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Live Your Vision

Sister Ardern and I are delighted to be with you this morning in this beautiful auditorium. Thank you for coming. I am pleased to see so many of you here, yet sobered in knowing that the library and cafeteria are closed during devotionals. The Cannon Activity Center is named after Elder George Q. Cannon. He was born in Liverpool, England in 1827, was raised somewhat in poverty and left school at 13 to work in a ship yard, insisting that “learning was not a matter of going to school; it was the result of an inner hunger.” Charles Dickens, in a quest to learn more about the Mormon emigrants, met Elder Cannon in 1863 on a dock in London and described him as “A compactly-made handsome man… rather short, with rich brown hair and beard, and clear bright eyes…a man with a frank open manner…withal, a man of great quickness.” (1)

Elder Cannon served five missions for the Church, which included one to these islands in 1850. He immersed himself with the local people and mastered the Hawaiian language and later translated the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. He was called to be an Apostle at the age of 33 and in 1873 became a member of the First Presidency of the Church, serving as a counselor to Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow. It is fitting that this building carries his name. 

Much of what I say this morning was written over many nights from my eighth floor apartment in Manila. I would sit and tap a few words out on my computer as men worked nearby into the night building yet another skyscraper to clutter the already crowed skyline. One warm evening, I wondered if you knew just how blessed you are to be here and the responsibility that places on your shoulders for “unto whom much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3). You cannot be satisfied with an average performance; average does not allow you to achieve your best. I speak of more than your best effort in your classes; there is also the personal progress to be made in developing Christlike attributes such as kindness, service, honesty, obedience, and virtue. President David O. McKay, the advocator of this school, taught that character is greater than intellect and so above all else, it is expected that you will leave here having further refined your character. You must leave here as someone who stands for truth and righteousness, someone who is honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous and who does good to all men…who believes, hopes, endures and seeks after those things which are virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy (Article of Faith 13). Students with these lasting acquisitions will be the best ‘exports’ of this university. 

A former President of BYU, Earnest Wilkinson spoke of the dual role of BYU. In essence he said ‘most universities aspire just to higher learning but here we couple that with aspiring to be men and women of higher character. Our roots are not from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or Yale, but from a far greater place called Palmyra. Here, both intellect and character are on the menu and all must feast thereon.’

You must leave here having given of your best. I have heard students say that ‘C’s are degrees’ and I shudder at the comment. Accepting average or mediocrity is a tool of the devil, for it will take more than an average performance to accomplish what God has planned for us. I have yet to find a verse in Holy writ that reads, “Thou shalt be mediocre.” I invite you to take a lingering look inward and then write your own report card. If there are ‘C’ grades, work to improve them. It will take more time in your books; an increase of attention in your classes and time on your knees but you can improve your spiritual and academic grades if you really want to. I agree there must be time for a walk on the beach but you cannot leave here thinking, “life is a beach.” 

Some may think that lifting their performance is too daunting a task. It is not! You accomplish what you desire when you have the ‘inner hunger’ to learn that Elder Cannon spoke of. My observations have been that everything here is structured for your learning. Allow me to give you evidence of that by reference to your administrators and teachers.

My 30 years in Church Education have taught me that here, the teachers and administrators, like those throughout the Church Educational System, have been carefully selected after reviewing their spiritual and academic qualifications. They went through a similar review to you when you gained entry to this school, except it was on an even higher plain. First their spiritual preparation was reviewed and then their academic qualifications were examined in detail. This spiritual examination is essential for we follow the counsel given by Alma to his people some 2200 years ago to “Trust no one to be your teacher …except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” (Mosiah 23:14). Their goodness allows them to teach with the Spirit and your goodness will allow you to learn by the Spirit and both will be edified (D&C 50:22).

