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Prayer and Goal Setting Bring Success

by Dr. Sterling Larson.

LDS Business College Devotional
January 24, 2007
It’s a real pleasure to be here.  The fact is, on a morning like this, it’s a great day to be here for two reasons:  number one, because it is a great morning, and number two, because I’m truly speaking to brothers and sisters at this time.  You are truly my brothers and sisters.  And I have some great news for you.  You today are in the right place at the right time. 
Now then, let me explain a little bit about that.  There are many of you here who have traveled a long ways in order to attend LDS Business College, and you’re wondering if you should be here right now.  Perhaps you should be home, where many of you have some concerns with family or friends who are having some health problems.  And you’re wondering if you should be with them.  Some of you are wondering if you should even be here at the College, that there may be some place else you should be.  Or you’re concerned about your educational goals.
Well, you are right now in the right place at the right time.  All of these other plans and difficulties and trials that you’re looking at are secondary.  You’re in the time of life that is probably the most important time of your life.  And you’re getting an education at a wonderful institution with wonderful teachers and wonderful staff who care a lot about you.  So stay right here and get that education.  You are in the right place at the right time.
Now then, let’s talk a little bit about the scriptures for just a moment.  We’ll take a look in Matthew 7:7-8.  There’s a statement there that says:  “Ask, and it shall be given you.”  Then it goes on to say, “Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him who knocketh it shall be opened” unto him.
Have we got some sort of translation error in the New Testament, when Matthew says “Knock”?  Or when he says, “Ask and ye shall receive”?  If we go over to the Doctrine and Covenants, over in section 4, verse 7, we have it a little simpler.  It simply says: “Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.  Amen.”
Have we got another mistranslation in the Doctrine and Covenants?  How many times have we gone to the Lord and asked, and we did not receive the answer we wanted?  Does the Lord answer prayers?  The Lord answers all prayers, but he has three answers.  One is “yes,” two is “no,” and three is “later.”
What is the answer we want when we go to the Lord in prayer?  “Yes and Now.”  I mean, we want yes and now.  I don’t think that when the Lord had in mind that we were to go to Him and ask and we shall receive, that He had in mind that every time we ask it was going to be “yes and now.”  And I think maybe what the Lord really had in mind was goal setting. 
Now what’s the difference between goal setting and prayers?  They’re both wanting something.  And we’re wanting it now.  Let’s take a look at it and see.  Prayer has a formal beginning and a formal ending, but usually we want that answer of “yes and now” whereas in setting a goal, we’re willing to delay the answer for a period of time.  So let’s talk about what it takes to make a goal and see if the Lord keeps his promise that if we ask we shall receive, using it in terms of goals.
One of the things we need to do if we’re going to set a goal, the number one—and boy, if you’ve got your note paper here, this is really important, because it is fundamentally true, and that is—you have to write the goal down.  If you don’t write the goal down, you are merely making a wish.  And I don’t know if the Lord grants wishes.  But if you’ll write that goal down, that’s the first step that you need to do in attaining what you want. 
The second part of any goal is you need to set an exact date by when you want it accomplished.   And then the third step of goal setting is you need a plan.  Three steps of setting a goal.
Now then, let’s give an example of how it works.  Now, I’ve heard that the boys at LDS Business College are pretty smooth.  Now let’s say, boys, that you have a young lady in your accounting class who you would like to take to the show.  Now, being the smooth LDS Business College boys that you are, I’m sure that you’ll immediately go up to this young lady and say, “Would you like to go to the show with me Friday night?”
But there might be some who are not quite sure of themselves, and they have a little fear in their hearts to go up and ask this good-looking girl in their accounting class to go out on a date, so you have two choices.  You can either say a prayer, and this is how your prayer goes:  “Lord, you know that I’m kind of shy and bashful, and I really have a hard time asking this young lady for a date.  Would you please have her call me tomorrow night and have her ask me to go to the show, so that I can say yes?  And Lord, I tell you, I’ll really be happy and I’ll really be pleased if you did this for me.”  What are your chances?
Let’s use a goal-setting technique.  You still see this good-looking girl in your class, and so you say, well, okay, let’s write down the first step which is to take this good-looking girl to the show.  I’ve always wanted to see “Batman Returns.”  So we’ll put, “Take this good-looking girl to see ‘Batman Returns’.”  That’s the second step, so you look down at your agenda and you say, well, I’ve got Friday night open, I’ll put, “Friday at the 7 o’clock show.”
