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Devotionals

Pres. J. Lawrence Richards

7 Ways to Go Forth in the Strength of the Lord

Oh, you look good. I heard some counsel once from Elder Bednar. He said, “You don’t speak to an entire congregation. You speak to an assemblage of ones.” Assemblage of ones. As I looked over you during the opening song, the announcements, and this wonderful choir number, I saw “ones”. I’m grateful to be here. I’m grateful for a little gift of the Spirit Heavenly Father blessed me with when I was appointed to this position in 2009.That little gift of the Spirit is a love for you.  It is overwhelming at times. It is obviously not the same kind of love I have for my wife or for my children or for my parents. It is a unique love. I cannot describe it. But it is powerful. It would be wrong for me to say that it is a flavor of the love that Heavenly Father has for you, because that would be presumptuous. But if it’s not, it’s got to be very close. Very close.

A colleague at the College sent an email the other day that sparked a thought I think is appropriate to share. He referred to the 17th chapter of Matthew, starting at the first verse.  . It is when Peter, James, and John accompany the Savior to the top of the Mount of Transfiguration and saw marvelous things. They saw Moses, and they saw Elias. They felt the Spirit there. Then Peter, after seeing those two visitations and after feeling what he felt, the only thing he could say to the rest of the group was this: “It is good for us to be here.”(v. 4)

Brothers and sisters, it is good for us to be here at LDS Business College.

Now today for a minute, I want you to think about seven-word phrase that maybe had an impact in your life. I’ll give you just a minute to ponder seven words, then I’ll suggest a few.

Here are some I’ve heard in the past. “Will you marry me after the semester?” Or, because devotional is held at this time of the day and doesn’t get over until quarter after twelve, “Have it your way at Burger King.” I’ve heard that. In a couple of weeks, I’ll hear a hoped for phrase of seven words: “There will be no midterm this semester.”

Here’s one you should all laugh at: “Really, honestly, the dog ate my homework.”

Let me tell you the seven words I am thinking of, seven words that have eternal consequence and open the doors of celestial possibility. Do you know what they are? “This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him.”

Seven words, brothers and sisters, that can change your life and give it greater meaning than you can imagine. Seven words that draw us here to this College. It’s only because of that event that we are, in fact, here. I bear testimony to you that those words were, in fact, spoken. They came from the lips of the God of the universe, the Eternal Father of our spirits. He was referring to the exalted Christ, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Jesus of the New, His very Son, the Firstborn of spirits, the Great I Am.

I testify to you those words were spoken to a 14-year-old humble and searching boy, Joseph Smith. It happened on a specific day, it happened at a specific spot, in a grove of pretty common trees—of beech and oak and maple. For as long as the earth will stand, I add my voice to millions that declare that grove to be sacred. Because those seven words were spoken, and exalting and restorative events followed, you and I are here at this place in this very unique time and season in both our histories.

As a result of that event, you and I can accomplish whatever is lovely, praiseworthy, or of good report.(See Thirteen Article of Faith) You and I can learn what Heaven would have us learn, that we might “be prepared in all things” for when the Lord shall again magnify us and send us forth on the calling to which we were commissioned before we came to this earth. (See D&C 88:80)

You and I are here, and we can accomplish those things as a result of those seven words, on one condition:  that you and I learn how to go forth in the strength of the Lord. So today I want to share with you seven ways to go forth in the strength of the Lord. Are there more? Yes. Could there be less? Yes. Are there specific ones for you? Yes. Who will tell you that? I pray the Spirit will tell those ways for you today, and that the seven ways I have marked out for a moment are simply just starting points for the Spirit to tailor the message to you.

So, are you ready? Here’s my seven—add them to what you can think of.

