AND WILLING OBEDIENCE"
BYU-Idaho Campus Education Week Devotional
June 27, 2002
Elder David A. Bednar
©2002 by Brigham Young University-Idaho. All rights reserved
Good morning, brothers and sisters, and welcome to our BYU-Idaho Education Week. I am confident you will be both edified and enriched by your experience on our campus this week. I pray for and invite the Holy Ghost to be with me and with you as together we learn about eternal and essential truths.
My objective this morning is not to inform and certainly is not to entertain. My sincere desire is that together we will be challenged to examine our lives, to move to a higher spiritual plane, and to yearn and strive for what I refer to as heartfelt and willing obedience (D&C 64:34).
The Spirit of Ricks at BYU-Idaho
Our theme for Education Week this year is "BYU-Idaho Celebrates the Spirit of Ricks." A distinctive and powerful spirit, frequently referred to as the Spirit of Ricks, has long been associated with this institution of higher education in Rexburg, Idaho. Many people, including students, employees, and visitors not connected with the university, have told me that they quickly discerned something different and singular about this place--even as they first walked onto the campus. This rare quality--the Spirit of Ricks--is frequently described using characteristics such as caring, concerned, warm, close, friendly, and individually attentive. And though I agree with those descriptions, I believe they are incomplete. Let me suggest that the Spirit of Ricks is in fact the Holy Ghost operating through genuine and loving people in a set apart and sacred place. It is this vital spiritual component of the Spirit of Ricks that makes it so influential, so strong, so memorable, and so enduring.
I have learned in my years as the president of this institution that one and only one key unlocks the door and provides access to the Spirit of Ricks--and that key is obedience. Only by linking the principle of obedience to the Spirit of Ricks can we truly begin to understand and celebrate this remarkable feature of what was Ricks College and what is now Brigham Young University-Idaho.
The Youth of the Church and the Principle of Obedience
In October of 1997 Elder Neal A. Maxwell visited our campus to speak in a devotional. Sister Bednar and I provided transportation to and from the Idaho Falls airport for Elder and Sister Maxwell, and we hosted them in our home for lunch. The time we spent with this mighty apostle and his lovely wife before and after the devotional was invaluable, and the lessons we learned were priceless. As we talked together about a variety of gospel topics in general and the youth of the Church in particular, Elder Maxwell made a statement that greatly impressed me. He said, "The youth of this generation have a greater capacity for obedience than any previous generation." He then indicated that his statement was based upon a principle taught by Elder George Q. Cannon in the early days of the Restoration. Please listen carefully to the following statement by Elder Cannon:
God has reserved spirits for this dispensation who have the courage and determination to face the world and all the powers of the evil one, visible and invisible, to proclaim the Gospel and maintain the truth and establish and build up the Zion of our God fearless of all consequences. He has sent these spirits in this generation to lay the foundation of Zion never more to be overthrown and to raise up a seed that will be righteous and that will honor God and honor Him supremely and be obedient to Him under all circumstances (Journal of Discourses, 11:230 [May 6, 1866], emphasis added).
We frequently are reminded by our church leaders that the young men and women of this generation have been reserved for this day and are some of the most valiant of Heavenly Father's children. But these additional insights by Elders Cannon and Maxwell help us further to understand that today's young people specifically are to be valiant and ". . . obedient to Him under all circumstances." Thus, obedience is the principal weapon upon which the young warriors must rely in the latter-day battle between good and evil.
Obedience Operates at Different Levels
In the 42nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses one and two, we read:
Hearken, O ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together in my name, even Jesus Christ the Son of the living God, the Savior of the world; inasmuch as ye believe on my name and keep my commandments.
Again I say unto you, hearken and hear and obey the law which I shall give unto you (emphasis added).
Please notice that the word obey in verse two is linked to both hearing and hearkening. Hearing is the process of giving an ear to, and hearkening connotes applying the mind to what one hears. Obeying, then, results from hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17, Alma 32) and pondering (1 Nephi 11:1, Moroni 10:3) and "studying it out in [our] own minds" (D&C 9:7).