Well, we’ve got the first two steps down; now the third step is a plan.  Oh, no!  This is going to be the hardest part of all.  We’ve got to make a plan.  So you say, I’ve got to know her name; I’ve got to get introduced.  So as the class leaves that next day, you’re kind of watching to see who she goes and talks to.  And you find somebody that she’s going to go talk to, and after the class is over you say, “Tomorrow at class, will you please introduce me?”  “Oh, yeah, yeah, no problem.  We’ll get you introduced.”
So you wrote that down, to get an introduction and the next day you did get the introduction.  Then you say, well, I’ve got to have a phone number.  So then you start going to Student Services and other people and you start digging up anything you can find until you finally find a phone number.  Ahh, you’re ready.  You know, on a difficult assignment like this, there’s no way you could just fact-to-face ask her; you’ve got to do it over a telephone.  It’s so much easier over a phone.  So now the night comes, you’ve got her name; you’ve got her phone number.  You’ve been introduced and so now you pick up the phone.
Well, what are you going to say?  You’d better have it written down.  And so you write it down right there—her name is Julie.  “Hi, Julie.  This is Sterling Larsen.  We were introduced today in accounting class.  And I’m wondering if you would like to go to the show with me Friday night at 7 o’clock to see ‘Batman Returns’.”  Hey, it’s all written down.  All you had to do was read the script.  It’s there. 
Now then, she’s got a choice of two answers—yes or no.  You’d better have something down for each answer.  So if she says yes, you say, “Great!  Please give me your address and I’ll pick you up at 6:30 and we’ll be to the show by 7 o’clock.”  Now if she says no, then you say, “Well, I’m sorry that you’re busy that night, but would it be all right if I give you a call and ask you again to go to the show with me?”  Chances are that she’ll say yes, even if she said no originally.
Now, which way is going to work best—the prayer method or the goal method?  Probably the goal method is going to work best, I’d guess.  But there are also two other requirements for attaining the succession or completion of your goals.  One of them is in Proverbs 29:18.  It says without vision, the people perish.  What does it mean for vision?  Why is vision so important?  What is vision?  Vision is to see.  Let’s utilize this in our goal program of being able to see, and we’ll call that visualization.  You need to be able to visualize the completion of that goal.  And so what you do is, you’ve got this date lined up with Julie and you’re visualizing in your mind the fact that you’re going to the show; you’re visualizing in your mind picking her up; you’re visualizing in your mind the good time that you’re going to have.  It’s all in your mind.  You’re visualizing.  You’re seeing it in your head.  Now how important is visualizing it?  Well, it’s very important.  The fact is, I’m going to suggest when we move on a little bit farther that when you seek a goal and you really want that goal, that you take as much as five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening on doing nothing but visualizing the completion of your goal in all of the aspects surrounding the accomplishment of that goal.  So the next step in setting goals and attaining goals is the visualization concept.
Now the fifth and final step is also from Proverbs 23:7:  “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  What does it mean to think?  Well, thinking is generally that self-talk that goes on in your head.  You’ve got this self talk.  You’re telling yourself this, or you’re telling yourself that, and it goes on and on.  And sometimes you can’t stop it, and sometimes you don’t know what you’re thinking.  But it’s basically self-talk.  How can we apply self-talk to attaining goals?  The word is “aphorisms.”  Aphorisms are short, pointed thoughts that you give to yourself that are positive, and they’ll help you.  For instance, let me give you some aphorisms.  “I like myself.  I’m a good person.  People like me.  I like to go to school.  I love the day!  I love people.  I know I can get a good grade from my accounting class.  I know that I can accomplish this goal.”
During the day, you give yourself aphorisms—little self-talk to yourself through the day.  Now, you say, what happens when these other thoughts pop into my mind?  Well, you can’t help it.  I’m probably the first to admit that sometimes you get thoughts in your mind that you do not want there.  But you have control over how long they stay there, so as soon as you recognize that you have a thought that is not a positive aphorism, you immediately get it out of there.  You’ve heard some methods of getting it out of there.  One is maybe singing a Church hymn.  You know, “Come, come ye saints,” or something like this.  And maybe it’s a better concentration on your goal.  But you can immediately move back by giving yourself positive aphorisms.
Is this important?  Yes it is.  In fact, you are today—each one of you; each one of us—are exactly the way that we want to be.  Now you’re saying, “Wait a minute.  Wait a minute, that can’t be true.  I don’t have this and I don’t have that, and he has this and…”  But because of a series of visualizations and aphorisms that you have developed in your life over the last twenty years, you are today exactly the kind of person that you want to be.  You are exactly the kind of person that you’ve been visualizing and giving yourself self-talk about for the last twenty years.  You do the things that you want to do; you are the way that you want to be.