Number one: Prepare your heart and then your mind. The order is very important. When we do not lead with our hearts first, they can become hardened to spiritual and to secular truth. And what usually follows is a blinded mind. We become blind to the truth of all things—things, as Jacob said in the Book of Mormon, “things as they really are.” (Jacob 4:13)

Too many of my friends—smart friends, brilliant in the sight of the world, friends that went on missions and had very successful careers—fell away because their hearts were not fertile ground for the seed of the gospel to truly take root or they stopped watering the plant of their testimony. Some succumbed to the ridicule of others in that “large and spacious building,” (1 Nephi 11:35) or they were “blinded by the craftiness” (D&C 76:75) of others and the precepts of men.  Forever learning, they were, and are, “never [coming] to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) For a while, they had “a form of godliness,” but they never obtained “the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19) Their testimony had been recorded in their journals, maybe in letters to their parents from the mission field, maybe letters to their mission presidents. But that testimony was never written in “the fleshy tablets of their heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)

The opposite is also true. When our heart is right and our mind is open, we can receive the blessing to have the ability and capability to learn faster and deeper and better than ever before. How do we know that? Parley P. Pratt said it and the Brethren have repeated it. It is a blessing for our taking when we lead with our heart first, and then our minds.

You’re all very familiar with the fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Remember how it goes? “A marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your”—watch the order—“your heart, [your] might, mind, and strength.” (v. 1-2)

In your heart, we treasure up the words of eternal life. And then, the scriptures say, our tongues may be loosed, that we may speak spiritual and sacred things with great impact and with great conviction.

I have a colleague here at the College. He quotes wonderful, long sections of scripture and he quotes even longer sections of what the Brethren have said about you and about this College. One day I made a mistake—I said to him, “How do you memorize this stuff?” That was my telestial question. I will give you his celestial response.

He simply said, “I don’t memorize them. I put them here [in my heart].” To me that is a wonderful example of treasuring up in our heart first.

Now you say, “My goodness, President. We’re talking about calculus here. We’re talking about anatomy and physiology here. You mean to tell me that I can treasure up in my heart macro-economics (which, to a banker is the only true science there is, I will tell you)?”

Treasuring up, brothers and sisters, whether it is scriptures, quotes from the Brethren, or your school work, is the process of studying something out, living it, applying that knowledge to new circumstances, valuing it, and living worthy of the blessing to receive it in your heart. When you follow that process, trust me, calculus has meaning. And if you don’t use it here, I suspect in the next world, next to astrophysics, you might need calculus to do a world. I’m just saying.

Now if you’re accounting students—I joke with you that in the next life there is one accounting at the pearly gates with St. Peter, but after that I don’t think there are any debits to the left and credits to the right. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

So let’s summarize this first one. We prepare our heart first and then our mind. Here’s the conclusion to this first of seven points: You go forth in the strength of the Lord when you prepare your heart first to receive and then your mind.

Number two: Learn by study and by faith. I know you know about the study part. So what does it mean to learn by faith? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. What does that mean? President Howard W. Hunter: “Faith makes us confident of what we hope for and convinced of what we do not see.” (“To Know God,” Oct. 1974 General Conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/1974/10/to-know-god.)

How many of you picked courses in the hope you would learn something. Raise your hand—come on. Given the second week of the semester, is it clear what you’re going to learn yet? No it’s not, but you have the hope to do it. What don’t you yet see in your life that President Hinckley was speaking of? You can’t see where you’re going to be five or ten years from now. But I tell you what—your Father in Heaven sees it and He knows it, and He is shaping your life’s experiences here to prepare you for that mission referred to in the Doctrine and Covenants 88:80. The mission he commissioned you with before you came to this earth is what studying by faith suggests.

President Spencer W. Kimball stated: “We pray for enlightenment, and then go to with all of our might and our books and our thoughts and our righteousness to get the inspiration. We ask for judgment,” he said, and “then [we] use all our powers to act wisely and develop wisdom. We pray for success in our work and then study hard and strive with all our might to help answer our [own] prayers. When we pray for health,” he says, “we must live… laws of health and do all in our power to keep our bodies well and vigorous. We pray for protection and then take reasonable precaution to avoid danger. There must be works with [our] faith.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 122)

So brothers and sisters, exercise your faith and your willingness to be obedient.    Align yourself with the will of heaven, and then rest assured you will reap the rewards of this scriptural promise: The “good things of the earth” shall be yours, and it shall “bring forth… its strength” unto you. (See D&C 59:3)

Now, a final thought about learning by study and by faith. If you want to know what someone knows, have the faith to take the action to do what that person does. Let me state it very simply. It is a principle of learning. I hope you experience it in every class, when you do a project, when you do group work, when you hear somebody who speaks to the class. Here’s the principle, stated as simply as I know how: If you want to know what somebody knows, do what they do.

