The Unspeakable Gift
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
November 29, 2005
Brothers and sisters it is a delight to be with you in this devotional today. May I first comment on a few things I think make BYU–Idaho is a unique school. You have wonderful physical facilities and programs and activities, wards and stakes and soon you will have a temple. The faculty members are men and women of academic competence but also, men and women of faith. You have a wonderful new president. He is a bright, highly accomplished man with tremendous experience and respect in the academic and business community. I am quite certain, however, he was not chosen as the president of this university just because he was Dean of the Harvard Business College and a man with tremendous experience and intellectual ability. He is a man who is obedient to the promptings of the spirit in his own life and also responsive to a unique invitation by an inspired prophet.
You are a unique student body. How many of you are returned missionaries, married, from outside the state of Idaho, from outside the U.S.? How many of you are converts or the only active member in your family? For me the uniqueness of BYU–Idaho is not found just in the quality of the faculty and administration, the physical facilities, programs and the student body, but also in the purpose of this institution. In a devotional address in 2004, Elder Bednar (then President Bednar) referred to BYU–Idaho as a DPC, a “disciple preparation center.” What a blessing it is to be able to study in this unique institution where one can seek knowledge by study, and also by faith and really strive to become a disciple of Christ. Take full advantage of this unique opportunity.
When we left our home in heaven and came to earth, a veil was drawn making it difficult to remember what it was like living with Heavenly Father. We came to earth without a recollection of why we are here or who we really are. We received this wonderful physical body which we so much desired as we anticipated our turn to come to earth. We are learning to care for this body, to use it, to discipline it, and to benefit from it. We are in the process of learning who we are and why we are here, gaining mortal experience and striving to keep the commandments.
In the premortal council Satan rebelled against Father and His plan. Here in mortality he continues his unrelenting efforts to tempt us, confuse us, discourage us and ultimately destroy us. We live in a wonderful and exciting time in the history of the world. It is also a challenging time. This line from Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, describes our day: “It was the best of times.” And it truly is. There are more temples, more missionaries, more tithe-payers, more members of the Church, more faith and kindness and more service. But it is also “the worst of times”: abortion, abuse, terrorism, pornography, murder, dishonesty, corruption, tyranny and devastating natural disasters are common place. It is a day of great prosperity, but also a day of crippling poverty. An era of an unprecedented information explosion, but also a day when intellectualism, prosperity, pride and vanity often supplant faith in God. It is a time when many have a difficult time distinguishing between truth and error.
Our day was seen by many ancient and modern prophets. On Christmas Day of 1832 the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph what we now call the Civil War and the beginning of the blood shed, plagues, earthquakes, and difficulties which would come upon the world from that time forward. Two days later the Prophet received Doctrine and Covenants 88, the Lord’s message of peace, wherein the Lord instructed the saints to learn “of things both in heaven and in the earth and under the earth, things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass, things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:79).
The curriculum of this university provides opportunity for you to study all of these things. Do you think the Lord asks us to learn these things just to get a degree or prepare for a career? These are important reasons, but in verse 80 the Lord told the early saints they should also learn these things “that ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:80). President Clark’s appointment to be president of this university and Elder Bednar’s call to serve as an Apostle are great examples of men who studied and prepared themselves and were ready and willing to respond to a call when I came. As you study and learn, you too should be preparing to serve wherever and however you are asked.
There are additional reasons why we should seek knowledge and truth in this life. Doctrine and Covenants 93:36 says, “the glory of god is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” Verse 37 adds “light and truth forsake that evil one” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36-37). Thus gaining light and truth help us not only to become like God but also to resist Satan. Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19 adds this: “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” Gaining light and truth is therefore not just something we do for mortality.
As I reflect on my own academic studies, including my doctoral work, one of the most important things I learned was how to study and how to learn. I don’t remember all the facts I learned from the classes, but I began to learn how to study and learn and that has served me well. So as you prepare for tests and strive to complete a degree, make sure you learn how to learn and not cut corners just to get a grade or to get through.
New knowledge can bring new blessings. Things that previously seemed impossible become commonplace. Who would have thought we could have airplanes carrying hundreds of people in comfort across the ocean, computers that store, access and manipulate whole libraries of books from a microchip, or men orbiting the earth. All these are possible because the Lord revealed truth and understanding to people who sought knowledge by diligent study and also by faith.
President Packer explains an important difference between learning physical truth and spiritual truth:
Knowledge of the physical universe and of the laws which govern it is cumulative. Thus each generation builds upon and expands the knowledge gained from discoveries of the past. Contributions to scientific and practical knowledge are gathered from one generation to the next. As greater light and knowledge are discovered, tentative theories of the past are replaced.
What does that mean? It means we don’t have to rediscover electricity or reinvent the computer every generation. That type of knowledge is cumulative and is passed from one generation to the next.
