LDS Business College Devotional
April 5, 2011
I prayed earnestly over what I
might say to you today. During my active years of general authority service, it
was my privilege to speak to a number of Latter-day Saint congregations of
students at various institutions—BYU, University of Utah, Weber College,
elsewhere—and I’m very much aware of the fact that, at this stage of your life
as students and coming to devotionals like this, you’re very accustomed to
receiving advice. Being a student, particularly at a Church school where we
have a significant group of LDS students, is much like going on a mission or
getting married—there is just no shortage of advice that’s available to you at
that time. So I thought I might take something of a bit of a different tack
with you this morning. Rather than present yet another sermon or more advice, I
thought that I would like to share with you today a perspective gleaned over
seven decades now, on the principle of faith.
I wish to present to you this
morning something of a smorgasbord of scriptural perspectives, personal
experiences, that I hope may provide each of you a takeaway of one kind or
another that is valuable to you personally. I’ve entitled these remarks “The
Substance of Things Hoped For: Where Faith and Works Meet,” and I begin with a
For all of the attention that it
gets in Church meetings and classes, it is my experience that the principle of
faith is not well understood. In fact, it may be most accurate to say that it
is imperfectly understood by members of the Church. For instance, I have
sometimes heard faith referred to as “a strong belief.” Well, I think to a
limited degree that’s true. But there is a fundamental difference between faith
and belief. Belief is an intellectual idea; it’s a rather passive notion. To
believe something is to think it is true. And in that sense, it’s a
one-dimensional concept. But faith is dynamic. It’s a process more than a
condition or a state of mind, as such. And it’s an interactive process at that.
In its essence, faith is the very
nature of the relationship that you and I have with the Lord. The power of the
dynamism of faith, this dynamic principle, the power of it, the extent of it,
is really an expression of the relationship that you or I have with the Lord.
Alma referred to that dynamism as an
“experiment upon” the word. (Alma
32:27) He also said that “faith is not
to have a perfect knowledge of things.” (v. 21) Rather, faith is a process of
relying on the knowledge of the Lord and His goodness that we have obtained in
the past, while reaching for additional knowledge and assurance. In fact, Alma further says that
faith is hoping for things “which are not seen, which are true.” (v. 21)
Hence, faith could also be
referred to as a confidence from the Lord, a confidence that He will “reach our
reaching,” to borrow a phrase from a beloved Latter-day Saint hymn. (“Where Can
I Turn for Peace?” Hymn 129) “Cast not away
therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward,” is a
statement attributed to Paul. (Hebrews 10:35)
Moroni used a different phrase to refer to
this confidence. He said that faith is “a firm mind in every form of
7:30) But my favorite definition is one
that comes from Paul and has really lent itself to the title I’ve given to
these remarks. Paul said that faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the
evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) The substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen. At first blush, this expression can almost
seem like a brain teaser. How can things that are merely hoped for have a
substance, a materiality? How can there be evidence or proof of that which
These are natural enough questions
for you and me, who come from a rationally oriented culture. “Seeing is
believing” is a simple phrase that captures the essence of our secular world.
As college students, you find in your secular coursework that great emphasis is
placed on the power of logic, building from a known premise to a reasoned
conclusion. The premise is usually something discernible by one of our five
senses—taste, touch, hearing, smell, and sight—and the premise established.
Then deductive reason takes over and leads to a measured conclusion. And so it
is that we decide things, and reach conclusions in our secular, rational world.
This may be fine enough in a
secular setting, but it has serious limitations when we seek to apply that
methodology to the transcendental things of the Spirit. As Paul also said, “The
natural man receiveth not the things of… God: for they are foolishness unto
him:… because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
It is these secular, or natural
man limitations that we run smack into when first we seek to exercise our
faith. Hamstrung with the ingrained notion that seeing is believing, we
struggle to find confidence in that we cannot see or cannot be experienced by
our normal physical powers. It can be difficult for us to accept the notion
that in matters of the Spirit, it is not “seeing is believing” but “believing
is seeing.” That is the essence of spiritual discernment.
The words of the distraught father
to the Master, when he implored Him to cast an evil spirit out of his child,
resonate with all of us. In response to the Savior’s admonition to believe, the
father replied, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
Help thou mine unbelief.
Recognizing this common phenomenon and being a brilliant man possessed with
enormous deductive powers himself, Paul beckons us to reach beyond this
touchy-feely “seeing is believing” world to a higher plane. And he does that
with phrasing that, again, I’ve referenced as the title of my talk—phrasing
that’s intended to bridge the divide between our secular, rational way of
looking at things and the Lord’s way of dealing with us through matters of the
Spirit. And faith, he says, is “the substance of things hoped for” and “the
evidence of things not seen.”
