My dear brothers and sisters, it is a humble honor to speak to you. I remember well the first time I visited your campus was in 1980 – before most of you were born – on my return from my mission in Australia. I was about your age at the time. While the spirit and mission of this great institution was alive and well, it was not nearly as robust as it is today. What a blessing to attend this great institution as you lay the foundation for the rest of your life. I hope you will never lose sight of this unique opportunity.
Sister Gerard and I are pleased to be with you personally. I understand we are one of the first to welcome you back in person to the Cannon Activities Center. Last year in March of 2020, I was asked to give the BYU Provo devotional and was the first to speak to an empty Marriott Center after gathering restrictions were imposed. I am relieved that you showed up today. I was starting to believe it had less to do with the pandemic, and more to do with my speaking. Thank you for honoring us today with your presence.
We live in a time and under conditions which few would have predicted just a year ago. We live under circumstances which have required major shifts in how we learn and where we serve. We live under a relentless threat of a global pandemic - which we hope will subside - that has taken many lives and forced us all to change the way we live, how we serve, and how we interact with others. And if that wasn’t enough, we live in a time when it seems the world is in commotion as prophesied.
For some of you, there may be unmet expectations with significant disruptions in your life plans. For others, an anxiousness to get back on track. Yet for all, a sense of isolation, loss of control, or a feeling that we can’t do much about the current situation. For most, a desire to return to some sense of normalcy, or the new normal, whatever that may be. In whatever way we see ourselves and our current circumstance, I am sure most have had moments when we may have wished for a different time or different way.
Nephi counsels us to “liken all scriptures unto us, that they may be for our profit and learning … that ye may have hope” (1 Ne 19:23-24). Throughout the scriptures we find many accounts of prophets, missionaries, family members and the challenges of their day. In addition, this year in our study of the Doctrine & Covenants, we are learning of the early leaders in our dispensation, their challenges, the uncertainties they confronted as the gospel was restored to the earth and the direction they were given by the Lord. Each can be a source of inspiration and guidance as we confront the uncertainties of our day and “learn for ourselves” (JSH 1:20). Many of them, perhaps like some of you, yearned for a different way or a different time. Let me share just a few examples.
We are all familiar with Alma the younger in his moments of struggle following his miraculous conversion, when he declared, “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth and cry repentance unto every people!” (Alma 29:1)
He then goes on, “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3). “Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:6)
Another favorite is Samuel the Lamanite, which I am sure you have read countless times. We have all been inspired by his courage during a most intense time. But have you ever contemplated how Samuel felt when the Lord instructed him to return to the city? As he courageously stood on the wall to cry repentance he was met with arrows and stones. Do you think he may have wished for a different time in a different place?
Just prior to the account of Samuel the Lamanite, we read of Nephi, son of Helaman. The account explains that he had been in the land northward attempting to preach the gospel. The scriptures recount, “And they did reject all his words, insomuch that he could not stay among them, but returned again unto the land of his nativity” (Helaman 7:3). Nephi then reflects on the awful iniquity “that had come upon the Nephites in the space of not many years” (Helaman 7:6) and exclaims “in the agony of his soul:
“Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; then were his people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord” (Helaman 7:7).
Now most of us probably question why Nephi, son of Helaman, would yearn for the days when his father came out of Jerusalem. I don’t recall that father Nephi, some 500 years earlier, had such an easy time with his brothers Laman and Lemuel, and that the hardships they endured traveling through the wilderness were all that easy.
But then Nephi continues, “Yea, if my days could have been in those days, then would my soul have had joy in the righteousness of my brethren” (Helaman 7:8). And then he concludes, “But behold, I am consigned that these are my days…” (Helaman 7:9).
My dear sisters and brothers, like Nephi, son of Helaman, these are your days. These are the days the Lord has given you to “prepare to meet God” (Alma 34:32). As challenging and disruptive as they may seem, these are the days you have been foreordained and prepared to come to the earth to assist as the Lord “hastens his work in his time” (D&C 88:73). What a marvelous time and place from which to build your foundation for life.
