again, by the Spirit, and not necessarily by my words. In my studies of the scriptures, and there’s one particular scripture in the 52 nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants that talks about this, I look for patterns. In the 52 nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord said, “I … give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived; for Satan is abroad in the land, and he goeth forth deceiving the nations.” (v. 14)
Well, I look for patterns and I look for commonality in scriptures that suggest patterns. I think probably all of you, particularly those of you who have served missions or have had the opportunity at one time or another to come across a scripture that spoke to you, that seemed to stand out. Again, Elder Bednar in April of 2005 spoke in general conference and used the phrase “tender mercies.” And that was a phrase that had caught him in one of the scriptures in 1 Nephi 1:20. And I think we’ve all probably used that phrase since that time.
Joseph Smith had impressed upon his mind, remember, as he was reading in James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” And do you remember what he said after that? He said, “Never did any … scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12) That, of course, was a revelatory experience.
In the 8 th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, we read that the Lord says, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you…. Now … this is the spirit of revelation.” (vv. 2-3) So Joseph Smith had in fact a revelatory experience right there. Hopefully today, by the whisperings of the Spirit, we will all have a revelatory experience. We will all have revealed to our hearts and our minds something that is new and is revealing to us that the Lord wants us to know.
All that is by way of introduction, because in my studies I was reading in the book of Matthew recently, in the 16 th chapter. And you’ll remember that the 16 th chapter is the chapter where Peter identifies Christ and bears his testimony: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v. 16) Well, a rather remarkable event occurs shortly thereafter, and we don’t know the timing of exactly how these things were recorded, but it’s only three or four verses later. Christ is teaching, and [it] says, “From that time forth began Jesus to shew … his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and the chief priests … and be killed, and be raised again [on] the third day.” (v. 21)
Now this is the one that I want to focus on: “Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
“But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” (v. 22-23)
The other scripture that came to my mind, and it’s a little bit removed, but it’s a pattern—the other scripture that came to my mind is found in Helaman, in the 10 th chapter. And this is when [Nephi, the son of] Helaman has spent many years teaching the gospel, going throughout all the Lamanite and Nephite nations, converting the Lamanites so that they became more righteous than the Nephites. And he’s just had a very disappointing experience with some Nephites and he’s walking home, and he’s feeling kind of bad. And the voice of the Lord comes to him, and He says, “Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.” (v. 4)
These two scriptures relate because they contrast. In the one, Peter is being rebuked because he “savourest not the things that are of God,” and in the other, Nephi, the son of Helaman is being commended because he has not concerned himself with men or the wants or the desires of men but has always sought the things of God.
And so, if I can for a few moments, I would like to just focus on how it is and what it is that we can do to savor the things of God. What are the things of God that we need to do in our lives, and how can we evidence that we do in fact savor those things? I would suggest to you, number one, that your mere presence here today suggests that you savor the things of God. There are other things to do; there are other places to be. There are other things going on. You all have classes to study for and homework to do, and yet you have chosen to be here. And that, in and of itself, has suggested that you have established in your own minds a priority of what is important.
Let me briefly just run down a list of some of the things that I have jotted down that might indicate savoring the things of God. Perhaps it might be to remove a tattoo. Perhaps listening to the gospel or just attending a meeting that you’re not required to attend. Maybe we won’t be required to do what Abraham did when he offered up Isaac, offering our only son, but any sacrifice, any way of going out of our way to offer up an acceptable sacrifice to God. It may mean just giving up some of the conveniences and comforts—not sleeping in on Sunday morning, or turning off a ball game on Sunday afternoon—might be one of those ways that we can evidence that we savor the things of God more than the things of men. Perhaps it might mean giving up the dreams of a lifetime to accept an invitation from a prophet to follow a different course. It might be just attending seminary or Institute. Perhaps not murmuring or finding fault. Perhaps doing something that is inconvenient.