Brothers and sisters, obedience operates at a number of different levels. Elder Bruce R. McConkie has taught:
Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands. To obey gospel law is to yield obedience to the Lord, to execute the commands of and be ruled by him whose we are (Mormon Doctrine, p. 539, emphasis added).
Note how Elder McConkie includes the elements of compliance, conformity, and subjection or submission in his description of obedience. Let me suggest that each of these three elements can be considered as a progressive level of obedience. Thus, obedience is not simply a passive steady state; rather, obedience must grow and develop and deepen and increase and expand. Our experience with and understanding of the principle of obedience should change as we develop spiritually and as we gain additional light and knowledge--line upon line and precept upon precept. Also, our spiritual expectations should increase and intensify as we continue to faithfully obey God's commandments.
Let me now present a series of comparisons that illustrate how obedience operates at different levels. It is one thing to obey in order to qualify for and receive blessings; it is quite another thing to obey as a preparation to give and to serve more effectively. It is one thing to merely and perhaps mechanically comply with God's commandments; it is quite another thing to obey and thereby fully subject and submit oneself to the will and timetable of the Lord. It is a good thing to obey out of a sense of duty; but it is an even greater thing, a more spiritually demanding thing, to obey through love. It is one thing to reluctantly or grudgingly conform to commandments; it is a different thing to joyfully ". . . obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness . . ." (Alma 57:21) and cheerfully ". . . to observe strictly to keep the commandments of God . . ." (Helaman 13:1). It is one thing to perform the outward actions of obedience; it is quite a different thing to become inwardly what the commandments are intended to help us become. It is one thing to obey the institutional, public, and shared commandments associated with the Lord's kingdom on earth--commandments such as the law of chastity, the law of tithing, and the Word of Wisdom; it is an even greater thing to receive and respond to the individual, private, and personally revealed commandments that result from continual and faithful obedience.
Commandments Not a Few
Please turn with me to Doctrine and Covenants section 59, verses three and four.
Yea, blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel; for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth, and it shall bring forth in its strength.
And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time--they that are faithful and diligent before me (emphasis added).
We learn in these verses that those who have obeyed the gospel shall receive the good things of the earth, blessings from above, commandments not a few, and revelations in their time. In particular, I want to draw our attention to the phrase ". . . and with commandments not a few . . . ." Brothers and sisters, for the past few minutes I have attempted to differentiate between obedience that is predominately complying and conforming in nature and a higher level of obedience that includes spiritual submission and enables us to receive ". . . commandments not a few . . . ." Obedience that is primarily complying and conforming is good and is truly obedience. But the higher level of obedience I am trying to describe--an obedience that stretches beyond the letter of the law and to the spirit of the law--is both heartfelt and willing. And it brings an individualized gospel insight and perspective and power that are precious beyond measure. As we read in section 64 of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 34:Progressing from the level of complying obedience to the level of heartfelt and willing obedience does not occur quickly or all at once. Nor is it merely a matter of greater personal discipline; it is a change of disposition, a change of heart. And this gradual change of heart is one that the Lord accomplishes within us, through the power of his Spirit, in a line-upon-line fashion. For example, in Philippians 2:12, Paul encourages the Saints to ". . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." But how are we to do that? Note the answer that follows in verse 13: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." That is, we give ourselves to the Lord and choose to be changed. He is working on us and in us. Brothers and sisters, it is vitally important for all of us to remember that progressing to higher and more spiritually demanding levels of obedience is not simply a matter of more personal determination, more grit, and more willpower; rather, it is accomplished through the enabling power of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days (emphasis added).
Closely associated with obeying with a willing heart is reaching a point where we no longer are driven or directed by rules; instead, we learn to govern our lives by principle. To be sure, we keep the rules; but we also begin to ask ourselves, "What is the principle involved here?" Such a person becomes less dependent upon external scaffolding and structure and more dependent upon quiet and ongoing divine direction. As the Prophet Joseph explained, "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves" (The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, eds. Larry E. Dahl and Donald Q. Cannon, Bookcraft, 1997, p. 32).
