To Prepare Their Hearts and Be Prepared in All Things
Garth V. Hall
Student Services and Activities Vice President
Thank you, President, and especially thank you to the choir for I think a perfect presentation to at least the feelings and hopefully the remarks I will make to you today. I’d like to start, brothers and sisters, with introducing you to one of my grandsons—this is my grandson, Isaac. Isaac prefers to be known as Indie Jones. He is five years old; he started kindergarten this year. He announced to his mother a couple of days ago, he said, “Mom, I know what’s going to happen to me when I die. I’m going to go live with Heavenly Father, and I’m going to be with Him forever.” He said, “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll write home every day.” Now Isaac’s pretty strong on the doctrine, but I think he needs a little help on the application. And, in a sense, that’s what I’m going to be talking to you today about. My brothers and sisters, it’s a privilege to be here with you and speak with you today. It’s a special privilege to be at BYU-Idaho.
In 1997 when I was first hired and getting acquainted with my new job, I had a remarkable spiritual experience: Because my wife, Sharon, was back in Utah getting things ready for the move to Rexburg, I would work late learning my new responsibilities. One evening about 10:30 p.m., I left the office to return to my apartment. It was late September and an unusually warm fall evening. I stopped to enjoy its beauty. As I stood there and reflected on all the miraculous events that had led me to Ricks College, an overwhelming spiritual feeling overcame me. In that moment of solitude, I heard a voice in my mind say, “You get to work at my school.” The feelings of gratitude and appreciation I felt that night were so powerful. I have never forgotten the privilege it is to be here.
Some months later I was serving on a committee that dealt with the admission of students that did not meet all of the university’s admission requirements. These students had unique circumstances or hardships in their lives that required some special considerations to determine if they should be admitted.
I remember the file of one young sister who had a very difficult family situation. As the facts were discussed by the committee, I had another profound spiritual experience. The still small voice whispered, “This young lady needs to be here.”
As I pondered these events and others since, it has become clear to me that no one is here by accident. I have been in positions to see new hires and learn their stories, and I have visited with many of you students. It is such a faith-building experience that leaves you with a deep testimony. We have all been brought here for a purpose.
As I became better acquainted with Ricks College and especially with the people, I would say to myself, “This is not just a college in the Church Educational System; this is the Lord’s Officer Training Center.” Of course, in 2004, Elder David A. Bednar would clarify and expand my limited metaphor when he taught us that BYU-Idaho is a Disciple Preparation Center—a place where outstanding young people qualify to come to be taught and influenced by others and become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.1 I often reflect on that night outside the Hart Building: “You get to be at my school.”
You have grown up being told you are a special generation, held back for the last days, Saturday’s Warriors, to help prepare the world for the Lord’s Second Coming. I have often wondered why you are considered better than my generation.
I think a powerful insight into your generation was given by Elder Neal A. Maxwell when he said, “The youth of this generation have a greater capacity for obedience than any other previous generation.”2 I think that statement is so insightful. I hope you fully understand not only your capacity of obedience but how important obedience is in developing and preparing you for your future.
If you would please turn to the scripture that was read, in Doctrine and Covenants Section 29, verse 8, I would like to suggest that you keep your scriptures open as I present some of my thoughts today. I will come back to focus on Section 29 many times. The Lord says:
Wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be gathered in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth.3
Although these scriptures refer to gathering to all centers of strength, I will use it to give insight to one of those centers—A Disciple Preparation Center, BYU-Idaho. We have all been gathered here for a very important purpose. It is that purpose and why we are gathered that I wish to discuss with you today.
If you will look at Section 29, verse 7, it reads: “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts.”4
Everyone who comes to BYU-Idaho comes in different stages of spiritual, academic, and personal development. It doesn’t take long to see that there is something different about this place. When I first arrived, two things stood out to me: first, the goodness of the people, and second, how much simpler things were here.
When I was young the prophet was David O. McKay, and I remember a profound statement he made: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ makes bad men good and good men better.”
A Disciple Preparation Center is not established to make bad men good. It is designed to make good men and good women better.
BYU-Idaho is not a spiritual hospital; it is not designed to accept the spiritually sick. It is designed for those who are qualified, prepared, and are spiritually healthy to move forward quickly and intensely on the path of discipleship.