While we may not speak with the voice of an angel, or dodge the arrows and stones of those unhappy with our message, or serve under more favorable circumstances, these are the days the Lord has allotted unto you. These are your days to participate in the “greatest work on earth today.” (Russell M. Nelson, “A Call to Enlist and Gather Israel” New Era Mar. 2019, page 24). It is your day to let God prevail in your life. When we occasionally yearn for a different place and a different time, I invite you to follow Nephi’s conclusion when he declared, “I am consigned that these are my days…”(Helaman 7:9)
The word consigned is not often used in scripture, but gives insight as to what Nephi was trying to convey. Consigned has multiple meanings and we often think of it in the context of a consignment store where you give over a product or valuable to another to be sold or protected. Nephi’s use of the word also follows the standard definition “to give over to another’s care” or “to give, transfer, or deliver into the hands or control of another”. In studying the synonyms of consign we find more familiar words such as commit, entrust, relegate, confide or turnover, to mention a few. One synonym defines it as a “special sense of transferring to a superior power.”
When we are consigned, we turn ourselves over to the Lord who will make us something greater than we could ever imagine. We transfer to a superior power our ability to fulfill the measure of our creation and truly come to know that through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we may be converted and return to our father’s presence, the very purpose of the plan of happiness.
President Lorenzo Snow taught, “We are here because we are worthy to be here, and that arises, to a great extent at least, from the fact that we kept our first estate. I believe that when you and I were in yonder life we made certain covenants…that in this life, when we should be permitted to enter it, we would do what we had done in that life – find out the will of God and conform to it.” (Millennial Star, June 20, 1895, 386)
We need look no further than the early days of the restoration to be reminded of those who sought to know the will of the Lord with the intent to conform to it. As the Lord revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith the doctrine of the restoration, a number of the early saints desired to know specifically their role and what they should do. As the power of revelation became more prevalent in the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith, many sought the Prophet to inquire of the Lord on their behalf so they might have guidance as to their purpose and how to align with the will of the Lord.
I am struck by the clarity and repetitive nature of the revealed direction given to these early saints, which applies to us today. The first recorded revelation given through the Prophet Joseph for another person was Section 4, which most of you who are returned missionaries can recite from memory and still serves as the foundation of our labors today. The person seeking revelatory direction was his own father, Joseph Smith Sr., who had endured severe persecution as a result of his son’s work. Yet his father clearly felt the divine origins of what was unfolding in the life of his son. When Joseph first told his father of the angel Moroni’s visit, his father responded, “that it was of God, and told me to go and do as commanded by the messenger.” (JSH 1:49-50)
One can only imagine the tender feelings between a father and son when the father humbly asked for divine guidance from the Lord through his son. The Lord spoke to Joseph Smith Sr. and declared that “a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men” and admonished us to “serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.” He then goes on to lay out the criteria and Christlike attributes which qualify us for the latter-day work – the most important work taking place on the earth today. This was revealed to answer the question of Joseph Smith Sr. as to his purpose and what he should do to conform to the will of the Lord.
Shortly thereafter Joseph’s brother, Hyrum, and Oliver Cowdery sought guidance as to their role and the Lord revealed consistent direction to each one, saying he should “thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.” (D&C 11:3) Then, to Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Knight and the Whitmer brothers similar, clear instruction. To the Whitmers, the Lord responded with unambiguous clarity to each using the same words saying, ”…the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me” (D&C 16:6). The will of the Lord was made clear that these early saints were to do that of “most worth” by bringing souls unto Him – to gather Israel. In our day, President Nelson has taught, “Anytime you do anything that helps anyone…take a step toward making covenants with God…you are helping to gathering Israel” (Hope of Israel, Worldwide Devotional for Youth, June 3, 2018, pg. 10, par. 2)
Even as these early saints experienced self-doubt, persecution and taught revealed doctrine antithetical to the religious notions of their day, the Lord reminded His servants, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;” (D&C 18:10) “And if it so be that you should labor all your days ... and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15-16).
