Keeping An Eternal Perspective While Chopping Wood and Hauling Water
President Brad Foster
Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
March 6, 2007
Brothers and sisters, it is a sacred trust and tremendous honor to stand before you today. I remember years ago, sitting where you’re sitting, I remember thinking what you’re thinking, and I remember well, the dreams you’re dreaming. It gives me great joy to share with you today an “Eternal Perspective”, one that I hope will broaden your mind, enhance your vision, and deepen your understanding of who you are and how to excel along this great journey we call life.
Let me begin by telling you how much I love BYU–Idaho. It has been a part of our family and our life for many years. My wife Sharol and I both attended here, as well as all 4 of our daughters and 3 of our sons-in-law. Many things have changed over the years. How blessed you are to be at this University now. After our return from the California Arcadia Mission, I was called to serve as a Bishop here on campus. That was 8 or 9 years ago. This was still a Junior College known as Ricks College. In the four years I served as Bishop and now as a Stake President of the 7th Stake let me tell you what I have seen.
The Lord promised Abraham in the Abrahamic covenant, that his children, the children of Israel, which includes every one of us here today, either by our literal descendency or by adoption, that they would, and I quote “Be blessed above measure.” That phrase, “Above Measure” has fascinated me. I believe it means that it is beyond or above our ability as humans or mortals, or by earthly standards to measure, therefore, “Above Measure.” Isn’t that the same definition that we apply to a miracle? I believe that’s what the Lord meant to Abraham, and now to us, that he would bless us with “Miracles.” I testify that we are watching a miracle take place here at BYU–Idaho. I am often asked about what’s going on at BYU–Idaho.
I am anxious to tell people the story. Elder Bednar described it as building a ship and turning it on a new course. He referred to it as “Rethinking Education.” Now we have a new “Captain” at the helm in President Clark. I always like to add that President Clark has taken hold of the controls of this ship and pushed them “Full-speed ahead”. Now we are moving at a speed that I believe if you jumped overboard, you could probably water ski behind this ship. I would like to take a personal privilege to pay tribute to the Faculty, Staff and Administration of this University for the transformation that has taken place. I commend each of you for your faith and your faithfulness. I thank you on behalf of each of the young people in this audience, and on behalf of our children and our grandchildren who will be eternally blessed because of you good people who are the life-blood of this University.
When I was asked to speak, I prayed and pondered wondering what I could say that would make a difference to you today. I am well-aware of who sits before me in this audience as the future Leaders of this Church and the world. And more importantly, as the future parents of the children of the Church. After much struggling, I finally asked myself this question, “Knowing what I know now, what would I liked to have known when I was your age that would have helped me on this journey through life.”
I bear testimony that Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us and He will help us accomplish what we need to in this life to fulfill His will in that plan.
He placed us in this ‘lone and dreary’ world to teach us what we need to know so that we may ‘become like Him’. The Lord, in preparing this environment we call earth and at the time of the Fall of Adam, instructed us that we would need to learn about Opposition: good and evil, health and sickness, virtue and vice, light and darkness, pleasure and pain. At this point, He also introduced death accompanied by this profound, but very misunderstood statement: We find it in Moses 4:23 “cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; And by the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat thy bread all the days of thy life.”
We know that instead of bringing forth flowers and fruits, there shall be noxious weeds to torment man. Please note that He didn’t curse it to punish us…He cursed it to bless us. “Cursed shall be the earth for thy sake.”
So today, with that frame of reference in mind, I have entitled my remarks, “Keeping an Eternal Perspective While Chopping Wood and Hauling Water”.
Metaphorically, that describes the way you’ll spend most of your days in your individual pursuits and occupations of life.
Take a look at these first two pictures.
The pictures you see on the screens are probably what came to your mind when I said “chopping wood and hauling water.”
These next two pictures probably more accurately portray your modern version of “chopping wood and hauling water.”
Some days it will be easy to keep your Eternal perspective focused. Sitting in General Conference, a powerful Sacrament or testimony meeting, the funeral of a loved one, your wedding day, the birth of your children, and other ‘life-changing events’.
The challenge for you will be to keep your Eternal Perspective every other day. Those other days where you are simply wiping the sweat from your brow as you are earning your bread.
