The Lord Uses the Unlikely to Accomplish the Impossible
Elder Russell M. Nelson
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Thank you, President Clark, for your gracious introduction. We love you and Sister Clark. We are very grateful for your commitment to improve the education of the youth of the Church. Wendy and I are most grateful for this opportunity to visit you, the students, and staff here at BYU-Idaho.
Dear brothers and sisters, you are exceptional individuals. You have been reserved for this particular time to accomplish your mission in mortality.1 Since your memory of your eternal identity has been largely forgotten, you need a reminder of how precious you are. You need to understand how really important you are in the eyes of your Maker. Most of you do not fully appreciate who you really are. And most of you do not fully foresee your future potential for greatness. That is understandable. You think of great people as men or women who are older and better known. And you are made aware of them because of their titles.
Such a circumstance occurred many years ago when I was teaching a missionary discussion to a woman from Great Britain. I was teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ, and how He had restored His gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith. She really liked the teachings of the gospel, but she had a hard time accepting the Prophet’s First Vision. She said she could believe in the Restoration more sincerely if God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ had appeared to the Archbishop of Canterbury!
Actually, the fact that the Father and the Son appeared to an untitled youth is one of the most remarkable aspects of the Restoration. Joseph Smith did not have to “unlearn” anything. He was tutored personally by Them. Joseph was also tutored by other heavenly messengers, including Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Moses, Elias, and Elijah. His mission in mortality was foreordained. His receptive and pristine mind was receptive. But, by worldly standards, Joseph was most unlikely. And his task to be the Prophet of this last dispensation seemed totally impossible. This example typifies the title of my message for you today: “The Lord Uses the Unlikely to Accomplish the Impossible!”
This pattern is one the Lord has used repeatedly throughout history. For instance, you know the story of David who slew Goliath with a stone and a sling.2 That was another example of how the Lord uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible.
You may remember the account of Gideon, as recorded in the book of Judges. In his capacity as a servant of the Lord, Gideon was leading his forces against the Midianite enemies when “the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many,. . . lest Israel vaunt themselves . . . saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.”
So the Lord told Gideon to excuse all who were afraid. That trimmed the number from 22,000 down to 10,000. Then the Lord said unto Gideon, “The people are yet too many.” So He ordered a drink test. They went down to the water. Some bowed down upon their knees to drink. Others cupped their hands to their mouths to drink.
The Lord said unto Gideon, “By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand.”3
The Lord delivered the victory to Gideon and his men. They were outnumbered about 500 to 1.4 Here again we see the pattern: the Lord uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible.
Think of Moses. In his advanced years, he was called to lead the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.5 You know what happened. Moses stretched out his hand over the Red Sea; and the Lord caused the sea to be divided. And the children of Israel walked across on the ground.6
Think of Joshua. He led the children of Israel across the River Jordan at flood time. In faith, they walked to that swollen river, and when the soles of their feet were wet, the waters of the Jordan were heaped up allowing the faithful to pass along to the promised land.7 For those Israelites who followed Moses and Joshua, deep water was divinely divided to allow the faithful to reach their appointed destination. Again we see the pattern: the Lord uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible.
Jumping ahead to the nineteenth century, we see the pattern emerge once again. Have you ever wondered why the Master waited so long to inaugurate the promised “restitution of all things”?8 Any competitor knows the disadvantage of allowing an opponent to get too far ahead. Suppose for a moment you are a member of a team. The coach calls you by name and says: “It is time for you to enter the game. But the going will be mighty tough. The score at this moment is one billion, one hundred forty-three million to six, and your team is the one with the six points!”9
That large number, 1,143,000,000, was the approximate population of the earth in the year 1830, when the restored church of Jesus Christ was officially organized.10 The location was in a rural part of New York State. With this little handful of people, the Lord’s work was begun. Think of the enormity of their assignment! It included the following:
• The gospel was to be preached to every kindred, nation, tongue, and people
• Ordinary human beings were to become Saints.
• And redemptive temple work was to be done for all who had ever lived.
Yes, with that assignment, the promised dispensation of the latter days had commenced, and they were the ones to usher it forth!
