What a blessing to be amongst faithful young disciples from all over the world. I wholeheartedly embrace the international flavor of LDS Business College students, especially given that I have been resident in the US for only 7 months myself. The rest of my life has been lived in Australia and West Africa. So, I welcome all who are here, including my fellow “aliens” as we are apt to be called on entering this country.
You are each at a critical stage of your lives. But it is extremely unlikely that you will finish your lives on this earth feeling exactly the same way you do now about yourself, the Gospel, and others. You will change with the years. That change will be for the better or the worse, and rather than just letting it happen to you, I strongly urge you to determine now in which direction you will head. Things will happen in your lives to alter your feelings and priorities. Those things will include friends (most especially your spouse), study, work, the media you watch and read, the causes you embrace, your hobbies, your health, setbacks, and opportunities. In other words, you will have choices to make.
Let me tell you a story I heard in Ghana that illustrates this point. There was a very poor, elderly man who had a large dog that he loved. Unfortunately, the dog died, and the city in which the man lived had a law that required all animals to be buried in a special cemetery at the owner’s considerable cost. He could not afford the burial so he placed the dog in a large, old suitcase, and boarded a train to a country area where he would be able to bury the dog without cost. As he lifted the heavy bag onto the train, a kind young man saw how heavy it was and helped him. He then sat alongside the elderly man and conversed with him. When the young man asked what was in the bag, the elderly man was not exactly truthful and, trying to hide his purpose, told him it was full of expensive books and a computer. Then, as the train was about to pull out of the first station, the young man jumped up, grabbed the bag, and ran off the train. The other passengers called after him but the elderly man did not give chase.
When the young man opened the bag, he realized that his choice had cost him his train trip, his reputation, and the cost associated with burying the dog. We, too, can easily make poor choices that are not in our best, long-term interests.
So, how do we develop the strength to treat always as precious those things that are most important?
Hopefully, you have discovered, as have I, that the things of most importance are to live the two great commandments – to love God (first and foremost), and to love others as He does (see Matt. 22:36-40).
There will be threats to your determination to keep the first commandment and to develop into even stronger discipleship. Let’s look at what those threats might be by examining the temptations that Satan used against the Savior in his attempt to counter the love that Christ has for the Father.
In Matthew 4:2-9, we read of these three temptations. There are many things we can learn from them and I do not intend to cover them all. But there are some aspects that I believe are most valuable for us to understand.
The first temptation was for the Savior to turn stones into bread so that He might satisfy the hunger He had after fasting for forty days (see Matt. 4:2-4). He had, at that time, finished his fast; so, He was going to eat anyway. We know He had the power to turn stones into bread; later, he did perform a similar miracle with feeding the five thousand. But the power he would have needed to use was His priesthood power.
Now, I hold the priesthood and, as such, I have the power to bless anyone in the world with that priesthood, member or non-member, except for one person. I can never use the priesthood to bless myself. Its purpose is to bless others, and not to be turned for one’s own benefit. The Savior understood this. So, this temptation was a temptation against His integrity, one of the most important qualities of God, and it was immediately rejected
There will be times when you, also, will be tempted to compromise your integrity. Decide now that you will never succumb to such a temptation, that you will protect your integrity with all your might and strength, at whatever cost.
The second temptation was for the Savior to cast Himself from the pinnacle of the temple to show the people His power and to receive their praise because He would be unharmed (see Matt. 4:5-7). This was a temptation to pride. But the Savior had no pride as he was the epitome of humility; so, this temptation, too, was immediately rejected. But we will also be tempted to be proud – of the successes we achieve, of our abilities, of the assets we accumulate, of the positions we attain. Always remember who it is who is the source of every blessing we receive in this life, and of how fragile and slippery is our hold on those things that might tempt us to be prideful, but which are really on loan from God. At most, we have a tenuous lease on those things. Life, health, and wealth are just some of the things we can lose in an instant.