Those are the days I want to talk about. I will begin by telling you a story. This story will provide the lens that will focus you on what I want you to learn from the rest of my remarks, a lens that will provide eternal clarity for the rest of your life’s journey.
There was once a wise Chinese man who had one son, one horse, and one acre of ground on which he made his living. One day his son went out to feed the horse and left the gate open and the horse ran away. All of the man’s friends and neighbors came to him and said, “Oh that’s too bad. You’ve lost your only horse. How will you make your living?” The wise Chinese man just said “I don’t know if that’s bad or that’s good.” But they insisted it was bad. A few days later, the horse got thirsty and came back to the corral bringing 9 other wild horses with him. Now all his friends came over and said “Oh, isn’t that good. You’ve got 10 horses.” The wise Chinese man said “I don’t know if that’s bad or good.” And they insisted it was good.
A few days later, the wise Chinese man’s son went out to break one of the wild horses. In the process, the horsed reared up and came down, severely breaking the son’s leg. This time all the neighbors came over and said “Oh, that’s too bad. That’s your only son. What will you do?” And again the wise Chinese man said “I don’t know if that’s bad or good.” And they insisted it was bad.
A short time later, war broke out in the country. The government came through and gathered up all the able-bodied young men and marched them off to war where they were all killed.
This story can go on and on.
This story belongs to all of us. It’s our story too.
The moral of it is this: be very careful about letting the ‘voices of the world,’ sometimes even your best friends and neighbors, convince you that something is good or bad. It’s important to reserve judgment and trust in the Lord and His plan.
For as the Lord reminds us in Isaiah 55: 8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The Lord tells us He sees the big picture, but because of the veil, we only get to see only glimpses of the big picture.
Thirty-five years ago, when I was just your age and sitting in your seat, I had returned from my mission, my family experienced one of those ‘life-changing events’. My father was very ill and died from kidney failure. I was the oldest in my family and suddenly my whole life, and my family’s whole world was turned upside down. I was newly married, my wife was expecting our first daughter. I had a widowed mother, two younger sisters and a younger brother who were all looking at me like “What do we do now?” Well-meaning people offered their condolences and sympathies, their thoughts and prayers, and they were comforting but they also seemed to indicate that this was bad. All I knew was that it hurt, it was hard, and it seemed very, very, very bad.
In some of life’s challenges the Lord wants to see if we will just ‘hang in there with Him’…if we will just endure.
One of the greatest studies in keeping an eternal perspective is the story of Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. The prophet and others were thrown in jail in November of 1839. This is nine years after the Church was organized. Let’s quickly remember what had happened to him in the way of ‘testimony building events’: He had seen God the Father and Jesus Christ in the First Vision, he had numerous instructive visits from Moroni, he had translated the Book of Mormon, the priesthood had been restored to the earth through him by way of direct ordination from heavenly messengers. Let’s just say he had a miraculous foundation.
While in the Liberty Jail, the prophet received three revelations, Doctrine and Covenants 121,122 and 123 all in the month of March, four months after they were all put in jail. I’d like to read you the first verses of Section 121 and the last verses of Section 123. Section 121, verse 1: “Oh God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? Maybe in your prayers you’ve said the same thing.
And now in Section 123 verse 17: “Therefore dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still with the utmost assurance to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” The heavens had been quiet for four cold months and then comes some of the most profound and powerful sections in the entire Doctrine and Covenants.
So here’s the prophet in this environment not even fit for animals, for a long period of time, in the cold winter months and the brutal daily reality of this situation had begun to ‘wear him down’… to the point he cries out “Oh God, where art thou?” Even the prophet’s Eternal perspective had become a little dimmed.
I want you to know that if it can happen to him, it will happen to you.
But what happened in those most desperate circumstances that by the end of Section 123 in verse 17 he says “Wherefore brethren, let us go on cheerfully…”
From the first verse in 121 to the last verse of 123, what happened to help him regain his eternal perspective.
See what the Lord says to change his perspective because what He said to Joseph he says to you in Section 121, verse 7. “My son, peace be unto thy soul;” The Lord reminds him of who he is “thou art my son”. He continues in verse 7 “thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.” (It won’t last forever)
Then, in verse 10, He says “Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job.” Here He gently tells Joseph that it ‘could be worse.’ He goes on to also remind him of other ‘tough times’ experienced by other great people who the Lord sanctified to His purposes. Joseph who was sold into Egypt, Paul in the Arabian desert.