I’ll tell you a story about Elder Craig Cardon. Julie and I are neighbors to the Cardons. He’s a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. When he’s not on assignment, he’s in our high priests group. When you are the teacher, you’re not supposed to call on general authorities to make comments, but you can look at them long enough and sometimes they will join the discussion. I marvel at Elder Craig Cardon’s insight and his wisdom, and I remarked to Julie, “I wonder how he got that way.” I mean, this is a fellow that had a wonderful career, successful in real-estate development in Arizona. This is a hard-core business man, and wow! He is just full of the Spirit, full of knowledge and knows how to apply gospel principles to secular situations.

So one night I got up and I looked out the window—it was about 4:45, and the light in the study of Elder Cardon’s condominium was on. I have tried for the last year to beat Elder Cardon up in the morning. Haven’t done it yet. I finally gave up. I’m not getting up at 4:30 whether he does or not. I’ve accused him of having a timer on the light in his office, and he’s just set it for 4:30. But I know better. He is up and he is deep in the word of God. If I want to know what Elder Cardon knows, I ought to do what Elder Cardon does. I will leave the Spirit to interpret that for you. It is a true principle.

So let’s conclude the second point: Going forth in the strength of the Lord means learning spiritual and secular truth in order to live in the world and not be of it.

Number three:: Leverage your God-given gifts and talents into strengths. Doctrine and Covenants 46:11: “Every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.” Doctrine and Covenants 88:33: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”

Doctrine and Covenants 82:18: We are counseled there to improve upon our talents and to seek others. Paul, in First Timothy, counseled us to not neglect the gift that is in us. (See 1 Timothy 4:14)  2 Nephi 2:27: “All things are given… [to us] which are expedient.”

So how do you leverage your gifts and turn them into strengths? You work at it. You discover what they are. You start with your patriarchal blessing, then you come let us help you add on those talents. Come learn the skills necessary to turn those talents into strengths, so you can go forth in the strength of the Lord to do what? To strengthen your families, to strengthen your communities, and to build the kingdom of God on the earth.

Do you know why I think we’re called a church? Because there’s no listing in the Yellow Pages under “kingdom.” This is the kingdom of God. Some gifts and talents were given to you by a loving Father in Heaven before you stepped foot on this earth. He is shaping your life and giving you opportunities to build those talents and gifts into strengths that you may carry off the kingdom triumphantly. I invite you to rise up early with Elder Cardon and set the day right by immersing yourself in the word of God. And ask this prayer in your heart: “Father, show me how I can serve someone else today with the gifts Thou hast so graciously and mercifully given to me.”

So let’s conclude the third point. You’ve been given gifts and talents. They will either become strengths through your efforts to develop them, or you will lose them. The parable of the talents tells us that. These gifts and talents are given for you to strengthen your families, your communities, and the Lord’s Church.

Number four: Live with honor. Be true to the promises, commitments and covenants you have made. Living with honor, brothers and sisters, includes the dress and grooming standards. It is the easiest to follow and easiest to break. I will tell you that the dress and grooming standards are. Listen carefully to the words, because they should be familiar: The dress and grooming standards are an outward manifestation of an inward commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who have ears to hear, hear it.