Now you may be asking yourself, "What do different levels of obedience have to do with celebrating the Spirit of Ricks?" I think the answer to this question is really rather straightforward. Brigham Young University-Idaho is a set apart and sacred place where young men and women, with a remarkable capacity to obey, can become acquainted with or further their experience with heartfelt and willing obedience. The true Spirit of Ricks is about progressing to and through "letter of the law" obedience to public and institutional commandments and toward the spirit of devoted discipleship and a private, personal, and individual change of heart.
I find it fascinating that one of the greatest blessings related to keeping God's commandments is additional commandments. Now, individuals who find commandments restrictive and constraining clearly will not regard more commandments as a blessing. But the Apostle John taught that for one who has come unto Christ and been born again, God's "commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:3). Thus, individuals who have eyes to see and ears to hear will readily recognize the consummate spiritual benefit that comes from extra direction from heaven. What are these "commandments not a few," and how do we receive them?
The individual and personal commandments "not a few" we receive frequently tend to focus upon the good things we can and should do to develop and deepen our discipleship--as opposed to focusing primarily upon the bad things we must avoid or overcome. Such instructions typically are proactive and anticipatory in nature. For example, many of us remember the teachings of President Spencer W. Kimball concerning fast offerings. He stated:
I think that when we are affluent, as many of us are, that we ought to be very, very generous . . . . I think we should be very generous and give, instead of the amount we saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more--ten times more where we are in a position to do it (Conference Report, April 1974, p. 184).
Thus, an individual or a family may be prompted to freely and willingly and cheerfully contribute to the fast offering fund at a level far beyond the routine and basic "letter of the law" standards with which most of us are familiar. The commandment "not a few" in this example is gladly obeyed in order to bless and strengthen others with serious challenges and insufficient resources.
A few additional examples may be helpful. As I proceed, please keep in mind, however, that I am not attempting to provide a comprehensive list of what "commandments not a few" are or should be. Such commandments are individual and quite personal; nonetheless, a further illustration or two can help us to better comprehend this concept.
I know a young man who was taught in his home to dress appropriately for his Sunday meetings--and then to remain in his Sunday attire throughout the entire Sabbath day. For this young man, one of the "commandments not a few" is simply to align his dress and demeanor with the spirit of reverence and worship he hopes to sustain on the Sabbath. Likewise, a priesthood holder may receive an individualized "commandment not a few" to always dress in his Sunday best clothing to perform a priesthood ordinance or to act in any capacity as a representative of the Savior, except of course in unanticipated emergency situations. I am aware of families where all family members dress in Sunday attire as children receive a father's blessing or as other priesthood ordinances are performed. And members of the Church may receive a "commandment not a few" to dress appropriately for an interview with the bishop or stake president as an indication of their respect for and of the dignity associated with these important priesthood offices.
Please listen to the following statements about the honor and dress codes at BYU-Idaho contained in a letter I recently received from a student.
I was never one for the rules. I would keep them, as I found need for them. But the idea of having someone tell me what to do did not thrill me. I was already beginning to turn to the light of the honor code when I heard Sister Bednar's talk about modesty. The story she related about the young man who would not date a young woman because she refused to heed the Prophet's counsel and remove her second set of earrings really impacted me. I likewise had refused to take out my three earrings. I decided that I did not want to be like the young woman in Sister Bednar's story. After the talk I took out my earrings. I also was more cautious about the skirts I wore, making sure I would not show any skin. But something more important happened as a result of listening to Sister Bednar's talk and following her counsel. I became more susceptible to the Spirit. And from being more obedient to the smaller rules I was prompted to . . . .
