Hope and Faith
Brothers and Sisters, it’s really an honor for my wife, Cindy, my daughter, Stephanie and me to be here for this occasion. Thank you to those who made this invitation possible. Thank you for the beautiful music. I believe I’ve known President Richards for 10 years now. I know what you all know about him of his great qualities but especially his quality of being approachable, how easily he is entreated, taking time to connect with people just as he greeted all of you at the door. No matter how rushed or busy he is, and being president of a college, you know he is always busy, he takes the time to visit and listen. Thank you, President Richards.
Over the last seven years, Cindy and I have had the privilege to know and welcome hundreds of young adults into our home – I’m referring to our wonderful and precious missionaries and our dear ward members from the BYU singles ward where I served as bishop until recently. I’ve been so impressed with the intelligence, faithfulness, resiliency and the strength of character among the young adults that I’ve had the privilege of knowing and come to love. In the hundreds of personal interviews with young single adults, I’ve learned about their goals, aspirations, career plans, worries, and anxieties about the future, as well as the regrets, sorrows and feelings of self-doubt. For some, as I have listened, especially to returned missionaries, I have learned of personal disappointment that they have expressed for somehow falling short, for making mistakes and not accomplishing what they had expected to.
So, this morning, I wish to talk about hope and faith; the hope and faith needed to press forward, to not lose our way, specifically the hope in the promises of the Atonement and the faith anchored in the Lord Jesus Christ. I know that for many in this audience, I’m singing to the choir. The way you have lived your lives and worked hard for the privilege to be a student here at LDS Business College is indicative of the hope and faith that is already within you.
The prophet Moroni knew our day (Moroni 8:35-36) and he wrote to an audience, which is us, the readers of the Book of Mormon, with counsel specific to our needs. He knew that we would be tempted to live in a world after the manner of people that “walk in the pride of [their] hearts;” nevertheless, Moroni focused much of his writing to include words from his father, Mormon, on hope, faith and charity to counter the prevailing negative beliefs that would entangle us to not believe, to not have faith in Christ. He knew we would live at a time when people would be skeptical and find it difficult to believe in miracles, that we would be vulnerable to giving into our doubts (Moroni 7:37-38), straying from the source of true happiness and peace. Recently, Elder Quentin L. Cook, stated,
“Lucifer has created a counterfeit or illusion of happiness that is inconsistent with righteousness and will mislead us if we are not vigilant. Many of our problems today occur because the secular world has been pursuing an incorrect definition of happiness.” (Ensign, July 2015, “Reaping the Rewards of Righteousness,” 37)
Every so often, there comes into our lives an experience, a defining moment that shapes our character and builds the faith we need. Most of these refining moments come in trials, personal difficulties and setbacks. There is need for opposition or else we would not grow into becoming a person that can act for himself versus being acted upon, to learn godly qualities and become all that a loving Father in Heaven wants us to become (2 Nephi 2:11, 14-16, 26). How and why we respond to opposition has much to do with the way we will endure through the next challenge, and the challenge after that and challenges that keep coming throughout our mortality.
In my freshman year at a two-year college in California, I enrolled in an English class. It was a writing class with a focus on analyzing several well-known English and American writers, like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. In this class, every week the teacher asked us to write an essay on a topic of our own choosing, but with the assignment of imitating the prose of the author we were discussing. It became evident, after the first four weeks that I was struggling. Paper after paper that I had submitted came back with a poor grade. I was about as close to failing as I ever had been. So, I decided to go meet with my teacher in her office. She welcomed my visit and we immediately reviewed my progress. My intent was to know what was I not understanding and how could I do better. As we reviewed my papers, she asked me about my academic aspirations and career plans. After listening, she told me that there would be a small chance of any for me to meet the requirements to graduate from college. She was straightforward and unequivocal in her assessment. I was not likely to graduate because I couldn’t write well; I didn’t know the rules of grammar, and I didn’t know how to structure sentences. She recommended that I drop out and pursue a path that did not require a college degree. It was a beautiful fall day when I walked out of her office towards the Church institute building, but inside, I was feeling devastated. What I heard was that not only was I failing but also that I was a failure. I was stung by the conviction of her words and her absolute confidence that there was no hope for my graduating from college.
