I Will Not Leave You Comfortless (John 14:18)

President Cecil O. Samuelson

 

Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional

November 4, 2003



I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today. At the outset, I offer my congratulations and appreciation to President and Sister Bednar for all that they, and you, have accomplished since I was last here. Ricks College has become Brigham Young University-Idaho and, as you know, the change in name has in many respects been the least of what has happened on this remarkable campus in such a short time. I also express gratitude to President Bednar for his support of and encouragement to me personally. He has been a BYU president for a much longer time than have I and he has been generous in his expressions and actions.


One of the wonderful parts of my current life is my now regular opportunity to be with students. It is exciting, usually inspiring and quite interesting, most of the time. Nearly all of the students I see are very bright, friendly and committed to making the most they can of their lives in proper ways. They are thinking about the world around them, the growth and mission of the Church, their families, their future careers and especially who it is they will marry and when. Each of these topics provides potential for sermons but I will forebear in addressing them all. I do want to make an observation that may help set a context for what I would like to discuss with you.


Often when we discuss future careers, students will comment in ways such as this: “I don’t need to be rich. I just want to earn enough to support my family and be comfortable.” That seems very reasonable and even sensible to me. The question does arise for me as to what we might really mean by being “comfortable?” I suspect we mean a reasonably nice home in a safe and decent neighborhood. We aspire to having enough food to eat and clothes to wear, a good car to drive and so forth. I think, however, we must also ask, “Is that all there is to being comfortable?” In this wonderful setting, with the things we understand and with all we value, I believe we will agree that there is much more to concern us than what some have described as “creature comforts” or the things that make our physical and temporal lives more pleasant.


The dictionary defines comfort as consolation; freedom from pain, trouble or anxiety; or in its verb form, to give strength and hope to someone. I believe we would all agree that we desire comfort or to be comfortable in every way. While we perhaps think of comfort in a temporal sense more often than we might in a spiritual sphere, I would suggest that our spiritual comfort is an issue of utmost importance.


All of us who believe in Jesus Christ take some consolation in the assurances of the Savior that He will assist and help us in times of need – in other words, He will bring us comfort. While we accept this basic assertion, we may also be a little like His initial apostles who, while believing in Him, were confused or unsure about what some of His teachings really meant in their every day lives. Stated another way, even the apostles were uncomfortable sometimes.


As Jesus began to teach His followers about the necessity of His leaving them for a time, their discomfort increased. Sensing this, He made specific promises to them that He would eventually return and also that He would provide them with a “Comforter” in His absence (John 14:16). Let me read His words.

 

If ye love me, keep my commandments.

 

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever:

 

I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you (John 14:15-16, 18).


We know that the Comforter mentioned is the Holy Ghost.


For those members of the Church living in our day, we receive a very similar promise as we partake of the sacrament weekly. We reverently partake of the bread in remembrance of the body of the Son and witness to Heavenly Father that we are willing to take upon us the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, with the promise we make to always remember Him and keep His commandments. If we do so, then we have the promise in return that [we] “ . . . may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77). In my judgment, this is real comfort!


For most of us, we don’t dispute the principle or even its promise. Rather, we accept it but also may worry about how to really and reliably cause it to happen in our daily lives. This is natural. We have many challenges to link appropriately what we know about basic doctrine with the problems and opportunities we face in our lives.


Today, I would like to talk with you about ways that we can narrow the gap between our doctrinal understandings on the one hand, and our personal applications of the doctrine on the other. What I suggest will likely be helpful with any number of these kinds of issues, but I want to spend our precious time today discussing what we might do so that we can realize the Savior’s promise, “I will not leave you comfortless.”


The Fourth Article of Faith that many of us memorized in Primary is doctrinally basic. I hope you all know it and understand it. You might wish to join with me as I quote it.

 

We believe the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.


We understand that these principles and ordinances are basic and the order in which they are given is important. Faith of necessity precedes repentance which in turn comes before baptism is efficacious, and all must occur before the bestowal of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.


