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Using Our Agency to Follow God's Plan

President Kauwe and I are grateful to be with you today and feel very blessed to be part of the beginning of this new school year in this beautiful and special place. We love you. President Kauwe works tirelessly to make sure you have a great education and experience here at BYU–Hawaii. He is dedicated to serving you and wants to do everything he can to make sure you have the best possible education here. I am grateful for the spirit that is here. Since joining the Kauwe family, the true meaning of aloha has become really important to me. I am grateful to feel it here with you today. It is great to be back together in person.

I. Question

I was in a discussion recently where the question was asked, “If we are supposed to conform to God's will, what does that mean for our free agency?” It’s an interesting question that probably has been asked in various situations and a number of ways. I heard being asked that day, “We have agency, which means that we are free to do what we want. But if we have to do what God wants us to do, how is that really free agency?” Today I want to spend some time trying to answer this question.

II. Background

First, let’s talk about agency which is “the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and act for ourselves.” [1]

Have you ever noticed that the phrase “free agency,” which was part of the asked question, is not in the scriptures. We often use this term because of scriptures that teach us that we are “free to choose,” free to act, and free to do things of our own free will.” Doctrine and Covenants 101: 78 instead teaches “that every man may act in doctrine and principle… according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins” [2]

So really, what we are looking at is “moral” agency. Elder Uchtdorf clarified this by saying: “You have agency, and you are free to choose. But there is actually no free agency. Agency has its price. You have to pay the consequences of your choices.” [3]

Even before we came to earth, agency was a central part of God’s plan for us. Satan had a different plan which did not include agency. This plan caused great conflict in Heaven, and Satan was cast out for his rebellion. We all chose to follow Heavenly Father’s plan, which resulted in us being able to come to earth. Now that we are here, we have the opportunity to continue to make the right choices that will bring us more blessings.

The challenge, of course, is that Satan hasn’t given up on his plan. Satan is real, and we would do well to never forget that he doesn’t want us to be happy. He seeks to make us as miserable as he is. In a campus devotional earlier this year, Sister Michelle Craig reminded us that “Satan’s tactics…have not changed since the beginning of time.” He wants us “to be miserable,” “to be alone,” “to forget,” “to seek approval from the world,” “to keep us distracted,” “to listen to the noisy voices of the world,” “to be confused,” “to follow false prophets,” “to falter,” and “to carry life’s burdens on our own.” [4] If Satan had his way, he would want us to make choices limiting our freedom, leading to bad habits and addictions, and leaving us powerless to resist his temptations.

Christ’s way is different. He made us responsible for our own actions, desires, and attitudes. Through His example, we learn how to submit our will to Heavenly Father's. Christ’s Atonement provided a way for us to be forgiven for bad choices. Through repentance, we find freedom and happiness.

We need to clearly understand what we are choosing between when we talk about agency. The scriptures make it clear that our agency was given to us so that we could choose between Christ’s and Satan’s plan: In 2 Nephi 2: 27-28, it says:

"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit."

So, in answer to that question I described early about what happens to our “free agency,” when we do what God wants us to do, we are not giving up our agency: we are doing what will bring us liberty and eternal life, rather than captivity and death.

Let me illustrate this principle with an example that our family members have recently experienced as they have learned to surf over this past year. I think we would all agree that surfing is not easy. No one surf day is like another: the wind, the tides, and the swells all make for ever-changing conditions. It’s probably possible to learn to surf on your own, but really the best way to enjoy the full experience and thrill of riding the waves is to choose to learn and practice the basic techniques of surfing.

Our family members started by selecting the right equipment before moving on practicing skills first on the beach: learning how to get up, where and how to stand on the board properly, and how to focus in the right direction. As soon as they were comfortable in that space, they moved to learning, among lots of other skills, how to paddle out to the right spot in the ocean, how to identify the right wave, how to take turns, and most important, of all, how to control their board. Learning to surf has been a process with some success along the way, especially for 7-year-old Keawe, who recently won a medal at a surf contest.

Can you see the connection between learning to surf and our journey here on earth?

To have success and enjoy surfing requires following certain rules and practicing basic skills. Similarly, the choices we make every day to keep the commandments, follow the prophet, have daily prayer, read the scriptures and live our lives in such a way that keeps the Spirit with us are all part of our larger choice to exercise our agency and follow Christ and his plan for us. You’ve already made good choices, and those choices and experiences will only make it easier for you to continue to make the right choices for your life. The principles upon which you built your lives will bring you happiness, success, and peace.

I know that Heavenly Father loves you and is anxious to see you return to Him. He wants to bless you and fill your life with his power. In closing, I want to share this quote from Richard G. Scott:

“When we obey the commandments of the Lord and serve His children unselfishly, the natural consequence is power from God-power to do more than we can do ourselves. Our insights, our talents, our abilities are expanded because we receive strength and power from the Lord.” [5]

I know this to be true. I have seen it in my own life, and I know you can have God's power in your own life as you follow the commandments and live the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know God lives. I know Christ’s atonement is real. I know that through Him, we can be made clean. I know that you will be blessed as you use your agency to follow God’s plan. Any questions that may come up about doing what He wants you to do will be answered by honoring the covenants you have made and choosing to follow the example of Jesus Christ. I love you and pray the best for you as you start this new school year.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Gospel Topics, Agency and Accountability

[2] Michael R. Morris, "Free Agency or Moral Agency?", New Era Church Magazine, October 2014;

[3] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "On the Wings of Eagles", Liahona Magazine, 2006

[4] Michelle D. Craig, "Avoiding Spiritual Complacency", BYU–Hawaii Devotional, June 10, 2021

[5] Elder Richard G. Scott, "For Peace at Home", Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 2013