Some years ago there was a bestselling book written by Robert Fulghum. The title was All I Ever Really Needed to Know about Life I Learned in Kindergarten. For example:
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.1
Well, there is some wisdom there. Here is a picture of my wife, LaDawn, and me. She was a teacher here when we were courting. Sometimes in conversation with friends someone will make a comment about a fact that is new to me. I might say, “I didn’t know that. That is very interesting.” My wife always delights in saying, “You didn’t know that? Why I learned that in the fifth grade!” The reason she says that is because I skipped the fifth grade. The teachers at my school moved six of us from the fourth grade to the sixth grade. During the year they realized their mistake and so I spent two years in the sixth grade but no time in the fifth grade—a serious gap in my education.
Now I mention kindergarten and fifth grade for this reason: too many people are trying to solve the serious complex problems of life with a sketchy, superficial, fifth grade understanding of gospel doctrine. This is not only unwise—it is dangerous. So here is the question: Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Getting an academic education is important––a high priority in life to be sure, but it is not even in the same ballpark as getting an education in gospel principles.
Don’t neglect your education in the things of the Spirit. Don’t you dare settle for a kindergarten or a fifth grade education in the doctrines and principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. You will be wise to devote a significant portion of time, energy and effort to a serious study of the doctrine and principles of the gospel so you can apply them with skill every day of your life. Some of you are strong in subjects like philosophy or mathematics but weak in subjects like faith and the Atonement. Watch your balance!
Don’t make life’s most important and defining decisions based on what you learned studying biology or Shakespeare, and don’t make them based on a shaky fifth grade foundation of spiritual knowledge. Here is an interesting perspective from President Spencer W. Kimball. He said:
“[The apostles] Peter and John had little secular learning…but they knew the vital things of life… They knew the path to eternal life. This they learned in a few decades of their mortal life. Their righteous lives opened the door to…creation of worlds with eternal increase. For this they would probably need, eventually, a total knowledge of the sciences. But whereas Peter and John had only decades to learn and do the spiritual, they have already had nineteen centuries in which to learn…the [sciences].”2
Not only in matters of intelligence but also in matters of character, spiritual understanding dwarfs academic knowledge in value. The most enlightened and beneficial character traits you will develop will be based on your spiritual understanding—not on your academic learning. So, during these vital years when your character is forged, don’t muddle through with a fifth grade education in the principles of integrity, virtue, charity, self control, and kindness, to name a few. So, again I ask the question: are you smarter than a fifth grader? Spiritually?
After a mission president’s seminar with our mission presidents in the southeast United States, one of our mission presidents, who was a distinguished professor at BYU in Provo before his call, wrote the following: “I would rather have attended this seminar than participated in every academic conference, symposium, and BYU religious education in-service training that I had participated in for the last decade!”3 Remarkable.
We value all truth. Truth is truth. But some truth is more important than other truth. Understanding principles of chemistry and sociology is less important than understanding principles of honesty and repentance. Furthermore, the principles taught in the science of chemistry might change with new discoveries over time. The principles of repentance will not change. If you understand the science of medicine so well that you become one of the world’s greatest physicians but do not understand the principles of honesty and charity, you will not be happy. If you understand and live the principles of honesty and charity, even if you were a run-of-the-mill doctor or teacher, you have a good chance to be supremely happy.
So, how are you doing with your spiritual education? What is your grade level? Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Have you learned how to study the scriptures? Have you learned how to pray? Have you learned how to receive revelation? Do you recognize the promptings of the spirit? Do you understand the covenants you have made? You can’t get these things by simply going to church.
Let’s talk about a few of the most important and fundamental elements of your spiritual education. First, reading the scriptures. Some time ago I learned that I needed to read the scriptures more slowly. I learn much more and benefit much more if I read somewhat deliberately and not for mileage. Slow down! Elder Holland gave this counsel: “Read more slowly and more carefully and with more questions in mind. Ponder…examine every word, every scriptural gem. …Hold it up to the light and turn it, look and see what’s reflected there.”4
This is great counsel. Don’t be a swimmer, paddling along on the surface. Be a diver––go deep! That’s where the treasure is. And spend more time listening when you read. Listening you say? How do you listen when you read? Here is how. In Doctrine and Covenants 18:34-36, the Lord taught: “These words are not of men nor of man but of me: wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man; for it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; …Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice and know my words.”
Spend more time knocking and more time asking when you read. Remember: “Ask and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you…”5 This certainly applies to the scriptures. And, spend more time listening when you pray, not just when you study the scriptures! If you listen more you will enjoy your prayers more, and they will be better prayers. President Kimball taught this:
“Learning the language of prayer is a joyous lifetime experience. Sometimes ideas flood our mind as we listen after our prayers. Sometimes feelings press upon us. A spirit of calmness assures us that all will be well. But always, if we have been honest and earnest, we will experience a good feeling––a feeling of warmth for our Father in Heaven and a sense of His love for us. It has sorrowed me that some of us have not learned the meaning of that calm, spiritual warmth, for it is a witness to us that our prayers have been heard.”6
I also love President Gordon B. Hinckley’s comment about prayer: “Pray to the Lord with the expectation of answers. …The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries. We place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for.”7
Do your prayers sometimes resemble a spiritual grocery list? Part of what President Hinckley is talking about is taking time to ponder. Do you understand what ponder means? Have you learned how to do it? It simply means to stop and think about the depth of an idea and mull it over in your mind and think about the significance of it and how it applies to you, right now. This is difficult in reading the scriptures and in praying because pondering slows us down. We have places to go and things to do.
