Several years ago, prior to my calling as a General Authority, Sister Cardon and I attended a dinner for members of the Dean’s Alumni Leadership Council at the Harvard Kennedy School. There were about 40 people in attendance, comprising about 20 council members and their companions. We were seated at round tables, eight persons at each table. After the dinner, the president of the council announced that rather than a speaker, he and the dean had decided to invite each council member and companion to stand and introduce himself or herself, using a microphone that would be passed from table to table. He suggested that each person share his or her educational and professional background information, along with what each considered to be his or her most significant accomplishment. The process then began at the table where the president and the dean were seated. Because of the way the room was organized, it soon became clear that our table would be the last to participate.
While this may seem uneventful, there was something rather remarkable that occurred with Sister Cardon that evening. She later explained to me what she had experienced. Sister Cardon had been with me to other similar events with guest speakers and had in those occasions quietly enjoyed the evening. However, on this evening, as she saw all in attendance standing and espousing their many academic degrees and professional accomplishments, she started thinking, “Wait a minute. This isn’t what I had planned on.”
As the microphone was passed from table to table she thought, “I’m really going to be expected to say something. What am I going to say? What can I possibly say to these people who have been ambassadors, high government officials, educators, professionals, and leaders of gigantic enterprises? I don’t even have my bachelor’s degree yet. (She would later receive it from BYU after eight devoted years of distance learning.) Sister Cardon’s mind continued racing: “I’ve got to think of something to say. No, I’ve got to leave. I’ve got to find an excuse to leave. There is nothing I can say to these people.”
Her heart began to pound rapidly and she really didn’t know what to do. Then, in an instant, she remembered thinking, “I’m going to pray.” With this, she said a silent, earnest prayer, pleading with the Lord for His help and direction. She later told me that in that moment, a voice came into her mind with perfect clarity. “Debbie, who in this room has achieved more important things in this life than you, or has had more amazing experiences than you? You are a mother in Zion. You have brought eight children into this world. They are happily married and are having children of their own. What is more important than that? Debbie, you get up and tell these people with power what you have done.”
At about that moment, the microphone was passed from the adjacent table to our table. I had seen Sister Cardon earlier shifting in her chair, a bit uneasy, so I extended my hand to take the microphone, thinking to give her some additional time and space. Imagine my surprise when her hand stretched out in front of mine and literally grabbed the microphone.
She confidently stood, and with an elegance difficult to adequately describe, she said: “A few years ago I accompanied my husband here to the Harvard Kennedy School. And my most important achievement is that I am the mother of eight children and the grandmother of eighteen grandchildren” (the number at the time).
With that statement, spontaneous applause erupted in the room. It was the only applause of the entire evening. She shared a few additional thoughts relating to the central, societal role of the family and the happiness found therein, then handed me the microphone and sat down. I stood and added simply, “I’m her husband.”
The significance of what the Lord did through Sister Cardon was evidenced by the fact that for the remainder of the evening we were inundated by questions from those at our table, and later by others at the dinner asking about families, requesting specific counsel in rearing children, and desiring to know how to foster marital harmony––subjects eminently more important than anything else that had been addressed. Because she had earnestly sought direction from the Spirit, and had exercised the faith and courage to respond to what she was told, the Lord had magnified Sister Cardon in a powerful way in furthering His purposes.
My desire is to share with you today some thoughts about these types of experiences, with the prayer that in the process you will be able to understand more fully from the Lord what it means to be, as the scriptures describe it, “a man of God,” with its implied companion meaning, “a woman of God,” and to invite you to become men and women of God.
The appellation “man of God” is used in scripture to describe Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Abinadi, Alma and his sons, Ammon and the other sons of Mosiah, “Captain” Moroni, and Nephi, the son of Helaman. Certainly, the appellation accurately describes all the prophets of God and other holy men who have engaged and now engage in the Lord’s work. Although not found in the scriptures, the companion appellation “woman of God” would accurately describe women such as Sarah, Ruth, Deborah, Sariah, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, and their dear sisters of years past and current days who faithfully engage in the Lord’s work.
If we desire to become men and women of God, we might appropriately ask: “What are the attributes of a man or a woman of God?” Certainly, such attributes mirror the attributes of Deity. There may be many attributes that come to mind. There is a listing of some of these attributes in Doctrine and Covenants 4, a section I am convinced many in attendance could quote from memory. The sixth verse reads: “Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.”