President Packer then adds,
Unlike knowledge of the physical universe, the moral knowledge of each generation begins where the previous began rather than where they left off. For example, the remedy for an infection in the physical body has changed dramatically over the centuries; the remedy for infidelity, not at all. Morality is not so easily conveyed from one generation to the next (President Boyd K. Packer, “The Law and the Light”).
The cumulative knowledge of the physical universe that man has gathered over decades is available to you through the course work offered here. The process for acquiring spiritual knowledge, however, is individual and has not changed since the beginning of mortality.
As we read in Doctrine and Covenants 93:38, “every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.” So each of us from an infant, innocent state, must come to know for ourselves that we are children of a loving Heavenly Father, that there is a Savior and that by faith and obedience we can return to their presence.
May I share, as best I can recall it, an experience I had several years ago. I was teaching a large institute class during the hippy era. One evening, partway through the class, a student, whom I knew but who had not attended class before, walked in. I was surprised to see her. She had with her a young man. The young man came wearing a pair of bib overalls, no shirt, no shoes and had long, unkempt hair. The two sat down in the back of the room and the minute class was over they were gone. I thought that was probably the last I would see of her for awhile and I would probably never see him again. To my surprise they attended the next few classes. In one particular class the lesson was on prayer. As you know it can be intimidating to be called on to pray at the end of a lesson on prayer. You want to say it just right. As we were about to conclude the lesson I felt I should call upon this young man to pray and I thought, “that is crazy.” But the impression was there and so without the courage to even look at the young man, I announced that he would give the closing prayer. To my surprise, he stood. I cannot duplicate his prayer nor should I try, but I would like to give you a feel, from my perception, of what happened. He closed his eyes and said something like this, “God, I guess that’s your name, this is strange, I’m not even sure you are there, but I hope you are, I would like to believe you are. I’m not quite sure what all this is about. You know I’ve been lost and confused and I really do not understand much about life. I have felt something really different and wonderful here and I would like to know if you are really there and if I really am your son. Is it possible for you to let me know that?”
I don’t need to tell you there wasn’t a dry eye in the class. I don’t know that I had ever heard anyone talk to God as openly and honestly as this young man did. It wasn’t very long before he had a testimony and asked to be baptized. At his baptism he bore his testimony. It wasn’t an eloquent testimony in terms of the words or the length. He simply said something like, “I know there is a God, I know He loves me, I have never been happier and I am excited to be baptized.”
A couple of weeks later as I was walking down the hallway of the Church on a Sunday morning, I could see this young man coming toward me. He was wearing a dress coat, a shirt, tie, (none of which matched very well) and had a missionary type hair cut. He came running up to me and said, “Today is one of the most exciting days of my life. Do you know why?” I said “No, tell me.” He said, “Today I am going to get the priesthood. Brother Moore, do I look like a priesthood man?” Despite the mismatched clothes, he looked like a priesthood man to me. The spiritual knowledge this young man had come to know completely changed him and the direction of his life.
Satan does not want us to understand truth either physical or spiritual. He undoubtedly delights when we get caught up in intellectualism, or accept for truth the philosophies of men or half-truths mixed with scripture. He rejoices when he can keep us from knowing God and knowing our divine potential. Doctrine and Covenants 93:39 cautions each of us “that wicked one [Satan] cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.”
The Lord has not left us alone in battling Satan. He has given us a wonderful gift to assist us. Doctrine and Covenants 121:26 says, “God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now.” He then promises us
a time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld.
All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon or stars—All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months and years, and all the days of their days, months and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fullness of times (Doctrine and Covenants 121:28-31).
The tremendous progress in technology, the information explosion and the increased understanding of the universe in our day, are but an indication of what God said he would reveal through the “unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost.”
Moroni 10:5 teaches us that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” Does that really mean all things? I think it does. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, quoting Brigham Young, said, “Every discovery in science and art, that is really true and useful to mankind, has been given by direct revelation from God” (Deseret News, 22 Oct. 1862, 129, as quoted by Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, May 2001, 83).
Elder LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “To me the gift of the Holy Ghost is as important to man as sunshine and water are to plants” (LeGrand Richards, in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 109; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 76). Elder Robert D. Hales adds the “constant companionship [of the Holy Ghost] is among the greatest gifts we can receive in mortality, for by the light of His promptings and His cleansing power, we can be led back into the presence of God” (Robert D. Hales, “Out of Darkness into His Marvelous Light, Ensign, May 2002).