It is the Holy Ghost that is the Comforter promised to us by the Savior. For the Comforter to fulfill His comforting role, we need to be qualified and prepared to receive these very special ministrations. Exercising faith and truly repenting of our sins are essential prerequisites along with the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. Like some other things in life, these first four steps are necessary. They may not, however, be fully sufficient until we have made some very specific adjustments in our lives and are qualified to have these blessings impact and affect us in ways that may be more deep and significant than we had previously understood.


We place a very high premium on “childlike faith” and yet, on occasion, may be confused in our thinking. Being childlike is not the same as being childish. Our faith should be simple and straightforward and yet must not be passive or unprepared. Think of the understandable mistake of Oliver Cowdery who wanted to join Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon. Should Oliver be blamed because he wanted to do more than be a scribe? I don’t believe so. Did he fully understand what would be required of him to take this larger step that he seemingly desired? Again, it appears that he did not. Let me read some familiar verses from the account of this episode.

 

Oliver Cowdery, verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.

 

Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

 

Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.

 

Therefore, this is thy gift; apply unto it, and blessed art thou, for it shall deliver you out of the hands of your enemies, when, if it were not so, they would slay you and bring your soul to destruction.

 

Oh, remember these words, and keep my commandments. Remember, this is your gift....

 

Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God.

 

And, therefore, whatsoever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it.

 

Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not (Doctrine and Covenants 8:1-5, 8-10).


Like many of us, Oliver appeared to hear only what he wanted to hear. He apparently focused on the promised blessings but forgot some of the requirements to receive them. He was told to “doubt not,” to “ask in faith,” to “Trifle not with these things,” and very importantly, to “not ask for that which you ought not.” We don’t know all of the details of Oliver Cowdery’s failure experience but we do know he was not able to translate.


The entire eighth and ninth sections deserve our careful study because they contain lessons not only for Oliver but also for us. The Lord was patient in explaining why Oliver was not able to translate even in the face of the promised blessing he had received by revelation. Let me read four further verses that I think are most vital for us to understand in our quest to have the continued sustenance that can come only from the Comforter.

 

Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.

 

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

 

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

 

But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me (Doctrine and Covenants 9:6-9).


This revelation had to do specifically with Oliver Cowdery and his desire to translate, but it also applies generally to each of us with respect to the insights and knowledge we hope to obtain from the Holy Ghost. Just as the Savior tried to teach His early disciples the patterns they needed to follow to achieve the blessings of the Comforter, He also has outlined the ways that we can obtain the same blessings.


In recent training meetings with the General Authorities, President James E. Faust talked about the necessity of our leaders having the Spirit to guide them. What he said also should apply to each of us. He made some suggestions about how we can more surely qualify to receive the blessings of the Spirit or to be spiritually comforted. I will share some of them and then will conclude by suggesting some ways we can be sure that we are being truly prompted by the Holy Ghost once we have qualified to receive it. Now to President Faust’s counsel:


First, we need to live so that we can merit the guidance of the Spirit. This means that we need to repent regularly of the mistakes we make and the sins we commit so that we are not living with unresolved issues that impede the proper flow of Spiritual promptings or the ministering of Angels.


For many of our missteps our repentance can be private or limited to those we have injured or offended. For particularly serious offenses, it is necessary that we confess to our bishop and seek his assistance in the necessary repentance process. The inspired order of the First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel found in the Fourth Article of Faith reminds us that faith and repentance not only precede the ordinances of baptism and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, but also must occur before the remission of sins is possible and constant ministrations of the Spirit in our daily lives can occur.


Second, we must never be complacent but must always try harder. I am not suggesting that we should become victims of perfectionism which can by itself be debilitating, but I am suggesting that each of us really can do better in most areas of our lives as we attempt to keep our thoughts and actions more consistent with the Savior’s example and direction for us.