To give these attributes greater contextual meaning, have you ever attempted to associate an individual with each attribute, tying the name of someone you know personally or have come to know through the scriptures to the attribute? Knowing another individual who struggled with the vicissitudes of life and managed to inculcate a divine attribute in his or her life provides a powerful example that may assist us in our efforts to do the same. Consider the following examples from the lives of men of God:
For the attribute of faith, consider the brother of Jared. Notwithstanding he was “chastened… because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord,” yet “he repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord…” As he prayed regularly, the brother of Jared was directed in his work. Eventually, a matter arose needing further direction. Rather than again providing direct instruction, the Lord invited the brother of Jared to find the solution. This he did, and took 16 small molten stones to the Lord to now ask for something that only the Lord could do. In deep humility, he asked the Lord to “touch [the] stones.” As you know, in this experience, the brother of Jared saw the pre-mortal Savior “[b]ecause of [his] faith…,” and the Lord told him, “never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast….” There are lessons and practical experiences in the life of the brother of Jared that help us to better understand faith.
For the attribute of virtue, consider Joseph of old, who “got him out” when tempted by Potiphar’s wife. Joseph’s life is synonymous with virtue.
When I think of knowledge I think of Abraham who “sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto [he] should be ordained to administer the same; having been [himself] a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge…, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God… became a rightful heir….” When I think of knowledge, I think of Abraham.
For temperance, consider Daniel who “would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” Said he to the prince of the eunuchs, “Prove [us], I beseech thee, ten days, and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. …And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.” Daniel’s life epitomized temperance.
Many prophets have endured difficult things that have imbued them with patience. I think of Joseph Smith and his words from the jail at Liberty which are perhaps most emblematic. “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long…. Yea, O Lord, how long…. O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand….” Then came the Lord’s response, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” Through patience, Joseph Smith “[possessed] his soul.”
For brotherly kindness, there could perhaps be no greater example than Nephi, whose older brothers “[bound him] with cords for they sought to take away [his] life.” Through his exercise of faith, the Lord gave him strength to burst the bands and his brothers were eventually “sorrowful” for what they had done. Evidencing great brotherly kindness Nephi simply records, “…I did frankly forgive them….” Notwithstanding their rudeness, Nephi was kind to his brothers.
When studying the attribute of godliness, consider Moses. To prepare the minds of the children of Israel for the coming of the Messiah, Moses taught them that the Lord God would raise up a prophet “like unto me,” like unto Moses. The Savior later confirmed that He was that prophet. It was this same Moses who “plainly taught…the children of Israel” that “in the ordinances [of the priesthood], the power of godliness is manifest.” Moses is a good example of godliness.
For charity, consider Mormon. From the heart of this faithful prophet and valiant military leader who prepared the sacred book of scripture that bears his name, comes this counter-intuitive yet remarkably inspired counsel to his people who were then immersed in despair and destruction. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” When I think of charity, I think of Mormon.
When I think of humility, I think of Enoch. When he was called to prophesy unto the people and to call them to repentance, “he bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord saying: “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” What followed was a city that was taken into heaven. Enoch exemplifies humility.
For all who know him, Thomas S. Monson is synonymous with diligence. His life, his very being, defines diligence. Just last April in General Priesthood Meeting he shared these words:
“I love and cherish the noble word duty and all that it implies. In one capacity or another, in one setting or another, I have been attending priesthood meetings for the past 72 years—since I was ordained a deacon at the age of 12. Time certainly marches on. Duty keeps cadence with that march. Duty does not dim nor diminish. Catastrophic conflicts come and go, but the war waged for the souls of men continues without abatement. Like a clarion call comes the word of the Lord to you, to me, and to priesthood holders everywhere: “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed in all diligence.”
Thomas S. Monson is a great example of diligence. Like all of these men of God, we can develop these divine attributes in our own lives.
My study of the attributes of a man of God or a woman of God was enriching and enlightening and led me to formulate an even more focused question: “What is the defining characteristic of a man or a woman of God?” Almost immediately upon asking this question, the following thoughts came to mind:
A man of God understands the plan of the Father
He understands the will of the Father in accomplishing His plan
He does the will of the Father
With all of the divine attributes one may possess, a man or a woman of God does the will of the Father. This defining characteristic may be developed, refined, and strengthened in our lives, but it takes effort. Indeed, speaking of men in these latter days the Lord has said, “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way….”
