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C. Terry Warner Ricks College Devotional February 20, 2001
Susan and I have been here before — when President Eyring presided here, and President Hafen, and President Bennion, and again last year when we were privileged to meet President and Sister Bednar. Two of our children have attended school here. Over the years we have watched the students and loved the spirit of this place. It is truly one of our favorite places to be. One day in the future you will look back and say, I don't think I realized while I was at BYU–Idaho what an extraordinary place it was. You can see that I have been thinking about you. I have prayed to know what I might say that you would find helpful right now, that you would want to learn and could use immediately to enhance your life. Thinking about that, Susan and I began talking about our 10 children. We wrote their names one after another and were almost overwhelmed to realize the miracles the Lord has worked in their lives. It might surprise you to learn of the common denominator in each of those miracles. Each miracle helped them in some way to start seeking on their own to learn and live the gospel. At the point this happens a person has grown up, and is on his or her way to true success in life and eternal life hereafter. That's when parents can start breathing just a little easier. Let me tell you of a season of my life when I came to appreciate, just a bit the blessings that come when we start seeking for eternal things of our own free will. This happened about 41 years ago, after I had returned from my mission. I found myself in the Army, having been given a choice between being drafted for a longer period or enlisting for a shorter one. I enlisted. Part of the time I was assigned to a company full of men who also entered the army by choice — only in their case it was a choice a judge gave them either to go into the army or go to prison. You can imagine having to deal with the hostilities of men who were offended by the sight of a barracks mate kneeling in prayer by his bed and carrying the scriptures around with him. And to top it off, part of the time I was extremely ill with a staph infection throughout my body. Yet I count my time in the Army as one of the great seasons of my life, even when the surrounding conditions got ugly. For I was caught up day and night in the scriptures. I would plan each weekend to leave the base when I could get off duty and absorb myself completely in what some people might think a very strange project. The project was to arrange the scriptures by topic according to a scheme I had worked out in my mind, beginning with the creation and the placing of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. No one had assigned me to do this or even suggested it. I did it because of my hunger to learn. In those days we had no computers or even copy machines. If you wanted a copy of something, you typed it or wrote it out by hand. How was I to get copies of the many, many pages of scripture I wanted to arrange? I didn’t even have a typewriter. I purchased several paperback copies of the scriptures, cut the passages out that I wanted — with two copies I could get both sides of the page — and then pasted them on sheets in the desired order.
Where could I work on such a project? Each weekend that I could leave the base I rented an inexpensive hotel room, pushed the bed into a corner, stacked the other furniture on the bed, and laid out all the cut-up passages on the floor. I would work for hours, late at night and then early in the morning, stopping to go to Church. It would be hard to describe the excitement I felt during these studious hours. The further I got into the project, the faster the insights came, and the more on fire I felt. I discovered that after I had studied for a while my appetite for spiritual things did not diminish, the way physical appetite does after we have eaten a certain amount. It grew. I hungered for the things of God more than ever before in my life. And I felt the Lord’s Spirit with me. It daily accompanied me into very difficult circumstances, guiding and protecting me. From this experience I grew in my understanding of the principle that I desire to share with you today. The principle is this: Stepping out on our own to do what’s right, to obey the commandments of our own free will, to go beyond the minimum that’s expected — this draws into our lives the delivering and sustaining power of God. This power enlivens our spirit, imbues us with confidence, enlarges our understanding, and fills us with love. People who are lukewarm in gospel activity may think they understand how liberally and mercifully the Lord works with and blesses His children, but they don’t. For the Lord doesn’t show his strength to sustain and prosper His children unless they are striving to obey and serve Him (Hel. 7:23 etc.). This principle I recently heard expressed in different words by Elder Enzio Busche. I am going to call it, the principle of initiative and diligence. The way I state it here expands on what I heard Elder Busche say. When we take a responsible step to do what is right or sacrifice what is wrong, there flows to us, often immediately, a quiet confirmation from the Spirit of the Lord that we are doing right, and encouragement and strength to keep going. If we start doing any of the things we have been commanded to do, we will be given strength to persist, and our persistence will bring us more strength. What the Lord contributes is infinitely greater than what we contribute, but it comes to us only by our initiative and diligence. To me it seems important to have a clear understanding of these two words. Initiative. An introductory action or step. A willing, decisive action that starts something going. Diligence. Constant, attentive, persistent effort to accomplish something. ‘Diligence,’ you may be interested to know, comes from a word meaning to choose or to like something — diligence implies caring very much about what we are doing. 2
