Associate Academic VP of Academic Development, BYU-Idaho
A few months ago, I got a new position here at BYU-Idaho—a position I’d neither sought nor anticipated. In fact, I’d left behind a very rewarding career in the legal and corporate world in order to teach religion full-time, which I felt was the best job in the world. So I genuinely struggled to accept an appointment that would pull me away from the classroom, even though my new assignment was certainly worthwhile.
But then I was told that someone I deeply respect had said that I had been prepared for this particular position through experiences I’d had in my life. As I came to understand the truth of that statement, it helped me view both my new job and my past experiences in a different light. Now as I help lead an effort to explore how we might extend the blessings of higher education to members of the Church who may never come to Rexburg, I see past chapters of my life quite differently, whether it’s the Spanish class I took a couple of years ago or my project management experience as an executive or my service as an institute director. A career path that once looked twisted now makes much more sense to me.
I’ve thought a lot about this principle of preparation in the last few months—not because preparatory experiences are somehow unique to me, but because precisely the opposite is true. In the kingdom of God, preparatory experiences are an essential part of the Lord’s plan for each of us.
Here’s what now President Henry B. Eyring said about how the Lord prepares each of us for opportunities in life:
Part of the tragedy that you must avoid is to discover too late that you missed an opportunity to prepare for a future only God could see for you. . . .
Your life is carefully watched over, as was mine. The Lord knows both what He will need you to do and what you will need to know. He is kind and He is all-knowing. So, you can with confidence expect that He has prepared opportunities for you to learn in preparation for the service you will give. 
I know that what President Eyring taught is true. Heavenly Father knows each of us intimately, and He has a work for each of us to do. I was struck by the simplicity and power of this statement I recently read in the Gospel Principles manual: “our Father in Heaven knows who we are and what we did before we came here. He has chosen the time and place for each of us to be born so we can learn the lessons we personally need and do the most good with our individual talents and personalities.”  The Lord also knows what storms lie ahead for us. What He said to the brother of Jared before he embarked on his stormy journey to a land of promise might be said figuratively to all of us as we embark on sometimes stormy journeys of our own to eternal lands of promise: “And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come.” 
Whether it is trials that would otherwise be impossible to bear or missions that would otherwise be impossible to fulfill, the Lord has promised: “I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments.”  As Nephi concluded from his own life experience, “[T]he Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men . . . .” 
Today I’d like to talk about seven different ways the Lord helps prepare us to accomplish his work. My hope is that our discussion will enable us to better recognize and take advantage of the many kinds of preparatory opportunities the Lord has placed in each of our paths.
Few figures loom larger in scripture than Moses. But we owe his life to some women whose own contributions are all too often overlooked. First, there were Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives whom Pharaoh commanded to kill every male baby born to the Israelites. Fearing God more than Pharaoh, these courageous women ignored Pharaoh’s gruesome edict, undoubtedly at the peril of their own lives.  Pharaoh then commanded all the people to kill the sons who were born,  but Moses’ mother, Jochebed, also bravely defied this unjust law. Finally, we sense goodness in Pharaoh’s daughter when she was moved with compassion to draw Moses out of the water.  Without the courage and compassion of each of these preparatory predecessors, Moses would never have been able to fulfill the work he had been foreordained to do.
What principles can we glean from these preparatory predecessors? If we are not careful, we may find it all too easy to take for granted the contributions of forerunners who have built the foundations on which we stand. What historian David McCullough said about the privilege of being a U.S. citizen reminds me of the debts we owe to many who have gone before us:
The laws we live by, the freedoms we enjoy, the institutions that we take for granted . . . are all the work of other people who went before us. And to be indifferent to that isn’t just to be ignorant, it’s to be rude. And ingratitude is a shabby failing. How can we not want to know about the people who have made it possible for us to live as we live, to have the freedoms we have, to be citizens of this greatest of countries in all time? It’s not just a birthright, it is something that others struggled for, strived for, often suffered for, often were defeated for and died for, for us, for the next generation. 
Each of us has been blessed by preparatory predecessors who have gone before us, often blessing our lives in ways we may not remember or even realize. There are Primary teachers whose faces we no longer recall even though they taught us eternal principles we will never forget. Each night as I exit the Kimball Building, I walk past the images of each of the men who has presided over this university. On my best days, I utter a prayer of thanks for them as I pass, because I know that without their sacrifice, we would not be here today. Recognizing the roles of such predecessors in my life fills my heart with gratitude toward both them and the Lord who placed them there.
