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John C. Pingree

A Tool in His Hands

It wasn’t too long ago that I was thinking about my career and finishing school. Frankly I kind of miss school now, except for finals. I remember the stress associated with them. It is nice to always be in an environment where you are learning and growing and able to study and pursue things that you are interested in.  

When I was preparing this talk I wondered what I would share with you today that would be of use. I don’t know if I have anything huge to say or anything greatly revelatory but I have been thoughtful and prayerful about the words that I wanted to share with you and hope that they will be of some use. It has been good for me to go through this process of trying to determine what kind of message I should deliver. 
I want to start by asking you a question and I would love a little audience participation, I’m interested to know what your responses are. The question is, “Does God care about your chosen career path?” Anyone have any thoughts about that?
Student comment: “God cares about our personal happiness, therefore He cares about our career.
Student comment: “God has given us certain gifts and talents and we can use these gifts and talents to help benefit the Lord’s Kingdom.”
Brother Pingree: So, we might have talents that will help one another, to render service throughout our careers.”
Student comment: “Some of the skills and talents of the leaders of the church currently were gained through professional experiences before.”
Brother Pingree: Any other thoughts or any counter arguments.”
Student comment: “God cares that our careers are honorable and also challenging.”
Brother Pingree: “Why challenging?”
Same student: “We are told that education is important and we should get as much education as we can. God wants us to find a career that will challenge us to be the best we can be.”
Brother Pingree, “Excellent. That is a great comment, any others?”
Student comment: “I don’t think He cares as much about a specific career that we need. Heavenly Father wants us to do what’s right. He wants us to follow his commandments. There are a number of careers that we could do that will be fine with Him, I’m sure.”
Brother Pingree: Okay, so He doesn’t care so much about the particular career, as long as we’re working hard and are honest in the careers that we chose. These are good thoughts. Anyone else?”
Student comment: “I think that God will let us choose whatever we want. This is part of the agency God has given us. It is not necessary to have a specific major to be saved, but at times God will choose certain people according to their majors to fulfill certain callings. For example in the past some people had money, like Martin Harris, so he was able to help with the restoring of the Church.”
Brother Pingree: God will help us to develop our characteristics in our major, to help someone else?”
Student comment: “I think that it is sort of like school. You have a major you are working towards but if your education is the only part of your life that you’re working on, then you are losing out on a lot. If you are involved in the community, if you are involved in committees and are trying to expand your knowledge, then it doesn’t really matter what your job is as long as you’re making the most out of your life.
Student comment: “As a returning student, I had the option of going to a school closer to home. After making it a matter of prayer and discussing it with others, I decided to move from Michigan to specifically attend school here in Salt Lake, because I felt through prayer that the Lord had something that I could accomplish here that I couldn’t accomplish anywhere else.”
Brother Pingree: Great! Do you miss the trees?”
Same student: “Yeah, but the mountains are great.”
Can we just table this conversation just for a second? All the comments have been wonderful—thank you very much. There are lots of view points and thoughts and angles on that question. Let’s put that on the shelf for just one second and what I’d like to do is read a quote from Elder Scott. Elder Scott gave a talk earlier this year at BYU-Idaho. I just happened to run across it. He said something I thought was very profound. If there is one thing that you can take with you today, it would be this quote. He said, “Heavenly Father has a specific plan for your life. When needed, He will reveal part of that plan to you as you seek His guidance with faith and consistent obedience.”
Heavenly Father has a specific plan for your life. I want to tell you now and bear testimony that I believe that is true. Though we, as His children, are more numerous than the grains of sand on the seashore, He has a specific detailed plan for each of our lives. He truly does; I know that’s true.
Let me read another quote from President Kimball. He said, “In the world before we came here, faithful men and woman were given certain assignments. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. We are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of us. We are here and do not remember much of what happened before we came to this life. But we can understand and know the commitments we made previously, and the expectations the Savior has for us as we live close to the spirit.”
There are just three things I want to talk about relating to how we can understand and follow God’s plan for us. The first one is this: we must identify our unique abilities and then develop those so that God has something to work with. Without raising your hands, is there anyone here who has said to themselves, “I’m okay at this and okay at this, but I really don’t have any true abilities.” I have thought that before, that there is nothing I’m really good at. I don’t have any unique attributes or gifts that Heavenly Father has given me. But I know that I was wrong and the reason that I know this is because of Doctrine and Covenants 46:11-12. The Lord tells us, “…for there are many gifts, and to every man (and woman) is given a gift by the spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.” All these gift come from God for the benefit of the children of God. He says, and I will emphasize again: to every man and to every woman is given a gift.

