"Be the Instrument"
Brothers and sisters good morning, Sister Chambers and I are very pleased to be here with you, especially in this historic Assembly Hall, I’m so grateful for the spirit that has been brought to us by the prayer, the testimony, the music has been wonderful. I want you to know about our great love for President Bruce and Sister Alynda Kusch, they are truly amazing people, and we love them very much.
I understand that you have here at the Business College a campaign or a theme, entitled “discover, grow, become.” I hope that my remarks today, will not only complement that theme, but encourage it as well.
I can think of no greater compliment for a disciple of Jesus Christ to receive than to be referred to as an instrument in the hands of God. The Book of Mormon gives us examples of many such references applied to worthy disciples (see: 2 Nephi 1:24; 2 Nephi 3:24; Mosiah 23:10; Mosiah 27:36; Alma 1:8; Alma 2:30; Alma 17:9, 11; Alma 26:3, 15; Alma 29:9; Alma 35:14).
Today, I would like to speak to you about becoming an instrument of God with a special invitation to “Be the Instrument.” To accomplish my task, I will use the 1 Nephi 17 account of Nephi being instructed to build the ship. From his experience, I will share five principles that I hope will bless your life as you go forward from this great institution to symbolically speaking, “build your own ships,” to “cross your own oceans,” to “arrive at your own promised lands” of divinely appointed opportunity.
NEPHI IS COMMANDED TO BUILD A SHIP
You will recall that Nephi and his family, after eight years wandering in the wilderness (1 Nephi 17:4), came to a land they called Bountiful because of its “much fruit and wild honey” (1 Nephi 17:5). A large body of water bordered this land and, as you can imagine, they were very happy to be there (1 Nephi 17:5-6). Not long after their arrival, the voice of the Lord came to Nephi instructing him to go to the mountain (1 Nephi 17:7). It was here, on this mountain, that the Lord said to Nephi “Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee . . .” (1 Nephi 17:8).
Now I do not know what a Jerusalem boy like Nephi would know about shipbuilding, but we can imagine that eight years in the wilderness was likely to give him ample experience in construction techniques, improvisation, and making due with what you had. Perhaps that would explain Nephi’s response to this commandment of the Lord of build a ship. Said Nephi, “Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?” (1 Nephi 17:9). You see, I think Nephi’s wilderness experience taught him something important and that is . . . give me the right tools and I can do anything. Building the ship was not the difficult task at hand, it was making the tools required to build the ship that was the immediate difficulty.
I can understand this, at least somewhat. For example, have you ever tried to drive a nail into a wall using the heel of your shoe as the hammer? Alternatively, have you tried to tighten a loose screw using a butter knife? Or, cutting a piece of wood with a steak knife? Ashamedly, I have tried all 3 of these unlikely techniques for simple handyman repair tasks and I can witness to you that none of them turned out well. I blame the instrument. Poor tools lead to sloppy work and Nephi could not afford to be sloppy in this important endeavor of building a ship that would carry his family across the ocean. Hence, I believe, his interest in where to find the ore to molten to make his tools.
I had read this experience of Nephi being commanded to build a ship many, many times and had never really thought much about it and whether there was an application for me. Then I began to connect Nephi’s ship building experience, and needing “tools,” to the scriptural references on being an “instrument” in the hands of God.
Now, by definition, a tool and an instrument are the same thing, except that an instrument by definition is designed for precision work. I will use the terms interchangeably.
It also occurred to me that just as Nephi needed the right instruments to build a ship, so does the Lord need the right instruments to build His kingdom. While Nephi’s instruments may be inanimate objects to be acted upon, the Lord’s instruments are you and I and we have agency, we are free to act for ourselves (see D&C 58:28; 2 Nephi 10:23). This means that being an instrument in the hands of the Lord must be intentional; we must choose to be such.
