Did you know that this wonderful facility we find ourselves in today was completed in November of 1969 and was soon thereafter dedicated by Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles?
Since that time there have been hundreds of devotionals and firesides conducted within these walls where inspired men and women; many of them General Authorities and officers of the Church, have spoken. When I think of this history and the hands that have touched this podium and the words that have been broadcast to thousands from this microphone over the 40 plus year history of this building, I am humbled and grateful to be numbered among them.
While at some risk, I feel it safe to suggest to you that each of the speakers that have or will ever occupy this position, that I am so honored to occupy now, have but one goal in heart and mind; that of your personal instruction and edification. We are here for you. We want this to be a meaningful experience for you. We want you to know that you are loved and that you inspire in us great faith and hope for the future. We trust that your goodness will help shape a better world for us all. Indeed, this is your charge as a Disciple of Christ.
Therefore, we express words like those of the Apostle Paul writing to the Thessalonians; “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers”. You are a remarkable sight to behold and we are grateful for your presence here today and your presence here at Brigham Young University-Idaho.
I acknowledge my dear wife and son, Sam, who are with me today. I also acknowledge and thank the many leaders who are here on the stand with us. I especially want to make mention of President and Sister Clark. I love and appreciate my association and friendship with these two remarkable people. How blessed you are to be under their watchful care.
This fireside has been referenced as the “Get Connected” fireside and is one of a series of events designed to help you become better acquainted with the University and to help you take full advantage of the opportunities that are here for you. Accordingly, I wish to title my remarks “Getting Connected.” I have given much thought to this opportunity I have been given to address you today. I have sought to know the Lord’s will and feel that the topic I have prepared is what He would have me say. I pray now to be able to say it in a spirit that will allow for our edification.
To introduce this topic, I wish to share a personal experience. When I was 16-years old, I was invited to experience my first flight in an airplane. What made this event even more exciting was the fact that the invitation was extended to me by a beautiful girl that I would later marry. Her father was co-owner of a small, single-engine, Cessna airplane. The day of the flight, we met at the American Falls airport just west of my home in Pocatello, Idaho. I was invited to sit up front in what could be described as the co-pilot’s seat. I was thrilled as I would be given the opportunity to take the controls of the plane once we had achieved our flight altitude.
Soon after take-off, the plane ride quickly went from thrilling to terrifying. The plane began a series of unexplainable acrobatic motions. I became disoriented and did not know up from down. At first I thought the pilot was just trying to spook us a bit with sharp turns and steep dives. However, before things could become clear to me, I felt a tremendous thrust forward as the plane hit the ground and I blacked out. My first airplane experience had ended in a crash.
The incident of our plane crash was investigated. It was determined that we lost power to the engine due to a malfunction of the magneto switch. I have since learned that the magneto switch is that critical connection that gives the electrical spark, and therefore life, to the engine. Without it there is no power and without power there is no way to keep the plane in the air.
While gratefully, all of us were able to walk away from this crash with minor injury, I learned something very valuable from this experience. Something that has been reinforced throughout my life and that is; there exists a power source for each one of us. This power source is our Heavenly Father. Getting connected to this power source helps us to find flight in life, or happiness and success. We have the capacity to develop and maintain a continuous connection to this power source through prayer.
Prayer is a familiar principle and a wonderful blessing available to us all. It is one of the first principles we teach and practice with children in the home. It is typically the first act of public worship a child attempts while attending Primary. It is included in the first lesson taught by the Missionaries to those investigating the Church. It is referenced by word or theme so often throughout all of the books of scripture that no one can mistake its importance in the mind of God.
It is important because our Heavenly Father wants us to know that we are His children. That He loves us. That He knows our needs. He wants to bless us. He wants us to be happy. He wants us to know His plan for us and that part of that plan requires a mortal existence where we are temporarily separated from Him. Prayer is the means by which we communicate with our Father during this period of separation.
It is how we come to know Him; and, conversely, it is how we come to know who we are. It not only becomes our source of power, but our source of guidance, knowledge, endurance, confidence, protection, forgiveness, and faith. It is no wonder then that we have been commanded to pray. In modern revelation the Savior taught; “And again, I command thee that thou shalt pray vocally as well as in thy heart; yea, before the world as well as in secret, in public as well as in private”.
We have also been commanded to pray always. To the ancient inhabitants of the American continent that Savior taught; “Therefore, ye must always pray unto the Father in my name”. And again by way of modern revelation; “Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing – yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof”.