The scriptures and Church history are replete with examples of great men and women whose lives were blessed by mentors, individuals who helped prepare them for the missions they were to perform. Mary had Elizabeth, Joshua had Moses, Joseph Smith had Moroni, and Peter had the Savior. I’d like to focus briefly on a tale of two mentors in the Old Testament. Elisha was both a servant to and a disciple of the great prophet Elijah.  He followed his prophetic mentor faithfully, and when Elijah was taken from the earth, his mantle passed both literally and figuratively to Elisha, his trusted servant.
As prophet, Elisha had a servant of his own named Gehazi. Elisha trusted Gehazi enough that on one occasion, in an extraordinary act of delegation, he gave Gehazi his staff and commissioned him to journey to raise a boy from the dead.  Although Gehazi was unsuccessful, the mere fact that Elisha gave him such an assignment demonstrates the incredible level of trust this prophet placed in his servant. Elisha had been given extraordinary opportunities by Elijah, and now he was giving extraordinary opportunities to his own servant.
But the story of the relationship between Elisha and Gehazi is poignantly instructive because Gehazi failed to take full advantage of the rare privilege he had of working intimately with a prophet of God. It’s a story of opportunity lost, of a mentor squandered. The critical moment for Gehazi came shortly after Naaman, the leprous Syrian, was healed by Elisha by washing himself seven times in the River Jordan. Grateful that he’d been healed, Naaman sought to reward Elisha with gifts. Elisha refused steadfastly, as any man of God would. But the lure of the gifts Naaman offered proved too much for Gehazi. He waited until Naaman departed and then sneaked off after him. He lied to Naaman to get some of the gifts for himself; then he lied to his master, Elisha, to conceal his sin. The disappointment in Elisha’s voice is almost palpable when he rebukes Gehazi: “Went not mine heart with thee, when [Naaman] turned again from his chariot to meet thee?”  Rather than receive Elisha’s mantle as a blessing, Gehazi received Naaman’s leprosy as a curse.
What principles can we glean from this tale of two servants and their mentors? First, I believe that each of us is blessed with potential mentors who can play important roles in preparing us to accomplish the work the Lord would have us to do. Understanding this leads me to ask, “What potential mentors has the Lord placed in my life right now?” Each of us might ask at various seasons in our lives, “What can I learn from my teachers, my priesthood leaders, my spouse, or my friends that might help prepare me for my mission in life?”
Second, never squander a good mentor. Some opportunities come along in life just once, including the opportunity to be mentored by certain individuals. I have heard Elder Robert D. Hales say, “We will all have educational and other opportunities that can prepare us to contribute to the Lord’s kingdom in unique and important ways. We have to understand that sometimes we will find ourselves in the right place at the right time. We have to take advantage of those opportunities; they only come once.” (By the way, my favorite address on the subject of mentors is one given by then Elder Henry B. Eyring at a BYU devotional in 1993 entitled, “To Choose and Keep a Mentor,” and it’s available online.)  I am convinced the Lord places wise individuals in our paths who can be our tutors in life if we let them. We are richly blessed when we recognize such mentors and learn all we can from them.
When I was about 16 years old my younger sister, Jennifer, and I had great difficulty getting along. Of course, the reason for this was that Jen was being a little brat. Unfortunately, my parents were blinded by their love for their daughter and could not see this, so they often scolded me for not getting along better with my sister. Then one day one of my best friends, Sid Beers, told me something I’ll never forget: “Rob, you really ought to be nicer to your sister.” My parents’ pleas had had little effect, but Sid’s comment pierced my heart. I honestly can’t remember whether I changed because I felt guilty or because I wanted to show Sid that I really wasn’t the problem. But I changed. And as soon as I changed the way I treated Jen, our relationship improved instantly, proving that Sid was right. I often wonder whether I would have ever enjoyed the wonderful relationship with my sister I do now had Sid not offered his bold observation.
Here’s one more story of preparatory corrective counsel coming from a peer. When President Clark was in high school, he was in a very successful band. Yes, it was a rock band. On the way home from winning a battle of the bands in his native Spokane, Washington, young Kim Clark was with a friend who cared enough to tell him the truth. She said, “You know, you are becoming two people. You’re really different when you are around the band.” He realized she was right and decided that day to quit the band. The rest is history. 
