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Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

September 21, 2010 




"As Ye Are Agents"

A. Roger Merrill

Former Sunday School



A. Roger Merrill photo









I know enough about you and the circumstances that bring you here that I feel very humble and grateful to be with you today. I also appreciate your preparation for today’s devotional. That preparation constitutes a wonderful invitation to the Spirit to be with us, for which I also have prayed.


I have entitled my remarks “As Ye Are Agents.” When we hear the word “agent” in the scriptures, we typically think of what some call “free agency,” or more correctly, “moral agency”—our God-given gift of freedom to make choices. But there is another very important meaning. Of the twenty-two times the word “agent” or “agency” is used in the scriptures, only six refer to moral agency. The other sixteen refer to “agent” in the context of being a representative of the Lord, as in Doctrine and Covenants section 64 verse 29:

"Wherefore, as ye are agents, ye are on the Lord's errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord's business."


I have come to believe that only as we understand this dimension of “agency,” can we truly understand the other dimension of “moral agency.”


Now why might this understanding be important for you? For many reasons. I will mention just a few. Most of you are at a time in your life when you are making significant decisions, like whom to date, whom to marry and when, where to live when you graduate, what to major in, and what to do to earn a living. Also you are dealing with issues such as how to look forward in faith in a world that seems to be increasingly dangerous and unstable.  When you see problems in the world, in marriages and in the economy, you may even feel anxious about the possibility that you may not be able to experience some of the things you have dreamed of.


You may wonder what the idea of being an agent on the Lord’s errand has to do with these issues. I hope you are wondering because wonder is often a prelude to learning. I can tell you now that this principle can totally change how you feel about your life and your choices. I suggest that it will not only influence your choices but, more specifically, why you make the choices you make.


Two “Agents” of the Lord

It is a unique experience to serve as a general officer in the Church—one for which I will be forever grateful. In visiting with friends now, I am often asked what was it like, and what did I learn from that experience. I will share with you a little about my experience in the next few minutes, but I will say now that at the top of the list of learnings was this principle of being an agent.


Let me invite you to use your imagination for a few moments. Suppose that some day in the future, you find yourself living in a place where some people have become antagonistic toward you because of your religion.  You are constantly being dragged into court on trumped-up charges and frivolous law suits and ridiculed and slandered in the local media, and you have real reason to believe that your life is in danger. Suppose, too, that you have a significant amount of property in your name, and from doing business and defending yourself in the courts, you have acquired a lot of debt. You must leave, but if you just slip away without dealing with your obligations, you know it would be wrong and it would provide even more ammunition for those who are attacking the Church. So you must select someone who can serve as an agent to legally represent you in resolving your affairs. Whom would you choose? How would you make that decision?


Now suppose, on the other hand, that you were the person chosen as the agent to resolve all these issues for someone else. How would you feel? What would you do? Would you even accept? Why?


This was actually the situation when Joseph Smith was forced to leave Kirtland, Ohio in 1838 and Oliver Granger was appointed by revelation to be his agent. Oliver worked at this almost impossible assignment so well that John W. Hawden (one of his creditors, who was not a member of the Church) wrote the following: 

"[T]he closing up of my business with said society has been with their agent, Colonel Granger, appointed by them for that purpose; and I consider it highly due Colonel Granger from me, here to state that he has acted truly and honestly in all his business with me, and has accomplished more than I could reasonably have expected." (HC, vol. 3, p. 174)


Now you and I don’t hear much today about Oliver Granger, but in addition to the fact that his name has been memorialized in the Doctrine and Covenants, we know that by the time he joined the Church in 1830 he had lost most of his eyesight “due to extreme cold.” However, he had still been able to perform his duties as a sheriff in New York and to serve as a colonel in the New York militia and a licensed exhorter in the Methodist church before he was converted through a very direct witness of the Book of Mormon. Whatever mortal weaknesses Oliver may have had, from all indication he was very faithful and effective as an agent for Joseph and the First Presidency of the Church.


God places great value on being a trusted agent. Consider the words the Lord used to describe Brother Granger as he faced this seemingly impossible task. 

"And again, I say unto you, I remember my servant Oliver Granger; behold, verily I say unto him that his name shall be had in sacred remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever, saith the Lord."


"Therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my Church, saith the Lord; and when he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord." (D&C 117:12-13)


In these verses, the “redemption of the First Presidency” means the resolution of their financial obligations. “When he falls he shall rise again” implies that Oliver would have some failures; yet if he would not give up and would keep trying, his faithful effort would be recognized by the Lord as more sacred than his success, for as the Lord said, “his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase.”


How would you like to live so that our Father in Heaven would say of you what he said of Oliver Granger? Oliver Granger was an “agent”—an agent of the Lord and His Church.


Now let me tell you about another “agent” by sharing an experience I had some years ago with Brother J. Thomas Fyans, who later became a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. At the time, Brother Fyans was not a general authority but was serving as an administrative director in the Office of the Presiding Bishop. I was invited to a meeting where the Presiding Bishop, Victor L. Brown, was to speak, but at the last minute he had been called away and had asked Brother Fyans to give the talk in his place.


Bishop Brown and Brother Fyans were both very fine speakers, but they were quite different in their speaking style. At the meeting, Brother Fyans gave a very helpful and inspirational talk. However, it was very different than any other talk I had ever heard him give. As I was visiting with him later, I asked him about it. His reply contained a lesson I have not forgotten.


He told me that he had been there to deliver Bishop Brown’s message. As I thought about his reply, I realized that Brother Fyans had taken the bishop’s notes and had done his best to deliver the message that the bishop would have delivered in the way he would have delivered it—not just in words, but in spirit. Brother Fyans did not read the talk (as I recall, it was not written out), but he used the knowledge he had of Bishop Brown and his priorities and gave his whole heart to the effort of communicating the content and intent of what he felt the bishop wanted communicated. He had no ego invested. He was not there to “do his own thing.” Just as Oliver Granger had acted as an “agent” of the Prophet Joseph over a hundred and fifty years earlier, Elder Fyans acted as an agent of Bishop Brown, as well as the Lord.


“The Teacher’s Divine Commission” as an Agent of the Lord

In 1977, Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave a classic talk entitled “The Teacher’s Divine Commission,” which explains how this principle applies to teachers in the Church. This talk is printed in the manual Teaching No Greater Call. Elder McConkie said in part: 

In all our teaching we represent the Lord and are appointed to teach His gospel. We are the Lord’s agents, and as such we are empowered to say only those things which He wants said.


Agents represent their principal. They have no power of their own. They act in someone else’s name. They do what they are told to do. They say what they are authorized to say—nothing more, nothing less.


We are the Lord’s agents. We represent Him. “As ye are agents,” He says, “ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business” (D&C 64:29).


Our business as teachers is to teach His doctrine and none other. There is no other course we can follow if we are to save souls. We have no saving power of our own. We cannot create a law or a doctrine that will redeem or resurrect or save another person. The Lord only can do these things, and we are appointed to teach what He reveals on these and all gospel doctrines.


Let me give you a simple but profound example of how one teacher applied this principle in her classroom. One day while I was serving in the general Sunday School, a sister approached me with a question. She told me she was serving as a gospel doctrine teacher in her ward, and she was feeling a bit discouraged. There was a brother in her class who was always asking questions that seemed to be off-topic and were diverting and distracting. She found herself often getting frustrated with this brother, which was not helpful to her efforts to have the Spirit with her in her teaching. As we discussed the situation, I suggested to her that she re-read Elder McConkie’s talk.


The next time I saw her, she was excited and smiling.  “That talk you suggested touched me deeply,” she said. “As I read Elder McConkie’s words, I realized that I needed to see my role as a teacher from an entirely different perspective. The reason this man bothered me was because I had been looking at his interruptions as efforts to distract me and pull me away from my teaching plan. But when I saw my role as the Lord’s agent, I began to see this brother with different eyes and hear him with different ears. The issue was not about getting through my lesson; it was about teaching what the Lord would have taught to His children in that classroom in that moment, including this brother. It has changed the way I teach, the way I feel, and the whole spirit of the class. And it seems to have affected this brother also. I guess the truth is that he was not the one who needed to change; it was me.”


Crucial in Every Aspect

This role of being an agent is crucial in every aspect of our lives and service to the Lord. Consider what is said in the Bible Dictionary under “ministry.” 

"The work of the ministry is to do the work of the Lord on the earth—to represent the Lord among the people, preach the gospel, and administer the ordinances thereof… A minister "called of God, as was Aaron" (Heb. 5: 4), and endowed with the holy priesthood, represents the Lord when he is performing his official duties, and is the Lord's agent. Therefore, what he does "according to the will of the Lord is the Lord's business (D&C 64: 29) (“Ministry,” Bible Dictionary, p. 732).


