Scriptures Teach That Decisions Determine Destiny
Brothers and sisters, you are an awesome sight. President Richards usually begins by saying how wonderful you look and how great you look. And you do look great. I was at BYU-Idaho this past weekend, and they had a “BYU’s Got Talent” show on Friday night, and I was also impressed there that the students looked great—they looked like you. It was a talent show, but they were clean-shaven, the men were, and they behaved themselves like sons and daughters of God. They were awesome. But you, you’re more awesome, I think. I may be a little biased.
I feel very humbled to be here; this is a tremendous responsibility. You’ve taken time out of your schedule to come, and to be spiritually fed. And that’s not an easy thing to do. It requires the Spirit. So I pray the Spirit will be with us, that we can present to one another, discuss, and receive by the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. That would be a tender mercy if that could happen today in this room.
I want to begin by asking you to write something in your journal—so take a moment real quickly, write this down: “The most important choice I will make today,” and then I have a colon there, you see that? That means you’re supposed to fill in what you think the most important choice is for you to make today. I’ll give you just another 10 seconds or so. I wanted to take as the theme for our talk today a quote by President Monson that Elder Nelson referred to as the concluding speaker in General Conference this last October. He said President Monson mentioned that “decisions determine destiny.” I went online to try to find where he first said that. Over 30 years ago (he was a junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve at that time) he said youth today are faced with monumental decisions. What are the three most important ones? What’s my faith, whom shall I marry, and what will be my life’s work? (“Decisions Determine Destiny,” Liahona, July 1980). How many of you put one of those items down on your page just a minute ago? Okay. All right. Let’s go on to the next here.
Decisions determine destiny. I want you to think about this, and see if we can get you involved here. Can we have someone raise their hand; we have some mikes here, so we’ll be asking for some interactivity. Who can read for us Helaman 16:1-3? If you’d like to do that, please raise your hand, and we’ve got mikes to share with you. Can you raise your hand—there’s a hand here, there’s one up there…okay, thank you. I may interrupt you, just please you do it, okay, but…Helaman chapter 16. This is the final chapter in Helaman. Is it working?
“Yeah, I think so.”
All right, go ahead.
“I’m just waiting for my phone to turn back on.”
All right. Okay, you ready?
“No, sorry. Normally people would think this is awkward, but I don’t.”
There we go. That’s faith to volunteer without having the scriptures in…that’s awesome.
“Can you remind me of the verse?”
Helaman chapter 16, verses 1-3.
“Perfect. ‘And now, it came to pass that there were many who heard the words of Samuel, the Lamanite, which he spake upon the walls of the city. And as many as believed on his word…’ ”
Okay, stop for just a second. So what’s happening, what’s the experience? Samuel is on the wall, right? Why is he on the wall, do you remember why he’s on the wall? A couple of chapters earlier, he was preaching and was kicked out of the city, right? He was ready to go home; that’s what I would have done. I would have gone home. But the voice of the Lord came to him and said, “You’ve got to go back and preach to the people the words I will put in your heart.” So he tried to get back in the city, they wouldn’t let him in; he climbed up on the walls of the city. Then he said, “As many as believed,” right? So that’s the bottom portion of this pyramid that I have in front of you. Okay, keep reading.
“As many as believed on his word went forth and sought for Nephi; and when they had come forth and found him they confessed…”
Okay, stop. So, they chose to do a couple things. What did they do? Those that believed, they sought for Nephi, right? They confessed their sins, I can get you to read that—go ahead.
“They confessed unto him their sins and denied not, desiring that they might be baptized unto the Lord.”
So, what are the outcomes, what is their destiny in this case, the outcome? Baptism, right? Eternal destiny, probably. There’s some ripple effects that go into the eternities. So an excellent example, but what about those who didn’t believe? Would you go ahead and read the next verse?
“But as many as there were who did not believe in the words of Samuel were angry with him; and they cast stones at him upon the wall, and also many shot arrows at him as he stood upon the wall…”
Okay. So, those that believed did two things, they made two choices. right? They said, I choose to go to Nephi, and I’m going to confess my sins--the result was baptism. Those that did not threw stones at him, shot arrows. Okay, keep reading, please.
“…but the Spirit of the Lord was with him, insomuch that they could not hit him with their stones neither with their arrows.”
And? Go ahead with the third verse.
“Now when they saw that they could not hit him, there were many more who did believe on his words, insomuch that they went away unto Nephi to be baptized.”
Okay. So even those, some of those who were not believers at some point had a change of heart, didn’t they? They could see that they couldn’t hit him with their stones and arrows and so forth, and so he was protected by God, Samuel was. And so then some of the nonbelievers believed. And they followed the same path as a believer.
I suggest, brothers and sisters, this is a pattern that is in the scriptures. It’s all about the beliefs we have influencing the choices we make, and we’ve got some really big ones we’ve got to make in the next few years; and that those choices and those decisions determine our destiny. I want to share with you one other example, and I’m going to ask you to think together in small groups for just a couple of minutes to see if you can come up with a couple other scripture examples, okay?