Part of the hurt that I was feeling that fall day was that I knew, deep down, that there was some truth to what she had said. My writing was terrible, and I really wasn’t prepared for the rigors of college writing, at least not yet.
This was a pivotal moment for me. I was barely 18 years old and how I responded would have an impact on me for the rest of my life. What I learned about getting through that experience would depend upon the hope, faith and character that I needed to cultivate to learn from it. Thankfully, I had loving parents that were there for me, but I learned as a result of that experience and many since that I needed to turn to the Lord for help. So, while my teacher’s perspective to hear was a bitter pill to swallow, the blessing was that I was pushed to my knees with a heartfelt plea to the Lord to help me not be discouraged and to learn what I needed to learn about myself to succeed in college. The Prophet Joseph taught that to have faith, one must know that God exists, a correct understanding his attributes, traits and characteristics and lastly, to know that the path of life we are on is in accordance with God’s will (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Third). This experience and many like it have helped me greatly value the words of the Prophet Joseph, the underpinnings of developing faith through the whirlwinds of trials.
Know the Lord
The Apostle John wrote that to know God and his son Jesus Christ is life eternal (John 17:3). Many of us are returned missionaries and during our mission we invited people to come unto Christ, to know God. As missionaries we would teach from the scriptures, asking investigators to read and share their feelings as we carefully taught them how to know and feel for themselves “whether the doctrine be of God” (John 7:17). We also invited them to pray and to know God personally through prayer, reading the words of scriptures and living prophets and apostles, a process that invited the Spirit of the Lord to reach the deepest corners of their heart. We introduced them to the commandments and invited them to keep them, even when it might have been difficult to do so, especially when the people we taught felt they were already happy in how they lived their lives. I would add that coming unto Christ holds true for all of us. We know in personal ways that the Gospel of Jesus Christ requires that we make changes in our lives when we take steps of faith. To know God is to know that God loved us first (1 John 4: 19), and that He gives us commandments or invitations to experience His love and abundant kindnesses or what Lehi described as a fruit, most sweet and desirable above all other forms of happiness that the world has to offer (1 Nephi 8:10-12). Elder D. Todd Christofferson, in speaking of the Savior’s love, said:
“Truly He loves us, and because He loves us, He neither compels nor abandons us. Rather He helps and guides us. Indeed, the real manifestation of God’s love is His commandments.” (Ensign, November 2014, “Free Forever, to Act for Themselves” Elder D. Todd Christofferson, 17)
For many of us, we learned through the eyes of the investigators that God is in the details of our lives, that we really matter. Blessings in the smallest detail come to those who are willing to ask, receive and be discerning. Every test we take in school, every concern we have about our jobs, every social date we go on and every worry we have no matter how small is important to the Lord. And why would these things be important to the Lord? Because he doesn’t want us to lose hope and deny the faith by being tripped up over a small detail in our life. We don’t wake up one day and decide in a big way, “Today is the day I’m going to stop reading the scriptures or stop praying or stop attending the temple.” We get to that point very gradually, most often in very small steps, over time. So, the Lord does lovingly care about the details of our lives.
Speaking to the cynics of our day, to those who have chosen to deny the existence of God, of revelations, gifts and miracles, Moroni explains how this gradual drift from truth takes place:
7 And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
8 Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.
9 For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?
10 And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles. (Mormon 9: 7-10)
Moroni lays out the dangers of not having sincere prayer and making a study of the scriptures and of the words of latter-day prophets a part of who we are. Now we certainly don’t need to be scholars or gospel experts, but we also don’t want our prayers or gospel study to be perfunctory, casual or a “check list” obligation that we have to fulfill. By not seeking to know God through prayer and scriptures, we grow distant from God. We unlearn what we once held true in our hearts and soon forget the spiritual stirrings that reassured us of God’s love. Childlike faith and hope becomes cold and stale (Alma 12:9-11; 24:30). Instead of coming to know the Lord, we imagine up unto ourselves a God who is unfair, indifferent and not loving in order to justify our choices and behavior. We imagine offences and injustices where there are none. Worse, with little hope and faith to hold onto, we imagine that there are no miracles and we put conditions on the Lord in whom it’s hard to believe could be all powerful and merciful (1 Nephi 9:6; Alma 26:35). All of this is because we become casual in our coming unto Christ. For those to whom there is no longer a desire to pray and return to the scriptures or keep the commandments, the Lord, with loving kindness, invites us to experiment, just to experiment in a small way “…and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye have no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you….” (Alma 32:27).
