School General President
Business College Devotional
January 26, 2010
My wife and I recently visited the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, a French-speaking country located in Central Africa. This
is a country of nearly 70 million people, 80 percent of whom have no employment
and many of whom go to bed hungry every night. We were in the city of Kinshasa,
a city with a population of more than 10 million people. In the stake
conference meeting we attended there, more than 1,500 Saints filled every
available square inch in the stake center.
We were in Kinshasa for only three days, but I
will never forget the feelings I had while mingling with those Saints. They had
little material wealth, but they were rich inspiritual strength. I don’t know
if I’ve ever felt the faith of the people in such a tangible way. I asked a Church
leader, “What is your biggest challenge related to teaching in the Church here
in the D.R. Congo?” He paused for a moment and then said, “Well, the members
spend so much time studying their Sunday School lesson each week that they
create these long lists of questions, and during class time, the teacher can
hardly get a word in edgewise!”
His response made me smile. But it also caused me
to think: why is it that no Church leader in North America would give such a
response? To the contrary, most in North America would say the opposite: “I
wish we could get the members to study the lesson before they come to class.”
As we were leaving the stake conference meeting in
the Kinshasa stake, a choir sang “Praise to the Man” as a postlude hymn.I
noticed a 14-year-old boy singing along at the top of his lungs. He was not in
the choir but was singing along with them just because he wanted to. I was
impressed he knew all the words to the song. And I don’t think he memorized the
words because someone forced him to do so. Those words were in his heart. They
had become part of who he was.
I keep asking
myself, why did that young man know all the words of that hymn and why did he want
to sing it without being asked? Somehow the gospel had sunk down deep into his
heart even at that early age. How did that happen? How did the gospel get deep
into his heart at the age of 14? I pose that question to you
today. Talk to the person next to you for a minute or two about how
the gospel gets down deep into your heart. How does this happen?
I think part of the reason may have to do with the
connection between our heart and our actions.I sensed from the Saints in
Kinshasa that this connection was very strong. Their actions seemed to be
motivated by nothing other than pure love for the Lord and for His gospel.
What I saw in Kinshasa suggests an approach to
learning that I would like to talk about today. We can approach learning with
either an insatiable appetite to improve or with a feeling of obligation and
reluctance. And this very condition—the condition of our heart and its
relationship with our actions—will to a large extent determine how happy we are
in this life and in the life to come.
Most of us think of education as a means to
something else. We enroll in a course so that we can get a degree. We get a
degree so that we can get a job. We may even think of education as preparation
for life. We go to school to learn how to live in the “real world.”As a result,
some talk about education as something other than the “real world.” “In the
real world we have to earn a living,” some might say. Or “In the real world we
have to become responsible for someone other than ourselves.”
My message to you today is that education is as
real as it gets. The decisions we make as students are as important as
anydecisions we will make in life. It is here, right here and right now, that
we are learning to draw closer to the Lord or to move further away from Him.
Not long ago I heard of a freshman who went to
college and chose not to learn. Rather than going to class, he stayed home and
played video games—not for an hour or two per day, but all day and sometimes
all night. When it became clear that he would be asked to leave school because
of his grades, he packed his bags and left. No one knew where he had gone. His
roommates didn’t know. His family didn’t know. He went to another city and
e-mailed his parents to tell them that he was all right but that he did not
want to go to college. He wanted to keep playing video games.
I once had to confront a graduate student who had
clearly plagiarized her entire dissertation. The majority of the words in her document
were not hers. She had obviously copied them from another dissertation. Even in
the face of irrefutable evidence, she denied having done anything wrong.
These are extreme cases. But what about the
student who consciously decided not to keep the dress and grooming standards of
the college? It did not seem like a big deal. But the student became a little
proud that he could get away with it. He refused to change.
I’m quite convinced that all three of these
students knew that their choices were morally wrong. The problem is that in
each case the students stuck with their decision. On some level, these students
rebelled against the truth that was in them. Like the rebellious Nephites in
the Book of Mormon, “they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God
concerning them, for it had been taught unto them” (3 Nephi 6:18).
A rebel is someone who not only does something
wrong but does it knowingly. A rebel does not make an inadvertent mistake. A
rebel makes intentional mistakes. Laman and Lemuel rebelled against their
father, against their brother Nephi, and against God. They were not ashamed of
their wrongdoing. Their intentions were as unrighteous
as their actions.