I’m thinking of the story of Joseph Smith when he was a young boy. We know that his mother would read from the scriptures, and he had a love for scriptures, but he came across a passage in James 1:5, that was the experience, right? He read, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,” right? Joseph believed, he believed. So what did he choose to do? He chose to follow the counsel, and he went into the grove of trees to pray. His destiny was he became the prophet of the final dispensation, of this last dispensation of the fulness of times. Do you see how that pattern works? I think you could find that throughout the scriptures. What I want to do is just take maybe three minutes at the most, pair up in three or four or so, just find some folks around you. See if you can come up with, between you, a couple examples from the scriptures that show this pattern. And then we’ll ask a couple of you to share. All right? When we’re done, getting close, I’m going to ring this bell, so that you’ll come back to me, all right. All right, ready? Go. Go ahead, take some time now. See if you can come up with two examples in the scriptures.
No pressure, one more minute.
Okay, you should be working on your second example by now. They’re everywhere.
All right, come back to me now. We’ll see if my bell works, my Chick-fil-A bell. Ready?
All right, who’d like to raise their hand and share with us one of the thoughts you had, so you need a mike down here, we’ve got three or four, but we’ll call on maybe just a couple of you. So we have one over here. Raise again your hands. Wow, a lot of you. Thank you. You choose.
Student: “Oh, great, thank you. I have a loud voice anyways, so. Anyways, 1 Nephi 11, it talks about how Nephi wanted to understand the dream that Lehi had. And so it talks about it in [verse] two, it says, ‘And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?
“ ‘And I said, I desire to behold the things which my father saw.
“ ‘And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that they father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?
“ ‘And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.’
“And then it goes on and says, ‘And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.’ ” (1 Nephi 11: 2-6).
Excellent, that’s a wonderful example. Nephi believed the vision his father had. He chose to act on that and to discover for himself, to have that same experience. What was the destiny for Nephi? Incredible prophet of the Book of Mormon, incredible leader of the people. Excellent—good example. Let’s do another. Raise your hand. Got a couple over here. Okay, Jane.
Student: “Okay, so I chose Moroni 10:8, and then I’m going to skip down to verse 19. ‘And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.’
“And then, 19 says, “And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.’”
Excellent. Wonderful example. Our beliefs really do influence our choices, don’t they? And choices determine our destiny; decisions determine our destiny. Let’s just do one more. We could spend the rest of the time, we’ve got about 10 more minutes, we could just do this. That would be fun.
Student: “So, I don’t have the scripture. I have a lot of examples.”
You should probably say your name, the others didn’t, because there are some young ladies…this is just a good opportunity to brand yourself. So…go ahead.
Student: “My name is Jerome Stewart, and you saw me on the stage, I was in the corner. Some of the good examples we came up with were great, but one of the best ones we thought should be spoken is Enos, when he was praying in the wilderness for many days, and he wrestled with the Lord.”
Very good. He believed the words of his father, didn’t he? It says in the scriptures. And because of that then he went into the woods to pray. And as a result we see some mighty promises of the Lord. Some wonderful examples.
Do you think we could find hundreds of examples of this pattern? It wouldn’t take much, would it? It’s everywhere. What I’d like to do in the limited time that we have is share a couple thoughts about this pattern and maybe an idea or two about the science of choosing. But I want to use as a bookend—we started by talking about this decision-destiny pyramid; I want to end by talking about how little things make all the difference to us as Latter-day Saints. In the middle, I have just a little bit or two on the science of choosing.
I was thinking the other day that my son, when he returned from his mission—this is an older son, so he’s been back four or five years from the Philippines—pointed this out to me, so it’s not my idea, but I’ve come to embrace it. If you look in the scriptures for the phrase “slow of speech,” you’ll find that there are a couple prophets that identified with that. Do you know who they were? Moses, and Enoch, right? So Moses says, the Lord goes to him and says I need you to speak the words I’m going to give to you. Do you remember what Moses did? ‘Well, I don’t think I can do this yet…’ so that’s a no, right? The Lord got angry with Moses. Do you remember that? Then, finally gave him a mouthpiece (See Exodus 4:10-16).
Enoch, on the other hand, said he was slow of speech, and the Lord said speak what I’ll give to you. He did that, he acted by faith, he chose to believe that he could overcome a weakness, right? And he became such a powerful speaker that the people in the land, would not, the Atticans would not even go near him because he had the roar of a lion (See Moses 6:31-34, 39; Moses 7:13). So here’s another example, or two examples of how our beliefs influence what we will choose to do, and those choices determine destiny.