It is in the believing, the
hoping, that the first real seeing is done.
All well and good, you say, but how do I know what to believe in? How do
I know that what I’m hoping for is right? It is at this point that Alma rides to the rescue.
For it is Alma
that best describes the dynamic process that, when followed, cultivates an
increasing closeness with the Lord that is the essence of faith.
Now, every returned missionary
here in this audience has taught Alma
32. You remember the circumstance: Alma and Amulek were teaching among the
Zoramites. The Zoramites were an apostate people. They were a materialistic
people, and their worship had deteriorated to an empty ritual. Initial efforts
by these missionaries to have an impact amongst the Zoramites failed. But then
they were approached by some that we are told were the poorer class of people,
and as Alma was
teaching one group, this other group came. They had a question for Alma; they wanted to know
where they could worship. Their idea was that, in order to worship God, they
needed a place; they needed a sanctuary of their own. And we’re told that when Alma saw them, he beheld
them with great joy, because he realized that they were in a state of mind and
heart where they could be taught effectively.
And what follows, then, in Alma 32 to 34 is one of the great dissertations ever
preached—a tag-team dissertation, by the way, between Alma and Amulek, on what and how to worship,
because it is, as we know, how to worship that we learn how to gain and
strengthen our faith.
Alma begins by telling the people that they
were humble. He says that’s good. He says you’re compelled to be humble by your
circumstances. He says that’s good; he says it’s better if you’re not compelled
to be humble, but humble is good however it comes, because that’s the seedbed
for faith. A person who is humble has an awareness of his appropriate stature
with the Lord—also, a person who is willing to recognize within himself the
need for change, the need for what we call repentance. And as a person is thus
humbled, he is then prepared to embark on this great adventure of developing
this interactive process of faith.
Now Alma continues to say that
faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things. Rather, he says, faith is
experimenting on the word. And you know the dynamic principle that he then
explains in Alma 32, where you take a principle, you live in accordance with
its principles, and over time as you do so, you realize in your life the
promised blessings that are associated with it. And as you do that, that
becomes an awareness.
On the first Sunday of the month,
and at other times, we stand and bear testimony. What are we bearing testimony
of when we stand up? We are basically testifying to those things that we have
come to know through the Spirit, things that have not come to us necessarily—in
fact, not usually—through these five basic physical senses that we have, but
through spiritual senses—things we have experienced in our lives, which may or
may not be tangible things. And that is all this process of experimentation.
This is a process, the dynamic process of faith, of developing faith.
Now Alma’s choice of wording is
very significant, I think. He says to “experiment upon” the word. What does he
mean by that phrase, “the word”? Well, I would suggest to you, brothers and
sisters, that there are really two levels of meaning. One is, with respect to
“the word” with a lower-case w, just has reference to the teachings and
principles of the gospel. As we hear these things, as we read about them, as we
then try to incorporate them into our lives, we are experimenting upon those
teachings and principles. We are experimenting upon the word.
But there is a deeper, more
profound meaning in the use of that phrase, “the word.” And I’m speaking of
“the Word” with a capital W. Remember that the Apostle John, in the gospel of
John, referred to the Lord by that phrase, “the Word.” So in a very real sense,
when we experiment upon the word—the teachings—we are also putting to the test,
experimenting if you will, the Word—upon the Lord Himself. Because as in this
process we come to understand and experience for ourselves the reality of the
truth of these principles, we also come to realize the reality and the truth of
God, of the Lord Himself. And thus, with each subsequent experiment—just like a
man or a woman ascending a mountain one fingerhold and one toehold at a time—we
proceed from a footing or fingerhold of that which we know by reaching still
further. And that’s the process of really ascending the “mountain of the Lord,”
if you will, and coming to develop a faith and a confidence in Him.
I love this phrase in the 123rd
section of the Doctrine and Covenants; I commend it to you: “Therefore, dearly
beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power.” Let
us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power, “and then…stand still, with
the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be
revealed.” Incidentally, that’s the 17th verse in section 123, if you’re taking
notes about this.
And thus we climb, hand over hand,
one toehold at a time. And in the process of so doing, we come to experience
what Paul meant when he used that phrase, “the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.” But we learn it not through our physical
senses so much, those five physical senses, but through a sixth sense—a
spiritual sense which is within us as well. And the process of developing our
faith and developing a greater confidence in the Lord is simply a process of
learning to rely more and more upon that sixth spiritual sense, which exists in
harmony with the other five.
I turn now to some personal
experiences in this applied laboratory of faith we call mortality. I received
one very powerful lesson in this principle of developing faith and learning to
rely on the Lord when I was about your age, when I was an undergraduate student
at the University of California at Berkeley.