You may wonder whether the principle of initiative and diligence can be found in the scriptures. Yes. In fact it appears there so often that it's easy to overlook: like the air we breathe. The Savior taught: For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. (3 Ne. 14:8) I will give you just a few of many instances. The Book of Mormon begins with the initiative of Lehi "as he went forth and prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, on behalf of his people." Then there is the mighty vision in which Nephi was given the interpretation of his father’s inspired dream of the tree of life, the iron rod, the Savior’s ministry, and so much more. This Nephi received because he desired to see and hear and know for himself what his father had received, and sat pondering these things in his heart. At one point Nephi wrote, And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart. (1 Ne 2:19) You will remember the spiritual initiative of Enos. In the midst of a hunting trip he stopped to ponder the truths his father had taught him, and to pray all day long and into the night. By so doing he obtained forgiveness of his sins and great promises for his people and for the Lamanites. The sons of Mosiah also acted on their own initiative when they renounced any claim they might have had to succeed their father as king and asked instead to serve a mission in the land of their enemies, the Lamanites. The result of their labors, which lasted 14 years, was that many thousands were saved in the kingdom of God. Those four brothers are role models of initiative and diligence. "Now these sons of Mosiah . . . had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God." (Mosiah 17.2-3) The prophet Joseph took the first small step that launched the Restoration of the gospel when he quietly arose from his bed one Spring morning and walked a short way into the woods to ask of God which Church was right and to learn of his standing before God. The great majority of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants came as answers to questions and requests from the Prophet as he studied the scriptures and administered the affairs of the kingdom. These are just a few examples of many — I haven't mentioned the 2,000 stripling warriors — it was their idea to risk their lives in defense of their people — or Moroni, whose life is one bold move after another, or Teancum, or the brothers Nephi and Lehi, or any of the others.
With this principle of initiative and diligence in mind, I would like to share with you my diagnosis of a moral disease that was widespread when I was your age but has become an epidemic now. I call it the "This is just the way I am" syndrome. Have you ever heard anyone talk this way? "I don’t think I’ll try to make any new friends while I’m here; I have a hard time relating to people." "I can’t get really interested in Relief Society (or home teaching or scripture reading) — that’s just the way I am, I guess." "I don’t much like really religious girls — it’s just something about me." "Maybe I won’t go on a mission (or get married, or go to college) — I’m just not the type." Surely you have seen manifestations of this "syndrome." It afflicts people who stay stuck in their present habits and patterns by telling themselves, "This is just the way I am." They don’t become different because they use the way they are now as an excuse. Here are a few more samples — I could never do manual labor. People don’t especially like me. I can’t cook. I don’t like my parents. Sacrament meeting is boring to me. I’m not much of a student. If the bishop asks me to speak in Sacrament meeting, I think I’ll die. No one who’s popular would want to go out with me. My daughter is Relief Society president in her BYU ward. She shared with me a talk by President Spencer W. Kimball, the twelfth president of the church. He intended his words for the instruction of the young adults of the Church. He spoke specifically of the initiatives we must take, if necessary, in order to fulfill the commandment to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. But his counsel applies just as much to obeying the other commandments, such as preparing for a career that will enable us to provide for our family, or becoming a good spouse or parent, or an effective church worker or contributor to the community. In each case, the responsibility falls upon us to find what we must do to obey and then to take the initiative and to act diligently. Excusing ourselves from obeying the commandments for any reason is not acceptable. We should not hold ourselves back because obedience will require too much commitment, sacrifice, and hard work, or even because we are afraid. Said President Kimball, "You need to evaluate yourselves carefully. Take a careful inventory of your habits, your speech, your appearance, your weight, and your eccentricities, if you have any. Take each item and analyze it. Can you make some sacrifices to be acceptable? You must be the judge. 4