In fact, there is a powerful scripture in the Old Testament that speaks to this very point of fragility or slipperiness, teaching about the absolute folly in prioritizing less-important things over the things of the Lord. It talks of the people’s “ceiled houses” which were houses decorated with beautiful wood paneling, and comparing them to the “house” of the Lord. The scripture teaches, in a very direct way, the myopia of wanting to be in our homes rather than engaged in the work of the Lord, in this case building the temple. It is found in the Book of Haggai. Here it is:
“Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages, earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways.” (Haggai 1:4-7)
Satan’s third effort was focused on a temptation for the Savior to feel entitled to all the good things of the world (see Matt. 4:8-10). Well, He was entitled as the creator of the earth, but He realized that any reward He would receive must be based on His finishing His work on earth. There would be no short cuts. He knew that the way was going to be difficult but that the results would be worth it. How often do we look for shortcuts to our goals, instead of knuckling down and doing what’s required to earn them for ourselves? As Euclid said to the Egyptian king, Ptolemy, who wanted a shortcut to learning Euclid’s mathematical methods: “There is no royal road to geometry”. The same is true for us in all our worthwhile pursuits.
These three character traits of the Savior – integrity, humility, and hard work – need to be developed and honed in each of us over a lifetime. His possessing them is one of the reasons we love Him and our seeking them is one of the ways we show that we love Him. And they are essential if we are to become like Him. So, I challenge you to make a commitment to yourself, and to the Lord, today, to have these qualities (integrity, humility, hard work) become descriptors that others would give of you.
If you are to achieve this state, you will need to reject any distractions, unlike the general, Lehonti, when he was approached by Amalickiah. Lehonti had determined that he would not come down from Mount Antipas to meet with Amalickiah because he could not be trusted. But after many attempts, he finally compromised and accepted what he thought was a good and enticing plan, only to be poisoned by degrees by Amalickiah and suffer death, leading subsequently to the death of many thousands of innocent people. (see Alma Ch. 47)
The second of these two great commandments is to love others. But it’s not just about feeling love for others, but it’s about doing something to lift and help them. We all need to understand the importance of people and our relationships with them. At the same time, we also must know that they have their agency to act for themselves. We, and they, can get stronger, or we can drift to a lower level. The lesson here is that we can’t base our faith on others. We must strengthen ourselves, as did the wise virgins. Their spiritual strength was represented by the oil in their lamps, as they awaited their time to accompany the bridegroom into the marriage feast (see Matt. 25:1-10). And we must allow others to choose whether they accept our invitation to obtain their needed oil to be ready to meet the Bridegroom.
In relation to your friends and associates, both current and future, it is critical for you to observe and discern their real character. Don’t compromise on your own standards, but always be kind and considerate to others. We should always keep in mind the quote that President Monson famously used: “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” (Finding Joy in the Journey, Ensign Nov. 2008, 86)
And the way that we show love to others is indicated by the Lord, Himself: “And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also. . . Behold, this is the way that mine apostles, in ancient days, built up my church unto me.” (D&C 84:106, 108)
This is ministering, not just ministering as assigned, but ministering to everyone and at every opportunity. It is always being on the lookout to help and lift others. It is what the Savior did all His earthly life, and it is what Heavenly Father does by loving us and answering our prayers.
In fact, my wife Kay, as recipient, had a most tender experience of this type some years ago. In our home, there were cushions on the back of our couch that had buttons in the middle of them to give the cushions some shape. As Kay was cleaning one day she noticed that one of the buttons had come off. She picked it up with the intention of sewing it back on later and continued her cleaning. After some time, she realized she no longer held the button. She looked everywhere but could not find it. Just then, our eldest daughter, Jess, came to visit. She could see that her mother was searching for something and, when she asked, Kay told her about the lost button. Jess said “Mum, have you prayed to get help to find the button?” Kay answered that she wouldn’t pray about something so trivial and unimportant. Jess responded “But Mum, you always taught us to pray about everything.” Kay repeated her previous response that she wouldn’t worry Heavenly Father about something so small as a button. She continued searching and had the feeling to go into the laundry room and look in a rubbish basket, although she was sure that she hadn’t been into that room. To her surprise, she found the button under some rubbish in the basket. She returned to where Jess was and told her she had found the button. She then noticed a knowing smile on Jess’ face and said to her “Did you pray that I would find the button”. “Of course!” was Jess’ reply.