President Clark is indebted to that candid friend, just as I am indebted to Sid. Such preparatory corrective counsel may come from parents, professors or priesthood leaders, but I have found that the comments of peers—friends, roommates, companions, colleagues, and fellow students—are often the most powerful. Whatever the source, we are blessed when we change our course in life based on the wise corrective counsel we receive from those who love us enough to help steer us in a better direction.
Such stories lead me to ask, “What helpful corrective counsel might I be overlooking from those the Lord has placed in my life?” We may also wish to consider the corollary principle: “Do I know someone who could use some course correction that I am better situated to provide than anyone else?” I am certainly not suggesting that we all have license to pop off with life advice for everyone who crosses our path. In fact, if we’re to be helpful rather than harmful, we need to carefully consider both how and why we give corrective counsel. But when we are prompted to do so and motivated by love, we can provide important corrective counsels in the lives of others by helping them see something they may have become blinded to themselves.
There is a passage in the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants that has been near to my heart for much of my life. The Lord begins this famous passage in verse 78 by saying, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly . . . .” He then provides a sweeping list of things we should study—a list which actually matches up quite well with the variety of things many of you might be learning about during your years at BYU-Idaho.
The last item on the list in verse 79 is “a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms . . . .” But note that the verse ends with a dash, not a period. That dash tells us the thought is not yet complete. We find the rest of the sentence in verse 80, and it’s an explanation of why we should learn so many different kinds of 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.” I believe the Lord provides us with educational opportunities so that we will be prepared to fulfill the missions He gives each of us in mortality. Whether we learn to sing or draw or design things or analyze the human mind or speak new languages or understand the history of nations, we are developing skills and knowledge the Lord can call upon to build His kingdom. Those who understand this principle do not take such preparatory opportunities lightly.
Of course, as we navigate through life’s endless possibilities, knowing which educational opportunities to pursue can be a daunting task. But our patriarchal blessings often provide invaluable guidance that can help us identify which opportunities we should pursue. As President Thomas S. Monson has taught, patriarchal blessings “contain chapters from your life’s book of possibilities.” 
I do not know what particular missions you will be called on to perform in life, but I know that you will be called upon. And when you are, it would be a shame to be unprepared. Winston Churchill put it this way, “To every man there comes . . . that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.”
Divinely Directed Diversions
You may recall the Old Testament story in 1 Samuel 9 and 10 of how the prophet Samuel anointed Saul to be king. What intrigues me about that story is how Saul ended up crossing paths with the prophet. Saul’s father had lost some donkeys and he sent Saul and a servant to find them. They traipsed across the countryside in pursuit of the animals. Eventually, they found themselves near the hometown of Samuel, so they sought out the prophet to seek help in finding their donkeys. By the time they found Samuel, he told them the asses had already safely returned home. But the Lord had told the prophet that Saul was really there for a much more important reason—to be anointed to rule over all Israel.  It seems the Lord used the wandering donkeys to get Saul where he needed to be. They were, in essence, a divinely directed diversion.
Sometimes such diversions take the form of storms that redirect our paths. This was literally the case in the life of Parley P. Pratt. As a young man, Parley set out for the Western frontier beyond Detroit, but a winter storm made it impossible for him to get any further than 30 miles west of Kirtland, Ohio, where he ended up settling.  It was only 18 months later that Sidney Rigdon came preaching in Parley’s Ohio neighborhood  —something that never would have happened had Parley reached his destination of choice west of Detroit. Sidney’s preaching prepared Parley, and Parley returned the favor after joining the Church. Parley’s first stop on his mission was in Kirtland, where hundreds of those he taught accepted the restored gospel, including Sidney Rigdon and many from his congregation.  Brother Pratt would later serve as an apostle and would help convert John Taylor.
What can we learn from the experiences of Saul and Parley? In the case of Saul, we learn that sometimes we may be led to a new place in our lives for what we assume is one reason, when the Lord has actually led us there for a much more important purpose. Such divinely directed diversions can be an important tool to get us to places we otherwise might never have sought out ourselves. If our vision is too narrow, we may find ourselves frustrated at times, just as some members of Zion’s Camp were when they weren’t allowed to do battle in Missouri. But when we ask Heavenly Father to help us recognize His purposes, we often discover hidden benefits and designs in life’s inspired diversions.