If any tasks ever deserved the label “impossible,” these massive assignments all qualified! But, they knew this biblical truth: “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”11
So much for history. Now we are living in the twenty-first century. Might these patterns apply to us? Scripture describes us and what we may experience as latter-day Saints. Quote: “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; . . . God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the . . . mighty.”12
Those “weak ones” even include us—the Brethren. For example, in 1984, in a most unexpected way, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and I were called away from our professions of law and medicine respectively, to serve as Apostles of the Lord. In the following year, President Ezra Taft Benson gave to me the assignment to supervise the work of the Lord in Europe and Africa, with a specific charge to open the nations of Eastern Europe now under the yoke of communism.
If ever a task ever seemed impossible to me, that was it. In the ensuring years, I tried my best. In each atheistic nation, I was never wanted and never welcome. Their governmental leaders wouldn’t even give appointments to a man who professed faith in God. In fact, at that time, some believers were imprisoned or even executed.
Those countries kept good records on visits by foreigners. I was on record as an American heart surgeon, who, as a volunteer, had previously taught in some of those countries. Paired with Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy, a Swiss engineer and architect, our partnership was disarming to them. We were truly unlikely, and different from leaders of other faith groups. Country by country, we labored diligently in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Estonia, Poland, Armenia, and the German Democratic Republic.
Each country presented different challenges for us. We did the very best we could, and then the Lord made up the difference. He did what we could not do. Time will not permit sharing the many details with you, but I can give you the conclusion. Before President Benson passed away, we were able to report that the Church was now established in all countries of Eastern Europe!
I testify to you that the Lord meant what He said when He declared: “I will show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work.”13 Yes, I am an eye-witness—I am a part of that pattern: the Lord used the unlikely to accomplish the impossible.
Now, let us apply this pattern to you. You are young. You are learning, but not learned. You will have moments of dismay. But, you should remember that each of you is literally and truly a son or daughter of Almighty God. You have been created in His very image.
Physically, He wants you to honor the body he has given you. He wants you to treasure and care for your body as your own personal temple.
Spiritually, He has sent you here to be successful and to have joy in your journey in mortality. He wants each of you to know that “with God nothing shall be impossible.”14 You are entitled through your worthiness to receive revelation to help you with your righteous endeavors. You may take upon you the name of the Lord. You may pray in His holy name. You can qualify to speak in the sacred name of God.15 It matters not that times of tribulation will come. Your prayerful access to help is just as real as it was when David battled his Goliath.
So, to each of you I say, foster your faith. Fix your focus with an eye single to the glory of God. “Be strong and courageous,”16 and you will be given power and protection from on high. The Lord has declared His sustaining help: “For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”17
The Lord has more in mind for you than you have in mind for yourself! You have been reserved and preserved for this time and place. You can do hard things. At the same time, as you love Him and keep His commandments, great rewards—even unimaginable achievements—may be yours. Indeed, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”18
You faithful students here in BYU-Idaho can accomplish the impossible. You can help shape the destiny of the entire human family! You will be scattered like seeds in the wind to build up the Church in all parts of the world. As you know and apply the teachings of the Lord in your lives and in your work, you can change the world. You will become a precious part of His perennial pattern: the Lord uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible!
God bless you, my dear brothers and sisters. We love you. We honor you. We pray for you. With you and through you, the great latter-day work of which we are a part shall be accomplished. With you and through you, prophecies of the ages shall be fulfilled. I so testify, with my expression of love for you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. See Doctrine and Covenants 86:8-9
2. See 1 Samuel 17:49–50.
3. See Judges 7:2–7.
4. Judges 7:12 states, “the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like grasshoppers for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the sea side for multitude. Gideon pursued the Midianites to Karkor where “about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword” (Judges 8:10). This would seem to imply that this was the number that Gideon pursued. This idea is confirmed in Harpers Bible Dictionary, 347.
5. See Exodus 3:8–12.
6. See Exodus 14:21–22.
7. See Joshua 3:13–17.
8. Acts 3:21.
9. See Elder Russell M. Nelson, “With God Nothing Shall Be Impossible”, Ensign, May 1988, 33.
10. See James Avery Joyce, sel., World Population Basic Documents, 4 vols., Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1976, 4:2214.
11. Matthew 19:26; see also 17:20; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; 18:27.