So the rebel is a person who does the wrong thing
for the wrong reason—a bad action with impure intent. It is the most dangerous
of all places to be in life. And it can happen even while someone is going
What about the student who does a good thing but
does it without pure intent? Last summer I was in a seminar where we were
discussing grading practices. One student raised his hand and told about an
interaction he had had with a roommate the previous semester:
roommate was doing his homework one night and asked, “Hey, you took this course
last semester, right?” I nodded my headyes. Then he said, “I just don’t
understand how to do this problem. How about a little help?” I sat down with
him, looked at the problem in the textbook, and realized I didn’t know the
first thing about how to help him. I remembered nothing from the course. And
the amazing thing is that I got an A in that course. It made me feel ashamed.
How could I have gotten an A and remembered nothing?
Now this was a student who, I’m quite certain, got
A’s in all of his courses. He knew how to get A’s. He knew how to study, how to
prepare for exams, and how to turn in assignments on time. But I think the
reason he felt ashamed is because he realized that he was just going through
the motions. He was studying, taking exams, and handing in assignments not
because he was intent on learning anything but only so he could receive a good
grade and get his degree. He knew somewhere down deep that he had been
pretending to be a good student but that in reality he wasn’t really learning.
He was doing good things, but he was doing them for the wrong reason.
There’s nothing wrong with getting good grades,
but this student discovered that if the grade becomes your only motivation, then
your intent is not truly pure. And when we do good things with impure intent,
we are imposters or, as the scriptures put it, hypocrites. That may seem like a
harsh assessment of someone who is trying to get good grades, but I’m using
strong words to warn against a serious danger. Christ spent a good portion of
his ministry teaching of the dangers of hypocrisy. He taught that when we say
or do something, our motives must be pure. Our actions and words must match the
intent of our heart. We do not want to honor God with our lips when our hearts
are far from Him (see Mark 7:6).
Most of us have felt the shame that this student
felt—a shame that comes from pretending to be something we are not. After
hearing that student describe how that experience made him feel, I’m convinced
that he changed his approach to learning and made a firm decision to learn not
just for the grade but so that he could better himself for the purpose of
So we can do the wrong thing for the wrong reason,
or we can do the right thing for the wrong reason. But more common than either
of these is the problem of having good intentions and then falling short of
those intentions. I have had more than one former student write to me from the
mission field and say something like the following: “Dear Brother Osguthorpe, I
hope you remember me. (I always remember them.) I took your course last year.
Now I’m in the mission field, and I’ve got to tell you that I did not deserve
the grade you gave me. Some of the work I handed in was not mine. I’m sorry.
Could you please lower my grade?”
This is what I call the “natural man” condition.
Yes, these students made a mistake. But their
mistake was different than that of the rebels.The rebel actually wants to do
bad things. The rebel has no intention of repenting. The rebel lies about his
or her sin. The rebel might even be proud of rebelling. The natural man, on the
other hand, wants to do the good thing but succumbs to temptation. Paraphrasing
the Apostle Paul, “Why is it that what I intend to do, I don’t do, and what I
intend not to do, I do?” (see Romans 7:15). He wonders why his mind and his
body are so at odds with each other. How can he know God’s law in his mind and
intend to keep the law and then yield to temptation? Nephi likewise laments the
fact that he can sin when his witness of the Lord and his love for the Lord is
so strong: “My heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of
mine iniquities” (2 Nephi 4:17).
We have all felt the condition of the natural man
or woman. We have all fallen short of our good intentions. We have all
experienced the gap between where we want to be and where we actually are. So
we come to the Savior with a broken heart and contrite spirit, just as my
former students came to me, and plead for forgiveness. When we do that, the
“Lord is nigh” to us (Psalm 34:18).
Our goal in life is to find ourselves in this natural
man condition less frequently—to “[yield] to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,
and [put] off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19), little by little, until finally
we do the right thing for the right reason all of the time.
When we do good things with pure intent, we become
disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Savior taught us during His ministry
that this is the pathway to happiness—that when our actions live up to our
highest intentions, our most selfless intentions, then we automatically find
ourselves close to the Lord. His Spirit is always with us when we are doing the
right thing for the right reason. Any time we slip away from this in the direction
of rebellion, hypocrisy, or mortal weakness, we distance ourselves from the
Lord, and His Spirit cannot strive with us. From the scriptures we know that “if
[we] receive not the Spirit [we] shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). I submit
that without the Spirit we also cannot learn in the way the Lord wants us to
learn (see D&C 88:118–19).
