Last week, we hosted Elder Clark G. Gilbert of the Church Educational System on our campus. He addressed our new students, joined us in our university Ohana meeting, and spoke to our faculty. We also had extensive meetings with him to discuss key efforts in our leadership group. It was exciting to see and hear the clear alignment between this university, the Commissioner's Office, and the Board of Trustees which is led by President Russell M. Nelson, President Dallin H. Oaks, and President Henry B. Eyring.
Last week was very exciting for me. After a two-year hiatus, I was back in the classroom! The new Holokai Foundations course is off to a great start, and I am very excited to spend this semester with such a great group of students. I am grateful that Vice President Isaiah Walker allowed me to teach despite my being a little rusty. I suppose he volunteered to teach with me just to keep an eye on me.
On Thursday morning, a student stopped me while I was unloading my surfboard and asked me if I could talk. I didn’t have much time, but I listened and shared some thoughts. Later that morning, I realized what I needed to share with that student. I messaged them and arranged to meet with them that afternoon. I had a very busy day and in every free moment I was working to finalize my devotional message. I’d been working on it for several weeks, and it was nearly finished. 4:00 pm came quickly, as it always does, and I listened and shared thoughts with the student again. As our conversation ended, I had a strong prompting that my devotional as I had prepared it needed to be set aside for another day and the topic for a new message came to mind. So, I started over! It has been a busy weekend, but I am excited to share this message with you today.
Monica spoke about fear and how our faith in God can give us confidence in the face of challenges. Fear can also come when we face significant decisions in our lives. Many of you are facing some of the biggest decisions you will ever have right now. You just made the big choice to leave home and come to school here at BYU–Hawaii. In the coming months and years, you will be making big decisions about who to marry, what job to take after school, where you should live and even when and how many children you should have. Those are challenging and significant decisions, certainly decisions that you want to make correctly as they will impact the trajectory of your life. I am grateful to have navigated these decisions with Monica and by the Spirit. I love Monica and I am grateful that she is my eternal companion.
My purpose today is to discuss how we can best use prayer to access the support and direction of our Father in Heaven when making important decisions in our lives.
Let's start by reviewing a few things that we can learn from the scriptures about prayer.
In the New Testament we find the famous passage in James 1:5–7.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
“But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
“For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”
Referring to this passage Elder David A. Bednar said, “Please notice the requirement to ask in faith, which I understand to mean the necessity to not only express but to do, the dual obligation to both plead and to perform, the requirement to communicate and to act.”
In one of the most important passages of the Book of Mormon, we are given instructions on how to seek a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and therefore of Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
We all know this scripture but let's read it again, Moroni 10:3-5 says:
“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
Notice the direction that we should read, think carefully about the content, and that we should ponder it in our hearts. Again, speaking to the responsibility to both plead and perform, to both communicate and act.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, we find another example of this directive. Oliver Cowdery, having struggled to receive revelation as he desired, is taught by the Lord through a revelation to Joseph Smith. In Doctrine and Covenants section 9, verses 7 through 9 it reads:
“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 if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”
President Russell M. Nelson has taught us, “The Lord loves effort, and effort brings rewards.” Clearly, effort in the form of careful preparation, creative and thorough planning, and a strong and clear question or request of the Lord brings the rewards of his support.
President Nelson has instructed us about prayer frequently in his recent messages. He teaches us that we should pray about all things in our life. He said,
“No matter who you are, you can pray to your Heavenly Father for guidance and direction in your life. If you learn to hear the Lord through His promptings, you may receive divine guidance in matters large and small.”
He teaches us to take time for God in our lives. Saying, “He will lead and guide you in your personal life if you will make time for Him in your life—each and every day.”
He has also given us some specific instructions on how to get answers.
“Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will ‘grow into the principle of revelation.’”
So, let's do a simple recap. We need to recognize that the Lord is there to help us. We need to pray often and over all things. We need to find a quiet place where we can pour out our heart with real intent. We need to ask for confirmation after careful preparation, study, work, and action. And finally, we must listen.
If you do that, there is a promise: “As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will grow into the principle of revelation.”
