Faculty Member, BYU–Idaho Department of Religious Education
Thank you for raising your scriptures and showing the Lord your preparation and your willingness to be taught. Let’s turn to Matthew 26. While you are turning there, let me invite you to follow along each time I use the scriptures.
Now, in Matthew 26 we find that it is the eve of the crucifixion. In a very short time, Jesus with the 11 faithful apostles will cross over to Gethsemane, where the Savior of mankind will suffer so intensely that he will “tremble because of pain” and “bleed at every pore” (Doctrine and Covenants 19:18).
But that suffering is still a little ways off. They are gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem to eat the Passover meal. As they eat, Jesus announces in verse 21 that “one of you shall betray me.” In the next verse Matthew records that thy “began every one of them to say unto him, ‘Lord, is it I?’”
Elder Boyd K. Packer, in 1965, made the following profound observation. He said:
“It has always been interesting to me that they did not on that occasion, nudge one another and say, ‘I’ll bet that it is old Judas. He has been acting [strange] lately.’ It reflects something of their stature… rather it is recorded that: ‘they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, ‘Lord, is it I?’”
President Packer goes on to say:
“Would you, I plead, overrule the tendency to disregard counsel and assume for just a moment something apostolic in attitude at least, and ask yourself these questions: Do I need to improve myself? Should I take the counsel to heart and act upon it? If there is one weak or failing, unwilling to follow the brethren, Lord, is it I?"1
As you listen today, don’t let yourself say: “Man, I wish my roommate was here listening to this.” Or, “Oh, I know exactly who Brother Wahlquist is talking about!” Instead, ask yourself: “Lord, is it I?” “Lord, is it I who needs to change?”
Nearly 20 years I go, while I was teaching seminary in the small town of Parowan, Utah, I had a dream that changed my life. Now I must add that most of my dreams are silly little things that I can’t even remember in the morning. But this seemed different and I certainly remembered it.
I was teaching the Doctrine and Covenants that year. It was near the end of the school year and the next day I would be teaching Section 133 about the Lord’s second coming. Go ahead and turn to Section 133.
I had gone to bed with the famous Harry Anderson painting of the Savior’s second coming on my mind. This is the same picture that Elder Neil L. Andersen referred to in the April 2011 General Conference. Here are a few of the verses from Section 133. Notice the verbs, the action words. These are invitations from the Lord to act and a warning not to wait until we are acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14, 26).
Verse 4: “prepare ye, prepare ye, O my people…”
Verse 5: “Go ye out from Babylon. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.”
Verse 6: “…And let every man call upon the name of the Lord.”
Verse 10: “…Awake and arise and go forth to meet the Bridegroom…”
Verse 11: “Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour…”
Verse 15: “…let all things be prepared before you…”
Verse 16: “Hearken and hear, O ye inhabitants of the earth…”
Verse 19: “Wherefore, prepare ye for the coming of the Bridegroom; go ye, go ye out to meet him.”
I went to sleep with these action words in my mind. “Go.” “Prepare.” “Be.” “Call.” “Awake.” “Arise.” “Watch.” “Hearken.” “Hear.” That’s where my dream comes in. I dreamed that it was the second coming. I was on standing on the front porch of our red brick, east-facing home. I was there with my wife Michelle and my two oldest children, Michael and Jessica. They were, at the time, my only two children.
In my dream, I saw something glorious in the distance. It was coming from the east and high up in the clouds. All of a sudden, Michelle, who was holding Jessica in one arm and holding hands with Michael, began gracefully floating up to meet the Savior. As I stood there watching, an overwhelming feeling of love and peace came over me. There was the woman I love and my children being “caught up” to meet the Lord “and received into the cloud” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:102). They were focused on Him. His glory seemed to encompass them. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
I was so caught up in the sublime scene that it was some time before it dawned on me that I was still standing on my front porch. Perhaps the Lord hadn’t noticed me? So I began to gently rock back and forth. Nothing! I was still standing on my front porch. So I thought, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). So I began jumping into the air, thinking that once I got air borne I would keep going until I caught up with Michelle and the kids. But each time I leapt into the air, I came solidly back down to the ground.
