Faith in Yourself, Faith in the Lord
What a joy to be with you today!
I’ve done a little research on Ensign College, which was founded in November of 1886.
Over 522 students graduated in 2020, and Ensign College awarded 601 two-year-degrees and 265 certificates. There are presently 2,200 students enrolled, with approximately 35 percent of the student body coming from other countries. I love that! I want to impress on each of you one significant concept that, with faith in yourself and in our Savior, you can overcome any darkness, any challenge, and achieve great success.
In November of 2007, my wife, Cheryl, and I were eating an early dinner at a Thai food restaurant in Boston where we lived. My cell phone rang just as our food arrived. The lady on the other end said that she was the secretary of President Monson, and he wanted to speak to us. Can you imagine my thoughts?
Now, my mind pushed forward to the unrealistic conclusion: was this Thomas S. Monson of Salt Lake City? Was this President Thomas S. Monson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Could it be, the prophet wanted to talk to us?
I explained that we had just started eating at a Thai food restaurant, but that we would bundle everything up and head to our home just minutes away.
On the way back to our house, my beloved companion and I composed ourselves and prepared for a possible call to serve from the Lord’s prophet.
We called the number given to us, and in short order, President Monson was on the phone. Just as you would expect, he was positive, joyful, and reassuring. In a booming voice, his first words were “So, Brother Benton, how was the Thai food?”
For the life of me, I can’t remember my response. He quickly got to the point that the Lord wanted us to preside over a Spanish-speaking mission, yet to be determined.
He talked to us for 45 minutes and even had his wife, Sister Frances Monson, give us some advice. Wow, one-on-one counsel from the Lord’s anointed – heady stuff. I took seven full pages of notes.
After that call, life started speeding up. In early February, we were told that we would be assigned to the Argentina Buenos Aires West Mission.
At that same time, we started preparing in many ways to leave our life in Boston and begin the life-changing events that were to follow.
Now listen well – my entire life, I have been blessed with a positive outlook on life – a can-do attitude, if you will. I know that with the Lord’s help, anything is possible. Cheryl and I were very excited, but we both felt slightly fearful as well.
When we arrived in Buenos Aires, my positive attitude vanished completely. I had been diagnosed with walking pneumonia and a darkness had seemed to settle over us.
I had founded and led a company with 20,000 employees, I had held a number of responsible positions in the Church, but for the first time since I could remember, I felt I couldn’t do this assignment. Cheryl was incredibly homesick, and I just wanted to be hit by a bus: “He would have been a great president, but that doggone bus hit him.”
I have come to realize that such thinking in similar situations is not uncommon.
I appreciate the saying, “Wherever truth is found, the dust of the battle with Satan can be seen.” He is always close, trying to destroy our righteous desires. Our truth was serving the Lord in Argentina, and he was trying hard to destroy that truth.
Let’s review a few case studies on this subject. I love President Gordon B. Hinckley. I was interviewed by him several times when I was in Houston, Texas, serving as a bishop. He was such a can-do, positive man, and I wanted to emulate his great traits.
Yet, as a young man, when he was called to serve a mission in Preston, England, he had a similar darkness come over him. He had been suffering from a flu-like illness, and in a desperation of seeming inability to do the work, he wrote to his father (who was also his stake president):
“Father, I am wasting my time and your money. I want to come home.”
Wow, my idol, having such negative thoughts. The prophet who led the way for us to become a worldwide church?
His father wisely wrote back, “Gordon, forget yourself and go to work.”
Here’s another example. I have always felt that Ammon, one of the sons of Mosiah, is perhaps the greatest missionary of all time – certainly one of the best found in the annuals of the Book of Mormon. Yet, at the beginning of his mission, he had similar misgivings.
In a wonderful summary of his and his brothers’ work found in chapter 26 of Alma, verse 27, Ammon relates their feelings at the start of their mission:
“And now, [remember] when our hearts were depressed and we were about to turn back…”
What? Ammon, the greatest missionary of all time, basically saying, “I can’t do this, I want to go home! I want to sleep in my bed and have my mommy take care of me!” There are countless other examples, not just of missionaries. Think of Joseph Smith and his first verbal prayer in the Sacred Grove. He stated:
“I had scarcely begun [to pray] when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astounding influence over me [such an astonishing influence over me …] … that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.”