Third, we need to exercise more faith. President Faust used the example of the children of Israel led by Joshua who were required to carry the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan River. The miracle of holding back the water so that they could pass on dry ground with the Ark of the Covenant could not occur until the soles of their feet actually touched the water (Joshua 3:13).


Exercising faith is not easy work and we are prone to forget that achieving the benefits of faith actually requires that we exercise faith. It is not unlike the daily intense physical training required for many months before one is able to run a marathon in one day. Moroni reminds us,

“. . . dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6).


Fourth, we need to purge ourselves of personal aggrandizement. In other words, we need to do what is right because it is right and not to bring attention or undue credit to ourselves. Remember the Savior’s counsel on giving alms.

 

But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth;

 

That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly (Matthew 6: 3-4).


We need to do the right things for the right reasons.


Fifth, beware of pride and flattery. Satan knows you are not likely to commit major crimes or even the most serious sins but also knows that most of us are easily tempted by pride or addicted to flattery if we are not very careful to keep both feet on the ground.


Sixth, be humble and submissive. This does not mean to be passive or “wobbly” but it does mean that we should always remember this counsel: “Be thou humble and the Lord, thy God will lead thee by the hand and give thee answers to thy prayers” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:10).


Seventh, always try to act to promote that which is good for others, including praying for them and serving them. Remember that the “Golden Rule” is old but not outdated!


Eighth, learn to enjoy the fruits of the Spirit. What are they? I believe you know how you feel when you have really prayed but then also have really listened and pondered. You know how you have felt when you have borne testimony and it has touched another life as well as your own. You know how good you feel when you are able to go to the temple with your life right and your heart turned to the Lord and the Spirit. I believe that if you carefully evaluate your life and your experience, you will be surprised to recognize how often and how significantly you have been blessed by the interventions of the Holy Ghost in helping you do good things and also in avoiding serious mistakes. Also, I have been taught by President Boyd K. Packer that we will never make a serious mistake without being warned first.


Ninth, do works of righteousness. I could give you examples or applications, but you already know what they are. The reason that most of us do not do more is not that we don’t know what to do. If you are worried, begin modestly with more regular scripture study even if for only a few minutes a day. If you do not pay fast offerings regularly, resolve to do so even if you can afford to give only the cost of an apple or an egg. When you begin to think a little, your list of righteous works that you can really accomplish now will grow in an amazing fashion.


You might add to President Faust’s list but I would caution us all to avoid making all of this too complicated. It really is not! You usually know what it is you need to do when you carefully and prayerfully think through the process of obtaining the direction of the Spirit.


The question that we might often have, which I believe is not only understandable but also honorable, is “How can I really know when I am being directed or led by the Spirit?”


I might appropriately say that you will know and you will become increasingly comfortable over time that you do know as you become more closely familiar with the ministrations of the Holy Spirit. It is possible, however, to be confused on occasion, even with the best of intentions. I would invite your careful consideration of the suggestions made by President Faust. If your life and your heart are right, then you can be more comfortable that you are on the right track.


Let me also offer a little test you might apply to inspiration that you may feel you are receiving as you seek guidance on a particular matter or as you feel impressions coming, even when you did not consciously seek them. While you may still have questions after you apply the four criteria I will mention, you will be able to know for sure when feelings have not come from the proper source. If the answer to the four questions that I suggest you apply to your promptings is always yes, then you can continue to pray, ponder and seek confirmation until you are finally sure.

If the answer to any of the four questions is no, then you can have confidence that the feeling you have had is not from the Holy Ghost.


First, is the feeling or impression you have consistent with the pronouncements of the Lord found in the Scriptures?


Second, is your inspiration consistent with the statements and counsel of the living prophets?


Third, is the prompting you feel consistent with your own stewardship and scope of personal responsibility?


Fourth, does your answer infringe on the agency of someone else?


Let me take each of these four measuring standards individually. You will immediately understand why they are important but may also occasionally feel so strongly about a matter that you might make the mistake of failing to consider each measure fully.