A freshman student in my missionary preparation
course e-mailed me one day and asked if he could come and talk with me. He had
been enrolled in my course for six weeks but had never attended class. I
assumed that he had decided to drop the course. But the resident assistant, or
RA,in his dorm overheard him telling his friend that he was still enrolled but
had never come to class. This RA was a recently returned missionary and a
full-time student himself. The RA asked him if he still wanted to try to
succeed in the course. He said he did. The RA then encouraged him to e-mail me.
They both came to my office to discuss the issue.
I had never had a student miss so much class and still want to complete it. I
explained that it would not be easy to complete the course after missing so
much. I told the student that he would need to hand in every assignment and
that his grade may not be as high as he might hope. He agreed. Following our
meeting he attended every class, gradually made up all past assignments, and
completed the course.
I asked the RA why he had helped this young man.
He explained that while he was serving his mission, he made a promise to
himself that following his mission he would helpevery 18-year-old he possibly
could to prepare well for his mission. In short, the RA cared for this freshman
enough to reach out and help him.
Learning is a matter of agency and love. We cannot
learn unless we choose to learn. And only when we are reaching out to others in
love will our learning yield the fruits it is supposed to yield. Agency and
Of all the things you learn during your college
days, I hope you learn above all how to be a disciple—how to do the right thing
and do it for the right reason. And that reason is love. You can think of this
every day. While you’re studying for an exam, is your heart really in it or are
you doing it reluctantly? If we ever do a good thing reluctantly, it is of no
worth. As Mormon taught, if we “do it grudgingly, . . . [it] is counted evil” (see
Moroni 7:8). So we have to watch ourselves all the time. We need to learn out
of love for the Lord and for His children.
I want to be like that resident assistant who
reached out to someone in need. He did not reach out because of any benefit
that would come to him but because he cared about a fellow student. I met that
freshman on the sidewalk the next semester. He came up to me smiling and said,
“You changed my life by letting me finish that course. I want to go on a
mission now, and I wasn’t sure before I took your course.” I responded, “Oh, I
didn’t change your life, your resident assistant helped you change your life.
Without him, you would never have come to see me.” He agreed.
I wonder sometimes about that student who played
video games all day. Could someone have reached out to him? Could another
student have helped him as the resident assistant helped the freshman in my class?
When I was serving as a mission president, I used
to ask my missionaries, “What if we did everything out of love? What if love were
the only motive for all of our actions?” No one would be trying to look better
than someone else. No one would be doing something because heor she had been
forced to do it. Think what that would mean!
I want you to think about what it would mean for
you as students if love were your motive. We learn so that we can reach our
divine potential. We learn so that we can serve others more effectively. When
we choose to do good and choose it because we love others, learning
I’m not talking only of the learning that occurs
in class. I’m not referring only to mastering the topic we are attempting to
learn. I have no doubt that when we exercise our agency, choose the good, and
do it out of love for others, we will become more proficient in computer
science or nursing or whatever we are studying. But I’m talking about much more
than mastering a topic, as important as this is. I’m talking about learning
that leads to personal growth and change. Every time we choose the good and
then act out of love, our power to make good choices increases.
wherein [we]are agentsunto [ourselves]. And inasmuch as men do good they shallin nowise lose their reward” (D&C
58:28). This power comes from God. It is the power to choose. And there’s no
better time or place to practice it than while we are in school. We need to
watch ourselves continually that we never become rebellious as a student, proud
of doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. We need to make sure we don’t
pretend to be learning when we really are not. And anytime we slip and fall, we
must put off the natural man and seek forgiveness in meekness. Then, when we do
the right thing for the right reason, that power that is in us to be agents
unto ourselves will grow.