Then the last statement in section 122 He says “My son all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.”
What Joseph and his friends thought was bad, the Lord said way good.
Joseph cried out to the Lord and the Lord helped him regain his eternal perspective. Now Joseph could see that this was for his good.
Three things I want you to be aware of that will help you keep your Eternal Perspective
1. Don’t get caught up in the world’s definition of “Perspective” --- or you will surely lose yours.
Now don’t be mistaken, we want you to successful, we want you to be competitive, we want you to be rewarded for your efforts. But please make sure that you don’t equate your self-worth with your net-worth.
Here are some examples of what the world would have you believe:
Life is all about fame and fortune.
- You are expected to make a lot of money and make it fast.
But just last month in our Stake Conference, Elder Wickman taught us… “Brethren, its fool’s gold, not the real gold.”
This I know “Money can’t buy happiness, it only makes you wealthy.
It doesn’t make you a good person, or better-looking, or smarter, or more successful.
The only people who believe money can buy happiness are those who haven’t had money yet.
I’ve learned that people can generally handle poverty better than they can handle wealth.
Elder Scott visited the BYU–Idaho 4th Stake a couple of years ago. He was visiting with the young married students. These are students who are trying to stretch budgets that won’t stretch and make ends meet that just won’t come together. And he made this statement, “I’ve learned in my life that less is better.”
Additionally, the world says…
- You must quickly climb the corporate ladder to the top. They’ll try to convince you that it’s only from ‘up there’ that you can see more clearly. And that Happiness awaits those at the top. Too many people have feverishly scaled the ladder in hopes of gaining that ‘better view’ but sadly look back and realize that their children have fallen off the ladder while they were busy climbing.
Remember the counsel from President David O. McKay that “no success can compensate for failure in the home.”
As you climb your mountains in life all of you are going to experience both “Success” and “Failure”. Don’t be too anxious for the applause for the success, or the pity for the failure. The common denominator in Success and Failure is that “Neither of these conditions is permanent”.
Remember the Wise Chinese Man story…be careful of the ‘singing choruses’ of the world that will try to convince you that all ‘Success’ is good and all ‘Failure’ is bad.
2. In this world of ‘Opposition’, life will not be fair. Bad, sad, and difficult things can and will happen to good people.
Our lives are changed daily by other people’s incorrect decisions, the laws of nature, our own poor judgment, or just by unforeseen circumstances in a world that was never designed to be fair.
Remember, the ‘lone and dreary’ world is a testing ground and was prepared to be such.
I believe you young people were among the choicest spirits in the pre-existence. The top of the class, the best of the best. Your physical presence here today tells me you made good decisions in your 1st estate.
You are the Chosen Generation brought forth in these glorious last days. You are living in the Promised Land…… but this isn’t Disneyland and there is no such thing as the “Magic Kingdom.”
It is the “Celestial Kingdom” we seek. And the Lord intends for and provides the way that we can become
And how does he do it? Line upon Line, Experience upon Experience as you faithfully, cheerfully, and trustfully climb your mountains.
I’d like to share a personal experience
15 miles southeast of Rexburg is a town called Ririe. On this day, March 6th 1990, 17 years ago, the Ririe High School boys basketball team won the A-3 State title. This little town of about 550 people was on top of the world. When the team came home from the tournament, hundreds of people met the bus to cheer them as they rolled into town. They were heroes. They really were a ‘Cinderella Story’….they were so unknown at the tournament that the announcers kept talking about the team from ‘Rearie’ instead of Ririe. This small group of boys had worked together with dogged determination through their whole season and had captured the first State title in the school’s history. The whole community was a-buzz with joy and pride. Four days later, on March 10th, one of the team’s star players, Cory Radford and his teammate and close friend Bruce Hill had gone fishing near Salmon, Idaho. They fished all day and then decided to stay up and fish all night because there was a full moon. They left the next morning with very little sleep.