In the case of Parley, the cause he had chosen for himself was a good one, but the Lord had an even greater cause in store for him. The Lord often has better places and grander purposes in mind for us than we have in mind for ourselves. In my own life, I have repeatedly experienced the Lord diverting me from paths and plans I had chosen for myself, redirecting me instead to higher purposes. Sometimes such divine diversions in our lives will be the result of storms that appear to be devastating setbacks when we encounter them, preventing us from going where we had planned to go. The woman or man you are dating may dump you, but when that happens, the Lord usually has a better match in store for you. Success on the admissions test for the graduate school of your choice may evade you, but that may mean that the Lord has an even more fulfilling career ahead for you in a field you might have otherwise overlooked.
When President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was just 11 years old, he worked as a laundry delivery boy. He had to pedal so hard pulling a heavy cart behind his clunky workhorse of a bicycle that he sometimes thought his lungs would burst. It wasn’t until he joined the German Air Force many years later that he realized how his childhood affliction would create a lifelong blessing. Doctors who examined him discovered evidence of lung disease that had been healed, and they wondered what treatment he had received for it. President Uchtdorf had received no medical treatment for his lung disease, because hadn’t even known he had the disease. He realized then that without his hard work in the fresh air as a child, he would never have become a pilot.  We might add that he also would never have become the senior vice president of flight operations for Lufthansa, one of the largest airlines in the world—an experience that undoubtedly prepared him, in turn, for his current administrative responsibilities as a member of the First Presidency.
What can we learn from President Uchtdorf’s experience? We all suffer afflictions, and in our moments of trial we may be tempted to ask, “Why me? Why didn’t the Lord spare me this challenge?” But when we recognize that the Lord often uses afflictions to prepare us for future opportunities, we view our momentary afflictions in a different light. We remember the Lord’s promise to Joseph Smith as he languished in Liberty Jail: “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”  When we recognize the preparatory role afflictions can play in our lives, instead of asking in despair “Why me?” we are more likely to ask in faith, “What wouldst Thou have me learn from this?”
A few years ago, neighbors who frequently hired our daughter, Elizabeth, as a babysitter, complimented us on what a wonderful daughter we had. They asked what we had done to raise a young woman who felt so comfortable interacting with adults. I immediately began a mental scan of our parenting strategies to see which one might explain this particular positive outcome. But my review was cut short by a gentle rebuke from the Spirit: “Do you think visiting and serving her grandmother and other elderly people every week for several years might have had something to do with this?” At the time, my mother was engaged in a decade-long bout with a particularly nasty, strain of Alzheimer’s that impaired not only her memory but her perception of reality. I confess that if it had been up to me, I would have chosen to lose my mother to a heart attack instead. But in that moment, I couldn’t help but think about how my daughter had been shaped and blessed over that decade of affliction by serving and loving my mother and other elderly people. Indeed, even after my mother passed away, my children have chosen to continue our family tradition of singing together every Sunday afternoon with our friends the Thomases to residents of the assisted living facility where my mother spent her final two years. As I watch Elizabeth interact in a remarkably mature and caring way with these precious children of God, I recognize that my mother’s prolonged suffering played a preparatory role in my family’s life in ways I did not fully appreciate at the time. This experience has helped me better obey the command to “thank the Lord thy God in all things[,]”  including preparatory afflictions.
I recently stumbled upon a fact that has heightened my appreciation for Nephi’s faith when the Lord commanded him to build a ship: the type of iron ore that can be smelted at low temperatures is a rare commodity in the Arabian Peninsula.  So when Nephi asked where he should go to find ore to molten,  he wasn’t just demonstrating his eagerness to get to work. He was also expressing his complete confidence that the Lord had guided his family to one of the few spots on the entire Arabian Peninsula where he could find the necessary ore, along with everything else he would need to build and launch a ship.
What principles can we glean from this? We all remember Nephi’s famous answer to the Lord’s request that he return to Jerusalem to fetch the plates. We sometimes simplify 1 Nephi 3:7 to this basic principle: the Lord won’t command us to do anything we can’t accomplish. But what Nephi actually said is “that the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men, save he shallprepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”  If we buy into the oversimplified version of Nephi’s statement and we have been commanded to climb the wall of Jerusalem, we might stand in front of the wall, jumping repeatedly in desperation, telling ourselves, “I know I can jump over this wall because the Lord commanded me to.” On the other hand, I can imagine Nephi jumping a time or two and then stopping and thinking to himself, “The Lord would not have commanded me to do this unless He had prepared a way for me to do it. I bet there’s a ladder lying around here somewhere.” When we recognize that the Lord puts preparatory resources in place to help us fulfill the missions He assigns us, we look for and harness those resources rather than trying to do everything by ourselves.