We all have gifts. Maybe it’s one, maybe it’s a few. I don’t know exactly; it depends on our particular situation. But we all have been given a gift. How can we come to understand what our gift is?
Student comment: “Try different things, try different majors. I started off as an English major, then I went into business, and now I’ve decided I want to work in film. I’ve dabbled in a little bit of everything, and I’ve tried different sports and different musical instruments until I found what I really enjoy doing.”
Brother Pingree: Try to experience different kinds of things and see where your skills and likes resonate. You know it’s interesting to hear you choose English and Business. Those are two skills that will help you a lot in pursuing a career.”
Student comment: “Patriarchal blessings.”
Brother Pingree: Excellent. If you don’t have a patriarchal blessing, I would do everything you can to get one. I have found a lot of direction and guidance in my patriarchal blessing. What else?
Student comment: “Ask other people what they see are good attributes in you. Often we can’t see our own attributes when others can.”
Brother Pingree: Excellent. Who would you suggest would be good people to ask versus people you shouldn’t ask?”
Same student: “Parents, friends, family, people you spend a lot of time with. Don’t ask somebody that you are competing with in something, somebody that you know is going to put you down. You want somebody who’s going to tell you the positive attributes that you have and not point out all the negative ones.”
Student comment: “We can receive personal revelation, to know what our attributes are.”
Brother Pingree: Why should we ask God?
Same student: “Because He is the one that has the plan for you so He would be the one to ask.”
Brother Pingree: I think all of the comments you have made are excellent ones: going to the source, asking our Father in Heaven who we are and what talents we have, engaging in a lot of different kinds of activities, asking people who know us as well and can see us in objective ways, or referring to our patriarchal blessings. Those are some wonderful ways to find out what our skills and abilities are.
I was reading another talk recently by a fellow named Clayton Christianson. He is right now a professor at Harvard, he’s a Rhode’s scholar, and has been called as an Area Authority Seventy for the Northeast Area of the Church. He’s a wonderful and incredible person. He was talking about decisions he made in his life that really helped him and he referred to something that his mother taught him when he was really young about developing his talents. He said, “I remember my mother teaching me that the more you learn, Clayton, the more talents you develop and the more ways God can shape you to be useful.”
With that thought in mind, he talks about his experiences starting school. He says, “I enrolled my first year in school in many diverse classes and loved every one of them. I think I loved them because the primary motivation for my learning was that there was a cause in which I was enrolled as a student that was far greater than my personal cause, that cause being that if I am actively trying to learn and develop myself, my talents, and my abilities, the Lord is going to use me for ways beyond my own imagination.”
I think that is quite a profound and interesting statement. That statement means something to me. It helps me feel good about myself that God would care enough about what I’m doing here at LDS Business College today in this semester because the things I’m learning here can help me help Him later. Gordon B. Hinckley said this, “Get all the schooling you can to qualify yourself in your chosen vocations. In this world competition is terrible, it eats up people, it destroys many, but it must be faced. It is something with which we have to deal. These are the great days of your future work. Do not waste them, take advantage of them, cram your heads full of knowledge, assimilate it, think about it, and let it become a part of you.”
 Let me commend you for what you are doing right now and the activities you are engaged in, learning and growing and increasing your capabilities and talents. My mother was a good example to me and I’d like to share experiences about her.
I’m the oldest of five and my youngest brother, Brian, was born with autism. His autism provided some challenges for our family and my mother, being the person that she was, decided to go back to school to get a masters degree in special education. She did this so she would know how to help and support my younger brother in what he needed. To make a long story short, she got involved in a number of things that ultimately allowed her to be an instrument in God’s hands, I believe, in working with the legislature to help get funding for schools for children in Utah who have autism. I think about her and her life and how willing she was to go to school and learn some extra things. She is an example to me. There were also a number of things in her early life that she never thought about. But they ended up becoming very important at this time in her life when the Lord was able to use her. One was that she grew up in a family that was very politically active and so she learned a lot about the political process. She also developed relationships with individuals in the political process. That was something she never thought much about, but it came in useful at this time when she needed to help those that are disabled with autism here in Utah. This is the first step: work to develop our own talents and abilities.
The second step is to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Marion G. Romney said, “Now I can tell you that you can make every decision in your life correctly if you learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When you learn to walk by the Spirit, you need never make a mistake.”