"Are you too talkative? Too withdrawn? Too quiet? If so, then school your thoughts and your expressions. "Are you in the wrong location? Could a move to a new location open up a new world to you? "Is your dress. . . too revealing or too extreme? Are you too demanding? Do you have any eccentricities in speech, in tone, in subject matter? Do you laugh too loudly? Are you too demonstrative? Are you selfish? Are you honorable in all things? . . . Do you feel sorry for [yourself?] "Have you made yourself attractive physically — well-groomed, well-dressed — and attractive mentally — engaging, interesting? Are you well-read? If not, change yourself." Take the responsible step, President Kimball is counseling. There are no excuses for failing to claim the blessings the Lord has for you. If you don’t take those steps, if you let circumstances shape your destiny, you will never have the growth or the employment or the associates or the marriage or the family or the eternal crown you would have had if only you had stepped out boldly to do everything you could to obey the commandments. My daughter laughed with delight when she read me President Kimball’s words. They expect so much. They’re so bold they’re startling. They hold out high expectations boldly because they’re spoken by a prophet motivated by a love similar to the Lord’s love. The message in them is: You must use your agency. You must take the initiative to claim your blessings. Work diligently at becoming a Christ-like person. Then the help from heaven comes. No one would expect to become a financier or a doctor or a literature teacher or a coach without a great deal of training and practice. And no one should expect to become a disciple of Christ without even more training, practice, and discipline. When I was your age, in school like you, I had a home teaching companion who had a great influence upon me, because the Spirit of the Lord was with him. I will call him, Dan. You felt in his presence his great integrity. You felt you wanted to draw close to the Lord because you could see in Dan what happens to people who do. One day Dan said he would like to talk with me. We sat down on the lawn in the summertime in front of my apartment. He told me of having been so fearful of people when growing up, that he completely missed the experiences and development enjoyed by other young people. He was not active in the Church in those years and confessed to having been very arrogant intellectually and hardened in his heart. He hinted at having gotten into some kind of trouble. His face bore a mild disfigurement that may have contributed to his many problems.
Somewhere in his late teenage years he discovered the gospel. He received a very strong testimony of the Savior. And this immediately confronted him with a problem. He was in no condition to be a Latter-day Saint! Latter-day Saints welcome one another, smile, and shake hands. He had never done these things. In fact the thought of doing them made him quake with fear. Latter-day Saints speak in Church. They give lessons when they go home or visiting teaching. They attend youth dances. They sing in choirs and around the campfire. They play softball, basketball, and volleyball in Church outings or stake leagues. The young men bless the Sacrament. He had avoided ever doing any of these. Add to these daunting obstacles the usual challenges facing new converts, like learning to pray, beginning to tithe, and abandoning bad habits, and you can see that the mountain looming before Dan must have seemed impossible to climb. Nevertheless, he made a list of everything he needed to accomplish in order to become a genuine, functional, normal Latter-day Saint. As I recall, the list included 25 major items. One, I think the first, was to look straight at a person he was passing on campus and smile and say "Hello." He prepared himself a long time emotionally and spiritually for this. He tried to pump up his courage. And after a few unsuccessful tries, he did it. The next challenges included learning to dance — which of course meant standing face to face with an actual live girl and touching her hand and back — Aaagh! But he worked hard to master this skill and finally danced at a Church event. And playing softball, which took getting people to practice with him for long hours. And singing in a group. And giving a talk in church, and so on. As the feats of Hercules might be to other men, so were these simple acts to him. The product of the initiatives and the diligence I have described was this inspiring young man sitting before me on the lawn, a man of mighty spiritual backbone and courage who had obtained something I wanted to obtain for myself. Like those of the celestial kingdom, he was "valiant in the testimony of Jesus" (D&C 76:79). He said he wanted to share his favorite scripture with me. He opened his New Testament and started reading at 1 Corinthians 1, verse 15 and continued through to the end of chapter 2. This passage testifies radiantly of living by the wisdom and power of the Spirit rather than by human power. Dan read those words of the Apostle Paul as if they were his autobiography; he used them to testify of what he had come to know for himself. I will leave you to read this magnificent passage of scripture for yourself, and on this occasion share just a few selected lines. "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