We must be active participants in achieving our own success. We cannot leave it to others, no, not even to these teachers I have spoken of. I exhort you to be prayerful. Our spiritual Father knows each of us by name and wants us to succeed. Joseph Smith’s experience surely confirms this. Joseph read from James 1:5 “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally….” He asked in faith and received.  The mathematics, the languages and sciences you sometimes struggle with are all known by our Father in Heaven; He is the best personal study companion we could ever have, but as Oliver Cowdery learned in his attempt to translate the plates, prayer alone will not bring us the success we yearn for. The Lord taught him: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me…” (D&C 9:7-8).

Although prayer is a form of work, it is not a substitute for the physical and mental exertion we must put forth in order to enjoy success. As we live righteously, and demonstrate our faith in Christ, we are entitled; after all we can do, to the Lord’s help and sincere prayer opens the door. Let us not forget Joseph’s work before asking his question in the grove. He wrote, “While I was laboring (and he means mentally) under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James…I reflected on it again and again…and came to a determination to ask of God” (JSH 1: 11-13). 

I learned this valuable lesson in 1973 while attending what was then called the Language Training Mission at BYU Provo in preparation for my mission to France and Belgium. We were expected to memorize sixty lines of the French discussions each day, in addition to our grammar lessons. As missionaries we carried with us a little card made by our District Leader which read, Avez-vous vecu votre vision? Have you lived your vision? My vision was to leave having learned the discussions in French but the task seemed too daunting. My head ached and frustration mounted as I fell short of what I expected of myself and what was expected of me.  I had the work ethic but quickly came to the realization that I could not learn those 60 lines a day on my own. Oh, I had prayed for help but had not acknowledged my dependence upon God to succeed. I recall the pleading prayers I offered at the side of my bed; on some nights my knees ached as much as my head but the prayers were answered and the task became achievable. I testify that sincere prayer coupled with hard work greatly increases our rate of learning. 

Scripture and experience teaches us that where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18). Gertrude Ederle was a woman who knew the power of vision. Long before you were born she became the first woman to swim the English Channel, a feat accomplished in 1926. During her first attempt, after having swum 23 miles in eight hours, some of her support crew thought she was choking when in fact she was just coughing but it was too late, someone reached out and touched her and she was immediately disqualified. Did she give up? No, she planned a second attempt, trained hard and got right back into the water. Before the swim Gertrude was smeared with sheep grease in an attempt to keep out the cold channel sea and as she waded into the choppy water at a little after seven in the morning she quietly said, “Please, God, help me.” A car had been offered to the first woman to swim the 21 mile channel and Gertrude pictured herself driving that red convertible with its white side walled tires in the streets of New York. As she swam her support crew held up signs as the miles clicked by, which read, one wheel, and then two wheels and then a third. As this 20-year-old young woman swam, the tide turned, driving rains began to fall and mountainous waves rose up and for every three stokes forward she was carried back two. The sheep grease was soon gone and fatigue was taking its toll. At one point she rolled onto her back to rest and her support crew motioned to her that all was lost; the task could not be completed. As they reached to take her from the water she saw in her mind’s eye that red convertible and pulled away to swim again. She recounted that her arms felt as heavy as lead as she took one strength draining stroke after another until finally her feet touched the sandy shores of England. She had in fact swum no less than 35 miles that day in 14 hours and 30 minutes and what carried her to success? It was her vision that it could be done, the preparations she made, her work ethic and let us not forget her short but sincere prayer. Create your vision and then go to work with your tomorrow in mind. Whatever you decide to be in life, have the vision of being the very best at it and never give up that vision no matter how big the seas of opposition may become. 

While at this university you must labor with an increased intensity and not be lulled into thinking that an average effort is acceptable. Satan would, “Pacify us and lull us away into carnal security, that [we] will say, “All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well…and thus the devil cheateth [our] souls” (2 Nephi 28:21). Today is your day of preparation. You must engage in the learning process like never before. A clear vision will help, as will prayer and work and so will drawing nearer to God. Our rate of learning accelerates as we have an increase in the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which comes through an increase of worthiness. We are taught “that the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit (D&C 84:46). We are here to be enlightened and we are therefore counseled to hearken. I find it interesting that the first word in the Doctrine and Covenants is ‘Hearken’ (D&C 1:1). It is the very first commandment given to us in that book of scripture formally known as the Book of Commandments. To hearken is much more than to listen; it has the added dimension of acting on what we hear and feel. Let us hearken to the words of the prophets we will hear from General Conference in just a few days.  