Let me share with you an experience. I am mediocre at best; there is so much I still need to learn in life, and I’ve made tons of mistakes in everything. But there are a few experiences relating to the spirit in my career that I’d like to share with you and try to draw some learning from. One experience is this. When I was finishing business school I had some thoughts, some very strong thoughts about what I wanted to do in my career. I was very interested in international business and development work. I ended up working with some professors at my graduate school who were focused in this area and they got me involved in some projects.
Ultimately I ended up being offered a job. It was the perfect job I’d always wanted. I was kind of blind as I was thinking about this job. I wasn’t thinking so much about my family or what the Lord wanted me to do. I was very focused on what I wanted to do and thought was right. There came a point where this offer was extended to me, I was thrilled with it and as I walked out of the office where that offer was extended and began to walk down the hall, the Spirit kind of grabbed me by the shirt and awakened me and said, “You can’t take the job.” I started asking myself how come when this is something I really wanted, it’s something I’ve worked for, something I desire. But that’s what the Spirit told me. I went and discussed it with my wife. It was easy and clear for her. It takes a little bit longer for me to recognize those promptings but we decided not to do it and I ended up taking a different job. I don’t know what would have happened; maybe everything would have been fine. But I do know that the Spirit gave me some direction for which I am very grateful.
There was another situation when I was working with a finance firm in Portland, Oregon. The managing partners of our firm decided to split up and go off and start their own businesses. It left me in a funny situation. It was hard for me to choose one or the other without having some issues with the other one. Our home office was in Philadelphia and I had a chance to go there, but we didn’t feel quite right to move there. I didn’t know quite what to do.
I ended up getting a contact with one of our clients who was looking for someone with my skills. As I thought about this opportunity, I went to bed that night and was trying to be prayerful and thoughtful about what I should do. In the middle of the night I woke up and had the Spirit dictate to me a letter that I ought to write to the head individuals of this firm. It was quite a remarkable thing. I had the words and sentences come right to my mind and I just jotted them down, wrote it and faxed the letter off. Some things that were said in that letter were things that I believed and felt, but I don’t know that I would have put them that way or said them that way. I feel it was a great blessing from the Lord, helping me to find an opportunity that ended up working out well. I learned some skills there that helped me later in my life. It was a place that maybe I wouldn’t have decided to go but the Spirit influenced my life and helped me that way.
There are experiences that happen throughout our lives like this. We need to listen to the Spirit, because the Spirit can guide us and help us do things that will prepare us for future responsibilities.
I also believe that there are individuals along the way that have influenced my life for good. There have also been individuals that I hope in some way I have been able to influence as well. If I was just going on my own track in my career, I wouldn’t have come in contact with these individuals and have been able to be of some support and help to them. I’ve had some great blessings being involved in the Church. We have been in different wards and branches throughout the world that my career has brought us to, and it has helped us develop and grow and gain an appreciation for people. Most importantly, the Spirit has helped me in my career decision making to find jobs that allow me to spend time with my family. There is nothing more important than raising our family and performing those responsibilities that we have there.
I remember when I was getting out of college, I was interviewed for different jobs. One job opportunity, by the world’s standards, was an incredible opportunity. I was excited to get it. However, as I thought about it, the Spirit helped me start visualizing the future. We had some significant loans we had to pay off so money was a concern to us. And we had just had a child. The Spirit helped me feel comfortable knowing that if I took another job I would be able to tuck my daughter into bed each night, and that over time I would be able to pay off our school loans. That brought me some comfort and peace, and I’m grateful that the Spirit was helpful in that way.
Of course, for us to feel the Spirit we need to live our life worthily. I don’t think we need to be perfect but I do think we need to be striving to do what we can. We also need to be reading the scriptures and following the words of the prophets.
Elder Condie said this, “You will receive distinct impressions and promptings and, as promised, the Holy Ghost will show unto us all the things that we should do.” I know that’s true; I testify that the Holy Ghost will show us everything that we need to do.
Let me read again from Elder Scott: “You must come to really know more of God through scriptures, prayer, and the testimonies of His chosen. Then He can guide you in every circumstance.”
The third thing we must do to understand and follow God’s plan for us is to rely on God, to know that He can do more with our life and career than we can do with our life and career. Can I read to you a quick example, then ask you what your impressions are of this interchange? I’m going to read to you an excerpt from one of the last interviews Mother Teresa had. It was with the Time magazine correspondent, Edward Desmond. It happened in 1989. Let me read this and then I’d like to get your impression on it.
