Brothers and Sisters, Aloha!
It is wonderful to welcome you to the first devotional of this new term. We hope that these devotionals will be an integral part of your learning and education here on this beautiful campus. This is a very special place, and we know that you will learn many things during this time in your lives. Some years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball had this to say about the power of an education from one of the Lord’s Universities:
“[This institution] is designed to enlarge and develop the powers of the spirit and to educate you for eternity . . . . Here you prepare to make a living, but more important still, you prepare to live toward perfection, toward exaltation and godhood.” (Spencer W. Kimball, "First Presidency Message: On My Honor," Ensign, April 1979.)
Today I’d like to address one of the fundamental principles that will prepare you for exaltation and godhood, one of the building blocks of your “education for eternity” referred to by President Kimball. That principle is this: Learning to trust in the Lord. As I look back through my own life, learning to trust in the Lord became especially crucial when I was your age. Young adulthood is the time of many challenges, experiences, and decisions -- serving a mission, selecting a major, seeking to balance and succeed in school, work and extracurricular activities, deciding whether to take a full time job or go on to graduate school, and the biggest of all: deciding who to date and who and when to marry. That’s not my subject today.
Like many of you, I found myself in need of learning to trust in the Lord. In fact, during my college years, the scripture found in Proverbs 3:5-6 became a lifetime favorite for me: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not to thine own understanding. “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) I’d like to spend the next few minutes with you examining the critical roles humility and faith play in learning to trust in the Lord. I’d like to specifically consider three important recurring elements of our various experiences through which we can learn to Trust in the Lord.
To begin with, let’s consider the Old Testament story of Joseph in Egypt, a set of experiences through which we can examine the importance of humility and faith and their impact on Joseph’s perspective, gratitude, and engagement.
Lessons from Joseph in Egypt
We first meet Joseph in Chapter 37 of Genesis, when he is 17 years old – not much older than many of you. We read that Joseph’s father, Jacob, “loved Joseph more than all his children.” To show that love Jacob made Joseph a very special, very colorful coat. I imagine that coat aggravated Joseph’s brothers who already harbored hostile feelings toward him. Their jealousy and envy were further inflamed when Joseph shared with his family the contents of two unusual dreams – In the first, his brothers’ sheaves of wheat bowed down to Joseph’s. In the second, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars paid homage to Joseph. The precociousness of such notions caused even his father to rebuke him! While young Joseph himself wondered at the meaning of those dreams, he did know a few things: He was part of a covenant family, sealed to his parents and living the gospel, and he knew that he was the “favored son.” At the time, this was his perspective. And that perspective must have given him a certain level of confidence in his future and a clear sense of opportunity and destiny.
But on the fateful day his father sent him to check on his brothers and the flocks, what a shock and surprise it must have been when his brothers overpowered him, stripped him of his beloved coat, and threw him in a pit while they pondered how best to kill him. He must have pleaded with his brothers and his Father in Heaven to spare his life and free him. Joseph’s perspective had suddenly changed – he was in dire need of humility and faith as he feared for his life.
We know how the story continues: Taking advantage of a nearby caravan, his brothers – his own flesh and blood – sold him into slavery, and he was carried into Egypt, a distant land with an unknown language. In Egypt, Joseph was sold as a slave to Potipher, an officer of Pharaoh’s and the captain of his guard. While Joseph did not choose his circumstances, he did choose his attitude. The scriptures tell us that he remained true to the gospel standards he had been taught and that he acknowledged the Lord’s hand in his life. We read that Potipher, his master, “saw that the Lord was with [Joseph]” and prospered the things that Joseph did. Here is our second common element of learning to trust in the Lord: Gratitude. Joseph had every right to resent his circumstances, and the Lord for allowing them, and yet he remained grateful, a clear sign of his humility and faith.
The scriptures also tell us that young Joseph sought to make the best of his situation by learning all he could and becoming a trusted slave in Potipher’s household. Joseph engaged – our third common element of learning to trust the Lord. His perspective was still limited – he could not see what lay ahead, and what he could see did not look good, yet his gratitude was intact – even though he didn’t “deserve” this, he still loved the Lord and was obedient to gospel standards. These two elements combined to give him the strength to humbly and faithfully ENGAGE, to make the best of his situation and excel however he could.