Finally, I realized just how wonderful a compliment it would be for the Lord to refer to me as an “instrument in His hands.” I wanted that and I began to wonder how one might earn such an honor. I would like to offer five principles that I believe to be necessary if we are to earn the title as an instrument in His hands.
The principles are:
Be available when you are called.
Yield your will to the will of the master builder.
Trust your capacity to accomplish any task when in the hand of the master builder.
Offer your best effort and trust that such will always be good enough.
Be true to yourself.
I will briefly explain each one.
PRINCIPLE #1 - BE AVAILABLE
Remember: A true instrument is easily found and readily available to the Master Builder.
In the Old Testament, we learn of a young man by the name of Samuel, who was called by the Lord. As a child, Samuel was placed in the charge of Eli, the High Priest and Judge (Bible Dictionary, “Samuel” and “Eli”). It happened at night, when Samuel was “laid down to sleep” (1 Samuel 3:3), that the Lord came to him and called him by name. Samuel, hearing the voice of the Lord, thought it was Eli, and ran unto him and said, “Here am I.” Eli, of course, had not called Samuel and told him to return to his bed. After the third time Samuel coming to him, Eli perceived that the Lord was calling Samuel and instructed him, should it happen again, respond, “Speak; for thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:4-10). Samuel did as instructed and, as they say, “you know the rest of the story.” Samuel became a great prophet.
Now while your experiences and mine will be less dramatic, each one of us will have the experience of the Lord “calling” out to you by name. It happens, for example, when an authorized priesthood leader prays and receives revelation about you that results in the extension of a call to serve in His Church. Over your lifetime, this remarkable experience will happen multiple times. As an instrument with agency, you will need to decide your response, even now. Will it be as Samuel’s, “Here am I . . . Speak for thy servant heareth,” or will be a more reluctant, “I may be here, but I will need to think about it?” Our Heavenly Father has a work for each of us to do in His kingdom. The only question is will you make yourself available to Him to do that work when He calls.
Being a instrument means making it easy for the Lord to find us and then, doing what He wants us to do, when He wants us to do it, and for however long He decides he needs us.
PRINCIPLE #2 - YIELD YOUR WILL
Remember: A true instrument readily subjects themselves to the mind and will of the Master Builder.
The importance of this characteristic is understood best by considering how our lives would be impacted if our temporal instruments had agency. Can you imagine, for example, a hammer that with agency decides one day that it doesn’t feel like working anymore, so it decides to take the day off? With each stroke the builder takes with that hammer, the hammer yields its own force in the opposite direction. Or a saw, in having a bad day, decides to resist the work the builder put it to. How might our construction industry be impacted if their instruments were fickle, unstable, and non-committal? Fortunately, the temporal work we put these instruments to is not hindered by their will being in conflict with that of the builders. The contrast of these temporal instruments with the Lord’s spiritual instruments is evident and concerning. How is the Lord’s work of building an earthly kingdom impacted when we, His instruments, respond with anything less than complete alignment to His will? With anything less than complete submission.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “. . . The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we “give,” brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Ensign, November 1995, p.24).
When I was young boy, my older brothers and sisters and I were allowed to take the family car, while on vacation, and drive a sort distance to a ranch where for a fee, you could go horseback riding. We were all saddled up, ready to go when the ranch hand helping us came over to me, and said, “Do not let your horse take the lead. Keep him behind the other horses in a single file. If you let your horse see daylight, he will bolt and you will have no control over him.” With that we began, my horse began to exhibit some odd behavior. He would approach the horse in front of him and begin to bite it on the rear. After a bit, the horse in front, as you could imagine, would step aside and my horse would move up in position. I was worried, needless to say. For try as I might, I could not reign that horse in and sure enough, I found myself the second horse, and the horse that I was on began to nip at the rear of horse in front, as soon as that lead horse stepped aside and my horse saw daylight, it bolted. And the ride I experienced that day was terrifying. I held on for dear life as my horse sprinted through fields, leaped the creek, and ultimately ended back at the barn where it started. The ride was over. Both me and the horse were exhausted.