When their struggles and trials became difficult, instead of turning to the Lord, Laman and Lemuel imagined up a lot of negative things and did “…murmur because they knew not the dealings of God…” (1 Nephi 2:12). Even after the miracles they witnessed going through the desert, which would be no easy ordeal for anyone, they imagined that Nephi was a liar, using “cunning arts” that he may lead them into some strange wilderness, thinking that he would make himself a king (1 Nephi 16: 38). None of which, as we know, was Nephi’s intention. If ever there was false worry and anxiety, Laman and Lemuel possessed it. All of this imagining in their minds because they did not look to God and inquire for themselves to ask if Lehi’s vision was really true (1 Nephi 15:3, 8-11).
If we do not come to know the “dealings of God,” we run the risk of replacing an eternal perspective for a short, myopic perspective that will never satisfy (2 Nephi 9:50-52). Like Laman and Lemuel, if we neglect to nurture the seeds of faith, we also fail to understand that God’s ways are not our ways (Alma 32: 38-40 and Isaiah 55: 8-9).
Sometimes, however, bad things happen to good people. We are familiar with Joseph, the son of Jacob. He was betrayed and sold by his brothers into bondage to the Ishmaelites (Genesis 37: 27-28). If we were Joseph, we might be thinking, why me, what did I do to deserve this? And even after he became a slave, he was imprisoned for keeping the law of chastity for not giving into the temptations of Potiphar’s wife. So, if we were Joseph, there might be several occasions to murmur, to complain but Joseph knew the Lord was with him (Genesis 39:3-4). Later, the Lord blessed Joseph for a greater purpose. The Lord placed him in a key position as pharaoh’s right-hand man, a position of authority that would bless the household of Jacob and protect them from perishing in the land of Canaan. Joseph knew the dealings of God. He trusted him to know the purpose of his suffering, his setbacks and his sorrow, even when he likely could not make sense of it at the time. But this story illustrates something applicable to all of us. The Lord knows the beginning from the end. And what certainly was a hopeless situation for Joseph turned out to be a great blessing for him and his family. To have Joseph become a trusted advisor to the pharaoh after being thrown into a pit and sold into slavery defies all probabilities, but not for the Lord in whom all things are possible (Mark 9:23). Hence, like Joseph, we need to know God, to know his attributes and his ways and grow in confidence that we are on a course of life in accordance with His will.
If ever there was a way to feel confident about the course of life we are on, to partake of God’s goodness, to feel of his liberating light, it was when he spoke to Isaiah. To those who fast with full purpose of heart and care for the poor with generous hearts and give service to the afflicted, the wonderful promise is that their light would rise “in obscurity and their “darkness be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58: 6-11). In other words, our lack of confidence, the doubts we harbor and the things that so easily discourage us can be lifted as we learn to lose ourselves, to fast with sincerity, and open our hearts to serve and bless others as followers of Christ.
Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge.
Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge. Alma taught, “if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Unfortunately, we often lack hope because we demand a perfect outcome usually right now, a perfect knowledge of what lies ahead. In this frame of mind, we can easily assume the worst; we learn to believe with certainty that something will go wrong. Indeed, what if we did have a perfect knowledge, of the events that would occur every day and of every hour? We would shrink and recoil at the thought of stepping outside. Leaving the safety of our bedroom would terrify us because of an accident or tragedy that we might be a part of or be a witness to. Fear, the opposite of faith, implies a fictitious, but perfect knowledge that becomes so paralyzing because we are so sure that something bad will happen or not happen, as we want. How many of us have made decisions out of fear because we were so convinced, we were right about the negative outcome? I remember, after my mission, when my roommates and I moved into a new singles ward. In our first Sunday, we attended sacrament meeting and of course, we sat in back in the last row so that we could “check things out.” When it came time to sing the opening hymn, this stunningly, beautiful young woman stood up to conduct the music. At that moment, I was smitten. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. I turned to my roommate, sitting next to me and said, “I’m going to marry that girl.” Well, talk is cheap, and because of my fear of rejection, I couldn’t get myself to ask her out on a date. For a whole month I had convinced myself that she would have no interest in me that she was out of my league. Until one day, I took a gigantic leap of faith, and asked her out on a date. To my relief, she said yes. We dated for four months, with some time separated in between, were engaged for 10 weeks and were married in the temple. Yes, I was in love with Cindy, but it took faith to move forward. And yes, my wife is still out of my league but she loves me anyway!