In fact, Joseph did so well that Potipher “made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put in [Joseph’s] hand.” So complete was Potipher’s trust of Joseph that we read that “[Potipher] knew not ought he had, save the bread that he did eat.” In other words, Potipher did not even bother to check the books or anything else – he just turned it over completely to Joseph. What a credit to Joseph’s character and diligence. (See Genesis 39:3-6)
We are not told how long Joseph lived in Potipher’s household, but it was likely a few years at least. During that time, Joseph’s life was not without continued challenges. Potipher’s wife was attracted to Joseph. Daily, Joseph resisted her immoral advances. This must have been a very challenging and troubling time for Joseph. How could he consider violating Potipher’s trust, yet he was in the presence of such bold temptation continually? You’ll remember how eventually, Potipher’s wife trapped him alone, forcing him to flee, leaving part of his clothing behind. The sacrificed garment was her weapon to accuse Joseph of instigating the encounter.
Joseph undoubtedly feared for his life again. A slave accused of immoral conduct by his master’s wife would almost certainly be put to death. Once more, Joseph found himself pleading for mercy – both with his master and with the Lord. He was thrown into prison, doomed to stay there unless someone intervened on his behalf. By now Joseph was in his mid-twenties, and again he must have felt that his life was going nowhere. His limited perspective could very well have been very discouraging.
But Joseph had humility and faith: He knew who he was and he was committed to living righteously. Even in prison, his character, trustworthiness, and the fact that the Lord was with him were obvious to those around him. His faithful, humble gratitude to the Lord was clear, and he continued to engage. He did not give up. As a result: “The keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison.” (See Genesis 39:21-23)
Sometime later, when Joseph was 28 years old – having been a slave or a prisoner for over ten years - two members of Pharaoh’s household staff joined him behind bars. These two servants, the butler and baker, had dreams that night that worried them. When Joseph heard of their dreams, his response was, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” They related their dreams and, giving the credit to God, Joseph provided the interpretations. To the butler, he related good news - that after three days he would be restored to his position in pharaoh’s household. The baker’s news however, was not good: He would be killed and his head left in a tree for the birds. Joseph then asked the fortunate butler to remember him to Pharaoh and request that he be released from prison. (See Genesis 40:8-14)
As predicted, the butler was shortly released, but Joseph’s perspective was once again challenged: His timing did not coincide with the Lord’s timing. Rather than simply having Joseph released from prison, the Lord had something much greater in store but the time was not yet right. Joseph must humbly and faithfully submit to the Lord’s timing and spend two more years in prison. Finally, when Joseph was 30, Pharaoh had two dreams which none of his wise men could interpret. Fortunately, the butler remembered his experience in prison and told Pharaoh of Joseph.
Joseph is now about to learn what the Lord has been preparing him for – a responsibility far greater than any he could ever have imagined as a teenager living with his family in the land of Canaan. True to his character, when Joseph met with Pharaoh the first thing he did was to acknowledge the Lord’s hand – in this case in interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams. Joseph said to Pharaoh, “(the explanation) is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” Yet again, Joseph humbly and faithfully expressed his gratitude. He then proceeded to tell Pharaoh that God had chosen to show Pharaoh what was going to happen in Egypt and the surrounding countries: There would be seven years of bounteous harvests followed by seven years of famine. Joseph concluded by telling Pharaoh that he should “look [for] a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt . . . to take up a fifth part of the seven [bounteous] years . . . [and] store it [for] the seven years of famine.” (See Genesis 41:16-36)
Pharaoh then put Joseph in charge of this effort because Pharaoh recognized that “there is none so discreet and wise as Joseph.” Joseph engaged and was placed over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Now he had a chance to use all that he had learned, both from managing the resources of Potipher’s household and also working with diverse people while in prison. He also continued to trust in the Lord as he waited another eight years – until age 38– to see his 10 brothers and then another year after that before seeing his entire family. Joseph’s humility and faith, shown in his perspective, gratitude, and engagement, allowed the Lord to direct his paths in ways he never could have thought possible. (Genesis 41:39-43)
A Personal “Joseph” Story
Just as Joseph could not possibly have understood why the Lord needed him in Egypt, as a slave and then a prisoner, we may have experiences that, without faith and humility, make little or no sense to us. Margaret and I had just such an experience about nine months after returning from our three years presiding over the England London Mission. Reflecting on these unusual events is extremely humbling, as it shows that the Lord trusted us to trust in Him, even though we could not see the divine destination where He would lead us. Let me share the events I’m referring to.