Do you know the story of Ephraim Hanks? How many saw the movie, the story of Ephraim Hanks? Back in the day, some of those men wore their beards all the way down to their waist. It was a trophy. I mean, it takes a while to get that to happen, doesn’t it?  So Ephraim goes to a dance, and Brigham Young is at the dance, and Brigham tells Ephraim to go home and shave.. What does Ephraim do? He goes home. He shaves it, but he leaves his very nice moustache, and he comes back to the dance. Brigham goes up to him and says, “Ephraim, I said to shave it all.” Ephraim Hanks leaves the dance, goes home and shaves again. Now I don’t know what Ephraim said in his little heart, the first time going to his house. I know what I would have said in my little telestial heart the second time I went to my house. But he shaved it and he came back. Brigham Young later said this about Ephraim Hanks: “He was a man always ready to lay down his life for the authorities of the Church, as well as for the cause of Zion and her people.” Hurray for Ephraim Hanks.

So let’s summarize the fourth point. When you prove to the Lord you can be trusted to live up to the covenants you have made, and are quick to observe the counsel of prophets including as it relates to the dress and grooming standards of this—His—institution, you will go forth in the strength of the Lord, I promise you.

Number five: Stand in holy places and be not moved. Have you ever thought about what a holy place might be? Let me give you four ideas.  A holy place might be geographic. It can be a physical environment—sacrament meeting. Liberty Jail was a physical place, but the environment was made holy. At the beckoning of those who would have destroyed him, Nehemiah in the Old Testament would not come down from the walls as he was engaged in the work of rebuilding them. H said, “I am engaged in a great work, and cannot come down.” Those walls represented a holy environment. (See Nehemiah 6:2-3)

A holy environment can be a moment in time. It can be a moment when the Holy Ghost testifies to you. A holy place can be a moment in time when you read your patriarchal blessing, when you feel God’s love, or when you receive an answer to a prayer.

I had a friend who was a property appraiser. Once he was called to appraise a home, and when he went in, he saw clutter and trash. It was one of those places where you did not want to have on leather-soled shoes.  A family was living in it. As an appraiser, he had to measure every room for its size. He stepped over the trash for half an hour. He finally got downstairs to one room. The door was closed. He opened the door and the room was spotless. The bed was made; there was a little mirror on the wall. On the mirror was a little picture of the temple. On the bed stand was a copy of the Book of Mormon. On top of the copy of the Book of Mormon was a Personal Progress book. Brothers and sisters, no matter where you are, you can create holy places and be not moved.

So when we put ourselves in places and environments, thinking righteous thoughts and seeking uplifting moments of time, when we are in holy places and we are not moved from them, we will move forward in the strength of the Lord. I promise that.

Number six: Stay connected to the powers of heaven. The Savior provides this counsel in the 43rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 16: “Ye are to be taught from on high. Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power, that ye may give even as I have spoken.”

How do you get that endowment of power? You get that endowment of power by being connected to heaven. How many of you own a cell phone? How many of you have ever forgotten to plug the cell phone in? There are no more incoming calls, there’s no texting. There is no GPS to tell you where you are and where you need to go and how to get to your destination. . Your life and your soul are just like that. You have to stay plugged in.

Here is a story told by President Harold B. Lee.  He was president of a stake and they had a disciplinary council. It was a difficult one. They excommunicated a man for doing something to a lovely young girl, and the next day the brother of the man who had been excommunicated came into his office and said, “Brother Lee, you’ve got it wrong. My brother is innocent.”

President Lee invited him to sit down and said, “Can I ask a few questions?”

He said, “Yes.”

He said, “How old are you?”

“I’m forty-seven.”

“What priesthood do you hold?”

“I think I’m a teacher.”

“Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?”

“Well, no, I use tobacco.”

“Do you pay your tithing?”

“No. And I don’t intend to as long as that blankety-blank man is the bishop.”

“Do you attend priesthood meetings?”

“No sir, and I won’t as long as he’s the bishop.”

“You don’t attend your sacrament meetings either, then, I suppose.”

“No.”

“Do you have family prayers?”

“No.”

“Do you study the scriptures?”

“Well, my eyes are bad and I can’t read very well.”