Consider how you feel about the priesthood. Do you see it solely as a blessing that enables you to do the things you want to do, such as get married for eternity, or offers help when you need it, such as when you or a loved one is seriously ill?

Or do you see the priesthood as President Boyd K. Packer described in his Saturday morning address at the April 2010 General Conference: 

"Priesthood is the authority and the power, which God has granted to men on earth to act for Him. When priesthood authority is exercised properly, priesthood bearers do what He would do if He were present."


Consider how you feel about prayer. Is it something you do to get what you want? Or does the principle of being an agent apply here as well? According to the Bible Dictionary: 

"Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them." 

"We pray in Christ's name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ - when his words abide in us (John 15: 7). We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ's name at all; they in no way represent his mind, but spring out of the selfishness of man's heart" (“Prayer,” Bible Dictionary, p, 753).


Notice what it means to pray in Christ’s name—that our mind is the mind of Christ. As the Lord teaches in the Doctrine and Covenants: 

 He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh (D&C 46:30).


When planning a group activity, do you think primarily of what the others would like, what would be fun, or what would impress everyone—or do you think about what the Lord would have you do as His agent to truly bless His children?


Is the whole essence of being a disciple of Christ about seeking His help in doing what we want to do—or is it about doing what He would do and have us do in the situation?


Three Grand Keys

Now let me ask you this: If you were going to have someone to be your agent and to buy and sell and make commitments in your name, wouldn’t you want someone who knew you—not someone who just some facts about you, but someone who knew your heart.


To be an agent of God we need to seek to know the mind and heart of God—what He would want to have done and how He would want it to be done. If we know very little about the Savior and only feel the Spirit from time to time, we will have a hard time being an effective agent.


Therefore as the Lord’s agents, we respond to His invitation. 

"Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me." (D&C 19:23).


So how do we learn of Him? The sacrament prayer gives three grand keys. Those who partake with real intent witness unto God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, that “they are willing to take upon them the name of [His] Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.”


The first key is to be willing to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ.  This has to do with seeing ourselves as agents of the Lord. Years ago I left my home in California to attend BYU on a golf scholarship. I remember how excited I was when the team traveled eight hundred miles to play in our first collegiate tournament. As we met together wearing our matching team blazers with the BYU logo on the pocket, the coach said, “Now remember, everywhere you go you will be seen as a representative of BYU and of the Church.” I came to realize that, in effect, I had taken upon myself a new name, an expanded identity. I was no longer just Roger from California; I was now Roger from BYU, and in a very practical way I had become an agent or representative of BYU and of the Church.


The second key we learn about in the sacrament prayer is to always remember Him. How often do we read of Him, think about Him, and ponder about His life, His mission, His eternal role? How often do we consider Him in the thoughts we think, the choices we make, the things we do? The Lord himself taught that always remembering Him is the key to having the Spirit. To the Nephites he specifically said: 

"And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you." (3 Nephi 18:11)


The Holy Ghost is the medium through whom we learn what God would have us do as His agents in any situation. How should you prepare to teach your priesthood, Relief Society or Sunday School lesson this week? How can you best work with the brother or sister you’ve been assigned to assist with a ward activity? How do you deal with feelings of being fearful or alone? What do you say to your stepfather when he calls this week-end?  What do you say to your brother, who doesn’t think a mission is for him? How do you decide on a career? How do you decide on whom to marry—and when? The constant companionship and guidance of the Holy Ghost is truly a great gift, and the key to having that gift active in our lives is to always remember the Savior.

The third key to learning about God is to keep His commandments. As the Apostle Paul said: 

"Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are…" (Romans 6:16)


In other words, if we obey God we are His servants. If we tend to obey the rules of worldliness then we are servants of Satan, whom Paul refers to as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We need to remember the Lord’s words: 

"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."  (Matthew 7:21)


And in the simplest, most direct terms, the Lord says: 

"If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)


Keeping the commandments is and always has been the foundation of all spiritual growth and the blessings of eternity.