Before leaving for London in July of 2000, Margaret and I sold our Boston home, as we planned to retire to Utah after our mission. But near the end of our mission we felt strong promptings to change our plans and return to Boston to continue my career at Harvard for a few more years. Because we had sold our family home, we needed to find a place to live. After an extensive search, we purchased a small home; just right for the two of us, about a mile from where we had lived for over 20 years before our mission. We moved into this home and immediately went to work, renovating and improving it like we had done to prior homes several times before. For the next eight months, we lived there comfortably.
Then, one Sunday afternoon, while waiting to meet with the Stake President, I received a strong impression from the Spirit that we needed to move. I was shocked! Another move was not in our plans and it made absolutely no sense, given my limited perspective. Yet I knew I had been told that we needed to move!
After my meeting that afternoon, I drove down the street we had lived on for so many years before our mission. I hadn’t been on that street for nearly four years. But as I followed the gentle guidance of the Spirit, I noticed a home for sale across the street from the home we had raised our family in. The thought quickly crossed my mind – “I wonder if that is the house the Lord wants us to buy.”
For two weeks I pondered the impression I’d had, wondering why we needed to move. Unable to make sense of it, but trusting in the Lord with faith and humility, I concluded I just needed to act upon the prompting, and so I told Margaret what had happened. She, too, was shocked, but we both felt we should do as the Lord had prompted, so we put our home on the market and began looking for another.
After a few days of looking, we felt that the house across the street from our previous home was the one we should buy. Now if you knew the Boston housing market, especially at that time, you would have known as I did that this was not a wise financial decision! We had been in our other home for less than a year, and now we were selling it and buying a home larger than the two of us could need, but we felt strongly prompted that it was what the Lord wanted us to do. We were grateful for the Lord’s guidance, even if we did not understand it.
The day after we moved in, Margaret walked next door to the elderly neighbor she had been acquainted with when we had lived on this street before our mission. You might say that Margaret engaged. She knew that this 80-year-old woman, Barbara, had been raised in the Church but had become inactive in college and hadn’t been back to church for over 60 years. When Margaret entered her kitchen that morning, Barbara threw her arms around her and began telling her about her 40-year-old daughter, Karen. Karen was dying of stomach cancer, and she and her husband were now living with Barbara so she could help with Karen’s care.
Before Margaret could even think, she opened her mouth and said, “Barbara, do you think that Karen would like a priesthood blessing?” Without hesitating, Barbara said, “Yes, I know that she would.”
That night a close friend from the ward joined me and we gave Karen a priesthood blessing. It was then that Margaret and I began to understand why the Lord needed us to buy the house next door to Barbara and her dying daughter. A mile away would not have been sufficient for what the Lord needed us to do. Our trust in the Lord had created an amazing opportunity for us.
Within a week, we started sharing the gospel with Karen. She had always wondered about the Church because she knew that her cousins in Utah were members and they were always so happy. We visited with her almost daily, teaching her and comforting her and her mother in any way we could. Karen started attending church with us and loved the people in the ward and everything she was learning. She felt like she was coming home! Within a couple of months she was baptized.
Karen said that the day she was baptized was the happiest day of her life. Even though she only lived three months after her baptism, and she was in daily pain, she was filled with joy and happiness and peace from the Lord. Those last few months of her life were truly a gift from the Lord to her and all of those around her.
We felt in a very small way like Joseph of Egypt. We didn’t know the Lord’s plan, but we trusted Him. And with His guidance we were able to help save a small family struggling with spiritual hunger at a critical time in their lives. That experience became a milestone in all we had learned previously about trusting the Lord.