The Lord has given us wonderful and extensive guidance in the scriptures. Because the focus of these inspired writings is on doctrine and principle, the specific application is usually left with us. For example, we know that keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a commandment, but how we do it, in part--and even in some places in the world, when we do it--is left to our best judgment. We need to know the doctrines well and also be exposed to them regularly so that we are not misled. Most individuals who believe that they have doctrinal issues with the Church really do not know the doctrine!


It is a serious mistake to take the counsel of living prophets lightly or to disregard it. This means we need to know what they have said and thus we have the responsibility to listen to General Conference, read the Ensign, and pay attention to their statements and pronouncements. A rather common error made even by some who consider themselves to be faithful church members is to say that “the brethren really do not understand my circumstances and therefore their directions do not apply to me.” A much better approach is to have the attitude, “given the experience and closeness to the Lord of His servants, I will try to understand and apply to my own situation their counsel and direction.” When we take that approach, we will almost always understand and appreciate the wisdom of their direction in helping us avoid serious errors in our own lives.


It is a too common misjudgment to develop feelings or express opinions that are outside the scope of our own stewardship. A bishop only receives revelation for his ward, not another. Only the President of the Church receives the Lord’s direction for the entire Church. A father and mother are entitled to Divine direction related to their own family but the neighbors are not instructed through them. We will frequently see others’ mistakes and achievements, as they will often see ours, but the gospel principle that revelation is always restricted to our own proper sphere is clear.


On occasion, we may receive promptings that affect us and may also involve others. This opens the potential for confusion unless we clearly understand the doctrines and principles of agency and revelation. As missionaries, many of us have felt prompted that certain investigators know what we have taught is true and that they should accept baptism and confirmation. This is a sweet experience that often inspires us to work and pray harder to assist the investigators with their challenges. Ultimately, however, the investigator must also receive the impression and act on it. However impressive the spiritual experience of the missionary, the investigator must have the “mighty change of heart” himself or herself for the conversion to really occur. Missionaries are required to provide the environment in part and share their testimonies, but are not authorized to dictate individual decisions or impose their own impressions that would violate the agency of another.


Similarly, a rather common experience may occur here with you at BYUIdaho while you are dating. We encourage it, by the way! One of you may have the compelling spiritual confirmation that another should be his or her eternal companion. Happily, both often seem to have the same spiritual experience, as I review your statistics. Unhappily, on occasion only one of you has the inspiration that you are meant for each other. Since both have not had the same experience, each is responsible for the light they have received and neither potential partner has the right to try to impose personal revelation on another. Each of us must make key decisions for ourselves and be sure that we allow and encourage others to do the same.


Another challenge to achieving all of the comfort that we desire has to do with the issue of timing. In our urge to progress and achieve, including those precious things that come only from the Spirit, we might be a little like the man who was reported to have prayed: “Dear God, I pray for patience, and I want it right now!” One of the blessings of getting a little older is the realization that comes that our timing is not always the same as God’s. Thus, the scriptures preach the virtue of patience (Mosiah 3:19) and describe it as an essential in overcoming the “natural man.” I like the words of Arnold Glasgow: “The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg – not by smashing it” (Peter’s Quotations, pg. 375).


Let me share, in conclusion, a few passages of scripture that may be helpful to us in our own thinking. The Lord has said, “I will hasten my work in its time” (Doctrine and Covenats 88:73). He has also said, “But all things must come to pass in their time” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:32). We need to hasten when we can, but also must recognize the need for patience in our progress. Likewise, we need to prioritize and appropriately stretch ourselves as we strive to improve but also remember the Lord’s counsel that you “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided . . . .” (Doctrine anf Covenants 10:4).


The Lord’s promise that we can be truly comforted is more significant than we know. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is one of the fruits of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ that can make our plea, “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, Help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do To live with him someday” a reality in our lives (Hymn #301, I Am a Child of God).

 

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