To pray always requires that each day we find time to kneel in humble prayer to the Father. At other times during the day it is appropriate to “go with a prayer in our hearts.” In this way we maintain the perpetual connection to our source of power and blessing.
To fulfill the commandment to pray always and to claim the blessings of prayer, we must strive to make prayer a part of our lives and learn basic principles that empower our capacity to pray with greater intent. The principles I wish to speak to you about today are:
The pattern of prayer.
The prayer of faith.
The prayer of gratitude.
Principles of Prayer
First, the pattern of prayer.
Suggesting that there is a pattern to prayer is to suggest that there is a model, an ideal to which we ought to strive if we want our prayers to penetrate the heavens. The ultimate pattern for us was demonstrated by the Savior in His Sermon on the Mount. Here he taught His disciples how to pray by offering to them an example of prayer which has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer. Listen, and attempt to discern elements to the pattern of prayer taught by the Savior.
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name.”
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen”.
Notice to whom He prayed. Notice His choice of words. Notice the prayer’s simplicity and brevity. Notice the content, the suggestion that our will yield to the Father’s, and the worshipful praise that is given. All elements to the pattern of prayer. Allow me, for just a moment, to enlarge on just of few of these patterned elements.
First, we are to pray to Heavenly Father and none else. We are to pray in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ. We are to use language that shows love, respect, and reverence for the Father; words such as thy, thine, thee, and thou instead of the more familiar you and yours. Some may wonder why this old “biblical” sounding language makes a difference for us today. The answer is given by our Church leaders.
President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
“Our Eternal Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, should never be approached in prayer in the familiar expressions so commonly used in addressing human beings. The Father and the Son should always be honored in our prayers in the utmost humility and reverence”.
President Spencer W. Kimball wrote:
“In all our prayers, it is well to use the pronouns thee, thou, thy, and thine instead of you, your and yours inasmuch as they have come to indicate respect”.
In Preach My Gospel, missionaries are taught to “Use the language of prayer, which shows that you love and respect your Heavenly Father. Use proper and respectful language in whatever language you speak. For example, in English use scriptural pronouns such as Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine”.
Another pattern consistent with the Savior’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is to avoid vain repetitions or, in other words, empty phrases. He said; “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking”.
There are two aspects of this scripture worth mentioning; that of vain repetitions and that of thinking they shall be heard for their much speaking. To use vain repetition is to speak from the comfort of memorized wording rather than the spontaneous manifestations of the heart. It is to speak without thinking, offering familiar, well-used phrases that become routine and therefore meaningless as compared to those thoughts that originate from the yearnings of the heart. In either case, the use of such empty, meaningless expression ought to be avoided.
Finally, and related to our need to avoid vain repetitions, is that of thinking we may be heard for our much speaking. Our prayers need not be lengthy to be effective. A favorite saying of mine, the origins of which I do not know, is that “a prayer does not need to be everlasting to be eternal.” While time should not be a governing factor to our prayers, we should not be ashamed of the simple, heart-felt prayer that conveys our love, gratitude and interests to God with an economy of words.
I remember as a boy the way I admired and looked up to my Grandfather Burton. Although separated by distance, I often had occasion to hear him pray. The impression left upon me still to this day is that he knew how to communicate with Heavenly Father. He didn’t talk “at” Him, he spoke to Him with the expectation that the prayer would be heard and answered according to the will of the Father. His prayers were simple, not verbose, and yet powerful.
On one occasion we knelt in our home for family prayer. Grandfather Burton was asked to offer the prayer by my father. I remember listening with intent to the words of the prayer. At one point I was startled by something he said. Grandpa thanked Heavenly Father for our “Forbearers,” an expression that I had not heard before. At the conclusion of the prayer I said, Grandpa, that was nice of you to thank Heavenly Father for the bears, but there were only three bears not four!” I learned that day from a wonderful man the feelings of his heart that found expression in his prayer.
May I invite you to try something that may help to establish for you a more meaningful connection in prayer? At the end of the day, prior to your retiring for the night, take a moment to think upon the days activities and ask yourself; “What made this day different from others I have experienced? Did I make a new friend? Did I learn something new? Was I given a new challenge to overcome? Was I the recipient of someone else’s kindness? Did I serve someone in need? Did I have a spiritual experience or act upon spiritual promptings as I felt directed to do?”
The setting can be reversed and the questions modified for the beginning of the day as well. The point is to take time in quiet reflection, prior to offering prayer, to think about what has or what may occur.