There are those who have misunderstood and have come here unworthily, or while they have been here, have committed transgressions. Then because of the pressures of the world, they feel they can repent and get their lives in order here while they continue their disciple development.
Repentance puts lives in order so that individuals can again qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is essential for spiritual development and confidence to move forward on this sacred path.
Many of our systems in the university are designed to protect these important standards. When a student is dismissed, most of us have been conditioned to feel that the student is being punished, but it is really just the opposite. Certain issues of repentance can be better accomplished away from campus. However, in all we do as students, faculty, mentors, and friends, we must always use the example of the Savior to act in love, mutual respect, and shared responsibility. In making judgments of circumstances where others are involved, we must always consider first, saving souls; second, protecting others; and third. protecting the integrity of the Church and BYU-Idaho.
As we have taught these principles in our Student Living program, there was a young woman who took them to heart. She became aware of her good friend and roommate’s problem of a serious sin. They confided, talked, and cried together. Finally, she counseled her roommate to go to the bishop. Reluctantly, the roommate went and confessed. The bishop, as a common judge, held a disciplinary council, and this wonderful sister was disfellowshipped and had to withdraw from school. The young woman that encouraged her to go to her bishop felt guilty. She said, “I encouraged her to go the bishop, but I didn’t want that to happen.”
These things are hard, but for this good sister to qualify for her full measure of the Atonement, she needed to go through this process.
When she has corrected her life, we hope she will want to return and fulfill her destiny. We will open our arms to her as an institution. She will be clean and better prepared, more confident to move along the path of discipleship.
If you will refer back to Doctrine and Covenants Section 29, verse 7: “for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts.”
This scripture refers to our attitudes, even our attitudes about the standards of this university. This university is part of the Lord’s Kingdom. All of the university standards—for admission, student honor, and housing—have been approved by his prophets.
I don’t believe there are any of you who are contrary to all of these things. However, I see some of you have trouble with parts of the standards. It might be curfew, not shaving daily, fashionable clothing that is tight fitting or revealing. For some, the university standards have had unintended results. Some of you are becoming more casual on Sunday. Your attitude seems to be, “I can’t wear these clothes on campus because of the strict standards, so I’ll wear them to church.”
I know you feel the term “hard heart” is a very strong term for this behavior, but some put these things in the category of, “It’s just not that big of a deal.” The scriptures talk about being double minded, double hearted, or having a divided heart. To be obedient to only parts of standards of discipleship is dangerous.
May I remind you of the example of Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel in the Book of Mormon. Laman and Lemuel were always at Home Evening. The fundamental difference between Laman and Lemuel and Nephi is that Laman and Lemuel always found parts of the commandments that irritated them or didn’t agree with their personal preferences.
Listen closely to the account in the third chapter of 1 Nephi where Lehi explains to Nephi that the Lord commanded him to send his sons back to Jerusalem to secure the records.
In verse 5, Lehi says:“And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.”5
Then two verses later, Nephi responds,
I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for Iknow that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.6
While these two verses serve as a stark contrast of opposing principles, the lesson is sandwiched in between these two verses.
In 1 Nephi, Chapter 3, verse 6: “Therefore go, my son, and thou shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured.”7
Elder Bednar taught that murmuring is spiritual cowardliness. When you love the Honor Code, not just tolerate it, you will begin to develop power on the path of discipleship.
Shortly after Elder Bednar was called and sustained as an Apostle, he returned to BYU-Idaho and continued serving as our president for a short while. During one of our Monday meetings, he mentioned that he needed a place to go to church. I was serving as the bishop of a married student ward at the time, so I invited him to come to our ward. Think of it, the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve at the BYU-Idaho 51st Ward. During his remarks he taught a very powerful and insightful principle:
The world into which you students are going is degenerating so fast that what was required in the past will not be sufficient in the future to provide the necessary spiritual protection. The rapidity with which we respond to prophetic counsel will be an important source of protection.8
Elder Neal A. Maxwell referred to this principle as “spiritual reflex.” When our nature is to immediately respond to spiritual direction, promptings, or commands, there is spiritual protection available that may not be available if we have to take time to debate or evaluate our commitment.