Well, some of you say, “I’d like to change.  Can I change?”  The answer is yes.  Yes, you can change.  You can be anything you want to be.  The Lord says, “Ask, and ye shall receive.”  But you need to know what it is you want to be.  You have to write down that goal of what you want to be and then you’ve got to use your visualization and your aphorism self-talk to make yourself believe you’re this new person.  And over a period of time, I promise you that you can become that new person.
Let me give you an example of a goal when I first became acquainted with the technique of goal-setting many years ago, and share with you my experience of how it went.  Thirty years ago, I was living in a neighborhood and had just left the field of education and started into the field of real estate.  One of the classic examples of being a real estate salesman is that a real estate salesman is synonymous for the most part with being unemployed.  If somebody tells you he’s a real estate salesman, he’s substantially saying, “I don’t have a job.”  It’s hard work, and for a while you don’t make much money.  You really don’t.  But I had a real interest in having a nice home in a nice area where I could take my wife and family to live. 
So, I followed the goal-setting techniques.  The first thing I did was go through a series of magazines and pictures and finally I decided on exactly what my new house was going to look like.  I cut that picture out, and I thirty years ago taped it to my closet door in my bedroom.  I knew the house I wanted.  Then I started on my visualizations.  I took the five minutes in the morning and the five minutes at night, and visualized the house I wanted.  I used the positive aphorisms—“I can find this house.  I know one exists.  I know the Lord would want to put us in this house.”  And then I started driving around nice neighborhoods looking for my home.
I found it.  One day I drove down a dead-end street and there was my house.  And it was empty and it had a “For Sale” sign on it.  Wow!  I couldn’t believe the good luck I had.  I went back and got my wife and we came out and we went through it together.  The door was open; we didn’t have to get a real estate agent.  And we walked through the house.  It was perfect!  It was just exactly like the picture on my closet door, and it was for sale and we wanted it.  The only problem is, I didn’t have any money.  I didn’t have any credit. 
So I’d started in real estate and I was working for a broker.  So I said to the broker, “Let me make up an offer and you take it to him and see what he says.”  The broker said, “Fine.” 
So I wrote up an offer and I went to my broker, and this is what it said:  “Number one—I want you (the seller) to carry it on contract.”  In other words, I will be making you the payments instead of borrowing the money and making the payment to a bank.  So number one, it was a contract sale.  “Number two:  I don’t have any money, so there will be no down payment.  Number three:  I can’t afford the payments anyway so what I will do is make half payments—one-half payments—and someday, when I have enough money, I’ll pay you back the other half of the payments.  And then, number four:  I don’t have any money for taxes and insurance, so along with the half payments, you have to pay taxes and insurance.”  And that was the offer I submitted.
Needless to say, the seller threw my broker physically out of the door.  That was the end of that.  But did I stop visualizing?  No.  Had I stopped doing my aphorisms?  No.  Did I still have my picture on the wall?  Yes.  Was that still my house?  Yes.
Two months went by.  The house was vacant, and still for sale.  I went to my broker again and I said, “Please present this offer a second time.”  He did, and was thrown out.  Two more months go by; the house is still vacant.  And all at once my broker got a phone call.  It was the seller.  He wanted to meet with my broker and see if we could work out something.  My broker met with him.  He essentially accepted the contract as it was, and a week later I moved into that empty home.
Five years went by before I could finally pay that seller off with a loan.  I was able to get a loan five years later and pay off that seller.  But I’m living in my dream home.  I told my wife that we will never move, and that when I die she just needs to put me in a green garbage bag and set me out on the porch.  That’s all the funeral I want.  I’m happy where I am, and I’ve been there thirty years.  So this is an example of how it worked in my life, and that’s why I’m so excited about goal setting.
Now then, let me talk about some of the results that you can get from this.  Many years ago, there was a man by the name of Earl Nightingale.  He has long passed away, but when I was young he was quite popular in those days.  And Earl Nightingale had a wonderful story, and I’ve never forgotten it from thirty years ago.  He told of a wonderful ship.  The ship was down to the docks.  It was a wonderful ship—well-prepared, well built, had all the latest steering mechanisms, had all of the guidance systems.  And then for a period of several days, they were bringing down valuable cargo to put into that ship.  The cargo would be put into the hold, and the boat was ready to go.  And then finally, when the cargo was loaded, the boat was ready to sail, the crew was manned and ready to go, they pushed off from the dock. 