As you ponder the answer to these questions you will find the welcoming attitude of prayer overcome your being. You will be drawn to your knees and you will be given the words to speak. In that moment you will find the language of reverence coming to you naturally. There will be no vain repetitions. There will be no urgency to finish quick or extend long. There will only be you and your Father in communication one with another. There will be an outpouring of Spirit and you will experience, hopefully once again, the impressions that you are special. That you are known. That you are loved. That you are a son or daughter of God. And just think, this can be your experience every single day!
The second principle I wish to address is that of the prayer of faith.
I would like to illustrate this principle by drawing upon the scriptural account of Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel. You will remember the opening verse to the Book of Mormon stating that Nephi was “born of goodly parents,” and that “therefore he was taught somewhat in all the learning of his father”.
What we do not often consider is that this same verse applies to Laman and Lemuel. Were they not too born of goodly parents? Were they not too taught in all the learning of their father? Certainly they were. Nephi goes on to write in verse sixteen of the first chapter of first Nephi, that his father Lehi had “written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children . . .”.
These writings of Lehi of which Nephi spoke, including his visions and prophesies, were also available and taught to Laman and Lemuel. How, then, can it be written of these two brothers the following: “. . . And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them”? After all they had been taught and exposed to, as children of a prophet, how could they not know the dealings of God in their lives?
The answer is revealed in a series of scriptural verses that all lead to the same conclusion. Laman and Lemuel did not believe and therefore murmured because they did not inquire of the Lord. Nephi wrote that his father had taught his children “many great things . . . which were hard to be understood save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought”.
To further emphasize this point, listen to this exchange between Nephi and these murmuring brothers. Lehi had just taught them about the scattering and gathering of Israel comparing it to an olive tree. Laman and Lemuel were disputing because they did not understand the words which their father spoke to them.
“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?”
“And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”
“Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?”
“Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? – If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you”.
Laman and Lemuel, like their brother Nephi had been taught marvelous things. They had witnessed miracles. They had even been visited by an angel of the Lord. One would think that they should be like unto Nephi, faithful, stalwart, and true. But, and here is the point, they lacked the desire to make the prayer of faith. And without faith, the faith sufficient to inquire of the Lord, even being taught by a Prophet, experiencing miracles, and witnessing the visitation of an angel are not enough to establish one’s conversion and therefore benefits them not at all.
The prophet Mormon warned that if anyone “shall pray and not with real intent of heart . . . it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such”. To make our prayers meaningful, we must pray with sincerity and “with all the energy of heart.
The Doctrine and Covenants expresses this same point this way; “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach”. A natural extension to this thought is that “if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not LEARN.”
We live in a time when the greatest truths known to man are found on the earth. They are here for any honest seeker of truth to find. Most importantly, they are given with the promise that those who desire, those who inquire of the Lord in faith, will have truth manifest unto them. To pray the prayer of faith requires no magic formula. Such a prayer is within reach of each of us. It simply requires the desire that inspires the effort. This was the pattern discovered by Joseph Smith wanting with all his heart to know which Church to join. This desire led him to his sacred grove.
I found my sacred grove after having received my mission call. I grew up in the Church and always had the expectation that I would serve a mission. However, the first 19-years of my life were lived, at least spiritually, on borrowed light. I went through the motions of conversion because that is what I was taught to do by my parents. That is until my mission. While in the Mission Training Center, separated from those I love and those things which I thought gave my life meaning, I came to realize just how ill prepared emotionally and spiritually I was to serve. I struggled greatly and even doubted my own ability to fulfill my call.
It came to a point where I knew that I must either gain a testimony of the work I was to do and the Gospel I was to proclaim, or I must abandon the cause. On the third floor of the dormitory where my room was located there was, just down the hall, a janitor’s closet. It was the one place I determined I could go and be alone. There I went and there I opened my heart and soul to my Heavenly Father. I don’t remember the words I spoke, but I remember the urgent desire I felt to find answer. I left that closet a different man.
My challenges did not entirely go away. I still struggled to learn a foreign language. I still felt the pains of homesickness, but I did not doubt where I needed to be and what I was to do. My heart was full of faith and it informed my mind that nothing else really now mattered than what the Lord would have me do. You see, I had found my own sacred grove and life was never the same for me again.