How do we overcome such feelings? In each instance, it seems that some dark, negative feelings overtake our rational thinking. Likewise, it seems the Lord is there ready to grasp us by the arm and pull us to safety. We just need to continue to have faith enough to reach out to Him.
One of the miracles of the Savior which teaches us several principles is Christ walking on the water of Galilee in Matthew chapter 14, verses 22 to 33.
Seeing the Savior walking toward the boat which carried the apostles, they (the apostles) were “troubled,” thinking it was some evil spirit, and they cried out for fear. But the Savior said, “Be of good cheer, it is I, be not afraid.”
If you ever have any thoughts about not being capable, I restate the Lord’s message, “Be of good cheer, it is I, your Savior, be not afraid.” “Be of good cheer, it is I, your Savior, be not afraid.” Well, in this instance, Peter, ever the adventurous one, called out, “Bid me come unto thee on the water.” The Savior said “come” and with just enough faith, Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.
But then, in an instant, Peter lost that faith – I can almost hear him thinking, “You idiot, you can’t walk on water! Besides, this is pretty rough with the wind and this horrible storm. How stupid can you be!”
Well, as we all know, he began to sink and he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Don’t we all do that!
Well, the Lord immediately stretched forth His hand and caught him, saying, “Oh thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt.” There are countless examples where we are shown that with faith, we can do what might seem impossible. Similarly, I love the story in Mark chapter 9, where a man brings his son to the Savior and asks Jesus to cast out the demon which possesses his Son. In verse 23, the Savior states a significant eternal principle, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” The father, “straightway” declares his earnest belief, “Lord, I believe,” but like Peter, or President Hinckley, or Ammon, or me, falteringly adds, “help thou my unbelief!”
I believe, but I don’t know if I have enough belief, enough faith, to receive this miracle.
I don’t have enough faith to serve this mission, I don’t have enough faith to walk on water, to receive an answer to a prayer which will usher in the last dispensation. Faith is the crux.
Between being president of a mission with 468 missionaries over the span of three years, and president of a Missionary Training Center with almost 2,500 missionaries over two years, my wife and I had plenty of opportunities to interview these fine young men and women. My wife was in charge of all their medical needs and also helped them with adjusting to missionary life. I talked with them about their worthiness, their concerns for normal and missionary problems, and how to be successful as a missionary. We both spent a significant amount of time in interviews.
I calculated that I had about 9,000 interviews over that five-year period. At an average length of 15 minutes for each interview and working 8 hours a day, that amounts to well over a year full of interviews.
When we received new missionaries at the MTC, I interviewed each of them. 10% came with one or more of three worries.
- I don’t have a strong enough testimony to serve a mission.
- I don’t have enough ability to serve a mission, and
- I am not worthy enough to serve a mission.
In 95% of these cases, none of these statements were correct. They had, just like President Hinckley, Ammon, and me, a darkness settle over them. I realized that with time and, as Alma chapter 32 teaches, just a particle of faith, even no more than a desire to believe, if we let that desire work in us, we will overcome that darkness.
Just like training for a sport, or learning a musical instrument, these new missionaries had never really exercised their spiritual muscles. As all former missionaries know, in the MTC there is ample opportunity to exercise our spiritual muscles and let that desire to have faith work within us. In usually two short weeks, all doubts have disappeared – replaced by a growing faith in the Lord and their own abilities.
There is a story of two shoe salesmen who were assigned by their shoe company to sell shoes to the inhabitants on a remote island. After several weeks, the first shoe salesman poured out his feelings in a letter to his employer. “You’ve got to send a boat to take me back home. I can’t possibly sell shoes to the people on this island. They don’t wear shoes! They don’t need shoes. I’m wasting my time here. Help me, Please!”
I am also an actor!