I experienced this myself several months ago when I lost my favorite set of scriptures. I’d just spent the last year or two marking this set of scriptures, so I was distraught. Each day I prayed earnestly that the Lord would help me find these scriptures, but to no avail. I soon became frustrated—not with the Lord, but with myself. Surely the Lord knew where my scriptures were, and they couldn’t be far. Why was I so spiritually dense that I couldn’t learn where they were? But after about three weeks, one morning I felt prompted to change my prayer. Instead of praying that I would find my scriptures, I asked the Lord to guide someone who might be closer to my scriptures to find them. Sure enough, that very night I got a call from a counselor in a bishopric in our stake. He’d been looking for some scriptures to read between meetings, so he wandered into the clerk’s office, where he found my scriptures.
That simple experience has changed the way I pray. Recently I had a major presentation to deliver, and I was rehearsing it to a committee. My natural-man approach would normally be to pray that the presentation would go well, with the hope that I wouldn’t have to change it much. But this time rather than pray that my dry run would go well, I prayed for the people on the committee that they would be inspired to help me make it better. And they did.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord does not expect us to accomplish His work alone. He has put resources in place in the form of people, programs and tools that we will need to fulfill the commands He has given us.
I believe this principle applies to sin and temptation as well. We often quote only this part of 1 Corinthians 13:10: “God [is] faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able . . . .” But the rest of the verse is quite relevant: “but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” If we assume we can beat back any temptation all by ourselves, like the person jumping in futility before the wall of Jerusalem, we will find ourselves among those who, to use the words of Elder David A. Bednar, insist on trying to become saints “all by ourselves, through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.”  But what Paul actually promised us is that no matter how severe our temptations, the Lord always prepares a way for us to escape them. Part of wisely resisting and overcoming temptations, then, is asking the Lord what resources He has put in place to help us overcome them. If we foolishly think we must overcome sin all by ourselves, we may never look to the bishop, to wise counselors, to parents, and even to inspired programs the Lord has prepared to help us overcome our sinful habits.
Of course, as helpful as those resources are, they are nothing compared to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the ultimate help put in place so that we can overcome sin and accomplish the Lord’s work. The Savior Himself testified unequivocally to His apostles, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”  As the ultimate Way of escape from death and sin, the Savior was, indeed, “prepared from before the foundation of the world.”  We may jump before the insurmountable walls of our temptations until we are blue in the face, but until we turn to the ultimate resource the Lord has prepared for us all—the Atonement of Jesus Christ—we will never perform the greatest work we have all been assigned of putting off the natural man and becoming saints. 
Now, even as I call your attention to ways in which the Lord in His foreknowledge prepares us for opportunities and trials that lie ahead, I wish to be clear that I am not suggesting our course in life has been predestined by God. Foreordination guarantees only opportunities, not outcomes. What we do with our preparatory opportunities is entirely up to us.
What Mordecai said to his niece, Esther, might be said to all of us in relation to some task at some time in our lives, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” But earlier in that same verse—Esther 4:14—Mordecai also made clear that the Lord would redeem Israel, whether through Esther or through someone else.
The question is not whether the Lord will find a way to accomplish His work. He will. The question is whether you and I will be prepared to play our part in that work.
Finally, I testify that the Lord not only blesses us with preparatory opportunities in our lives, but if we desire to be the means of doing much good in this generation, He will bless us to play these same preparatory roles in the lives of others. Understanding this can change the way we view our next chance to sit next to a stranger on the plane or on the bus. It can change the way we approach our next home teaching or visiting teaching visit. It can change the way we approach our callings, our roommates, and our co-workers. It can change the way we approach life.
May we recognize more clearly the individuals, opportunities, and afflictions the Lord has placed in our lives so that we may better play our part, in fulfilling his work, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Henry B. Eyring, “Education for Real Life,” CES Fireside for Young Adults, May 6, 2001 (http://www.lds.org/broadcast/ces050601/0,10483,538,00.html).
 Gospel Principles, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2009), 10.
 Ether 2:25.
 1 Nephi 17:13.
 1 Nephi 9:6
 Exodus 1:22.
 Exodus 2:3-10.
 David McCullough, “Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are,” from remarks delivered on Feb. 15, 2005 at Hillsdale College