Well, that night as Kay knelt to pray, she thanked Heavenly Father for His answer to the prayer and added “But it was only a button and it wasn’t important.” She was moved to tears when she felt these words in reply. “Yes, the button wasn’t important, but you are.”
It probably won’t surprise you to know that she never sewed that button back on the cushion. Instead, she sewed it onto a lovely piece of material above the words “The button wasn’t important, but you are”. It now hangs behind a glass covering in a frame in a very prominent place in our home. It has been everywhere that we have lived, and it will continue to until we leave this earth. Our role, then, is to love others the way that God loves us.
I’ve sometimes wondered why we even need the second commandment because if we live the first, we will develop the same qualities and attitudes the Savior showed. We will feel the same love for others that He did and does. I wonder, then, whether one reason for the Savior to have stressed this second commandment may have been because it serves as something of a barometer of how well we are really living the first commandment.
When we lived in Ghana we saw many signs for businesses that referenced Jesus Christ or the scriptures. In fact, it may have been that the majority of businesses we saw had names reflecting the owner’s faith in the Savior. We saw them on the backs of buses and taxis and on little stores everywhere. But there was one sign that I thought was especially poignant. It was the name of a car repair and tire sales business and it read “God’s Will Alignment”. What a great motto for our lives, and what a great goal to have as we experience the opportunities, challenges and changes that await us, and particularly that await you in the lives you will lead.
There will be times when we will need to walk in faith. Always nourish your faith and starve your doubts when questions arise about our Savior and His gospel. There is nothing wrong with having questions, but when we reverse this counsel and feed the doubts and starve our faith, we cannot hope for spiritual strength.
I remember Elder Jeffrey R Holland paraphrasing a French poem many years ago when he was in Canberra, Australia. The translation of Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem went something like this:
“Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, we're afraid!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
"We can't, We will fall!" they responded.
"Come to the edge," he said.
And so they came.
He pushed them.
My hope is that all who are here will have the faith to come to the edge when the situation requires it, to act in faith in following God’s two great commandments, always, and for the rest of your lives. It is only then that we will feel the power of God enabling us to fly.
I testify that the scripture is absolutely correct when it states the commandment to love God as just one great commandment. In fact, the questioner asked for the great commandment when he said: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt. 22:36-38)
And the second really is “like unto it” because the two are inextricably connected as we have discussed. In fact we are told in the next verse: “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:39)
May you, both now and always, feel the importance of loving God and acting on that love, including nurturing your integrity, maintaining your humility, and being prepared to dig in and do the hard work. And may you strive to look for every opportunity to love, lift, and help others. In these ways, you will face, and move, in the right direction to have a joyful, fulfilling life and you will change for the better by growing in your discipleship.
I love my Savior and my Heavenly Father with all my heart, and I rely on the Holy Ghost in all that I do. Otherwise, I could do nothing. Jesus Christ is the head of His Church, this Church. The Book of Mormon is a divine gift from God to enable us to know the Savior and to understand His gospel. Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Almighty God. I have heard more than one member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles paraphrase the sentiment first stated by George Q. Cannon by expressing the profound observation that no evil man could have written the Book of Mormon, and no good man would have written it with the intent to deceive.
We even now have a prophet on the earth in President Russell M Nelson, who hears the word of God and acts accordingly to guide His Church, the Church of our Savior, Jesus Christ. President Nelson possesses all of the qualities we have discussed today. I have seen and felt these emanating from him.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.