Then something very frightening dawned on me. Michelle and the kids had not even looked back. They had no idea I was still standing on the front porch. They were so focused on the Savior that I was a forgotten memory.
It was at this point I looked down from the skies and noticed, for the first time, this giant wall of fire in the distance. It was rolling towards me. I began to jump up in earnest now. Nothing! Each time I simply came back down to the cement porch. I looked at Michelle one last time. I felt the heat of the rolling wall of fire. I awoke!
I lay in my bed covered in sweat. My legs were sore and cramping. I rolled over, woke Michelle, and told her about my dream. Now, I don’t know what I expected her to say, but what she said cut me to the bone. After listening to me tell her about my dream, Michelle said, “Sounds like you’d better repent.” Then she rolled over and went back to sleep.
While sleep came to her almost instantly––a blessing of a righteous life––sleep would not come to me for the rest of that night. I ended up getting up, going into the other room, and with paper and pencil (paper and pencil are very old versions of the iPad) I began making a list all of my flaws, faults, imperfections, and, yes, sins. It was a long list.
Why was I writing? I have learned the value of writing down inspiration. Elder Richard G. Scott stressed the importance of writing down inspiration as it comes. He said: “I believe that you can leave the most precious, personal direction of the Spirit unheard because you do not respond to, record, and apply the first promptings that come to you.”2
So under the direction of the Spirit, I made my long list of needed changes. I began to feel overwhelmed. I realized that I was not yet the kind of man Heavenly Father would have me be. Michelle was right. “I’d better repent!” I had postponed, put off, and ignored improvements in my life long enough. The dream reminded me that now “is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32). There were course corrections I needed to make in my life and it was past time to start.
I would ask you to ask yourself: “Lord, is it I? Am I like Brother Wahlquist? Have I delayed needed changes in my life?”
Both that night and many nights since, I have spent hours on my knees. My list was so long. Where would I start? How could I possibly overcome all of my weaknesses? I admit to feeling overwhelmed! But, over time, I began to realize the truthfulness of a statement that President Henry B. Eyring would make:
“My experience has taught me this about how people and organizations improve: the best place to look is for small changes we could make in things we do often. There is power in steadiness and repetition. And if we can be led by inspiration to choose the right small things to change, consistent obedience will bring great improvement.”3
What a novel idea. I could make small changes in things I do often. We could all do that. Because we do something often, the small change will make, to borrow a phrase from Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “a destinational difference.”4
To demonstrate how the principle taught by President Eyring works, let me start with a “non-salvational” example: we brush our teeth. Hopefully it is something “we do often.” If you want fewer cavities, healthier teeth, a brighter smile, and probably more dates, you could make a small change in the way you brush your teeth. Perhaps you might brush with better strokes, or better toothpaste, or a little longer. It will make a difference in the health of your teeth and probably the health of your relationships. Now, President Eyring is not alone in his suggestion to make small “course corrections.”
In 2008 President Dieter F. Uchtdorf told us the story of a jet carrying 257 people that crashed into the side of Mt. Erebus in Antarctica. Their instruments were off by a mere two degrees, resulting in 28-mile error and the tragic deaths of all aboard. President Uchtdorf said:
“Small errors and minor drifts away from the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring sorrowful consequences into our lives. It is therefore of critical importance that we become self-disciplined enough to make early and decisive corrections to get back on the right track and not wait or hope that errors will somehow correct themselves. The longer we delay corrective action, the larger the needed changes become, and the longer it takes to get back on the correct course—even to the point where a disaster might be looming.”5
“Lord, is it I? Do I need to make small course corrections? Am I off by even a few degrees? Am I going down a path that may lead to disaster?” Remember, as President Eyring said: If we can be “led by inspiration to choose the right small things to change” it will make great improvement. It will make all the difference in eternity.