The Highest and Best Use of Agency

Earlier I said that the more we know about being an agent of the Lord, the more we will understand free agency or moral agency. Now let us consider some of the basic scriptural references about moral agency from Doctrine and Covenants section 29 and see if some aspects are highlighted differently in our minds as we hear these words. In verse 35, the Lord says:

"Behold, I gave unto him (meaning man) that he should be an agent unto himself… "

And in verse 36, He says: 

"…for, behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency…"


Notice the key phrase: “Behold, I gave unto him that he should be “an agent unto himself.” In other words, we are given the gift to represent ourselves in our choices, and we will receive the results of those choices. In other words, we are both the principal and the agent. What we refer to as “free agency” is to be an agent unto ourselves.


And what is the highest and best use of that agency? Listen reverently to these words of President Boyd K. Packer. 

"Perhaps the greatest discovery of my life, without question the greatest commitment, came when finally I had the confidence in God that I would loan or yield my agency to him—without compulsion or pressure, without any duress, as a single individual alone, by myself, no counterfeiting, nothing expected other than the privilege. In a sense, speaking figuratively, to take one’s agency, that precious gift which the scriptures make plain is essential to life itself, and say, “I will do as you direct,” is afterward to learn that in so doing you posses it all the more." (“My Greatest Discovery,” Speeches of the Year Provo: BYU, 1971, pp. 1-7)


Our greatest act of moral agency is to consecrate or give our agency to God. In truth, that is the only thing we really can give to Him. In other words, we are given to be agents unto ourselves, and the highest and best use of that agency is to choose to become agents unto God.


As in all things, the Savior Himself set the perfect example. As he told his disciples: 

"For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." (John 6:38)


"I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things." (John 8:28)


Serving as “Agents” of the Lord Today

One of the greatest blessings of my calling in the General Sunday School was the opportunity to serve with men and women who, in the similitude of the Savior, have chosen to become agents of the Lord.  The general authorities and general officers with whom I served have become dear friends and have forever touched my life. Though they have abundant and varied talents, their hearts are unitedly about doing what the Lord would have them do. Their service is not about doing their own thing, looking good, or even making their unique contribution. It is about doing what the Lord would have done in a manner in which ego and pride are almost totally absent.


Of course they are mortals and like all of us, they struggle more at some times than others. But their hearts are clearly set upon the things of the Lord and their example of learning, refining and course-correcting is both instructive and inspirational. My efforts to become a more useful disciple have been blessed by the humble examples of many who sought not their own will but the will of Him who sent them.


One of the great miracles of the Church and discipleship is that it does not matter where we serve but how. While those I served with were and are marvelous examples of agents who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ, so also are tens of thousands of others in the Church throughout the world.


The great question for each of us is this: Have I truly taken upon myself the name of Christ? Are my heart and motives those of an agent of the Lord?


As we feel what it means to be a true agent, we will place greater value on the gift of moral agency we have received. We will have a natural desire to learn more of God, and draw closer to Him. We will have a greater desire to have his Spirit to be with us. And as His spirit is more consistently with us, our gratitude and trust will grow to the point that we will have the desire to place our agency on the altar of faith that we might ever represent Him in all things.   


I would hope and pray that each of us may use our great gift of moral agency to become agents unto the Lord, that we may say with President Monson: 

"The sweetest experience in mortality is to know that our Heavenly Father has worked through us." (To the Rescue, p. 4)


As we sing the closing hymn, I would ask that you please pay special attention to the words. I believe that this is a hymn of an agent of God and summarizes what I have hoped to bear witness to in this talk. I would like to read the words before we sing. 

"It may not be on the mountain height

Or over the stormy sea,

It may not be at the battle's front

My Lord will have need of me.

But if, by a still, small voice he calls

To paths that I do not know,

I'll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine;

I'll go where you want me to go."


"Perhaps today there are loving words

Which Jesus would have me speak

There may be now in the paths of sin

Some wand'rer whom I should seek.

O Savior, if thou wilt be my guide,

Tho dark and rugged the way,

My voice shall echo the message sweet;

I'll say what you want me to say."


"There's surely somewhere a lowly place

In earth's harvest fields so wide

Where I may labor through life's short day

For Jesus, the Crucified.

So trusting my all to thy tender care,

And knowing thou lovest me, 

I'll do thy will with a heart sincere:

I'll be what you want me to be."


"I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord,

Over mountain or plain or sea;

I'll say what you want me to say, dear Lord;

I'll be what you want me to be."

 (“I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go,” Hymns, #270)


I bear witness of Him whose agents we may be privileged to be, and pray that we might all so live. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.