I offer a word of warning before I move on. A continued disregard for the teachings of the prophets is one sure way to a decline in personal revelation. In this world of increasing turmoil, surely keeping ourselves worthy of receiving revelation would be of utmost importance. Being almost worthy will almost get us needed revelation so we need to be doing more than almost; logically, there is a diminished reward for those who almost remain faithful and worthy. I have found that for most of us, the barrier to revelation is not committing murder or robbing a bank; it is the smaller things that we allow to happen again and again that the Spirit becomes intolerant of because of our unwillingness to truly repent of them. The so called smaller things would include watching rated movies, immodesty in dress and actions, unworthy thoughts and whatever else has just quickly come to your mind. We do not need a list, we already know what inhibits revelation and we must act now to change that. 

In terms the science students use, the equation is simple; an increase of spirituality brings an increase of revelation. I recommend the counsel of the Lord through Nephi to his two wayward brothers as a reminder about the process of revelation. “If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping the commandments, surely these things will be made known to you” (1 Nephi 15:11). There we have it, the four part formula for receiving revelation; a softened heart, faith in Christ, believing that you will receive and the keeping of the commandments. Not all revelation comes immediately or clearly as we may want but it does come. While the receipt of revelation depends on our faithfulness, the clarity of revelation depends upon our listening skills. Learn to listen for it, learn to feel of it, learn to recognize how it comes to you, act upon it and be grateful for it.

Acting on personal revelation gives us needed direction in our lives, but first we must decide deep down inside that we want to be better and then act upon that desire so the waters of revelation can run freely. Pretending to be good will not be enough; the real measure of ourselves is what we think and do when we are alone. The path to increased righteousness begins with a genuine desire to be better and then acting positively on that desire. Even with the best desires, we are tempted to stray from the path of righteousness and that is part of mortality. 

The Savior Himself was tempted and in those moments He taught seven valuable lessons about overcoming temptation that we can apply to our own lives. From the first book of the Gospels we read of Satan coming to tempt the Savior who rebuffed him with the word of God and dismissed him with the command, “Get thee hence, Satan….” (Matthew 4:10). Now for the seven lessons:

1. Lesson one: He recognized the source of the temptation as being from Satan. All that is good is of God and we should give thanks for it. All that is wicked comes from Satan and we should recognize that and shun it. In many sports there is a shroud of secrecy over the tactics of opposing teams and especially so just before the game. In the final practice cameras are banned, reporters are locked out and gates are closed and all in an attempt to keep the team’s plans from the opposition. To know the plans of your opponent is to give you an advantage. You have that advantage because you know the plan of Satan is “that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27). When one succumbs to temptation there is sometimes the illusion of happiness but it is always fleeting and false. It is fleeting and it is false because wickedness is contrary to the commandments of God and as Alma taught “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). 

2. Lesson two: He immediately dismissed the temptation. President Benson taught “Our accountability begins the moment the evil thought is presented. We must be like Jesus and positively and promptly terminate the temptation.” Modern scripture reinforces the truth that Christ “suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them” (D&C 20:22).  I sense that the challenge for some of us is that we do exactly the opposite to what the Savior did and ‘give heed unto them’. We entertain the temptation momentarily for just a glimpse or just a taste or just a puff or just a kiss that is allowed to linger longer than it should and then the temptation gets stronger and our ability to withstand gets weaker. Elder Maxwell said: “If we entertain temptations soon they begin entertaining us.” Remember this, Satan needs our attention for just a moment as his plan is a cunning one and is designed to lead us carefully down to hell (2 Nephi 9:28, 2 Nephi 28:21). If we are not vigilant, we may awake in the turmoil of despair and wonder how we got there. We cannot fall into the trap of thinking we can sin just a little and it will not matter for the “Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31).