On the drive home, both boys fell asleep and their car veered head-on into a motor-home RV, killing them both instantly. The news of the accident stunned the whole Snake River Valley. And the community that had been celebrating their highest of highs only days before, was now grieving and hurting in their lowest of lows. All the people were asking in disbelief “How could this happen? Why would the Lord allow this to happen? These were good boys. Why?”
I might add that I was the President of the Ririe Stake at the time and I can tell you this tragedy nearly shattered the faith of a whole community. In counseling and talking with people, and frankly on the days that I tried to make sense of it myself, I wondered “Why hadn’t the Lord nudged them awake? Or miraculously guided the car out of harm’s way? These were good boys from good families. Future missionaries. Surely they qualified for such divine intervention.”
After much prayer and fasting to know how to counsel people, this truth was confirmed to me. I came to know that the Lord knew of this situation, that He did indeed have the power to stop it, but He didn’t. Therefore it was His will….and it would be ok.
I tell you this story to pay tribute to Cory, but I tell it today to also pay tribute to his parents, Lynn and Cindy Radford. They are here today seated on the stand next to my wife Sharol. All their friends and neighbors came to them and said “This is so sad. So unfair. This is your oldest son – what will you ever do?” I pay tribute to them because they, at that moment of deep tragedy, helped us all understand an important lesson. Their strength in the face of a desperately painful situation showed all of us that they didn’t determine that it was bad or good, but they knew it was the Lord’s will and that eventually everything would be alright. Their trust in the Lord helped sustain everyone else’s trust in the Lord’s plan. --
I have learned much from a book entitled “Why Did This Happen to Me” by Ray Pritchard. Mr. Pritchard says “Sometimes we will face things for which there is no earthly explanation. In those moments we need to erect a sign that reads, “Quiet: God at Work.” Meanwhile, hold on, keep believing. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Let God do His work in you. The greatest tragedy is to miss what God wants to teach us through our troubles.”
3. Don’t be Discouraged. We can get through this together:
How to accomplish this-----It is hard, very hard, everyday!
You’ll find that some days in your profession you simply
say, “All these ornery people, where did they all come from?”And sometimes you’ll feel picked on or belittled.
Just remember this African proverb, “It not what they call you, it’s what you answer to that matters.”
And sometimes, it’s just a matter of choosing our attitude to those everyday challenges.
For instance….many of you will experience not getting a call-back for a second interview for that job that you thought was a ‘sure thing’, a ‘slam-dunk’.
Here’s what I want you to say to yourselves
“That’s nothing.” Thank goodness there’s a job market, not just one job out there.
Or maybe you’ve just been dumped by that boy or girl who you really felt was ‘the one’…..just say to yourselves “That’s nothing.”
It is better to know this now, than later.
Why say “That’s nothing”? Because if you keep telling yourself it’s nothing, it will be nothing.
If you let it simmer and keep telling yourself it’s something, then eventually it will become something.
Another great deterrent to discouragement is to remember that “we’re all in the same boat”. I mean, aren’t we? Aren’t we pressing along this path together? I testify that we are and it was meant to be so.
Ray Pritchard in his book mentioned previously, describes a scene in the movie Black Hawk Down that makes this point.
A vehicle filled with wounded American soldiers has come to a stop in the middle of a street where Somali bullets are flying in every direction. The officer in charge tells a soldier to get in and start driving. “I can’t” the soldier says, “I’m shot.”
“We’re all shot,” the officer replies.
“Get in and drive.”
That little scene resonates because it’s so true. We’re all wounded in one way or another. But it’s not what happens to us that matters. It’s how we respond that makes all the difference.”
The apostle Paul is a good example.
Paul tells us that he was given a ‘thorn in the flesh.’ A temptation from Satan that he struggled with. Historians have tried to determine what Paul was tempted with. My personal opinion is that the specific temptation is not spelled out here because the story relates to every one of us. For we all have ‘thorns in the flesh’. And like Paul, we can pray to the Lord to have them removed, but sometimes he won’t remove them because they’re for our benefit and it’s just a matter of what we do with them from then on that is important.
We read in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
The Joseph Smith family is another example of struggle and hardship. After the prophet Joseph was born, his family was forced to move three or four times because of crop failure and financial difficulties. Father Joseph was forced to move to Palmyra to find work. Of course, that’s exactly where the Lord wanted him. Now the Lord had to get young Joseph and the rest of the family to Palmyra as well.