It is important to remember that listening extends beyond the quiet moments on our knees in prayer. The Lord's response to our prayers can come in different ways and times. I want to share a few experiences with you that illustrate some of the ways that the Lord has answered my prayers and what it meant to listen.
There are times when the answer to your prayer will be a spiritual assurance that you already have received your answer. In fact, Elder Richard G. Scott taught, “If you feel that God has not answered your prayers…carefully look for evidence in your own life of His having already answered you.”
The best decision I have ever made was confirmed through this type of answer.
Monica and I were introduced to each other by my cousin. We hung out together in a group once or twice and that was the end of our connection for several months. She did give me her phone number. There is some debate as to whether I used it or not. In any case, we were both busy with life and working hard at our education and personal improvement.
Several months later, I woke up early on the Fourth of July. I did not have plans to run in the 10K race that day, but I felt like running and decided to register at the race and go for it. I arrived, signed in, and went to the starting line. There I saw Monica and we talked. This time perhaps something was different. We reconnected and soon realized that we were running the same marathon and that both of our running partners had bailed out on us. Monica's friend had gotten engaged and didn’t have time to train. My brother went on 8 mile run with me and decided that he was not interested. Monica and I began running together and after several hundred miles we started to date. We had many conversations about important aspects of life and faith as we ran. There were perhaps hundreds of moments in which I felt confirmation about our relationship. I don't recall the specific moment that I “knew” that I should marry Monica if she would have me. I do recall that when I prayed, presenting to the Lord my carefully considered decision that I wanted to marry her, I felt very clearly the prompting that I had already been given my answer many times.
Now, her side of the story may be more complicated. Maybe she will tell you about it sometime.
There are also times that the Lord directly answers your prayers by speaking through the spirit to your heart and communicating confirmation of a decision.
While we were dating, Monica and I developed the habit of praying and reading the scriptures together regularly. We started learning how to carefully study out important decisions and seek the Lord's direction—together.
Shortly after we were engaged, I began the process of interviewing for graduate schools. I applied to and was admitted to three programs: Yale University, Emory University, and Washington University in St. Louis. My final campus visit was to Washington University. Saturday evening, at the end of the visit, I talked to Monica and told her that I felt like Washington University was the right fit for my education and our future. I prayed that night and listened for an answer from God. I felt calm and confident. My mind was clear. I had no thoughts of what “might be” if I went to Yale or Emory. Just simple peace.
Very early Sunday morning, I walked down the street in St. Louis thinking about the answer I had received. I found a payphone and called Monica.
I am old, but not that old! Cellphones were thing, I was just frugal and got along without one. But yes, I was an adult during the time when there were coin operated phones in strategic, public locations.
Monica answered my call, and we shared our mutual confirmation from our Heavenly Father about where we should go to school. I don't know exactly why, but clearly God knew that our experiences and opportunities at Washington University would prepare us in ways that were important enough for him to direct our path.
Monica and I have also had experiences where we have studied things out, came to a conclusion, and sought God’s direction through prayer; then received clear direction that the answer was “no, do not proceed.”
Shortly after arriving in St. Louis, Monica and I thought it would be great to try to buy a home. Many other graduate students in St. Louis were buying homes and it seemed like a great idea. We found a home that we could afford and made an offer. The seller came back with a counteroffer that was very reasonable. Our real estate agent was excited. You could see that the agent felt the sale and her commission were coming soon. Monica and I had prayed about the first offer and felt fine. We prayed again, telling our Heavenly Father that we thought we could afford this home at the counteroffer price and that it would be the right place for our family in St. Louis. In that moment, I felt what might have been the strongest experience I've ever had with a stupor of thought. My mind was filled with doubt and raced to all the alternative scenarios and negative “what if” outcomes that could occur. We told our real estate agent that the deal was off and that we would not be buying this home or any other home. She was not happy. Monica and I felt bad about that, and we felt great pressure to change our minds. But we knew the Lord had told us what to do and we followed His direction. I don't know all the reasons that we learned our lesson this way, but every graduate student who bought a home when we arrived in St. Louis was caught in the difficult economic conditions that suppressed real estate values in 2009. We were spared that challenge and were well positioned to begin our life after graduate school because of this guidance from the Lord.