Now let me go back over my list a little bit and explain some of the things that I’m talking about. I said it might mean removing a tattoo. We don’t encourage people to go out and remove tattoos, by the way. That’s not doctrine; that’s not even a recommendation. But a number of years ago, a man in the South Sea Islands where tattooing is part of the culture was called to a position of some responsibility in the Church. The general authority who issued the call noticed that he had on the back of his hand a tattoo, and he suggested to the man that as he taught and as he went out, he might want to keep that covered—that that might send a wrong impression to young people of what was acceptable or what the Lord would approve—and that he might want to keep that covered.
The general authority happened to be back in the company of that man several months later, and at that time noticed that he had an ugly scar on the back of his hand, and he asked him what happened. And he said, “Oh, I went down and had the tattoo removed.” And the general authority was mortified. He said, “I wish I hadn’t said anything about it. We certainly didn’t expect you to do that.”
And the brother said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. It was nothing. Besides, at least now the Lord knows where I stand.” You see, he had made a stand with God. He had decided what was important and what was a high priority for him. He had gone beyond what was expected. Now again, please don’t take that as a lesson on tattooing but rather as a lesson on the heart and what is important in your heart and in your mind.
I said perhaps it means giving up the dreams of a lifetime to accept an invitation of the prophet to follow a different path. I don’t know how many of you are acquainted with Elder Bednar’s story, but Elder Bednar was a professor at the University of Arkansas when he received a call from President Hinckley. He said, “I was not looking to be a president of any college or any institution at all. That wasn’t in my mind, that wasn’t in my heart.” He said, “We had a little business set up, and I had my life planned out.” And he said when the prophet calls you in, you don’t have very good bargaining position. He said, “The prophet interviewed me, told me of the position that might be available, and asked me my response.” And he said, “I was honest with him. I told him what my plans were. But I also told him that I would do whatever the Lord wanted me to do, and that ended our conversation.”
He said, “One of the interesting things that didn’t occur during that conversation—we didn’t talk salary. He said, “I didn’t feel like it was important to bring it up, and President Hinckley didn’t bring it up, so we didn’t talk salary.” He said, “I went back to Arkansas, and a day or two later I got a phone call, calling me to be the president of Ricks College, which later became BYU—Idaho. And he made that transition. He was the one the Lord put in place to take it from a junior college to a university.
He said, “When I got to my job,” he said, “They furnished a home, they furnished a car, and everything was in place.” But he said, “We’d never talked salary, and no salary came.” And he said three months went by and “pretty soon a man came by from Church headquarters, and he sat down with me, and he said, ‘I just want to make sure everything is going well for you, and how are things going?’”
He said, “Very fine.”
He said, “Is your home okay?”
He said, “Yes, the home is lovely. It’s very fine.”
He said, “Does the car work properly?”
He said, “Yes, the car works well.”
And he said, “Are you getting your regular salary?”
And Elder Bednar looked at him and said, “There’s a salary?”
And he said, “Well, yes. You get a monthly salary.”
And he said, “I haven’t received any salary.”
Well, that was remedied, but the lesson I got out of that from Elder Bednar was, he was there for the duration, and as far as he knew, he was not being paid for that. You see, the Lord tests our heart from time to time, sometimes to make apostles out of us. But I think that was a wonderful insight into the kind of person the Lord needs to work and to carry His work forward.
I had the opportunity several years ago—well, several months ago—to become acquainted with a man who graduated from BYU, took his PhD at Stanford University and was hired by the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, and established himself as a world-renowned microbiologist. And he is in the forefront in doing a lot of cancer research, micro-cell research, and is just a very profound and instrumental leader in that particular area in science. He decided that he would like to teach at BYU. He put in his application and was interviewed, and then he came out to interview with a general authority. Anyone who is employed by the Church, of course, has an ecclesiastical interview by the general authority.
During the interview, the general authority looked at him and said, “You know, you can be of much greater value and use to the Lord and to the gospel in Buffalo, New York, than you will ever be at BYU.”