You’ll remember that young Joseph had suffered a case of
Typhoid fever three years previous, which caused him to have two major surgeries, and he had been on crutches
while his leg healed. Joseph tells following in his own words about the 300 mile journey to Palmyra with his family.
“We fell in with a family by the name of Gates who were traveling west, and Caleb Howard drove me from the wagon and made me travel in my weak state walking on crutches through the snow forty miles per day for several days during which time I suffered the most excruciating weariness and pain, and all this that Mr. Howard might enjoy the society of two of Mr. Gates daughters which he took on the wagon where I should have ridden. This he continued to do day after day through the journey and when my brothers complained to Mr. Howard about his treatment of me, he would knock them down with the butt of his whip…(he continues) On our way from Utica, I was left to ride on the last sleigh in the company, but instead of letting me ride on the sleigh, I was knocked down by the driver, one of Gates’ sons, and left to wallow in my blood until a stranger came along, picked me up, and carried me to the Town of Palmyra.”
Who do you think that ‘stranger’ was?
As we have faith that we are Heavenly Father’s children and that He knows us, He will make sure that we have what we need to help us accomplish our mission on earth. Even if He has to send divine help to make that happen.
I want to share the Lord’s two sure ways that will help you keep your eternal perspective in your 2nd estate.
1. Study the Scriptures
The first one is taught to us in Lehi’s dream about the rod of iron. He tells us the rod of iron is the word of God, the scriptures, the prophet’s words to us. But he also tells us how important it is to study, ponder, and feast on the word of God. He describes that your journey through life will be like going through a mist of darkness. Many times we could not see in front and were distracted on all sides.
And those that successfully navigate that experience, as Elder Bednar pointed out in a recent CES fireside, will be those that don’t just cling to the rod as demonstrated by this picture,
but those that hold fast to the rod, as this picture demonstrates….a real death-grip.
Because I believe your ability to hold fast to the rod is a matter of life or spiritual death.
I want you to work to always be on Lord’s side, and always remember the Lord is always on your side, and by your side. Trust in Him and His word to lead you through.
If you want to talk to the Lord, you pray. If you want to hear His answers, you read the scriptures. But remember,
we pray on our time table; the Lord answers on His.
2. Be of Service to Others
It’s not what we have or even what you say, It’s what
you do that defines who you are.
You must do those daily duties of good service that build strength and character and keep you on “saving ground’ so the Lord can bless you. Self-esteem is developed by doing
“esteem-able things” every day.
Job, in the midst of all of his trials, one day sat down and analyzed what had blessed and preserved him. He found it wasn’t his wealth, or his notoriety, or any of those things that made him great. We can learn a lot from Job about his day-to-day activities…his ‘chopping wood and hauling water’ activities….that helped him endure adversity.
In Job 29:12 we read “Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him.
13 The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
15 I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame.
16 I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.”
These are the things Job tells us that mattered.
Job concentrated on being a good father, even to those who weren’t his own. He did his Home Teaching, he visited the sick. He tried to be a good steward of all the Lord had blessed him with. He did all those mundane, day-to-day duties that we’re all supposed to do. But as the scripture tells us “and the causes which I knew not, I searched out.”
He wasn’t one of those members who said “If there’s anything I can help you with, let me know.” He took the initiative to search those causes out on his own.
Job’s wisdom and patience helped sustain him in all the refining fires the Lord sent his way. Let’s go back to the story we began with about the Wise Chinese man and his friends who insisted that tribulations were bad or good. At the end of his trials, Job had this same experience with is family.
And we read (Job 42: 10-11):
“Then came there unto him all his brethren and his sisters, and all that had been of his acquaintance before. And did eat bread with him in his house; and they bemoaned him and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.” (They insisted it had been bad.)
I’m sure that Job, in his heart, said “No, this has been good.” Because Job had learned how to keep his Eternal Perspective. And now I quote verse 10.
“And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends, and also the Lord gave job twice as much as he had before.”
I can assure you that if you work hard to keep your Eternal Perspective, you will keep your 2nd estate. This is the Lord’s promise to you in Abraham it states “they who keep their second cestate shall have dglory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” Abraham 3:26