Faith in Christ is the opposite of assuming the worst will happen. Christ is the “light and life of the world, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened” (Mosiah 16:9). In Christ there is no fear, only hope and brightness for good things to come. To the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord let it be known that He would always be there for us, “Look unto me in every thought. Doubt not, fear not” (D & C 6:36). Because of the promises of the Atonement, we may experience difficulties and reasons to feel discouraged and sad, but we need never to feel condemned or lost by them because the Lord never ceases to invite us to trust Him and put our faith in Him and His loving commandments.
Let me return to my experience with my freshman English teacher. I stayed in college, and admittedly, with some degree of trepidation about my academic abilities. But it turns out the Lord knew what I needed. I was called to serve a mission in Bolivia where I was assigned to learn to speak Spanish and Quechua. Studying those two languages, I learned about syntax, word usage and grammar. The Lord had answered my prayers. So, when I returned home, I enrolled in college again and took lots of English classes with a confidence that I didn’t possess before. I had no idea when I walked out of the teacher’s office before my mission, feeling discouraged, that the Lord would find a way for me to understand the structure of language and grammar. The Lord knows what we need to experience in order to become who He wants us to become. Someday, if I ever meet up with that teacher, I want to thank her for helping me look deep within myself, causing me to turn to the Lord.
To have faith, means to act upon the hope that we can be part of the solution to whatever challenge we confront or holds us back. To know God, means that we trust in His promises and His timeline to get through challenges, knowing that He will help us carry any crosses that are ours to bear. In speaking of his pioneer ancestors who had to overcome great challenges when they came into the Church, Elder Marcus B. Nash said,
“As surely as the sun rises in the morning, faith produces hope—the expectation of good things to come (see Moroni 7:40-42) – and brings us, the power of the Lord to sustain us.” (Ensign, July 2015, “Pioneers, An Anchor for Today,” 52)
Grace – Fills the Gap Between Our Desires and Our Actions
Paul taught that we “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to align our hopes and desires with our faith to act and make course corrections. Because when we don’t make the effort, even a small effort, the feelings of frustration and personal disappointment with ourselves soon turns into self-justification. Hope and faith are thrown out the window and rationalization and even self-pity can fill the void! So, as we strive, to do our best to align our hopes and desires with our faith to act, we can relate to and empathize with the father, who acting on behalf of his sick child, pleads, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:17-24). It’s not easy to act when we know we should! Speaking of this effort to act in faith, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said the following in the October General Conference of 2014:
“I am under no illusion that this can be achieved by our own efforts alone without His very substantial and constant help. ‘We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ And we do not need to achieve some minimum level of capacity or goodness before God will help—divine aid can be ours every hour of every day, no matter where we are in the path of obedience. But I know that beyond desiring His help, we must exert ourselves, repent, and choose God for Him to be able to act in our lives consistent with justice and moral agency. My plea is simply to take responsibility and go to work so that there is something for God to help us with.” ((Ensign, November 2014, “Free Forever, to Act for Themselves” Elder D. Todd Christofferson, 19)
As long as there is striving in our lives, a desire in our hearts with even small acts of pressing forward amidst gloomy days or disappointments, there is grace sufficient to help us overcome (Ether 12:27). In a different talk, this time to the young single adults four and a half years ago, Elder D. Todd Christofferson quotes President Ezra Taft Benson:
“We must be careful, as we seek to become more and more [Christlike], that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible…. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day, they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service and commitment. We must not lose hope. Hope is the anchor to the souls of men. Satan would have us cast away that anchor. In this way he can bring discouragement and surrender. But we must not lose hope. The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him.” (“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” Elder D. Todd Christofferson, CES Fireside for Young Adults, January 9, 2011)
There is a parable I have used to share with our missionaries and ward members that illustrates how we can deceive ourselves into hoping for something, when our thoughts, intents and actions are far from the God from whom we are asking blessings (Mosiah 5:13).