Is knowing truth by the Holy Ghost really that sure? President James E. Faust indicates “a spiritual confirmation by the power of the Holy Ghost, … is more powerful than all the senses combined” (James E. Faust, “Lord, I Believe; Help Thou Mine Unbelief.” Ensign, November 2003). In fact, President Joseph Fielding Smith bears this witness, “The testimony of the Holy Ghost is the strongest testimony that a man can receive. The testimony of the Spirit is so great, and the impressions and revelations of divine truth so forcefully revealed that there comes to the recipient a conviction of the truth that he cannot forget” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:92).
After baptism, those holding the priesthood place their hands upon a person’s head and the individual is told, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” It is interesting to me that he doesn’t say to the Holy Ghost, “enter into this man,” but rather the responsibility to receive the Holy Ghost is given to the individual. In Doctrine and Covenants130 we are taught that even after we are given the gift, the Holy Ghost may descend upon us but not tarry with us. If an individual fails to be obedient to the light and truth he has received, he can lose the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Mercifully if the individual repents and in humility seeks forgiveness the companionship of the Holy Ghost is restored. Each of us must learn to use this unspeakable gift for ourselves.
When I was a mission president new missionaries often asked me, “President, what kind of music can we listen to in this mission?” “President, can I put this big beautiful picture of my girlfriend in my apartment so I can have it by my bed and where I study?” My response was, “Elder, I am not going to answer those questions, but I would like to read a scripture and see if together we can understand a principle that will help you answer the questions for yourself.” We would then turn to Doctrine and Covenants 64:34: “Behold the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.” Then I would ask, “Elder, why do you think the Lord requires the heart and a willing mind? Why doesn’t the Lord ask for a kidney, or an elbow?” If it was a sister I would often ask, “Wouldn’t you be just delighted to receive a valentine’s card with a big beautiful kidney on the front, saying I love you?” What is it about the heart and the mind and did you notice that the Lord placed a qualifier in referring to the mind? He wants a willing mind. Why? We would then turn to Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3 and talk about the role of the heart and mind in receiving inspiration from the Holy Ghost: “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation.”
“Why does the Lord want your heart and mind, Elder?” Together we would agree that through the Holy Ghost the Lord can reveal light and truth to him and guide him as a missionary. “What does that have to do with the kind of music you listen to or what you think about like the picture of your girlfriend? I can almost guarantee, Elder, if you listen to music that reminds you of home or immerses you in the world, the inspiration you need probably won’t be there. Or if you spend a lot of time looking at that picture and in your heart you long to be back with that beautiful girl, or playing on the athletic team that you left when you came on your mission, you’ll probably be unhappy and not be a very effective missionary. You can choose to make it easier or harder on yourself by the type of music you listen to, and the things you think about which are foreign to your assignment as a missionary. That choice is up to you. I’m here to help, but I would like you to learn how to do that on your own, so that when you are not in the mission and nobody is setting the rules for you, you will know how to keep your mind and heart open to receive needed inspiration.
“Elder, remember ‘many [are] called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men.’”
One of the blessings of this unique university is that you have an honor code including dress standards. You have faculty and fellow students that can assist you in keeping your mind and heart out of the “things of this world.” Here the Lord can teach you not only truths about this physical world, but especially the truths of the spiritual world.
I worry not only about the type of music that is listened to, but the constancy of the noise and the almost insatiable desire for entertainment that exists today. All of us have driven by a car with the music turned up so loud (even if it were the Tabernacle Choir, which it obviously is not) we couldn’t get the driver’s attention if we yelled at the top of our voice. How can the still small voice of the Holy Ghost communicate when our minds are not free to listen? Doctrine and Covenants 76 warns us that Satan “maketh war with the saints of God, and encompasseth them round about.” Satan will do anything to make it so our mind and heart are not receptive to the Holy Ghost. President Packer gave a great insight of a tactic used in warfare when he said, “The first order issued by a commander mounting a military invasion is the jamming of the channels of communication of those he intends to conquer. Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit” (President Boyd K. Packer, “Reverence Invites Revelation” Ensign, Nov. 1991).
Is it any wonder that Satan has unleashed a tsunamic flood of noise and evil to try to “jam” our communication channels from the Holy Ghost? You have decisions of eternal consequences to make important decisions like: should I go on a mission? whom should I marry? what should I study? and should we have children while we are trying to get through school? Keep your mind willing and your heart open to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and the answers will come clear and strong.
In Doctrine in Covenants 138, President Joseph F. Smith illustrates something we can do to keep our inspiration channels open. President Smith says he sat in his room reading, pondering, meditating and reflecting upon the scriptures and the Atonement. As he did so, the eyes of his understanding were opened and he receive a wonderful vision of the Savior’s visit to the spirit world.. What a great model. In the noisiness and the busyness of this world, we must find quiet places to meditate, to reflect, to ponder, to seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost and to keep our mind and heart open to His promptings.
In Doctrine and Covenants 88:67–68, we are promised “if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.”