As you consider your own circumstances at this formative time in your young lives, the following statements may provide a helpful guide to those who desire to have this characteristic become a part of them, even to define who they are:
An understanding of the Father’s plan comes from studying and pondering the word of God, from prayer, and from life’s experiences
An understanding of the will of the Father in accomplishing His plan comes from recognizing the “[Lord’s] voice, even the voice of [His] Spirit”
A conviction to do the will of the Father comes from exercising faith to follow the direction given by the Spirit
As in all righteous endeavors, the Savior is our great Exemplar. Indeed, His thought provoking question and loving invitation to the people in the land of Bountiful continues on through eternity: “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”
Consider these few examples from the many found in the Savior’s life and teachings. Understanding the Father’s plan, the Savior took an initiative at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath day, knowing full well the consequences that would follow. Knowing the will of the Father in accomplishing that plan, the Savior saw a man who had been impotent for 38 years, and although the man did not ask for a blessing, the Savior asked him, “Wilt thou be made whole?”
As the man explained his futile attempts at receiving a blessing in the pool, “Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” The Savior did the will of the Father. This Sabbath day healing caused much consternation among the Jewish leaders. When they learned that it was Jesus who had performed the miracle, they persecuted him and “sought to slay him.” In this setting, which the Lord had knowingly instigated, Jesus answered them saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” That pattern is characteristic of a man of God.
Later in His ministry, in the synagogue in Capernaum, the Savior gave what is perhaps the most succinct expression of this divine characteristic as He taught the people and the Jewish leaders saying, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”
In terms of our own personal conversion, it is worth considering carefully the significance of the similar words the Savior used to define His gospel to the people in the land of Bountiful. Said He, “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.”
While it is a doctrinal verity that all of those who come to this earth are literally spirit sons and spirit daughters of God, our Heavenly Father, this last phrase, “because my Father sent me,” introduces the final element I would like to address today in describing what it means to be a man or a woman of God. Clearly, it involves something more than the all-inclusive description of sons and daughters. Jesus knew who He was, and is, and that His Father had given Him a mission to accomplish. He knew that His father had sent Him. Similarly, a man or a woman of God, knows who he or she is and that God has a work for him or her to do. Please note, however, that men and women of God must first become sons and daughters of Christ, being born of Him. Listen to the words of King Benjamin:
“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.”
This final element of being a man or a woman of God is remembering who you really are and what God expects of you as believers in, and obeyers of, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus always remembered that His Father had sent Him and what He wanted Him to say and do. A man or a woman of God remembers the same. The Savior adds emphasis and meaning with these words:
“And behold, ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities; and this because ye are the children of the covenant––”
Brothers and sisters, this is a marvelous and exciting time of life for you. You are at the threshold of many important decisions involving personal habits, private practices, education, missions, dating, marriage, family, employment, where you will live, religious commitments, community involvement, and more. In all of this, the Lord wants you to know that you are children of the covenant. You are part of a grand design, which is our Heavenly Father’s plan. And He wants you to remember that as you live faithfully you are the means whereby the families of the earth are blessed, and the Lord’s purposes are realized.
Now in closing, I extend to all of you an invitation. It is an invitation I pray you are more able and willing to accept because of what you know and understand, perhaps a bit better now than you did a few minutes ago. This is the invitation: if you have not yet exercised your faith, repented of your sins, entered the waters of baptism, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, I invite you to do so now. It will bring you the greatest happiness you will know in this life. Once you have done this, I invite you to do what I now invite those who have already entered the “gate” to do.
If you have already entered the gate, I invite you to be men and women of God. You do this by continuing on along the “path” on which you have set your feet, “[enduring] to the end.” As Nephi said:
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
My dear brothers and sisters, may each of you develop the attributes of deity in your personal life. May each of you do the will of the Father, making this the defining characteristic of your life. You will be able to do that as you study and pray, as you experience life, as you come to recognize the voice of the Spirit, and as you exercise your faith in following that voice, just like Sister Cardon did. Like Abraham, Moses, President Monson, and so many others, you will find that your capacity to recognize and follow that voice will grow in what may seem at the time to be small, even insignificant ways. But as you continue to listen and to act, the Lord will magnify you to the accomplishing of His purposes.
And finally, may each of you remember who you really are and what God expects of you, always remembering that the Lord has a mission for you to accomplish. May you all become men and women of God, that He may eventually say of you, as He said of Joseph Smith, “And I will make him great in mine eyes; for he shall do my work.” In your efforts, you may look to the prophets for guidance, and you will always find in Christ the perfect example. Of Him I testify in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.