In 3 Nephi 17:2-3, the Savior directed the people to ponder on His words and pray for understanding: “I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name that ye may understand…”
Pondering opens the door to understanding and to revelation. Look at the powerful examples of pure revelation in the scriptures that came from pondering.
1 Nephi 11:1: “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord…”
Doctrine and Covenants 138: 1, 2, 11: “On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures, And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world; ….As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me…”
This is a perfect description of the process of receiving revelation. I promise you that you will learn more in the five minutes you spend thinking and pondering after you have read the scriptures than you would learn from five more minutes of reading. So I repeat: slow down! Think! Ponder! These are wonderful keys to revelation.
I was having lunch with two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles a few months ago. We were talking about school. All three of us had had exactly the same dream. You may have had it also. You get your schedule for final exams and you realize you signed up for a class that you have not attended. You have never been to class and have no clue about the material. You are in for some long nights of cramming. This is a very bad dream.
Have you learned to do your spiritual homework including prayer and scripture study on a regular basis and not cram? Regular prayer, scripture study, and regular contact with heaven are more important than occasional spectacular spiritual experiences, not only for your spiritual growth and understanding, but because this is one of the most important ways that the Lord will protect you day to day from evil.
Have you learned that answers to prayer usually come a piece at a time, line upon line, rather than all at once? Have you learned this so you do not get discouraged when you pray earnestly and the answers don’t seem to come? Have you learned that the Lord has His own timetable for answering? God’s clock and ours are rarely synchronized. The Lord says over and over in the scriptures that He will do things in his own due time.
Here is another suggestion for your prayers and scripture study. A few years ago, I had an assignment to accompany President Boyd K. Packer to a stake conference in Arizona. He invited me to his hotel room early Sunday morning and asked if I had any questions I would like to ask him. What an opportunity! I said, “President, how can I put myself in a position to receive more revelation?” The first thing he said was to “get up early.”
Early morning is a quiet, peaceful time when our minds are clear and we can dive into the scriptures and have our private, meaningful prayer all alone. It is a perfect environment for hearing the voice of the Lord and feeling what He wants us to do. Have you learned to get up early? I promise you it will help you receive more revelation. Maybe the best advice I could give you in this entire talk is to start every day with some quiet time where you are alone and on your knees with personal prayer, some thoughtful, slow scripture study, and a few moments of serious pondering. If you will do that, we will not worry about you.
Now another important question regarding your spiritual education: are you listening to your professors? Your spiritual professors? I refer to the 15 men we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators. You have some wonderful teachers in these 15 men. They are spiritually brilliant. They love you. They want the best for you. Collectively they know you well, and they pray for you to succeed. What a perfect resume for a professor.
Are you listening? I am trying to listen. I have learned life-changing truths from every one of them. This afternoon I thought I would share just a few of the things I have learned from a few of them that have made a great difference in my life and spiritual education. These might be of some benefit to you, but more importantly, I hope you are assembling your own set of files on what you are learning from the Brethren. If I were you, I would start that now if you have not already.
President Thomas S. Monson: My wife and I were with him at a regional conference in Las Vegas. After a long Saturday of meetings that concluded about 9:00 p.m., my wife and I decided to go see some famous impressionist paintings that were being exhibited in one of the hotels before retiring. We were tired and could not imagine how tired President Monson must be after speaking and presiding in all those meetings. The next morning I sat by President Monson in the Sunday meeting. He handed me a thank you note he had just received. This was a note from a sister thanking him for visiting her aging mother in a nursing home the previous evening after 9:00 p.m. We went to entertain ourselves, and he went to a nursing home. That was a lesson in charity I will never forget. Has your charity progressed beyond a fifth grade level? I hope so.
President Henry B. Eyring: At a meeting in Houston with 40 to 50 stake, mission, and temple presidents eagerly awaiting instruction from President Eyring, serving as one of the Twelve at the time, he stood and said something like this: “You have some significant challenges. Now what are some of the most important challenges you are facing and what is the Lord telling you at this moment about how to resolve them?” He reminded them that they were receiving revelation all of the time. They were waiting to be fed by his revelation; he tapped theirs. The discussion went forward and was very enlightening. You too are receiving revelation continually. Turn off the music and the TV some of the time and listen!
On another occasion, I was at a meeting in the temple. President Eyring was bearing his testimony. Right at that moment my cell phone went off in my pocket. Thankfully, it was on vibrate, but just for an instant I was tempted to look at the phone and see who was calling. What a tragedy that would have been to miss even one word of a testimony from a special witness of the Lord to see if my golf time was set for the next day, or something as equally unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Are you missing out on some promptings from the still, small voice that you are entitled to because you are spending too much time preoccupied with your cell phone, iPod, TV, or some other electronic device?