"But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit. . . . Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." (1 Cor. 2:3-4,9,12) "Yes, I know," you may say. "But I’ve tried to change and it’s too hard." Examine that statement. It is not an explanation. It’s an excuse. Remember the principle. When we take a responsible step to do what is right and sacrifice what is wrong, there flows to us, often immediately, a quiet confirmation from the Spirit of the Lord that we are doing right, and encouragement and strength to keep going. So, if you’ve tried and failed to keep your belongings in order, or to study on a consistent basis so you’re not cramming all the time, or to get yourself into good physical condition, or to conquer an anger problem or a gossip problem or a vulgarity problem — if you’ve not succeeded in your effort to make a change in some part of your life, then start with something smaller that you can do. For example, you might make it your first responsible step to read the scriptures on your own, without having been given any assignment. Begin by falling on your knees and asking for understanding and increased desire. Or you might call or visit someone who needs your encouragement. Or your might take yourself somewhere else when that TV show is about to start that you know is a waste of time or worse. You take one step and then you take another. That is how your faith will grow to take even bigger steps than these. It is contrary to God’s great plan of love that we would be entrapped in sin and be able to find no way out. Here’s another suggestion. Before you start, count the cost. Recognize from the beginning that it won’t be easy. Visualize in your mind the comforts you will have to forgo. Recognize that Satan will do everything imaginable to keep you from succeeding. As long as we are slouching around on the battlefield while people’s souls are being won and lost, he doesn’t have to spend any effort to keep us from doing damage to his battle plan. But as soon as we rouse ourselves, he gets into a real fuss and focuses his big artillery on us. May I suggest one more strategy, this one for any who are finding it difficult to free themselves from the bondage of sin. Before we try to change we usually do not feel controlled by our sins. Often it is only when we make an effort to repent that we realize how tight their grip on us has been. My suggestion is that the principle of initiative and change applies just as much to ending these sins of commission as it does to ending sins of omission. It applies whether the problem is gossip or gambling, lying or laziness, pride or pornography. And here is how it applies: You must completely avoid entertaining the sin in any form, even in thought.
A young woman came to me very discouraged. She said no one would ever consider marrying her. I asked how long she had thought that. She said ever since she entered her teenage years. I suggested that she could no longer risk indulging in that destructive thought. She couldn’t let herself passively be its victim. She had to take the initiative to turn her mind away from it whenever it drew into sight. She needed to treat this thought it like the swords of the Anti-NephiLehi Lamanite converts — she had to bury it and never touch it again. Otherwise, her battle with it would never end. A man spoke with me about how he had been troubled for a decade with impure thoughts. He described his unsuccessful efforts to use all his strength to control these thoughts when they would enter is mind and heart. I suggested the principle of initiative and diligence. He had to take up his cross, which the Savior said is "for a man to . . . deny himself of all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and to keep my commandments" (Matt. 16:24 JST). The man before me had to undertake an extraordinary vigilance. He had to turn away with his eyes and his mind anytime there was a possibility of such a thought. This meant taking care not to turn to a certain TV channel or open a particular internet site unless he absolutely knew it was safe. It meant choosing his route thorough a department store to avoid certain places. It meant quickly refocusing his mind if an unwanted thought started to form. I told him avoiding the very appearance of evil should be his watchword — avoiding the appearance not just in the sense of shunning the things that look like evil, but also in the sense of turning away the instant that evil starts to appear. The man took this suggestion, very prayerfully. Within a month he was making significant progress. After about a year he told me he felt clean. But, he added, "I must keep the sword buried; I cannot risk ever getting myself into that awful torment again." On these subjects the words of Moroni can inspire us. And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing. (Moro. 7:30) "Come" and "lay hold" — those are words that connote initiative and diligence. "Touch not" does too. You can’t be half-hearted and keep this instruction. You have to take bold, determined steps and keep on taking them. I bear witness to you, from my personal experience, that putting our whole heart into learning and living the gospel draws the Spirit of the Lord into our lives, with stirring power. We feel filled as if with fire to worship God and learn of His ways, and serve Him, from hour to hour. And another thing happens. Our confidence begins to "wax strong" before God (D & C 121:45), a lively hope awakens within us confirming that we are on the course to eternal life, and we feel we are being given what the Doctrine and Covenants calls, "grace and assurance wherewith [we] may stand" (106:8). We want to talk of Christ and rejoice in Christ, and tell others of what He is able and willing to do for all his children.