You are being prepared to go into a world of tribulation and desolation stated in verse 8 of Doctrine & Covenants 29. This is a world of affliction, suffering, misery, lack of moral direction, persecution, fear, and danger. Our ability not only to make the right decisions but the speed in which we make them is a powerful principle of spiritual survival in today’s moral decline.
Let’s go back to Doctrine and Covenants Section 29, verse 8: We are gathered “to prepare [our] hearts and be prepared in all things.”9
How do we prepare our hearts for discipleship? I look at your greatest capacity— obedience. You have demonstrated that quality, even as far back as the pre-existence and are now in an environment where that capacity will be developed and fine tuned. President James E. Faust taught that the price of discipleship is obedience.10
Elder Bednar described obedience as a process or progression. “Obedience does not occur quickly or all at once. Nor is it merely a matter of great personal discipline; it is a change of disposition, a change of heart.” He continues, “Closely associated with obeying with a willing heart is reaching a point where we no longer are driven or directed by rules; instead, we learn to govern our lives by principle.”11
If you turn to Doctrine and Covenants 59:4: “And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few.”
In the Lord’s kingdom, what do we receive for being obedient? Blessings which are new and more demanding commandments.
We have our agency to obey or not, but it is clear that the Lord gives us commandments in a fashion that helps us grow, develop, progress, and become better disciples. This is how it works in God’s kingdom, and it is the pattern at His university.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie has taught:
Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and His commands. To obey gospel law is to yield obedience to the Lord, to execute the commands of and be ruled by Him whose we are.12
I believe there are two significant dimensions that are essential for spiritual development: the level of our obedience and the level of standards or commandments.
The pattern of complying to commandments and gospel standards allows us to develop spiritual characteristics that change our nature. This change of nature results in a desire to conform to the mind and will of God. As this desire is fully developed, we subject our will to His will. The scriptures refer to this progression as a change of heart.
Now I know some of you are separating university standards from commandments and laws of Deity. Initially there appears to be some justification for that argument. May I share an observation? Many of the university standards we dilute or ignore are in fact very important in our progress as disciple learners. They are foundational for our preparation, progression, and protection.
As you all know, obedience is closely connected with the law of sacrifice. Obedience alone can be just a change in behavior. As commendable as that may be, obedience without sacrifice does not produce the spiritual development required by the Lord’s disciples. Man’s love of God is measured in terms of obedience. Sacrifice is God’s gift to allow us to truly see ourselves as He sees us.
Years ago on our refrigerator I noticed one of those things with the little doily around it that my wife brought home from Relief Society. It said, “Sacrifice is giving up something good for something better.”
Elder Russell M. Nelson taught:
We are still commanded to sacrifice, but not by shedding blood of animals. Our highest sense of sacrifice is achieved as we make ourselves more sacred or holy. This we do by our obedience to the commandments of God. Thus, the laws of obedience and sacrifice are indelibly intertwined…. As we comply with these and other commandments, something wonderful happens to us…. We become more sacred and holy—like our Lord!13
So maybe, in a sense, those few students and employees who struggle with the standards of the university may have to sacrifice more to be in compliance. At the same time, maybe they are blessed to have more to give and will experience more personal growth.
In the world of sports I learned a valuable principle that applies to life and to the gospel. When a team is struggling, when things are not going right, the really good coaches will go back to the basics, the fundamentals. When a team has an interruption in their competitive cycle, such as a bye in their schedule or a period before a bowl game, the championship teams return and focus on the basic skills of their sport. The lesson for me spiritually is when my life is not where it should be, I have learned to focus on obedience to small and simple things. Just like coaches, if the foundational skills are strong, then the other issues seem to take care of themselves. If you can’t dribble well, it doesn’t do much good to put in a new motion offense.
Now returning to Doctrine and Covenants Section 29, verse 8. While preparing their hearts is at the core, you are to be prepared in all things. As a university we have the responsibility to prepare you with skills and knowledge to be successful in your professions, family, and community. In addition, a Disciple Preparation Center develops skills in leadership, analytical thinking, problem solving, decision making, communications, team work, and quantitative analysis.