Throughout the dispensations of time, the voice of the Lord is clear and consistent. As we consign – or give over - our heart, might, mind and strength we will experience the joy of bringing souls unto Him. Now does that mean it is easy? Of course not, nor was it easy for any of those who came before us. Even the Prophet Joseph, following the personal visitation of heavenly messengers including the Father and the Son, struggled while in Liberty Jail as he pleaded for the suffering saints. In a moment of deep despair, in perhaps one of the darkest moments in his life, the Lord responds “know thou my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? . . . Hold on thy way, . . . for God shall be with you forever and ever.” (D&C 122:7-9)
In scriptural account after account, and through teachings of living prophets, seers and revelators, we learn of those who have gone before us, of their struggles, of their perspectives of their day and time. But like us in our day and time, they sought to know the will of the Lord and to conform to it. Like us, they were not perfect, but we learn from their experiences how we find hope and conduct ourselves in our day and time.
If others were to record our day, what would they say? What would they say of our challenges in our times? Would they report that we wiled away our days wishing for a better place and different time? Or would they record that we did consign ourselves to the Lord knowing the worth of souls is great in the sight of God, turning over our lives to the Lord with an attitude of “Thy will be done?”
There are many lessons we can learn from these scriptural accounts and from living prophets. One such lesson is a realization that our willingness to give ourselves over to the Lord and conform to his will determines the depth of our conversion. I like to think of our mortal journey as a continuum of conversion – everything we do or say will either contribute to deepening our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his atonement as we move along the covenant path, or potentially moves us away.
Conversion is an essential principle in what we do every day. We exercise our moral agency and chose to either keep the commandments or not. As we keep the commandments, we are giving ourselves over, to come unto Christ and be changed. To exercise faith in Jesus Christ, a hope in Him and His atonement, and then to repent, thus qualifying to receive the spiritual gift of the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. Simply stated, conversion involves change or willingly giving ourselves over to the Lord or to be consigned.
President M. Russell Ballard explained, “True conversion comes through the power of the Spirit. When the Spirit touches the heart, hearts are changed.” (M. Russell Ballard, “Now Is The Time” Ensign Nov. 2000, pg. 75, par.7). We are all familiar with Alma when he inquires of the church if they have experienced a mighty change in their hearts as “they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God” (Alma 5:13). And King Benjamin reminds us that through “the enticings of the Holy Spirit” that we put “off the natural man” and change to conform our will to the will of the Lord (Mosiah 3:19).
Your very presence here today demonstrates that you are committed to deepening your conversion along the covenant path. You have demonstrated a willingness to commit yourself to change, but additional steps along the continuum of conversion require us to truly give ourselves over to the Lord, to let God prevail in your life when you “look unto [Him] in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36). By doing so we entrust Him to make us something more by taking us to a higher, holier place. We learn to “trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding,” knowing He “shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Elder David A. Bednar taught, “True conversion brings a change in one’s beliefs, heart, and life to accept and conform to the will of God and includes a conscious commitment to become a disciple of Christ.” It “is an ongoing process and not a one-time event that results from a powerful or dramatic experience” (“Converted unto the Lord” Ensign Nov 2012, pg. 107, par.9). This ongoing process is akin to advancing along the covenant path. This continuum of conversion reflects multiple steps in an individual’s life as they learn to turn themselves over to the Lord.
While we can rely on our faith and testimony to carry us through some of life’s challenges, Elder Bednar taught, “Testimony alone is not and will not be enough to protect us in the latter-day storm of darkness and evil…” He continued by teaching an important distinction between testimony and true conversion. This distinction is critical for us to understand because it emphasizes the important need to truly consign ourselves to the Lord by not holding back. “A testimony is spiritual knowledge of truth obtained by the power of the Holy Ghost. Continuing conversion is constant devotion to the revealed truth we have received…” “Knowing that the gospel is true is the essence of a testimony. Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion. We should know the gospel is true and be true to the gospel” (“Converted unto the Lord” Ensign Nov 2012). Consistently being true to the gospel is consigning our will to the will of the Lord. You are laying the spiritual foundation for the rest of your life. Every step in deepening your conversion directly correlates to the degree to which you are willing to turn yourself over to the Lord, to allow his will to swallow yours.