Time magazine: “Why have you been so successful?
Mother Teresa: “Jesus made Himself the bread of life to give us life. I don’t think that I could do this work for even one week if I didn’t have four hours of prayer everyday.”
Time magazine: “Humble as you are, it must be an extraordinary thing to be a vehicle in God’s grace in the world.”
Mother Teresa: “But it’s His work. I think God wants to show His greatness by using nothingness.”
Time magazine: “You are nothingness?”
Mother Teresa: “I’m very sure of that.”
Time magazine: “You feel that you have no special qualities.”
Mother Teresa: “I really don’t think so. I don’t claim anything of the work. It’s His work. I’m like a little pencil in His hand, that’s all. He does the thinking, He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used. In human terms, the success of our work should not have happened. That is the sign that it is His work and that He is using others as instruments. All of our sisters could not produce this, yet see what He has done.”
Brother Pingree: This Time interviewer is trying to write an article to honor Mother Teresa. He is having a difficult time with it. Talk to me about some of the impressions you get from this interchange.
Student comment: “She’s close to God and she prays. It sounds like she is really Christ-like and she is following Christ’s example.”
Student comment: “She is humble, another Christ-like attribute, very humble.”
Student comment: “I was thinking that she has a clear understanding of what our jobs are to be, which is to be instruments in God’s hands.”
Student comment: “Like you said earlier, if you always have the Spirit, you won’t make any mistake. You will always be right.”
Student comment: “She has a good heart and she saw that there was a lot of poverty and she felt she could help.”
Brother Pingree: Her interview reminds me a whole lot of something that King Benjamin said, “I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering toward you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourself even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith...” (Mosiah 4:11).
 Here is a woman who is incredibly talented. She has many gifts, she’s developed them, she’s had experiences in her life that have allowed her to truly be an instrument and a vehicle in God’s hands. None of it could have happened unless she had the humility to allow God to use her.
Did anyone see the press conference where the two new apostles were just introduced recently this past week? There is something that Elder Bednar said that I wanted to quote and it relates to this topic very well. He said, “I think I know better than anyone that within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are literally hundreds, even thousands, more able than I. But I do know from whence the call has come and so I’m honored to respond. I look forward to serve and I’m anxious for the opportunity to be able to learn.”
This reminded me of something Alma the Younger said once, “I know that which the Lord had commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God…” (Alma 29:9).
When Paul was teaching the Romans and also teaching us he said, “…yield yourselves unto God...” (Rom. 6:13).
May I just read one last thing from Ammon. He says, “I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things…” (Alma 26:11-12).
Somehow we need to put ourselves in a position—and I think it has more to do with our hearts than anything else to be used by God. Are we praying and saying Heavenly Father, I want this career, I want this job and this position, I know I’ll do a lot of good for you, please help me to get it? Or are we saying, Here’s an opportunity Dear Father. I know I’m not perfect, I know that I make many mistakes. I have many inadequacies. I do know that this is something you want me to have. You can help me to get this job and I also know that you can use me as a vehicle for doing your work in my profession. These are two different kinds of perspectives. One is counseling God and the other is receiving counsel from Him.
I want to testify that there is nothing that feels better than being used by God to help better His work, even in the smallest of small ways. We are all weak, we are all inadequate. Anything that we have that is good comes because the Lord, our Father in Heaven, has blessed us with it. As we avail ourselves, as we yieldeth ourselves as Paul says, to the Lord and His will, then He can perform miracles in our lives, miracles to benefit the rest of the earth.
Let me just say in conclusion three things that will help us know our specific plan and fulfill that plan. One is to identify and develop our own talents and abilities, two is to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and three is to remember that it’s God who has the power and to rely on Him so that He can use us as tools in His hands.
Let’s go back to the question: Does God care about your career? I believe that He does. I don’t believe that God cares about what type of career you have necessarily. I don’t think He thinks that a doctor is any better than a teacher or a fireman and so on. But what He does care about is that we have honorable professions. I think He cares that we find professions that are suitable to our attributes and our abilities and our talents because He knows the things that are going to be happening in our future, in our specific plan. And as we apply ourselves, He can truly bless us in this way.
 I know that God lives, I know that He knows each one of us specifically, individually. He knows our worries, our concerns, our talents, our aptitudes, our abilities. He wants to use us. All we need to do is open up our hearts and our minds to Him so that we can be instruments in furthering His work here on this earth. This I say in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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