Just a thought or two about choices. I’m going to flip through some slides here real fast. Behavioral science and behavioral economics talk about a decision iceberg; this is my interpretation of that. Most of the decisions we make, and we make thousands a day, in my work at Cornell we proved this, even looking at food decisions that we make, we make thousands of choices a day, most of those are unconscious; they are automatic. So we’re clueless for the most part. Some of those decisions are more important than others, seemingly, more urgent, more complex, more difficult, okay? Some of those decisions we handle well, we make right choices. Some decisions are poor, others are better, and others are best. What if you could, as Brother Taggart was sharing with us a little earlier this morning, what if you could just change one of those poor decisions to be a better or best, and a better to be a best? What if you could just make one or two better choices a day? Could that change your destiny? Because small things can make a big difference.
All decisions have consequences. I can picture us sometimes saying, “I’m going to make a decision. I am sticking to this to the end.” And the world then rolls around you, right? Little decisions can have big consequences. Did you know that if you eat just 10 plain M&M’s a day, or 2½ peanut M&M’s, and you do that daily, you’d gain three pounds in a year? Isn’t that amazing? Just 10 M&M’s a day, plain, or two peanut. Little, seemingly little decisions make a huge difference. Or, if you choose to watch something that’s unwholesome, you go against the Spirit, and you say in your heart, “Oh, this one time won’t hurt.” But maybe you just do that from time to time. Ultimately, that could rock your world in a negative way and distance you from God and from everything else that matters most to you. It’s our choice, right? It’s a gift God has given us to have the agency to choose, but it’s up to us to know how to choose.
When I was dating Kim, and I remember this distinctly, there came a point in time where I thought to myself, “I really need to pray about this, because this is, you know, getting serious.” And something happened to me that was life-changing. Initially, my prayer was—I can remember the room I was in, I can remember the time of day, I can remember everything about this experience, and it happened 39, 40, about 41 years ago because we weren’t engaged yet, at that time. So maybe 40 years. I’m trying to find out by looking at her face if I’m getting close here. Thirty-nine? Thirty-nine years, okay.
So I prayed to Heavenly Father. My prayer started out by, in this kind of fashion: Heavenly Father, I really like Kim. I love her. She’s got some wonderful qualities. Is she the right person for me? Somehow in that conversation I was having with the Lord, it didn’t take long, but somehow, in that conversation, my frame shifted. Instead of looking toward me and what was good for me, I began to think, “You know, Kim has everything I’ve ever wanted, the things that matter most. She is the type of person that would get up every morning at 5:00 and read the scriptures, and when missionaries, including me, would try to show off the kinds of scriptures we knew and our scriptural knowledge, Kim would be the final answer, and she would not do it boastingly, but everyone would just kind of say, “Well, where is it, Kim?” And Kim would know where it was. To this day, she’ll memorize full chapters in the Book of Mormon and other, I think, lengthy passages. She’s just a remarkable woman. That mattered to me.
I also knew that she would be loved. So I began to think about these things, characteristics that she had, and my frame changed. Instead of me thinking about a gain, I started to think about a loss. The Lord helped me frame this as a loss, and I got worried. I thought to myself, “She’s not going to want to marry me/you. She is so good: I’m in big trouble here.” To the point where I never did ask her to marry me. I just kind of slipped in some questions about, how many kids would you like to have, and she laughed a little, she said she doesn’t remember this; I do. And she said, “Oh, about a dozen. A dozen.” And I thought she was just kidding, right? And we have 11 kids, we had a couple miscarriages, and I tell her, those, there is some doctrinal promptings that maybe those could count too. Maybe we got a baker’s dozen out of this.
My frame changed. That is one example of a decision bias that we make. What I wanted to share with you in the end, as we conclude here, there is a wonderful parable in the scriptures, that deals with the parable of the 10 virgins. And I have a little lamp, a Herodian lamp, which is supposed to simulate what the virgins would carry. I think there’s enough oil that you could put in this it would last a couple hours. You remember how the parable goes, don’t you? Five of those virgins were wise, they had oil in their lamps, they had prepared. Five were not. They couldn’t go buy it. In the end, they weren’t received by the Lord.
Elder Dallin Oaks said this: “The arithmetic of the parable is chilling.” He said, “The 10 virgins obviously represent members of Christ’s church,” (“Preparation for the Second Coming,” General Conference, April 2004).
President Kimball said this, “Attendance at sacrament meetings…fasting, family prayer, home teaching, control of bodily appetites, preaching the gospel, studying the scriptures.” I am going to add to this, keeping the honor and dress code. Each of these daily acts, dedication, obedience adds oil to our lamps, drop by drop, over the years. (See Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 256, ).
Brothers and sisters, it’s my testimony and my witness that small decisions can have incredible impact, and that the Lord will not leave us to decision traps. He will not leave us alone in this mortal existence. He has given us the Spirit, He has given us prophets. He has given us scriptures. What we need to do is anchor our lives every day in the scriptures and in prayer. And by anchoring our lives, when it comes time to make critical decisions, we don’t have to ask what direction to go, we already know the direction we’re headed. I know God will bless us, as we anchor ourselves with Him, and as we do the very best we can, as we seek to know His will, and then move forward in faith. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.