Every time we learn more truth in whatever field
of study, our choices expand. The nurse who learns about the effects of the
drug atropine can choose to administer that drug to a patient whose heartbeat
is fading. The nurse who does not know about the effects of atropine cannot
make that choice, and the patient might die. So our ability to exercise that
power that is within us to choose increases as we learn. The more we choose to
learn, the more power we have to choose. More particularly, the more we choose
the good, the more power we have to be good and do good. Our power of agency
Not only does our power of agency expand as we use
it effectively, but our capacity to love others can also expand. Mormon teaches
us that “if [we] have not charity [we] are nothing” (Moroni 7:46). This is one
of the most powerful statements in all of scripture. No matter how good we are
at what we do, no matter how successful we may become in any field, no matter
how good-looking we are or how athletic we are or how competent we are, if we
don’t have charity, we are still nothing. No other quality counts if charity is
missing, because then we find ourselves in that imposter box. No matter how
great our achievement, if our heart is not right—if we are not filled with the
pure love of Christ—it doesn’t count.
That’s why the account of the resident assistant
reaching out to that freshman is so powerful. It was a simple act. All he did
was ask the freshman if he wanted to complete the course. He asked him to
exercise his agency. And when the freshman saidyes, the RA sat down with him
and helped him draft an e-mail to me. Then he accompanied him to my office. He
even came with the freshman to my class the first time just to make sure
everything went well. That’s charity. That’s a selfless act for someone else.
Do I think that the RA’s capacity to love
increased as he continued to practice those selfless acts for others? I know it
did. Do I think that the freshman’s capacity to love increased because he was willing
to receive the RA’s help? Yes. Emphatically, yes. It’s a law of heaven. Love
begets love. Those who are not loved as children have difficulty developing a
capacity to love as they mature. They don’t know what love is. Love is not
something you can explain. It is only something you can do.
Elder Scott recently taught us about the important
relationship between love, agency, and learning. Describing a teacher in Mexico
City, he said, “His sincerity, purity of intent, and love permitted a spiritual
strength to envelop the room” (Richard G. Scott, in Conference Report, Oct.
2009, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 2009, 7).
This teacher was choosing to do a good thing—teach by the Spirit—and he did it with
pure intent. He was doing the right thing for the right reason, out of love for
the Lord and for his fellow beings.
Agency and love are the motivational forces that can
lead us away from rebellion, hypocrisy, and the weaknesses of the natural man.
I’ve described how the natural man can change by yielding to the enticings of
the Holy Spirit. But so can the imposter and the rebel. Alma the Younger was a
rebel. He knowingly and actively fought against the Church. But he yielded to
the Spirit and changed. The student who took a course just to get a grade
rather than to learn anything also changed. He never wanted to do that again.
Some of you may know a rebel or an imposter who
needs help. Maybe you have a friend who fights against the rules of the college
and perhaps is even proud of it. Maybe you have friends who are pretending to
learn but care only about the grade. Maybe someone is pretending to be faithful
in the Church but is not. We can all reach out. Using our agency, we can choose
to help. And we can help because we love our friends. We all need to work
together to become true disciples. We need to exercise our agency and choose to
do the right thing out of love.
This is the relationship between agency, love, and
learning. It is not a loose, blurry relationship. It is a tight, irrefutable
relationship. When we use the power within us to choose the good, we learn and
we grow in our ability to use that power and we help others do the same. When
we do everything we do out of love, we learn to give and receive love. Our
capacity to love increases and so does the capacity of those who receive our
This is why your college years are so important. If
as students you can become skilled at choosing the good and doing it out of
love, then your whole life will be better. Your power to exercise your agency
will increase. Your capacity to love will expand. You will be happy. You will
be good wives and husbands, good mothers and fathers, good Church members, good
neighbors, good friends. Personally, I want to be like the Saints I met in
Kinshasa. I want my heart to be inseparably linked to my actions. I want to
have the vitality, the eagerness, the dedication I felt in those good people.
I know these principles are true. I know that agency
is a priceless gift from our Father in Heaven. He knew that it would be
challenging for us always to choose the right. He knew that sometimes our
motives might not match our actions. But He provided a Savior for us so that we
would never need to remain in the imposter, rebel, and natural man boxes. To be
in one of thoseboxes is to be in captivity. These boxes are inhibiting. They
keep us hemmed in as if we were in prison. The only key we can use to escape is
the Atonement. Through the Atonement we can be freed. We can be changed so that
we have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah
5:2). I know this.
My prayer is that we will always try to do the
right thing for the right reason. I know with all my heart that if we do, then
the Lord will magnify us. He will help us do things that we thought we could
not do. He will lift us and strengthen us. He will expand our power to choose
the good and increase our capacity to love. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.