Brothers and Sisters, you too have a sacred grove. Those of you who have found it, need to return to it often; again and again to keep the spark of faith alive and, in order to maintain your connection to the divine source of power. For those of you who are still searching, or who are living on borrowed light as I was, I offer the following thought as a means to inspire your continued search and desire. The message of the restoration is either true or it is not. If it is true, can you imagine anything of greater consequence and value to you personally than knowing for yourself? No one can ask for you. No one can demand your attention to this matter of what is true. Only you have the right to decide to know and the only way to know of spiritual truth – any truth, is by way of the prayer of faith.
The third and final principle I wish to address today is that of the prayer of gratitude.
We live in a world where people are quick to blame when things go wrong and slow to remember their God when things go right. This is exemplified in the story of the careless roofer (that’s R-O-O-F-E-R). One day perched high on a building’s roof replacing shingles, a man lost his footing and began to tumble down the roof toward the edge and beyond to certain death. In this terrifying moment, the man offered a hasty prayer saying; “Dear God, if you will stop my fall I promise to devote my life to thy service.” At that moment, a protruding nail caught his pant and stopped his fall just short of the edge. Realizing the fall had been averted, he offered a supplemental prayer saying; “Never mind Lord, I took care of the problem myself.”
The prayer of gratitude is discovered as we take time to remember the source of all our blessings. As we do so we will recognize how much our Heavenly Father has done for us and we will desire to express our thanks to Him. The Book of Mormon prophet, Amulek taught, that we should, “live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he [our Heavenly Father] doth bestow upon [us]”.
This demeanor of gratitude is exemplified for us in the scriptures. Let’s again look to the writings and experiences of young Nephi. Nephi was “chosen in the furnace of affliction”. From the time he was a young man, perhaps younger than some of you here today, Nephi faced great challenge. Among other things:
He was taken from his childhood home at a young age leaving friends, possessions, and all that was known to him with no promise of return, to follow his parents into the unknown wilderness.
He and his brothers were sent back to Jerusalem with the awesome task of retrieving the Brass Plates from the wicked king Laban. He was not given specific instruction on how this would or should be done and as a result, they suffered failure in the attempt twice.
He was troubled at every righteous turn by older brothers who could not accept the Lord’s will for their family; he was verbally abused by them, beaten by them, at times they even sought his life.
He suffered thirst, hunger, and fatigue as they traveled. At one point, he was complained against because he broke his bow and the family could obtain no food.
He was given the overwhelming task of building a ship, not to mention the intricate work of needing to make the tools by which the ship could be built.
Upon the waters, while crossing to the Promised Land, he was bound, mistreated, and left for the space of three days suffering greatly, all the while the ship being halted in its forward progress.
At this point, one unfamiliar with the Lord’s work and His capacity to qualify the willing heart may think that Nephi would be justified in his own spiritual rebellion. And yet, what did Nephi say? “. . . Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the daylong; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions”.
Praise, in this verse, is a form of gratitude. Nephi teaches us that gratitude is the recognition of God’s power and influence in our life and the expression of thanksgiving to Him for all blessings. His example also suggest an additional element to our definition of gratitude; that of expressing thanks even when things do not go our way, or at least as we think they should go. Therefore, gratitude is a divine attribute. It is a sign of maturity, an indication of humility, the hallmark of civility, the bringer of hope, the motivator of reciprocal kindness, and the companion to charity.
Gratitude helps to put things into perspective. It reminds the natural man, who is often drawn into to the ugly world of self-pity; that life is good, that life is fair, and that earthly challenges are transitory while the blessings that come from them – which they surely will – are eternal. Hence, gratitude empowers the spiritual man. It brings an optimism and an enthusiasm for living each day. It emboldens our reliance upon the Lord and His commands. It makes of us the type of person that others wish to be around and emulate. It brings honor to the obedient.
To this last point of bringing honor to the obedient, you may recall the Savior’s experience as he was traveling to Jerusalem passing through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. There came to Him ten men who were plagued with Leprosy. The law would not allow them to approach the Savior as they were labeled as “unclean.” Therefore, from a distance they lifted up their voices calling unto Him saying “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”. The Savior did show mercy to them and instructed that they go show themselves to the Priests. This instruction is important because again, according to Jewish law, they were not able to return to their homes and family, they were not able to enjoy the association of communal life again until the priest had pronounced them clean.
We then see a profound example of faithful obedience, for the scriptural account reads that “as they went, they were cleansed”. Notice it read, “As they went.” It was not a situation of their being cleansed and then, upon realizing such, turning to go see the Priest. Rather it was the demonstration of their faith and obedience to the Lord’s command that they go, that won for them the miraculous healing.