For more than nine years I was a pre-service trainer, meaning my job was to help find, teach, and train those who wanted to be full-time seminary teachers for the Church. One day I was sitting in the back of a classroom watching a young man teach seminary. He asked a great question. I could tell this could be a wonderful conversation with the class. A student raised his hand to answer. The answer he gave was: “I could really pray.” Another student said, “We could study our scriptures.” A third student replied, “I think the answer is church.”
The teacher quickly said, “Enough! I don’t want the ‘Primary’ answers. I don’t want the ‘Sunday School’ answers. I want real answers!” To him, and to you, I suggest, those are the real answers. Just last week, Sister Lant reminded us of these things. They are salvational.
Salvational Principle 1: Say your prayers
Salvational Principle 2: Read your scriptures
Salvational Principle 3: Go to church
Now I ask, “Lord, is it I? Do I need to improve in any or all of these areas?” “Can I make small changes—small course corrections—in the way I pray, study scriptures, and attend church?” Let’s take a few minutes with each of these marvelous principles.
Salvational Principle 1: Say your prayers. I have found three aspects of praying, that if adopted or fine-tuned, could make a huge difference in our lives. I testify that by doing these things, it has made a huge difference in my life. My three prayer suggestions are:
Consistently say your morning prayers
Find a place and a way to say your personal prayers out loud
Pray using Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine
Prayer Suggestion 1: Consistently say your morning prayers. While all prayer is important, I believe that morning prayers are perhaps the most important prayers we say. In the mornings, as we awake and approach our day, we will be making decisions: dealing with people, traveling, dating, studying, changing majors, shopping, and serving others. We need the Lord’s help and the Lord’s blessings as we “act and are being acted upon (2 Nephi 2:26).
Did you know Jesus was a “morning pray-er?” Turn to Mark 1. Notice in verses 32 and 33 that starting in the evening; they brought all the sick of the city to his door to be healed. It must have gone on well into the night. Surely Jesus had earned a bit of a “lay-in.” Yet in verse 35 we read: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” If we are “trying to be like Jesus” we need to learn to say our morning prayers. I testify that morning prayers make a real difference in our lives.
Now I ask: “Lord, is it I? Do I need be better at praying in the morning?”
Prayer Suggestion 2: Find a place and a way to say your personal prayers out loud. I learned this lesson one morning while I was saying my morning prayers in Vernal, Utah. I was kneeling down on a bath rug pleading for the Lord’s help in teaching a lesson on being a consistent disciple of the Savior. A thought came to my mind for an object lesson. My mind began to race. Did we have all the ingredients? Was the store open? Could I do it in time for first hour? Would Michelle care if I took stuff from her kitchen? As I ran through all the things I needed, this thought hit me: “Brother Wahlquist, you are in the middle of a prayer.”
Now I didn’t see or hear anything, but in my mind, I imagined a loving Heavenly Father, sort of leaning forward on his throne, as if listening intently to my every word. I had called him. I had pleaded: “Heavenly Father, are you really there?” His attention was fully focused on me and I had put Him, the God of this universe, on hold while my mind wandered off. Then and there, I determined that I would always try to say my personal prayers out loud so that I would not let my mind wander off. I testify that praying out loud has made a difference in my personal prayers.
I invite you to find a place and a way to say your personal prayers out loud. You might be thinking: “It is impossible to pray out loud in my apartment.” Brothers and sisters, be a “can do” person. Every one of your roommates has ecclesiastical endorsement to be here at BYU–Idaho. If you were to ask kindly, I’m sure they would give you a moment in your bedroom to pray. You can find a way!
Did you know it is actually a commandment to pray out loud? In Doctrine and Covenants 19:28 we read: “And again, I command thee that thou shalt pray vocally as well as in thy heart…” Now, I don’t know all that goes on when we keep the commandment to pray out loud. I believe Heavenly Father wants to hear our voice. I believe it is a private conversation. I believe Heavenly Father wants us to talk to him. He commands us to talk to him. I also know that with the commandment to pray vocally, that “God 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” (1 Nephi 3:7).