You are also developing a personal character of integrity, work ethic, positive attitude, service to others, personal health and well-being, and cultural awareness.
And maybe most importantly you are developing the principle of learning to learn.
I love the principles of the BYU-Idaho Learning Model.
Learners and teachers exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as a principle of action.
Learners and teachers understand that true teaching is done by and with the Holy Ghost.
Learners and teachers lay hold of the word of God.
Learners and teachers act for themselves and accept responsibility for learning and teaching.
Learners and teachers love, serve, and teach one another.
These principles could also be used to describe disciple leaders and disciple development. It is the culture at BYU-Idaho.
I think of a group of students who prepare themselves to go to class. They go prepared not only to be taught but to teach. They prepare and present themselves spiritually to qualify for a full measure of the only true teacher, the Holy Ghost. Can you imagine the power and spirit that would reside in the classroom when everyone comes prepared?
Now for contrast, can you see what would happen if one young man in this class didn’t read the assignment, got up late, didn’t shave, threw on some jeans and a tee shirt, and came into class five minutes late? What would be the impact on the learning environment by the action of this one individual?
Let’s return to Doctrine & Covenants 29:6: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in faith, being united in prayer according to my command, ye shall receive.”
The Learning Model is demanding. Everyone has to give more for it to work. Even with our best efforts we will never succeed until we call upon heaven for additional strength and capacity.
When you love the Lord, you will love and serve others. If you truly love others you will pray for them. At a Disciple Preparation Center we should be united—and especially united in prayer. Then as the Lord promises in this scripture, you shall receive.
At BYU-Idaho, teachers should pray for their students, students should pray for their teachers, students should pray for each other, and we should open class and other events with a united prayer.
When we learn how to truly love, serve, and teach others, we develop capacities of discipleship. The following statement by President Henry B. Eyring helps us understand this principle.
I’ll make you a prophecy. I will simply tell you: The day will come that that capacity to influence people around you for good will have you singled out as one of the great leaders in whatever place you’re in. They will not quite know why, but you will know that the reasons you are being singled out is not because of your innate gifts as a leader but because you have done what the Savior would do— … reach out to those around you to lift them, to help them to be better, even when it might be a little difficult and you might not have been received very well.14
As we have discussed, you have been gathered here to change your hearts and to be prepared in all things to become a disciple leader in God’s kingdom.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf described this preparation this way.
Discipleship is a journey. We need the refining lessons of the journey to craft our character and purify our hearts. By patiently walking in the path of discipleship, we demonstrate to ourselves the measure of our faith and our willingness to accept God’s will rather than ours.15
There will be a time when we will all be required to leave BYU-Idaho. Under the direction of the Spirit, we will be guided to the four corners of the earth to consecrate our time and talents. The talents we have developed here will be key in building God’s kingdom and assisting in establishing Zion.
You will be going into a world of turbulence and tribulation, a world that will challenge and even attack the fundamentals of our faith. God is preparing you in a very special way to stand against the powers of evil.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson described this challenge in these words:
We need strong Christians who can persevere against hardship, who can sustain hope through tragedy, who can lift others by their example and their compassion, and who can consistently overcome temptations. We need strong Christians who can make important things happen by their faith and who can defend the truth of Jesus Christ against moral relativism and militant atheism.16
Finally, in closing, let’s return to Doctrine and Covenants Section 29, verse 5: “Lift up your hearts and be glad, for I am in your midst.”
We should all have glad hearts. Jesus Christ knows us, and he knows His work. He has gathered us here for a special and sacred purpose. What happens here is important to Him. So much so He is in our midst, He is among us.
I pray that each of you will see yourselves as your Heavenly Father sees you—His elect.
I pray that because of your special capacity of obedience to small and simple things you will develop and flourish at this special, sacred, and set apart place.
You are being prepared to be trusted, consecrated disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. You will be instruments in His hands to build His kingdom and establish Zion in preparation for His Second Coming. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 David A. Bednar, “Brigham Young University-Idaho: A Disciple Preparation Center (DPC), BYU-Idaho Devotional, Aug. 2004
 David A. Bednar, “Things as They Really Are,” CES Fireside, May 2009