Susan and I have watched your generation very closely and I am convinced that many of you are living this way now. We see that grace and assurance in your humility and in your confidence. We recognize the Spirit that you bear. Let me close with a story about one of you, a young man who does not live in circumstances anywhere near as favorable as ours, but in whose heart the Lord has put His law and His love. Nathan Rawlins met Lwany Nicholas when Nicholas gave a magnificently simple and powerful talk in Sacrament Meeting in Moss, Norway. After church, Nicholas, who is from Uganda, invited Nathan to the refugee camp where he lived and where he was preparing other camp members to receive the gospel. He had fled from his native country four years earlier, at age 17, because his politics made it unsafe for him to be there. The government had killed his parents, leaving his brothers and sisters to look out for themselves. And now he occupied a room the size of a walk-in closet, with worldly possessions that fit easily into a small duffel bag, waiting to learn whether Norway would grant him political asylum. With his wide smile and bright eyes he exuded his testimony of the Gospel of Christ, which was the greatest thing in his life. He was enthusiastically preparing to go to the temple. When Elder Rawlins and his companion returned a few days after their initial visit, they learned from Nicholas that he was being deported to Uganda; the Norwegian government had decided it was no longer unsafe for him to go back. In his particular case, as all Ugandan expatriates knew, the prospects were in fact not hopeful at all. He expected to be shot when he got off the airplane. "The thing that struck me most," said Elder Rawlins, "was the look in his eye. The gleam that had been there the day of his talk was if anything stronger. He was calm and strong. I could not understand how a person who had so little in this world could radiate such peace." Nicholas suggested that they all sign their names in each others’ scriptures next to their favorite verse. Nicholas put his signature by Ether 12:4. Wherefore, whoso believeth in God must with surety hope for a better world, yea even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God. (Ether 12:4) Nicholas was not shot, but detained in a military camp, tortured physically and mentally, and deprived even of his beloved Book of Mormon. Later he was released, frail and weak from his imprisonment, and, for political reasons, forbidden to work, even though he had responsibility to provide for his siblings and a young woman he hoped to marry. That, which was communicated in the one letter Brother Rawlins has received from him since they parted, is all that is known of his fate. We can obtain the grace and assurance of Nicholas, wherewith we can stand secure. We can become worthy to have the Holy Ghost with us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can lay hold upon every good thing and touch not the evil gift. We can be purified from all sin. We can come unto Christ and know Him. We can become valiant in testifying of Him, the living Christ. 9
Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am. (D & C 93:1) If any of us here, during this hour together, has felt a spiritual nudge to take an initiative that will lead to these blessings, my hope is that we will go straightway and do it, and after that keep pressing forward with diligence. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father, Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Ne.31:20) The Lord made this promise available to us by sacrificing everything for us. We can bring about its fulfillment by sacrificing everything required in order to obey and follow Him and bring others souls to partake of His redeeming love. I bear my testimony to you today-a simple, humble member of the Church of the Living Christ. For centuries, many people have not believed in Him. And many who have believed in Him thought of Him as a kind of great watchmaker who created the world, wound it up, and then left it to its own devices. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Savior is involved with us with initiative and diligence, concern and love, and a sacrifice of everything. He has made available to us the promises we have talked about today that we might become as he is— purified from all sin and filled with love, desirous to do good and joyous in it, and capable of blessing our brothers and sisters because of the priesthood and of the Spirit of God which we can have. What is required of us that we, too, sacrifice for Him and for his other children so that we may realize this promise, this blessing, that he has given us. I bear witness of Him, my love of Him and of His Church, and of this life, and all that He has given us in the Name of Jesus Christ, amen.