“Lord, is it I? Do I need be better at letting Heavenly Father hear my voice by praying out loud?”
Prayer Suggestion 3: Learn to speak the language of God: Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine. Elder Dallin H. Oaks invites us to learn “the special language of prayer...thee, thou, thy, and thine... Men and women who wish to show respect will take time to learn the special language of prayer.”6 I’m sure you, with me, want to show our Heavenly Father that we love him enough to incorporate this small change into the common activity of saying our prayers.
If you don’t know how to use the language of prayer, I suggest you study the first 11 verses of Doctrine and Covenants 112. You will find more than 37 examples of Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine in just 11 verses. With a small amount of effort, you can effectively learn to use these sacred words in your prayers.
“Lord, is it I? Do I need to be better at using the sacred language of prayer?”
Now, on to Salvational Principle 2: scripture study. My three scripture suggestions are:
Read every day
Read at the same time
Before you read, make sure you pray
Some of my students may be hoping that I will sing the little song I wrote about scripture reading. Not going to happen. You should all be grateful!
Scripture Suggestion 1: Read every day. A friend of mine who has passed away always called the scriptures: “Love notes from home.” I like that. Why should we read scriptures every day? Elder Howard W. Hunter promised that: “It is certain that one who studies the scriptures every day accomplishes far more than one who devotes considerable time one day and then lets days go by before continuing.”7 Consider that scripture reading is food for the soul. You certainly would not have good physical health if you only ate once a week or once every few days. I don’t believe you can have good spiritual health unless you “feast [daily] upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3).
“Lord, is it I? Do I need to be more consistent at reading the scriptures every day? Do I need to feed my spirit as well (or perhaps better) than I feed my body?”
Scripture Suggestion 2: Read at the same time. President Hunter goes on to say:
“Not only should we study each day, but there should be a regular time set aside when we can concentrate without interference. Many find that the best time to study is in the morning after a night’s rest has cleared the mind or the many cares that interrupt thought. Others prefer to study in the quiet hours after the work and worries of the day are over and brushed aside, thus ending the day with a peace and tranquility that comes by communion with the scriptures.”8
In other words, what is best for one person may not be the best for another person. Don’t get hung up arguing which time is best, rather, choose a time and stick to it.
“Lord, is it I? Do I need to have a more consistent time to study the scriptures?”
Scripture Suggestion 3: Pray before you read your scriptures. Always pray before you read. More than 20 times in the scriptures, the Lord invites us to “pray always.” I’m sure you can see the wisdom of praying before you study your scriptures. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminds us that part of our careful study of the scriptures should be to “prayerfully seek personal revelation to know their meaning for [ourselves].”9
“Lord, is it I? Do I need to be better at praying before I study the scriptures?”
Finally, Salvational Principle 3: Go to church.
Go to church to worship the Savior
Leave the world out of Sabbath worship
Expect sacrament meetings to be a spiritual feast
Go to Church Suggestion 1: Go to church to worship the Savior. The phrase, “go to church” needs to change. Going to church implies a physical action of moving your body to a different location. We go to church often. At this university, we “go to church” or your ecclesiastical endorsement hangs in the balance. I suggest we stop “going to church.” I don’t want us to stop attending our meetings. I am suggesting that we start worshiping or that we polish our worshiping at church, rather than merely “going” to church. We can make several small changes in order to insure that we worship Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
In the April 2011 General Conference, just three short months ago, Elder L. Tom Perry reminded us that: “the pattern of Sabbath day observance must always include worship.”10 When a prophet, seer, and revelator uses an absolute like “always” we should sit up and take note. “The pattern of Sabbath day observance must always include worship.” Always! So here are some questions we might consider. What does it mean to worship? Did you feel like you worshiped Christ last Sunday? How can we better worship Heavenly Father on the Sabbath day?