Developing Our Own Ability to Trust in the Lord
The years that you are here at BYU-Hawaii can be equally important and formative in your learning to trust the Lord. During your time on this campus you will make countless decisions. Many of those will be small and incremental. Yet each will contribute to your habits of mind and behavior and to your character. As President Benson so often quoted, “Thoughts lead to acts, acts lead to habits, habits lead to character, and character determines our eternal destiny.” Like Joseph, the combination of these decisions and choices will determine the extent to which the Lord is able to direct your paths and, in a very real sense, your eternal destiny.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell summarized the need for trusting the Lord in this way:
“Your personal possibilities, not for status and position but for service to God and mankind, are immense, if you will but trust the Lord to lead you from what you are to what you have the power to become . . . If you are righteous, his purposes will be served.” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “I Am But a Lad”, Tambuli, Feb. 1982, 32.)
In order to develop this kind of trust we have to have a spiritual perspective. Humility and faith will be required as we pray frequently, study our scriptures daily, and participate in weekly church activities. From the scriptures we learn that a loving Heavenly Father and His Son are concerned about anything and everything worthwhile that we are concerned about. I’m grateful to have learned this lesson even before I arrived at college.
From my first day at the university, I recognized the need for the Lord’s guidance and assistance in all aspects of my life. Whether it was in connection with my studies and exams or my performance on the university swimming team, I felt comfortable and anxious to seek the Lord’s help in everything I was doing, and that was a great comfort and inspiration to me. I hope that each of you have developed at least this level of trust in the Lord, so that you are willing and anxious to seek his help daily in all aspects of your life. He loves you and desires to bless you if you will but ask for His help.
But prayer alone is not enough. As Elder Maxwell pointed out, we also have to exercise righteous obedience, resisting evil and keeping ourselves worthy of His guidance at all times and in all places. If we adhere to His standards of behavior – so clearly delineated in the standards of this University – He will help and guide us, not just on the big decisions but on those small incremental decisions as well. As we do so, we will not only be given those quiet promptings of His spirit, but we’ll recognize them and be willing to act on them.
I well recall the trauma I faced as I neared the end of my second year of college and knew I would have to make a decision soon about serving a mission. I was one of the youngest in my university class, so was not old enough to go on a mission at the end of my first year, when most of my friends were leaving. By the end of that second year, I thought my life was great! I was doing well in school, I loved being a part of the intercollegiate swimming team, and I thought I’d met the girl of my dreams. From my limited perspective I saw a two-year mission as a real sacrifice. While I could pick up my schooling following a mission, it was unlikely that I’d be able to rejoin the swimming team, given how fast competitive times were falling, and I had the very real fear that I’d get a “Dear John” as well.
Fortunately, my father and my Bishop both sensed my hesitation, and one particular Sunday they joined forces to help me realize the importance of trusting the Lord and submitting my mission papers. They were obviously inspired that day and I felt the promptings of the Holy Ghost and did decide to serve a mission. I will be eternally grateful for the Lord’s help in that decision. Little did I imagine the great blessings and growth that the Lord had in store for me as a result of that experience - blessings and growth that far exceeded my limited perspective. I’m sure it was like that for many of you as well. And while I had indeed been correct about both no longer being competitive for the swim team and receiving a Dear John, the Lord had a far greater blessing in store for me a few months later when I met Margaret, fell in love, and was married for time and all eternity. I am grateful that I trusted the Lord enough to humbly and faithfully follow His promptings and have Him guide my paths.
As my final year as an undergraduate progressed, I became increasingly aware of all the Lord had blessed me with and was willing to bless me with. With my eternal companion by my side, I knew how important it had been for me to serve a mission when and where I did and to strengthen my foundation in learning to love and serve the Lord. While each of you, much like myself, may find it difficult to recognize the subtle changes that take place in our lives as we daily seek for and follow the Lord’s guidance, I can testify that nonetheless, those changes are real. Just as Joseph in Egypt was developing and strengthening his character as he daily sought to follow the Lord’s guidance, during your time here at this university, your character is being molded and shaped by the daily patterns of choice and behavior that you adopt.