It was the Sunday before I started
my sophomore year. I had already had one year at the university. It was the Sunday
before I started my sophomore year. I attended our ward—we met in the institute
building just off the campus, we held our sacrament and other meetings there.
And there I met a wonderful, beautiful Latter-day Saint girl. She was a year
younger than I, and I met her in the entryway to the institute building
following sacrament meeting. I remember the encounter vividly. I can remember
what she was wearing, what her hair looked like. She can’t remember it at all.
But the next day, I met her again, in a most unusual coincidence.
I had enrolled in a large survey
course in physical anthropology, one of those undergraduate courses in a large
university like Cal or BYU or the U, which have several hundred students. And I
used to like to sit toward the back of the room in these classes, but this day
as I came in a little bit late, the classroom was filled, and I kept moving
closer and closer to the front until I found one seat in the second row, and it
was next to her. That came to be the best class I ever took—Monday, Wednesday,
and Friday at 11:00. That’s when it met.
And when I say it was the best class I ever took, it had nothing to do with the
subject matter of the course. It had everything to do with the girl I sat next
to. And we dated and we had a wonderful time.
But then it became time for me to
answer the call to serve as a full-time missionary, that I would serve as a
full-time missionary. But as it grew closer to the time that I was going to go,
the other young men in our university ward made no secret of the fact that they
were absolutely delighted that I was going to be leaving for a couple of years.
And in my relatively tender years, I confess that I didn’t have a lot of sense,
but I had enough to know that it wouldn’t be appropriate, and it would certainly
be counterproductive to ask her to put her social life in the deep freeze for
two years while I went away. But nonetheless and therefore, it became rich
fodder for very fervent conversations with the Lord over the matter.
Finally the day of departure came.
We bade goodbye and I left. Now, in those days—ancient times, you know, Parley
Pratt was our mission president—in those days, there was no MTC. Instead, all
departing missionaries went to the mission home up on north Main Street here in
Salt Lake City, for eight days of orientation before we departed into the
field. I’ll never forget the first morning that I was there. The wife of the
mission home president arose. Her name was Sister Richards. And she said, “Now
you missionaries”—this is an exact quote, by the way. This was a long time ago.
This was fifty years ago, so this will give you an idea of what a striking
impression this made. She said, “Now you missionaries, let me reason with you.
Do you really think that if you go out and serve the Lord with all of your
heart for the next two years, that He will let you down in the most important
decision you’ll ever make in your life?”
At that moment, my awareness of
everyone and everything faded. There was me and there was Sister Richards, and
there was the power of her words. I thought to myself, and the power of the
Spirit bore profound witness to me of the truthfulness. I thought, “Of course.
If I go out and do the best I can as a missionary, the Lord won’t let me down.”
I understood even then that she wasn’t promising me that any particular girl
was going to be waiting, only that when the time came for that phase of life,
the Lord wouldn’t let me down.
I can honestly tell you that I
didn’t worry about it again. I went out, I wrote her a letter each week. She
wrote a letter. She went about having a rich experience with classes, with
social life, held prominent offices on campus. When she graduated from the
university as I was nearing the end of my mission, she was selected as the
outstanding senior woman in the graduating class at the University of
California. And, as has already been announced by President Richards,
immediately upon my return we were engaged, and married a few months later.
Dear, will you stand up please? Please. She’s saying no. I’m in real trouble
after this. Thank you, dear. For going on 48 years now, she has been my bride.
I’d like to tell you that there
were never any speed bumps in the road in my own journey to develop faith, but
I must confess that on occasion I have forgotten things that I already knew.
Some years later, as I was practicing law in Los Angeles, I was kneeling in
prayer one morning as was my custom, as it is yours, when I had a very
profound, strong feeling that I would be asked by our law firm to move to San
Diego with my family to help open a new office for our law firm in San Diego.
It was a very powerful feeling. Notwithstanding that feeling, then what
happened after that over the period of weeks, I began to see-saw back and forth
in my mind as to whether this was a good thing to do or not. And I think it was
a miserable experience for me, I know for Pat, but eventually I am pleased to
say that at long last, the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of
things not seen that I felt in that prayer reasserted themselves, and we
accepted the invitation and went.
It proved to be a great
experience. There were many wonderful things that happened for our family
because of that. In due course, opportunities for significant service in the
Church were extended, and we were living in San Diego when we received the call
to serve as a general authority. So I tell you that experience so that, if
you’ve ever had an experience like that in your own journey of faith, don’t
feel like the Lone Ranger. Most of us have those from some time or another. But
that doesn’t mean the basic principles aren’t true. And usually when those
things happen, it’s because you or I have departed from them.
Now in the King James version of
the Bible, the Latter-day Saint version, there’s a footnote to Hebrews 11:1.