My friends, the purpose of church is to worship. We must get better at worshiping the Lord on His holy day (Doctrine and Covenants 59:9).
“Lord, is it I? Do I attend church with the purest of motives? Do I come to church in the spirit of worship? Am I caught up in impressing the wrong people at church? How can I better worship the Father and the Son?”
Suggestion 2: Leave the world out of Sabbath worship. In 2008, Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminded us that sacrament meeting:
“…is not a time for conversation or transmission of messages…refrain from all other activities, especially from behavior that could interfere with the worship of others... It is not a time for whispered conversations on cell phones or for texting... When we partake of the sacrament, we make a sacred covenant that we will always remember the Savior. How sad to see persons obviously violating that covenant in the very meeting where they are making it.”11
Brothers and sisters, we have been taught by a prophet of God to put aside the world during this sacred meeting. King Benjamin says that if we have been taught and we still “go contrary to that which has been spoken” that we are in “open rebellion against God” (Mosiah 2: 36-37). Perhaps we should remember how the Lord feels about open rebellion. Do you remember when the Lord opened up the earth and swallowed the three rebels in Numbers 16?Perhaps we should remember that, the next time we are playing “Angry Chickens” during sacrament meeting. That’s my 7-year-old Lilli’s title for “Angry Birds.”
“Lord, is it I? Do I need to be better at keeping the world out of my Sabbath worship? Do I need to work harder to stay focused on the Savior during sacrament meeting?”
Suggestion 3: Expect sacrament meeting to be a spiritual feast. Sacrament meetings are most sacred. Elder Oaks said: “The ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church.”12
I invite you to ponder 3 Nephi 26:13. “Therefore, I would that ye should behold that the Lord truly did teach the people, for the space of three days; and after that he did show himself unto them oft, and did break bread oft, and bless it, and give it unto them.”
I hope I’m not reading too much into that verse, but it appears to me that we just read that Jesus came to the Book of Mormon saints, three days in a row. Then it appears that he continued to “show himself” often. The text does not say whether these visits were announced or if He just sort of popped in. But it is clear that each time He came, it turned into a sacramental experience.
I would like to invite you to consider attending sacrament meetings with the hope that the Savior may show up! How would your preparation change if you anticipated the Savior being there? Would you come early? Would you dress differently? Would you sing better? Now I don’t know if or when the Savior will come to your sacrament meeting, but I testify that His spirit can be felt in all sacrament meetings.
“Lord, is it I? Do I need to have greater spiritual expectations for sacrament meeting? Do I need to change my preparation for sacrament meeting?”
In conclusion, I invite you to follow the Spirit to make small changes in the things you do often. Begin today! I testify that small changes make a big difference in our lives. As we strive to become better men and women, we will be better prepared for the glorious return of the Savior to the earth. I testify that as we fine-tune our prayers, our scripture study, and our Sabbath worship, that the Spirit will fill our lives more abundantly. This I know.
I testify of the divinity of Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior of the world. He is the Redeemer of us all. I testify Joseph Smith was called of God to restore the true church upon the earth. I testify President Thomas S. Monson is a living prophet of the Lord on the earth today. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 Boyd K. Packer, “Follow the Brethren,” BYU Speeches of the Year 1965, 3
2 Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Ensign, Nov. 2009, 6
3 Henry B. Eyring, “The Lord Will Multiply the Harvest,” Address to CES Religious Educators, Feb. 1998, 3
4 Neal A. Maxwell, “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 22-24
5 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “A Matter of a Few Degrees,” Ensign, May 2008, 59
6 Dallin H. Oaks, Conference Report, April 1993, 18
7 Howard W. Hunter, “Reading the Scriptures,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64
9 Dallin H. Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan. 1995, 7
10 L. Tom Perry, “The Sabbath and the Sacrament,” Ensign, May 2011, 7
11 Dallin H. Oaks, “Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament,” Ensign, Nov. 2008, 18-20