I refer to a returned missionary that I will call “John.” He is in school, studying to be an engineer. He has a part time job and with a calling in his ward as a Sunday School teacher. Every day, “John” prays that he would find a beautiful young lady with a strong testimony to marry in the temple. “John” attends his Sunday meetings, but if there was a football game of his favorite team or if he slept in after a late Saturday night activity, he finds a substitute to teach his class. He also looks at pornography a few minutes every week, just a small amount to feel that he really doesn’t have a problem. He is careless about his scripture study and often forgets to read because the videogames he plays exhausts his free time. He hasn’t renewed his temple recommend, but he intends to do so, but he keeps forgetting to set an appointment with the bishop. But every day, his prayer is the same, to marry a beautiful girl who has a strong testimony in the temple. So, the question, I ask, what are “John’s” desires—what are his aspirations? At first, one might think it is to find a beautiful girl who has a strong testimony and marry her in the temple, but in reality, his dreams and aspirations are just the opposite. His actions or works speak louder than his words, but sadly he likely doesn’t recognize the inconsistencies within himself.
Just as James promised that if we ask of God, He will answer our prayers liberally. James also wrote that answers come to those who are not double-minded and ask not “amiss” (James 1:5-8; 4:3). So, it’s not surprising in a few years that “John” becomes frustrated even angry when his life doesn’t unfold like he thought he deserved. As Alma said, “…for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea…according to their wills, unto salvation or unto destruction” (Alma 29:4). Amulek further explains that if our desires and prayers do not align with acts of kindness and sharing of our substance with the poor and the sick and afflicted, then our “prayer is vain” (Alma 34:28).
But because of the grace and mercy wrought through the Atonement of Jesus Christ there is hope for “John” and for all of us who stumble and make mistakes, for his “grace is sufficient” for those who repent or turn and humble themselves before the Lord. Ultimately, if we can learn to trust in the Lord, there will be no reason to lose hope and faith. President Deter F. Uchtdorf recently encouraged us all with the following:
“The grace of God is our great and everlasting hope... God’s grace is the opening of the windows of heaven, through which God pours out blessings of power and strength, enabling us to achieve things that otherwise would be far beyond our reach. It is by God’s amazing grace that His children can overcome the undercurrents and quick sands of the deceiver, rise above sin, and ‘be perfect[ed] in Christ.’ Though we all have weaknesses, we can overcome them. Indeed, it is by the grace of God that, if we humble ourselves and have faith, weak things can become strong… Today and forevermore God’s grace is available to all whose hearts are broken and whose spirits are contrite.” (Ensign, May 2015, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 107-110)
Come Unto Christ
Remember what you and I are coming to…we are all coming to Christ. When we partake of the sacrament, honor the Sabbath day, and strive to keep our covenants, we are coming unto Christ. And we come to Him, in part, in the privacy of our lives, by not treating casually the power of prayer or scripture reading, but by embracing these soul-nourishing habits. We come unto Christ by living worthily to receive the ordinances of salvation that open up to us greater access to the blessings of the Atonement. And because we are coming to Christ as His disciples, we learn that we become enabled to bear our crosses, push through any trial and resist the enticements of a world that beg us to compromise on receiving the celestial blessings that a loving Father in Heaven wants to give (D & C 84:38; 3 Nephi 27).
To cultivate hope and faith in Christ includes remembering, “how merciful the Lord hath been,” looking retrospectively with a grateful heart for all that the Savior has done for us (Moroni 10:3). Without acknowledging and remembering the Lord’s mercies it’s hard to believe in Him when trials come. Countless times, during His mortal ministry the Savior admonished His disciples to “be believing,” “be believing” (Matt 21:22; Mark 5:36; John 6:29), and with outstretched arms today the Lord asks us to believe and trust in Him. The Lord through the Prophet Jeremiah gave us great comfort and reason to have hope and faith:
“11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
So when social influences, personal weaknesses, setbacks, self-doubt and worries “threaten our peace to destroy,” let us choose to build our foundation of hope and faith “upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ,” (Helaman 5:12) who is so merciful, so that no power can dash our hopes, lessen our righteous aspirations and weaken our faith. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.