He was a little bit surprised at that, but he decided that was an inspired statement and withdrew his application and went back to Buffalo, New York. I met him two or three months ago as I was there to release him as the stake president. He had been serving for 10 years. The most remarkable thing about that was that everybody that stood and spoke in that stake conference called him “the servant leader.”
When I arrived there, he had arranged for him and myself to go around and meet three different families that evening. I arrived on Friday evening, and the next day, Saturday, we would start the reorganization. But we went around and ministered to five different families who had health problems or who were going through emotional trials or challenges in their life. And I thought, “Isn’t that interesting. He did exactly what that general authority suggested, that he could be of greater use to the Lord and to the Church in Buffalo, New York, and he just simply decided to do that.” A submissiveness, a willingness, a desire to follow, a willingness to savor the things of God.
Now they don’t have to be that dramatic. I became acquainted with a man not very long ago who said that a number of years ago he was walking across a beach in Southern California, and a beautiful young lady caught his eye. He said, “I was rather bold—I was not a member of the Church, I was rather bold, and I went up to her and said, ‘What is a beautiful young lady like you doing in a one-piece swimming suit on this beach?’”
And she said, “If you’re really interested, it’s going to take a little time. Sit down and I’ll explain it to you.” Three weeks later he was baptized. I became acquainted with him because he was just sustained as a stake president. I wonder if that young lady ever knew that by savoring the things of Christ, the things of God, she had had such a profound impact and influence on one life—but not just one life. Many, many lives as he goes on to minister in his leadership calling, because she had decided that she would not compromise the standards of the gospel.
So the real question is, then, what does all this mean to me? What does all this have to do with me? And I like your books, because I’m going to invite you to start a list. How can I savor the things of God? And it can be a very personal list. Where are you in your scripture studies? Where are you in your prayers? If you are regular and consistent, can they be more meaningful? How are you doing in your home teaching or your visiting teaching? How are you in attending your Sunday meetings? How well do you communicate with your family members? Are there trials or challenges there? Are there people that you need to forgive, that you still hold a grudge to?
Those of you who attended Relief Society and priesthood meeting this last week, remember the list that President George Albert Smith made of the 11 things that he would do to, that he wanted in his personal creed in his life? Go back and review that, go back and look at that, and say, do any of those things work for me? How can I do them?
But don’t try to do it all at once. Pick one thing. Pick one item that you might say, how can I better demonstrate that I savor the things of God. Maybe it’s simply motivation. Ask yourself, why am I here today? Is it because he came, or she came? Or is it because it’s a free hour, or is it because I really want to hear something? Look at your motivation, and say, how can I do something better because I want to do it better?
I remember the brother in Africa, in Malawi, Africa—we were having a meeting, and I was teaching about fast offerings. And he raised his hand, and he said, “Can you tell the prophet in America that the people of Malawi are too poor to pay tithing?”
“Well,” I said, “First of all, you have to understand that the prophet doesn’t tell the Lord what the commandments are. The Lord tells the prophet what the commandments are. But,” I said, “the only people who don’t pay tithing are the people who don’t believe God. Tithing isn’t the problem; tithing is the answer. The Lord says, ‘Prove me now herewith if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.’”
You see, that is one evidence of savoring the things of God. But it’s not the best evidence. The best evidence of why we pay tithing is simply because we love God, not because we’re going to get something back. Not because He has promised us something but because we love Him.
Brothers and sisters, you bring with you a great spirit, a great understanding of how the Spirit works, and there’s a special spirit here today. Thank you for bringing that. My hope and prayer would be that you can savor the things of God, that you can follow the pattern of Nephi, the son of Helaman, in doing everything in unwearyingness, in seeking out those things that will have an eternal value and be of an eternal nature. My hope and prayer is that each one of you can achieve your own personal goals. As I indicated at the start, you are where the Lord wants you. You are on the path that He would have you. Continue on that path. Link your hand with His, so you stay on that path, and savor the things that have eternal value so that you can know that you are on that path. That is my hope and prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.