The things this young woman described in her letter after this final statement are things I will not share in public. Brothers and sisters, you will be interested to know that this young woman presently is serving as a full-time missionary. Note how her initially conforming and complying obedience developed into heartfelt and willing obedience and led her into a remarkable opportunity to serve and to assist in building the Kingdom.
Let me repeat a statement I made earlier about the Spirit of Ricks. Brigham Young University-Idaho is a set apart and sacred place where young men and women, with a remarkable capacity to obey, can become acquainted with or further their experience with heartfelt and willing obedience. The true Spirit of Ricks is about progressing to and through "letter of the law" obedience to public and institutional commandments and toward the spirit of devoted discipleship and a private, personal, and individual change of heart. The letter from this young woman provides a powerful example of the impact of the Spirit of Ricks.
The Home is the Best Place to Learn About and Experience
Heartfelt and Willing Obedience
It is important for all of us to remember that as strong and influential as the Spirit of Ricks is on this campus, and as powerful and positive as the influences of the Church and its programs and facilities are, the very best environment in which to learn about and experience heartfelt and willing obedience is in our own homes. The first, foremost, and greatest responsibility to teach and model obedience rests upon parents; we learn to obey best from dear loved ones in a spiritually protected, safe, and secure home.
We are all familiar with Nephi's introductory comment in the Book of Mormon about ". . . having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father . . ." (1 Nephi 1:1, emphasis added). Clearly, the seeds of Nephi's consistent faithfulness and willing obedience were planted in the fertile soil of his soul and cultivated and nurtured in a gospel-centered home. It is significant to me that the final words Nephi recorded in his account, found in 2 Nephi 33:15, reflect both his life's experience and the powerful influence of his home.
For what I seal on earth, shall be brought against you at the judgment bar; for thus hath the Lord commanded me, and I must obey. Amen (emphasis added).
Just as Nephi's benedictory words provide great insight into his life, we also learn much about the Prophet Joseph Smith himself and about his home in a simple statement found in the Joseph Smith History. Recall that the young boy Joseph was visited and instructed three times during one night by Moroni. The day after the visitation Joseph attempted to fulfill his regular responsibilities on the farm but was so exhausted he could not get anything done. Seeing the young boy's condition, Joseph's father instructed his son to return to their home. As Joseph was leaving the field and crossing the fence, he fell on the ground, and for a time he was quite unconscious of anything. Now please turn with me to verse 49 in the Joseph Smith History.At the beginning of verse 50, we find the simple two-word statement that tells us so much about Joseph and his home: "I obeyed" (emphasis added). And Joseph's early experiences with heartfelt and willing obedience in his home provided a solid foundation upon which a lifetime of faithful and fearless leadership was built. As the Prophet Joseph explained, "I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it" (History of the Church, 2:170).
The first thing I can recollect was a voice speaking unto me, calling me by name. I looked up, and beheld the same messenger standing over my head, surrounded by light as before. He then again related unto me all that he had related to me the previous night, and commanded me to go to my father and tell him of the vision and commandments which I had received.
Brother and sisters, it is not unrealistic to assert that in the times in which we live parents in Zion must strive to create and maintain homes like Nephi's and Joseph's--homes in which parents and children alike learn about and gain experience with heartfelt and willing obedience. From such homes will come Latter-day Saints who are pure--certainly not perfect, but pure and without spot. And that purity produces a matchless power to do and be good and to literally "chase darkness from among you" (D&C 50:25). There is an unparalleled power in personal purity, and our homes are the places in which heartfelt and willing obedience and personal purity bloom and blossom.
May each of us have a greater desire and determination to obey God's commandments with all of our hearts and with willing minds. May we be blessed to qualify for and to receive "commandments not a few." May each of us also understand that this great institution and the Spirit of Ricks exist to assist and to support--but never to act as a substitute for--gospel and Christ-centered homes.
Brothers and sisters, I testify that God the Eternal Father lives. Jesus Christ is His only Begotten Son. And I witness that as our obedience becomes heartfelt and willing we will increasingly become like them. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.