Then President Lee said, “In my home, I have a lovely radio.” He wrote this a long time ago. “And it has tubes in it.” Those tubes, by the way, control the flow of electricity—convert it from alternating current to direct current to run the radio. The tubes are in there to keep the radio running. President Lee said, “You know, inside of each of us have a ‘Keep the Word of Wisdom’ tube.” He said, “You have a ‘Pay tithing’ tube; you have a ‘Stay morally clean’ tube. And when all those tubes are functioning properly, you get a very clear signal. But when you stop, almost imperceptibly, the message becomes harder to hear. There is static in the background. You pick up channels you’re not intending to pick up.” (This story is paraphrased from a story told at the 15 May 1952 devotional at Brigham Young University, not available at present in written form.  It was retold by Elder Marvin J. Ashton in “A Still Voice of Perfect Mildness,” BYU devotional, Feb. 20, 1990, http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=28)

I think there is something for us in that story. So let’s summarize number six: You must engage in those daily activities to keep you connected, and if you desire to move forward in the strength of the Lord, you know what that list of things are. You’ve known them since Primary, and now “for heaven’s sake” just do it.

Number seven: Endure to the end of the season of life which you are in. Endurance, brothers and sisters, means something more than just suffering through. It means embracing the moment. It means taking advantage of all the trials, both good and bad, that come your way. They are there for your growth, development, exaltation, and for the mission with which the Lord has commissioned you.  When you leave the College you will enter the next season of your life. And when you feel tired, and enduring feels too much, you ask to be lifted up.

One of the most tender experiences Sister Richards and I had this last year was during a walk on  Temple Square. We watched a father with a little three- or four-year-old daughter.  They were holding hands while they walked.  She was in this cute little dress. They were outside of the temple waiting for maybe a bigger brother or sister to come through. They came out of the southeast corner of the temple grounds and started down the walk moving west. It’s a long walk when you’re three or four. She looked down the long sidewalk, she looked up at her father just as we were passing, and simply said, “Daddy, will you lift me up now?”

Her father, without hesitation, swept her up into his arms and they walked together. Brothers and sisters, endure to the end of the season of life which you are in. When the walk to the end looks too long, you too can simply say “Daddy, will you lift me up now?”

Now let me conclude. I heard a great line from a Protestant minister on YouTube. I give him all the credit in the world. It’s good doctrine. It starts like this: “You are the one. This is the place. And now is the time.” (See Jentezen Franklin, “I am the One,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpqqOK09CYs.)

Do you remember Gideon in the Old Testament? The Lord came to him and told him he was the one that was going to save the children of Israel from the Midianites. He basically said, “Hey, I’m poor. I’m the least in my family.” In essence, what Gideon was saying to the Lord was, “Not me! Not here! And not now!” (See Judges 6:14-15)

But Gideon stepped up. I believe he applied many of these same principles, and he went forth in the strength of the Lord to accomplish the mission given to him.

Moses—you remember the incident of the burning bush. Moses basically said, “Ooh. Really?” And he keeps this conversation going with the Lord all the way through the third chapter of Exodus into the fourth chapter. Finally he says to the Lord, “You know, I am slow of speech. I can’t talk.” (See Exodus 4:10-12)

I believe that the great Jehovah, in his frustration—the scripture doesn’t say frustration—but the Lord basically looked at Moses and said, “Moses, who made your mouth?” I believe Moses applied these principles, he stepped up and, like Gideon and like others in the history of the Church, moved on in the strength of the Lord to fulfill the mission to which they were previously foreordained.

Brothers and sisters, you will believe in the work you do. You will have a testimony of that work after you do it. Now let me recap. Seven ways to go forth in the strength of the Lord:

·         Prepare your hearts first and then your minds.

·         Learn by study and by faith.

·         Leverage your God-given gifts and talents into strengths.

·         Live with honor.

·         Stand in holy places and be not moved.

·         Stay connected to the powers of heaven.

·         Endure to the end and receive your crown.

You can do it! Why? Because you are the ones. This is the place. And now is the time in your life. I so testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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