That’s the verse where Paul says that “faith is the substance of things hoped
for, the evidence of things not seen.” The footnote says, instead of
“substance” it uses the word “assurance.” Faith is the assurance of things
I think that’s a really valuable
word for you and me, because from my experience, and certainly for most
Latter-day Saints, our experience of experimenting upon the word is seldom with
a principle of the gospel. I think I would dare say that most here already have
a conviction about the law of tithing and the Word of Wisdom and so forth. Most
often what we are seeking is assurance. Most often what we want is some
certainty about a future that seems so very uncertain. And those are the kinds
of things that we take to the Lord. And yet, it is in those things that the
wisdom of Alma’s counsel about experimenting upon the word and about Paul’s use
of that phrase, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not
seen” can be most significant.
Time is short, and I’m going to
close with one more personal experience which has driven home to me the
importance of this principle of understanding that this matter of “faith is theassurance of things hoped for” that
the Lord is there, He is watching over us, He is responsive to our prayers, He
hears our prayers, and that He will help us in our hour of need.
President Richards mentioned that
I served in Vietnam. I did. I served there twice. On my first tour of duty, I
was an infantry platoon leader. It’s difficult to describe the experience of
being a combat soldier. We were supposedly in Vietnam on a one-year tour of
duty, but it might just as well have been for an eternity, because that’s the
way it seemed. You quickly realized you couldn’t think in terms of days or
weeks or months, much less a year. You learned to think about today. It was a
very existential experience. You learned to be grateful for each morning and
each evening. That’s just the way it is; it is the nature of it. And there’s an
anxiety that’s always with you as a combat soldier. Every bend in the jungle
trail, every stand of bamboo, every mortar barrage—everything that happened,
it’s just there all the time. And when you see others die and be terribly
wounded, it only reinforces those feelings. It’s just part of that experience.
Our battalion had been out in the
jungle for many weeks, and we returned to our base camp for some rest and
relaxation. We had taken the first showers we’d had in weeks, and we were
sitting around on our bunks, cleaning our weapons. It was a Saturday night, and
we were listening to music on the Armed Forces Radio Network, when suddenly
there came over our battalion radio an urgent message. It was from another
battalion that was still out in the jungle, and it was being overrun by a large
enemy force. We were needed to go right then to the rescue.
That feeling of anxiety that I
described to you, in my case just seemed to blossom into a dark sense of
foreboding. I just had a bad feeling about this. But there was no opportunity
to go pray about it, much less to fast about it. All there was time to do was
to grab helmet and rifle and move out. But as I did so, I uttered a silent
prayer in my heart. And as I uttered the words of that prayer, there came to my
mind literally a still, small voice, just as clear as can be. And the voice
recited a passage of scripture—you will be familiar with it. It’s out of the
book of Proverbs, the 3rd chapter: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and
lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he
shall direct thy paths.” (v. 5-6)
With that, there came a feeling of
peace that just settled over me. That anxiety dissipated. We were gone for
another several weeks. It was a dangerous operation. Finally it was the last
day that we were to be out on this operation. I was riding an armored personnel
carrier, and we were moving through a lightly forested area of jungle, which
was the only kind of terrain you could use those vehicles in. And we rolled
over an enormous enemy landmine. It was command detonated by enemy soldiers who
were nearby. The force of the explosion was so great that it blew the engine
out of the vehicle. It blew the tracks and all the road wheels off the vehicle.
Everyone inside was wounded, including me, but no one died. And no sooner did
that mine explode than there again came to my mind that same voice, that same
passage of scripture: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not
unto thine own understanding.”
My dear brothers and sisters, I testify
to you that the Lord is nearby. I realize that that’s a rather dramatic
experience. In fact, I tell it for that reason, because it’s an illustration
that the Lord is nearby. He is there whether our problems are great or not so
great. I commend to you the wonderful counsel we got in that inspired message
from Elder Bednar just last Sunday in his conference message, as he talked
about revelation and the way it comes. But I use it because…I use it as
evidence of the fact that the Lord is nearby; He is mindful of each one of us.
I testify to you, my dear brethren and sisters, that if you and I strive to
exercise our faith, to realize that it is a process, it’s not a destination,
it’s a process. It’s a developing of a closer, more intimate relationship with
the Lord, that He will be there, that you will feel Him more closely in your
life. And that as you go along, that you will be more sensitive to His
promptings, and He will lead you along.
And you will truly find, then,
what Paul meant when he said that “faith is the substance—or assurance—or
things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” May He bless you. May He be
with you, in your academic career and in your careers beyond. Those things that
are so much chambered away in the intimate chambers of your heart, may those
prayers be answered. May you feel that reassurance, know that He is near you,
is my prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.