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: I was assigned to accompany then-Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf to reorganize a stake and select a new stake president in Texas. After our interviews, we both had good feelings about a certain man. He asked me if I felt this was the right man. I answered that I thought he was the right man, but that I did not feel that I had received a firm spiritual confirmation. We continued to discuss and pray and still I did not feel that I had the solid confirmation I wanted, so he simply asked me, “Well, do you have a better idea?” It was time to make the decision. We went ahead and called the man and as we went forward, it became clear that he was certainly the Lord’s choice. Brigham Young said it this way:
“If I do not know the will of my Father, and what he requires of me in a certain transaction, if I ask Him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, ...or those I preside over, and get no answer from Him, and then do the very best that judgment will teach me, He is bound to…honor that transaction, and He will do so to all intents and purposes.”8
If you do your homework, study it out, and earnestly plead with the Lord for an answer and do not feel you have received it––go ahead with your best judgment and the Lord will either back up your decision or He will soon warn you that you are going down the wrong path.
President Boyd K. Packer: President Packer teaches that keeping the Sabbath day holy allows you to get off the busy highway of life with its hectic pace and quietly and calmly check the map––the spiritual map that keeps us on track with the things of eternity. Don’t miss the Sabbath as a golden time to check your spiritual compass. What a sad thing it would be to miss life-altering lessons on repentance or building faith taught by the spirit in order to study for an American History exam. Doesn’t this journey through eternity deserve at least one day a week to devote to some long-range planning? I repeat, get off the freeway on Sunday and spend your time with the maps.
Elder Robert D. Hales: Don’t judge others. If behavior you observe is suboptimal, go to the rescue; don’t rush to judgment. Ask yourself, “How could I help this person,” not “Would you look at that? How bad is that?” I was playing golf with Elder Hales and a young couple in front of us was very slow and it looked like they were not playing serious golf. I was getting frustrated with the delay and was upset with them. Finally they walked off to the side of the fairway and invited us to play through. I said to myself, “It’s about time.”
Then I was surprised when Elder Hales politely asked the couple if they would like to finish the last few holes with us. They gladly agreed. After the round, the young man approached me and wanted to talk. He was a less-active returned missionary who had recognized Elder Hales when they joined us. Because he was listening to the Spirit, Elder Hales’ invitation for them to play with us resulted later in a meeting in Elder Hales’ office and a priesthood blessing for the young man by an apostle. I was thinking about finishing a round of golf. Elder Hales was listening to the Spirit.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson: I learned from Elder Christofferson that a witness of the Spirit is more sure and more valuable than even a visit from an angel. He shared the following quote with me: “So vastly important is the gift of the Holy Ghost in the salvation of men that nothing can supply its place. There is nothing that a man can see with his eyes or hear with his ears or handle with his hands which can supply the place of the Holy Spirit.”9 Have you learned that?
To illustrate this principle further, Alma the Younger saw an angel. The angel talked to him face to face and the experience caused the ground to shake and left him unable to speak and move for three days.10 What an experience. Yet in the fifth chapter of Alma when he was bearing his testimony with the words “And how do you suppose I know of these things for sure?”11 he didn’t say, “I saw an angel face to face.” He said, “…they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit...”12 It is important that you learn to recognize the voice of the Spirit and listen to it. It is a sure witness. Don’t stand around waiting for an angel.
Now I ask again. Are you listening to your professors––these wonderful magnificent teachers in the subjects of life and salvation? In conclusion, perhaps the most valuable way to learn spiritual doctrine is outlined in the book of John: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”13 Living the commandments will teach you more about truth and how to be happy and successful in eternity than any gospel doctrine class or manual. So in that context, I have some final questions for you to consider. What are you not doing that you need to start doing? What are you doing that you need to stop doing? And, what are you doing half-heartedly that you need to be doing with full energy of heart?
You are certainly a choice group. Our Heavenly Father, our God, lives and presides in the universe. Isn’t it wonderful to know we have a father who is in charge of everything? He knows you and cares about you. You have some of His spiritual divinity within you as his spiritual sons and daughters, and we have very high expectations for you. Jesus Christ is His only Begotten Son. I know that. He is who He said He is—our Redeemer. “And this is life eternal that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”14 Do you know your Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ? How are you coming along with your spiritual education? Are you smarter than a fifth grader? I trust you are! In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, Villard Books: New York, 1990, 6-7.
2President Kimball Speaks Out (1981), p. 90-92
3 Richard N. Holzapfel, email sent to Elder Larry W. Gibbons, January 1, 2012
4 Jeffrey R. Holland: CES Video Conference, 20 June 1982, videocassette
5 3 Nephi 27:29
6 Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, October 1981, 3
7 Gordon B. Hinckley, Smithfield/Logan Utah Regional Conference, April 21, 1996
8Brigham Young Journal of Discourses, February 17, 1856, Volume 3, p 205