I have learned for myself, brothers and sisters, that there is a God and that he loves us and that through the Holy Ghost he answers our prayers when we are sufficiently humble and meek to listen. As a young missionary in Central America, I was the leader over the missionaries in a particular country. We all went on a p-day activity to see the crater of a supposedly extinct volcano. There were two ways to get down into the crater of the volcano. One was to go down some steep ledges into the face of the volcano and the other was to walk through a jungle area around the rim of the volcano and come in on the back side that gently sloped to the crater. Most of the missionaries took the path through the jungle area. Some of us went down the cliffs. We met safely at the bottom and enjoyed seeing the volcano, (which, by the way, erupted a couple of months later). As we prepared to leave, it began to rain. I had not brought my raincoat or umbrella. I was getting soaked as we walked, and said to the others, I’m getting sopping wet and the rest of you have protection, just tell me how to get back through this jungle area, and I will meet you at the bus. I always tried to be an obedient missionary, and I knew I should always be with my companion, but out in the middle of the jungle there was no danger of immorality, so it seemed harmless to go ahead alone. Off I went. I soon came to a little fork in the path, and did what I thought I had been told to do. I continued for sometime through some very dense jungle growth. I wondered why the elders and sisters hadn’t complained about having to go through this. I could hardly see because the rain was now falling in torrents and my glasses were muddy. I tried to go faster but soon realized I was lost. I tried to retrace my steps, but I had left no trail. I began to panic. I ran and pushed through the dense undergrowth. At one point I fell into a big pit that had been covered over by vines and other growth. I managed to crawl out, but it was very obvious to me that I was lost in a jungle, I had no idea where I was or how I was ever going to get out.
Finally I dropped to my knees in the mud and told Heavenly Father I was awfully sorry and that I really needed His help. In my mind I could see the headlines “Missionary Lost in the Jungle” or “Other Missionaries Lost Trying to Find Their Leader,” or “Mission President in Helicopter Looking for Lost Missionaries.” I was absolutely terrified, not only for my own safety, but for fear that others would come looking for me and be placed in jeopardy themselves. After prayer, the only thought that came to me was that I should climb a tree and yell. I had been yelling, so that didn’t seem like much of a prompting, but I climbed a tree. I remember seeing an orchid on the limb that I crawled out on, and began yelling as loud as I could yell. I was really discouraged and frightened. As I recall, there was a brief ray of light that shone through the dark sky and gave me hope. I yelled louder. I thought I heard something so I yelled again and then I climbed down out of the tree and continued to yell, to listen and follow in the direction of what I hoped I was hearing. After what seemed like an eternity, I found my way to the company of two wonderful missionary companions. They told me they had come looking for me, but that they were certain that I had not gone the way I had because it was going exactly opposite of the way I should be going and was heading deeper into the jungle. They told me they had turned around and started back but felt to go just a little further before turning back. As they did so they heard my voice and began calling to me.
I know through this and many other experiences, some as recent as this week, that God hears and answers prayers and that the promptings of the Holy Ghost are real. I had been unwise. I hadn’t committed a great sin, but I had been disobedient. I assure you, my heart and mind were open and eager for inspiration.
May I plead with you to take full advantage of being here in this unique environment. Learn how to study and learn and treasure up the light and truth that are taught to you in the course work. Seek for the promptings of the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost to understand truth and to increase your faith and to apply it in your life. I plead with you to protect your mind and heart from the adversary’s relentless efforts to jam your communication channels by polluting your mind and heart with bad music, pornography, bad thoughts, pride and any and all of the other tools he uses so mercilessly. Seek to be a true disciple of Jesus.
Each week in sacrament meeting, as the priest pronounces the prayer on the bread and water, he does so to the benefit of our souls, which includes the governing centers of heart and mind. In our behalf He recommits us to do three things: first, take upon us the name of the Savior (I suspect that means we should look and act as His disciple); second to always remember Him, (that includes when someone cuts us off in heavy traffic, in athletic competitions, or when there is a chance to cheat on a test or plagiarize for a paper); and third, that we will keep his commandments. The prayer concludes with a promise that we will always have His spirit to be with us. The realization of that promise is dependent upon us keeping these three commitments. If we do not have the companionship of the Holy Ghost to guide us in our lives, in our studies, in our pursuit of truth, we need look no further than the quality of our own gospel obedience to see why.
A couple years after his death, the Prophet Joseph appeared to Brigham Young and in part gave this counsel: “Tell the people to be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and follow it and it will lead them just right” (Joseph Smith, comments expressed in a vision given to Brigham Young in February 1847. See “Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1846-47” (Eldon J. Watson, 1971), pp. 528-30). That is wonderful and true counsel for us today.
The Lord will keep his promise and the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost will be with and guide us and it will be the best of times. I close by echoing the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:15: “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”