Perhaps the ultimate consignment in our life comes when we heed the invitation of President Nelson and let God prevail in all aspects of our lives.
LET GOD PREVAIL
In the October 2020 general conference, President Nelson shared something he had learned, that the Hebraic meaning of the word Israel is “let God prevail.” This principle has direct application to our lives in two ways. First, an understanding that we are working in fulfillment of prophecy to gather Israel on this side of the veil by identifying those who will allow God to prevail in their lives, and second, it applies to us as we consign ourselves over to the Lord, we let him prevail.
President Nelson said, “The Lord is gathering those who are willing to let God prevail in their lives. The Lord is gathering those who will choose to let God be the most important influence in their lives.” (“Let God Prevail” Ensign, Nov. 2020, pg. 92 par. 8)
Just last month our family was reminded of this great principle when we were honored to participate in the baptism of a young man we met just a few months earlier. As I mentioned earlier, a year ago I was assigned to give the BYU Devotional. Prior to delivering my remarks, I met a faithful young man, Cristian, who worked on the production crew. A few months later, he learned I was to preside at a stake conference in his area and called to tell me about Eric, a nonmember law school classmate who he felt would benefit from visiting with me about my professional career. He asked if I would be willing to meet with them at the stake center following my conference assignment. I agreed.
We had a wonderful visit ranging from the law school experience, adapting to BYU Provo culture, professional experiences and his aspirations in life. We discussed some key points of doctrine of the gospel and his efforts to increase in faith as he sought to know the Lord. As we departed, I invited him to listen to general conference the following month.
Some months later, his friend Cristian, again called to see if I would be willing to connect with them on zoom as they had something they wanted to share. We connected virtually and Eric shared how the messages of general conference touched him. Much to my delight they announced that Eric had decided to be baptized and asked if we would attend. Sister Gerard and I adjusted our schedule and were able to join them on this momentous occasion. I was thrilled to see his fellow law students and a faithful bishop and his wife who had all come to support Eric.
Following the baptism and confirmation, Eric was invited to share his conversion story. He spoke of his spiritual growth, his worldwide travels and most recently his studies in the Middle East where circumstances required him to leave. He joked about giving the missionaries a hard time telling them he would only be baptized if President Nelson baptized him. He then shared that he did not fully understand why he felt he was to come to BYU, but then he said, “when I decided to let God prevail in my life, things seemed to change, and I was much happier.”
I was struck by the relatively simple but significant message. That allowing God to prevail in his life brought him to this place at this time to learn his purpose in life and to accept the truth. I’m not sure he fully appreciated the impact of his message. I thought of President Nelson in his prophetic direction to let god prevail, and the profound change we can all experience as we let god prevail in our own personal lives.
In his remarks, President Nelson said, “The question for each of us … is the same. Are you willing to let God prevail in your life? Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life? Will you allow His words, His commandments, and His covenants to influence what you do each day? Will you allow His voice to take priority over any other? Are you willing to let whatever He needs you to do take precedence over every other ambition? Are you willing to have your will swallowed up in His?” (“Let God Prevail” Ensign, Nov. 2020, pg. 94 par. 5) Or as Nephi son of Helaman taught, am I consigned that these are my days?
My dear brothers and sisters, it is my prayer that like Nephi, son of Helaman, we will recognize and be consigned that this is our day. That as we learn to turn ourselves over to the will of the Lord that our conversion will deepen and that we might make the ultimate consignment by letting God prevail in all aspects of our lives. This is a wonderful time of your life. May the lessons and experiences you are having serve as a solid foundation for the rest of your life. This is your day. This is your time.
I bear witness of God the eternal father, the father of our spirits. Because of His love for us, He gave His only begotten son that those who believe on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. I bear witness that the atonement of Jesus Christ makes possible our return to our Father. May God bless you to make your days never to be forgotten. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.