When we seek the guidance of the Lord, we must be humble enough to accept his answers and faithful enough to carry them out. Sometimes the Lord asks us to do things that are difficult.
Several years ago, I was serving as the Bishop in our ward. Monica and I were blessed to be living in a wonderful neighborhood with supporting families all around us. We and our children had many dear friends in the area, people who are still important in our lives. I was very busy teaching, running my research lab, and fulfilling my responsibilities to my family and to the ward. My father, whose health had been declining for years, became seriously ill and spent more than a month in the intensive care unit. During that time, Monica and I had the added responsibility of supporting my mother, attending to their home and yard, and visiting my father in the hospital to our lives. We lived far enough from them that it was very difficult to fulfill our responsibilities. To better support my parents, we would need to sell our home, leave our responsibility as Bishop before the normal term of release, and find a way to live closer to them. Monica and I studied this out carefully. As much as I love my parents, I did not want to leave my ward. I wanted to keep making the drive and find a way to do it all. However, after careful study and discussion we were led to kneel in prayer and tell our Heavenly Father that we believed the best course of action for our family was to leave and care for my parents. I desperately wanted the answer to be a stupor of thought.
It was not. Monica and I both felt feelings of calm and confirmation from the Lord. I was heartbroken. I cried tears of sorrow that night, and many subsequent nights as we walked the new path that Heavenly Father had revealed to us. We were blessed greatly for following that direction. My father passed away just 4 years later. We were able to have experiences with my parents and with our new neighbors that defined our family and our faith in ways that could never have occurred otherwise.
I've had many other experiences individually and with Monica as I have tried to practice this process and grow into the principle of revelation. In some cases, my careful study of an important challenge has left me perplexed and without a clear answer to take to the Lord for his input. I have found in those cases that I must be patient, that I must continue to study things out, and that I must watch for people and experiences that the Lord will place in my path to support my efforts.
In some cases, it has been made clear to me that I am choosing between several good things, any of which would lead to outcomes that the Lord sees as desirable for me or my stewardship. Monica and I have experienced this frequently in our personal life. Our consistent experience is that we should move forward in faith with what we feel is right from our careful study. In many cases, the Lord allows us to proceed without direct revelation to strongly confirm our path. In some very specific cases, he has intervened and instructed us to stop or change direction—like he did with our halted home purchase in St. Louis. We have found that if we are practicing the process of revelation, he will give us the direction we need in the moment and way that we need it.
I want to end with two messages, one from President Gordon B. Hinckley and one from President Nelson.
President Hinckley said, “Pray to the Lord with the expectation of answers. …The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, [and] think of what we are praying about and for…”
I use this quote to remind you again, please listen. It is so easy in this world to fill your heart and mind with content and never make time to listen. Listen after you pray. Make time for a quiet walk around campus or the temple grounds. When you do, leave your phone and your headphones out of it! Allow your mind some clarity to contemplate the important aspects of your life and future. You must make conscious efforts to allow the process of revelation to act more frequently in your life.
Finally, President Nelson said,
“You cultivate such revelatory experiences by living according to the light already given you and by searching the scriptures with pure motives—with real intent to ‘come unto Christ.’ As you do so, your confidence will ‘wax strong in the presence of God,’ and the Holy Ghost will be your constant companion.” 
The key to countering the fear, complexity, and evil that faces us in today's world is to strive to honor our covenants with God and our commitments to each other— and to humbly repent when we fall short.
When you do so I testify that, as President Nelson said, you will wax strong in the presence of God and that the Holy Ghost will be your constant companion. I share that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 David A. Bednar, “Ask in Faith,” General Conference address, April 2008
 Russell M. Nelson, “Make Time for the Lord,” General Conference address, October 2021
 Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” General Conference address, April 2018.
 Richard G. Scott, “Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer,” General Conference address, October 1989.
 “Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley,” 469.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Living by Scriptural Guidance,” Ensign, 18 November 2000.