3. The third lesson is that He took strength from the scriptures as a means of shunning the temptation. Clearly the Savior was well versed in scripture; having been the author of much of it, and used the words to counter what Satan thought were tempting proposals. Observe that Christ quoted a verse as a means of countering the proposals made by Satan. Elder Scott taught, “Great power comes from memorizing scriptures. It is like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change.” 

4. Lesson four: With the valuable insight offered by the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew chapter four, we have an additional lesson. Jesus did not go into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil as portrayed in the King James translation, for the righteous do not seek to be tempted. The lesson is simple; when we are trying to lose weight we stay away from the bakery. We should never put ourselves at risk by courting temptation and there you have the reason you are encouraged as the Rising Generation to not go to nightclubs and other places where the temptations are so blatantly obvious. The road to temptation is clearly sign posted and we ignore the signs at our peril.

5. The fifth lesson is that Satan tempts us at our weakest point. You will recall that the Savior had been fasting for forty days and forty nights and ‘was afterwards an hungered’ and Satan seizing the moment said, “Command that these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3). Satan looks to tempt us when we are feeling weak and at what he perceives to be our weakest points and will pick away at them in the hope that we will succumb. We all have weak points; for one it may be dishonesty, for another keeping the Sabbath day holy and for yet another it may be pornography. When President Harold B. Lee was called to be the Prophet, he was asked what he thought the most important commandment was. I expected him to respond with loving the Lord but he did not. He said, “The most important of all the commandments of God is that one you’re having the most difficulty keeping today. If it’s one of dishonesty, if it’s one of immorality... today is the day for you to work on that until you’ve been able to conquer that weakness. Then you start on the next one that’s most difficult for you to keep.”(2) To take a Book of Mormon analogy, Captain Moroni built up the fortifications of the cities at their weakest points and we must do likewise with our lives. We must fortify ourselves at our weakest points against the temptations of Satan and nobody knows our weak points better than the person looking at us in the mirror. 

6. The sixth lesson we learn is that of obedience. Christ was tempted but he instantly relied on His earlier decision to be obedient to all of the commandments of God and could not be persuaded to drift from that earlier decision. The Savior was focused on doing the will of the Father. President Faust taught that, “When obedience becomes our goal it is no longer an irritation; instead of a stumbling block it becomes a building block….” Before temptation comes, make the decision to always be obedient to the commandments and the teachings of the Prophets and then temptation is more easily withstood.

7. The final insight from these verses comes from the observation that Christ was tempted three times in quick succession. The lesson must surely be that Satan will not give up taunting and tempting us. One can be a student at BYU Hawaii or a General Authority of the Church, Satan will tempt us all and therefore we must be forever on our guard against “all the fiery darts of the adversary” (D&C 3:8). 

These seven lessons from the Savior give us the power to overcome temptation and thereby enable us to live our vision. Like all good lessons their true worth is in the application.  

Take added strength from knowing that the enabling power of the atonement, which comes through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a divine means to help us resist temptation. We can take comfort from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews wherein he writes, “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted (Hebrews 2:18).

Paul also taught, “[God] will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Regretfully, we sometimes succumb and perhaps there are those in the sound of my voice who have regrets because they have fallen into serious sin but please be reassured that there is a way back; the journey is not easy but it is worth the effort for the Lord promises, “that he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42). 

We read that after the Savior had shunned temptation, “angels came and ministered unto him” (Matthew 4:11). I testify that as we shun temptation and choose the better way we will feel the loving arm of the Lord bearing us up and filling our hearts with peace and joy.

I testify that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer and that because of His atoning sacrifice we will live again. There has been a restoration of truth; I testify it began in the grove in Palmyra 193 years ago. Since that day we have had a succession of Prophets and in our day we have the blessing of President Thomas S. Monson to lead and guide us. Our greatest joy will come as we enter into immortality and hear the Lord say, “well done thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of the Lord” (Matthew 25:21). 

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen



1. Charles D***ens, The Uncommercial Traveler, Macmillan & Co., New York, 1896, p. 194.
2. President  Harold B. Lee, Church News, May 5, 1973, p.3