Elder Richard G. Scott shared some insights of how the development of your character during these important, formative years shapes your ability to trust in the Lord at times of great challenge and stress. He said:
“Faith will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Such character is not developed in moments of great challenge or temptation. That is when it is used. Character is woven patiently from threads of principle, doctrine, and obedience…. Worthy character will strengthen your capacity to obediently respond to the direction of the Spirit . . . . It is more important than what you own, what you have learned, or what goals you have accomplished. It allows you to be trusted.” (Elder Richard G. Scott, “Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, May 1989, 35)
It is such character that enabled Joseph in Egypt to withstand temptation and remember who he was and what was important at times of great challenge and stress. In our own lives, we are often tempted to take credit for our accomplishments and to then “lean to our own understanding” and the understanding of the world around us. This is what Jacob, the brother of Nephi, warned against when he taught,
“O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned [or greatly blessed] they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. … But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Nephi 9:28-29)
Whether it is in taking credit for the things we have accomplished and the successes we’ve had, seeking to plan every detail of our lives and the timing of our accomplishments, or simply failing to ask God for His help in all things, the result is largely the same. We gradually depend increasingly on the advice and praise of the world around us and grow less willing to follow the Lord’s counsel. Over the years I have seen this occur repeatedly as I’ve watched students pay more attention to the advice of peers and even well-meaning mentors at the expense of “trusting the Lord” and His prophets.
Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this message we hear today is in connection with the question of when to marry or the question of when to have children if we are married. The world’s advice is clear and consistent – WAIT! Wait to get married. Wait to have children. Wait until you are older, until you have finished your schooling, until you are established professionally, until you have more money. The prophets’ advice has long been clear on this topic. Marriage and families are commanded of God, and each must decide for themselves, hopefully with help from the Lord. But generally speaking, the advice for young men is once you’ve returned from a mission, you are old enough to marry and have a family – once you find the right one and you both agree.
Regarding the matter of timing, Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said:
“We cannot have true faith in the Lord without also having complete trust in the Lord’s will and in the Lord’s timing . . . . In all the important decisions in our lives, what is most important is to do the right thing. Second, and only slightly behind the first, is to do the right thing at the right time.
Elder Oaks went on to teach:
“Do not rely on planning every event of your life—even every important event . . . . Plan, of course, but fix your planning on personal commitments that will carry you through no matter what happens. Anchor your life to eternal principles, and act upon those principles whatever the circumstances and whatever the actions of others. Then you can await the Lord’s timing and be sure of the outcome in eternity.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Timing,” Ensign, Oct 2003, 10–17)
Learning to trust in the Lord – both regarding what to do and when to do it - is something you can make great progress on during your time here at school. Whether it is in connection with a life changing decision or whether it is simply one of those small daily acts, His message is clear. If we will trust in him with all our heart and acknowledge him, He will direct our paths. We must seek to become like those three young Israelites, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in ancient King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. They refused to bow down and worship a golden image set up by the king. They trusted the Lord with all their heart, saying:
“If it be so [that you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand…But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)
These young men trusted the Lord, come what may.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin has taught that if we trust in the Lord, come what may, that we can be assured that,
“[The Lord will] compensate (us), the faithful, for every loss. … That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Come What May, and Love It,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 26–28)
In these challenging and troubled times, we all need the guidance of our loving Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son. And they desire to provide that guidance, if we will but follow them and trust in them.
In closing, I would like to suggest that we each take a few moments before the close of this day and make an assessment of how we are doing daily in following the counsel found in Proverbs 3:5-6. We might do so by asking ourselves four questions:
1) Do I keep the Lord’s commandments so I’m worthy of His Spirit?
2) Do I humbly and faithfully trust in the Lord and His timing?
3) Do I express heartfelt gratitude to the Lord, whatever my circumstances?
4) Do I do my best to seek and follow His paths, even when I can’t see where they lead?
We have been warned and forewarned by God’s living prophets. And we have been blessed with the opportunity to be at this wonderful institution at this special time in each of our lives and to have a testimony of the Gospel and its restoration. His work and His glory is indeed to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. May we each show our appreciation for all we’ve been given by diligently learning to trust in the Lord and follow His guidance in all of life’s paths, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.