But the captain was not on board.  They got out on the ocean and the boat would go this way, and the boat would go that way, and travel around, and nobody quite knew where they were going, and everybody had a guess.  And pretty soon, that boat ended up shipwrecked on a deserted beach.
Now then, Earl Nightingale makes this comparison:  He says, now, let’s say that boat is you—your body.  And that that valuable cargo is that brain that’s inside your head.  And now let’s say that what happens is that when that boat gets ready to leave the dock, the captain—who knows where he’s going—gets on board.  What are the chances now of that boat reaching its destination?  I mean, it’s the same boat; it’s the same cargo; it’s the same crew.  The only difference is the captain knew where the boat was going.  The chances of its getting there are excellent.  All he needed was to know where you’re supposed to go.  And that’s the same way with goal setting.  If we know where we’re supposed to go, we can get there. 
If we don’t know where we go, it’s a little like Earl Nightingale said in a second example.  I’ve always liked this one.  He says let’s visualize that what you want to do is go to Chicago.  Now, back in those days—and I’m really old—back in those days, we didn’t fly very much on airplanes; we took trains.  So what Earl Nightingale said is, let’s assume that we’re going to leave Salt Lake City and our goal is Chicago.  So we get on the train for Chicago.  And let’s say the train is going along and pretty soon it gets to Ogden.  Well, when it gets to Ogden, Ogden looks like a nice place and so you get off the train.  Well, when you’re off the train, you’ve got some things to do and you’re doing this and that and you can take the later train.  You know you’re headed for Chicago, but you’ve got some things to do.  And you might be there for a couple, three years.  And then you think, wait a minute.  I was supposed to go to Chicago.  That was my goal.  So you find the next train and you get on one to Chicago this time, and it goes along and pretty soon it gets to, maybe, Omaha.  And Omaha looks like a good town, and so you get off at Omaha and you see this going on and that going on, and this looks fun and that looks fun, and this disaster happens and you just can’t get yourself out of Omaha.  And finally several years go by and you get back on the train.
Well, you go a little bit farther and one more time you get sidetracked, and this time it’s permanent and you never make it to Chicago.  What has gone wrong?  Now, if the Lord says that you ask and you’re going to receive, He makes a pretty specific demand that you be pretty serious.  If you’re going to Chicago on that train from Salt Lake City, you better get on the train and you get to Chicago.  This idea that we can kind of stray or move off the strait and narrow—or do other things that aren’t related to our goal, or if we don’t practice our visualizations, or if we don’t use positive aphorisms every day in our daily dealings so that our minds are always positive and always concentrated on our goals—the Lord is going to say, well, you’re not really that serious about it.  If he’s not really that serious about it, why should I help him?  Because now, I’m going to reveal to you one of the greatest secrets—and it’s truly a secret, because not very many people know about it—one of the greatest secrets that you’ll ever hear in your life.  And that is, the Lord can perform miracles for you.  It was a miracle for me, when I had done everything I could do to obtain that new home.  There was nothing more I could do, but the Lord knew I was serious about getting it.  He then intervened with a miracle.  When it was absolutely impossible, He intervened with a miracle.  And the same thing will happen to you, if you are dedicated to that goal.  If you want it so badly that you will do your visualizations night and day, that you will do your aphorisms every day, then when you come up against that stone wall and you can’t go any farther, the Lord will then intervene with a miracle.  But boy, He makes sure that you do all that you can first.  If you’re not dead serious on where you want to go, the Lord is going to say, “Well, if he’s not that serious about it, then he can kind of work it out on his own.  But if he is dead serious, I will help.” 
Now then, in closing, let me give you my testimony that the Lord truly loves us—that the scripture in Matthew where it says, “Ask, and ye shall receive,” is a true scripture.  The Lord wants you to be happy.  The Lord wants you to have the things that you want.  But you’ve got to know what you want, and you’ve got to be serious about it.  The Lord will give you the happiness that you truly want and deserve if you’ll do those things that He asks you to.  And what we’ve outlined today in setting some goals and looking closely at the scripture in Matthew 7:7-8 and in the Doctrine and Covenants 4:7, He has outlined what it takes for you to become the kind of person that you want to be and to have the kind of job you’d like to have.  And remember, you are in the right place at the right time.  By applying the goals that you want to have in your life, to be the kind of person that you want to be, you now have the blueprint for success. 
I leave you my testimony this works.  I’ve used it in my life for thirty years, and if it works for me, it works for you.  The Lord loves you.  I appreciate being here and sharing this with you, and I leave you my testimony in Jesus’ name, amen.

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