On the other side of the island, after about a month, the second shoe salesman also wrote a letter to his employer. “You’ve got to help me. Please send a boat with more shoes to sell. You see, I’ve sold all the shoes I had. What a fantastic opportunity! No one here has shoes! All I have to do is demonstrate the benefit of wearing shoes, and bam! I sold another. Please help me.”
Wow, what a different response to the same opportunity! Whenever we are faced with a seeming obstacle, many of us begin to be overcome with doubts. Instead, look for the opportunity. Prayer and meditation will bring about a positive view. Say to yourself, “There must be a successful ending, Lord, please help me find it.”
In the scriptures, there are seemingly countless recitations of the principle that all things are possible if we have faith. Or said differently, nothing is impossible to him who believes.
So, with that understanding, Let’s agree that if we believe, if we have faith, nothing is impossible.
Let’s have a little test. With enough faith, it should, therefore, be possible to grow palm trees in the tops of the northern mountains of Alaska, where everything is frozen – right? I know what you're thinking… “That’s stupid, everyone knows you can’t do that. Why even ask the question?”
Oh, ye of little faith. Of course, we can grow palm trees in the mountains of Alaska – we just have to build a gigantic, heated greenhouse!
So, how do you obtain this abiding faith, a feeling within us that will dispel any darkness?
Interestingly, every example that we have discussed had a happy ending.
Not that long ago, before the temples had closed, I was facing a daunting problem. After a temple session, I sat in the Celestial Room asking the Lord for help and reassurance. As I stand here today, I know I heard the Lord saying, “Evrett, everything will be fine,” and He repeated it again. Just as this spiritual experience ended, our stake president, who unbeknownst to me was also in the temple, came over and said, “Brother Benton, what a joy to see you! How is your life going?”
It was a physical confirmation that the Lord did in fact speak to me.
Remember, the Lord, most likely through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, is always there to reach down, hold our hand, and lift us up.
One of my favorite apostles was Elder Richard G. Scott. He served as a mission president in Argentina for four years and his love of the Argentine people is legendary. I met with him four times and had the opportunity of attending a temple session with him.
He once told me that whenever he worked to find a solution to a problem, he would follow the same routine. He would write down the problem and anything else he needed to receive counsel from the Lord. He would then get on his knees and pray, vocally, usually in a whisper. If necessary, he would refer to his notes. Then he would sit up and wait for inspiration and write down his impressions. He would wait and meditate until these impressions came and then get on his knees again and ask, “Is there anything else, Lord?”
This was not a quick or easy process, and sometimes he would put aside his notes and review them later, restarting this same process again.
Hopefully, you have gained some information to help you to be wildly successful, happy, and on the Lord’s path.
But, unless you take some action based on what you have learned, this has been a mere diversion.
Wow! We have covered a lot in a short time. So, where do we go from here? Let me suggest a few things to remember – “takeaways” if you will. If you haven’t before, now would be a good time to take a few notes.
First, everyone has dark times. Satan is always there, ready to destroy your “truth.” Think back in your own life, haven’t you at some time said, “I can’t do this. I give up. I want to go home.” Take heart, it’s universal.
Second, knowing this remember that the Lord has told us many, many times that He is there ready to reach out for us. If we just exhibit the smallest particle of faith we can overcome any obstacle, accomplish any goal, find eternal happiness.
Third, remember the Lord’s declaration, “Be of good cheer, it is I, be not afraid.” I have many times kept a small picture of the Savior in my pocket, and I take it out and remember that He is there and I repeat His words.
Fourth, utilize Elder Scott’s method of obtaining inspiration and revelation from our Heavenly Father. Write down what troubles you or what you want to accomplish. Be very specific. Review this before praying on your knees. Vocally ask for Heavenly Father’s help. Write down your thoughts, then ask again, "Is there anything else Father." Wait patiently and write down any additional thoughts you have.
I know I have just given you a start. But that is all you need. 80% of a rocket’s fuel is used just getting inertia enough to get off the ground. Well, you are off the ground already. You can do whatever you need or want to do with faith in yourself and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m sure I know very few of you but know this: I love you and, more importantly, I know the Lord loves you. He lives, He is our Savior, this is His Church. In His sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.