I learned something that day. I learned that my horse was not a good lead horse because he had not learned how to follow. He did not know how to submit his will to the one holding the reigns. He ignored the signals and cues given him as to what he should be doing and instead, did want he wanted to do. In the end, he was an instrument defiant of control.
In a day when the Lord is hastening His work, which is today, our day, He needs more than “now and then” believers and He deserves better than reluctant or resistant instruments.
PRINCIPLE #3 - TRUST THE MASTER BUILDER
Remember: A true instrument readily subjects themselves to the mind and will of the Master Builder in full faith and trust knowing that what they build together will be remarkable.
As you know, when Nephi made it known to his brothers that he was going to be building a ship, they were not very kind in their response to him. They called him a fool (1 Nephi 17:17), and wanted to withhold their labor from him (1 Nephi 17:18), they thought he was lacking in judgment (1 Nephi 17:19).
Nephi’s response is exemplary of an instrument whose heart is not pliable one day and hard the next (see 1 Nephi 17:42). He reminded his brothers of the many tender mercies attending their people, the Jews, and their family as they sojourned in the wilderness. He concluded with these powerful words:
“If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done.”
“And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?” (1 Nephi 17:50-51)
True instruments, like Nephi, see no obstacle so great, no challenge so daunting as to keep the Lord from fulfilling his work through them. This leads me to the next characteristic of a true instrument.
PRINCIPLE #4 - OFFER YOUR BEST
Remember: With the help of the Master Builder, a true instrument knows that their best effort will always be good enough.
We must never forget that in the Lord’s work, there is, what I call, a celestial mathematics at work: whatever we bring to the equation, be it 10% of what is required or 80% of what is required, the Lord will bring the rest. He makes us whole; he magnifies us, he magnifies our capacities sufficient to accomplish the task given. All He asks is that we do our best. That we strive to do something to move forward in a positive way. I take inspiration from this quote given by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
“It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out. If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us. He will not forsake us. … If we will put our trust in Him, if we will pray to Him, if we will live worthy of His blessings, He will hear our prayers”
(Jordan Utah South regional conference, priesthood session, 1 Mar. 1997 [as found in Ensign, October 2000, “Latter-day counsel: Excerpts from Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley]).
Just over two years ago, Sister Chambers and I returned from serving as a Mission President couple in the Salt Lake City South Mission. While serving, we had been asked to receive a young Elder from the MTC who was assigned to serve in Australia, but was waiting for his Visa. He was from the Pacific Island of Chuuk and spoke Chuukese, I never heard of it. His English was very rough. I remember when he arrived thinking how lost he looked. He was completely out of his element. I wondered what it must be like for a young man, coming from a Pacific Island of some 50,000 people, and which by our standards would be considred rather primitive, what this experience must be like for him. Talk about culture shock! He was overwhelmed to say the least, but seemed determined to do his best, like a good instrument.
Our introductory interview was short, as we could not understand each other. I assigned him to a good missionary companion and sent him out to go to work, with a prayer in my heart, to one of our then, 89-stakes and he went to work. After the first week, I received a letter from his companion. He told me how in that first week together a miracle had occurred. They had actually met a man who spoke Chuukese! As they got acquainted, this young missionary from Chuuk came to recognize this man as the very missionary who had baptized him a few years earlier on the Island of Chuuk. Shortly after this encounter, his Visa came and he went off to Australia. I have often thought about this experience and what I would considered a “divine delay.” The missionary from Chuuk did not know the missionary that baptized him lived in our mission. I certainly did not know it, but the Lord did. I believe this was the Lord’s way of saying to this young man, “I know I have given you a great work to do, one that may seem to be impossible to accomplish. I know you are overwhelmed. I know learning a new language and adapting to a new culture is hard. I know you are afraid and perhaps even uncertain of your decision to serve as a missionary, but I am here with you. We will do this together. Continue to offer your best effort and I will provide the miracles along the way just like this one and will show you that I am in control.”