Now, I don’t know how long these 10-men had been burdened with this dreadful disease and how long it had been since they were able to be with those they loved, but I am sure it was no small matter to be told, in effect, that they could go home. I imagine upon hearing this, the only thought pressing upon their minds was to get to the priest as quickly as was possible in order to receive permission to again return to their loved ones, and so they eagerly went. I say this not to excuse their failure to recognize their benefactor, but only to say that I understand their haste. However, and to his credit, there was one – only one, that upon seeing he was healed paused, putting aside the excitement that surely he felt to return home, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God. He then went to the Savior and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan”.
Let me share with you a modern day experience that equals that of this one Samaritan who returned to give thanks to the Savior. This experience tells the story of a young BYU-Idaho student who returned to give thanks to their Stake President. This student allowed themself to become plagued with the spiritual affliction of transgression. The seriousness of this transgression required the Stake President to send the student home. There, the Bishop began to work with them helping them through the repentance process.
You can imagine the heart-ache, frustration, and even anger this student felt. And yet, there was obedience and the student left for home in order to find spiritual healing. As noble a thing it was for this student to obediently comply with the requirement to “go home and face the fire,” it was but a small thing in comparison to the noble act which followed. This student, in time, and after realizing the blessing and the miracle of forgiveness, sent a letter back to the Stake President who had sent him home. With the president’s permission, I read to you the student’s letter:
“. . . I don’t know if you remember me. We had a[n] interview together about a year and a half ago. You asked me to return home and ‘face the fire.’ I spent the last year and a half ‘facing the fire.’ I was able to meet with my bishop weekly and having the support of my family was exactly what I needed. My testimony of this gospel has grown immensely. My testimony of the atonement and my Savior is so real now. When I first came home I struggled a lot. I was bitter that I was asked to leave school. But one day I was reading in the Miracle of Forgiveness and there was a list of questions that I asked myself. One was ‘could you accept excommunication for the sin if deemed necessary?’ ‘If you were, would you become bitter at the church and it’s officers?’ That’s when my heart was softened. I realized yes, I would be willing to be excommunicated and I would be willing to work my way back to the church. I was no longer bitter at having to come home, but thankful. I wouldn’t be who I am today and I wouldn’t have this strong of a testimony had I not gone through this process. I wanted to thank you for listening to the spirit. I now have a temple recommend and I am back here at school and my relationship with my family is even closer and better then it ever was. Thank you”.
Do you see the nobility in this simple act of gratitude? Does it not magnify the initial act of obedience? The point, then, is this; even obedient behavior of such faithful proportions as was demonstrated by the 10-Lepers and this one student, is lessened in value and nobility if there is not thanks returned to the benefactor. Expressing gratitude is not only a celestial attribute warranting spiritual blessings of great value, it has also been proven to have a temporal benefit of significant physical and mental value.
Not long ago, Dr. Michael McCollough, of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Dr. Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis, conducted a research project on gratitude and thanksgiving. The study required several hundred people in three different groups to keep daily diaries. The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day. The second group recorded their unpleasant experiences. The last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.
The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved.
McCollough suggests that anyone can increase their sense of well-being and create positive social effects for themselves just from counting their blessings.
Brothers and Sisters, we know the demands you face in life are many. We know the requirements of being a student are great. We know the standards of a BYU-Idaho student are exacting. And, we know the expectations of one who is a Disciple of Christ to be, at times, daunting – especially in light of earthly pressures. However, we also know that you are capable. We want you to know that we love you. We know of your goodness. We know your desires are righteous. We know you are trying hard to do everything that is expected of you and we express our gratitude for you.
As you go forward into this new semester my hope is that you will find your spiritual connection in prayer. That your desires may always be turned to Him who can be the source of your power, lifting you above worldly influences and even beyond your own fears and doubts. My prayer for you is that you may recognize, as did the powerful Book of Mormon missionary, Ammon; that “. . . for in his strength [your Heavenly Father’s,] [you] can do all things . . .“.
I leave you my witness that God lives, that he hears and answers our prayers and that He is anxious to bless us in our needs. I bear witness that as we cultivate a thankful heart and a gracious demeanor we will find favor in the sight of the Lord. I testify that Jesus is the Christ, that He is our Savior, and that His Gospel has been restored to the earth in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times. I testify that no greater knowledge is there for one to possess than this and the blessed miracle is that such knowledge is accessible to each one of us who desires and seeks it with honest intent. May the Lord bless you to this end I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.