More than once, in experiences similar to this one, I have learned that for the instrument, the “I will” attitude is more important than “can do” perfection.
Incidentally, returning to our story of Nephi and his building a ship, and it is interesting to note, that even the great Naysayers, Laman and Lemuel, who seemed to have no doubt that Nephi would fail in his quest to build that ship, in the end, got on it. They trusted their lives and the lives of their families to it being of sufficient quality to carry them over the sea to the land of their inheritance. Somehow, the completed work of the instrument, wielded by the master builder, inspired even their trust.
PRINCIPLE #5 - BE TRUE TO YOURSELF
Remember: A true instrument understands that their value is not defined by the “type” of instrument they are, but rather by what they can accomplish as the instrument in the hands of the Master Builder. Hence, there is no useless instrument.
I suppose, if we were to personify ourselves onto an actual instrument or tool, one that we would choose to be most like, we might choose to be the mighty hammer, or the sleek saw, or the functional screw driver – those instruments that are most popular, having sometimes multiple uses, always in demand. They seem to be found in every toolbox.
I wonder how many of us would choose, for example, to be the “tin snips.” Not as common a tool and perhaps not as popular as the others mentioned. It has an odd shape and to the untrained eye, it is not readily evident what this instruments use might be. Yet, it has a purpose and it is one that neither the hammer, the saw, nor the screwdriver can perform. No, it is not a multi-use instrument, but nothing will cut tin like tin snips.
As an instrument in the Lord’s hands, take comfort in knowing that when you act, it is not a matter of your skill, but rather your worthiness. It is not an issue of talent, but of desire. It is not a requirement to know everything, but to have faith. Be grateful that the work of building God’s kingdom is not dependent upon you being the Architect or Builder. Be content to be the instrument, even the tin snips. For as a tool in the hands of the Lord, the Master Builder, you cannot only do great things, but you will always have great value.
My prayer, brothers and sisters, is that each of us may live our lives so that when the Lord has a task – be it large or small, difficult or easy – and He, symbolically speaking, reaches into His toolbox for just the right instrument, that He reaches for you. He will if He knows that you will respond, that you will yield to His will, that you will trust yourself in His hands, that you will offer your best, and that you will be true to your purpose. He will reach for you because He knows that with you, the perfect instrument, He can accomplish His work, which includes something more of you than you can make of yourselves. So, let us go from here, today, committed to the invitation to “Be the Instrument!” Which is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Robert E. Chambers is a religion instructor at BYU-Idaho. He's also a former member of the Fifth Quorum of Seventy and Utah Salt Lake City South Mission president.
Chambers has three degrees from Idaho State University (ISU): a BA in political science, a master's of public administration, and a doctor of arts in political science.
Chambers worked at ISU as associate director of admissions counseling. He also managed the ISU Research and Business Park and directed a University outreach center for rural economic development.
He left ISU after 9-years to become the director of planning and development services for the City of Pocatello, a position he held for 16 years. He also served on the Pocatello City Council for six years.
For the last 15-years of his work in Pocatello, Chambers taught in the Public Administration Graduate Program at ISU as an adjunct faculty member. He has served as a board member for several government and non-profit agencies and commissions at the local and state level and has authored articles on community planning and community leadership.
Brother Chambers currently serves in the young men's presidency in their ward in Rexburg, Idaho. Brother Chambers has served in numerous Church callings including full-time missionary (Italy Milan Mission), elders quorum president, bishop, stake president, member of the Fifth Quorum of Seventy, and mission president (Utah Salt Lake City South Mission).
Originally from Ogden, Utah, Robert Chambers married Robin Christensen in 1982. They are the parents of five children and have 12 grandchildren. They live in Rexburg, Idaho.