Faith as a Principle of Action and Power
Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Annual Training Broadcast • June 13, 2017
I always look forward to being with you at this important gathering. In preparation for this meeting, I have petitioned the Lord to know what He would have us do for His children who sit in our classrooms and in our homes. In quiet moments I have felt His approbation for your tireless efforts and countless sacrifices. I have also felt a sense of just how much He delights to bless you and your families. And I have felt of His desire to bless your students with a love for and a testimony of His Beloved Son.
This cannot be accomplished solely with more or better programs, curriculum, training, or technology because none of those things will ever replace the miraculous touch of heaven in the lives of our students. What we hope for will only come as a gift from our loving Father in Heaven and will require His power to perform miracles in individual lives.
What it will require of us is to exercise greater faith because faith precedes every miracle. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “‘Faith without works is dead.’ But [then he added], ‘Works without faith is even deader.’”1 In other words, all our hard work will not produce the desired result if it is performed without faith. That is because faith is both a principle of action and a principle of power. An increase of our collective faith would be a sign to the Lord that we rely on Him and trust in His power to inspire, convert, strengthen, prepare, and protect the rising generation. An increase of faith in the Savior would strengthen our teaching, our invitations for youth and young adults to attend seminary or institute or to read the scriptures, and even our relationships with parents and priesthood leaders. So, in the coming weeks and months, will you please join with me in asking our Father in Heaven to increase our faith? I believe He stands ready to help if we will but ask.
Exercising Faith as a Principle of Action
Joseph Smith taught that exercising faith in God requires us to have “a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes” and a “knowledge that the course of life which [we are] pursuing is according to his will.”2 Both of these imperatives require us to exercise faith as a principle of action.3
In the most recent general conference, President Russell M. Nelson shared one way by which we may approach the first of these two requirements:
“The more we know about the Savior’s ministry and mission—the more we understand His doctrine and what He did for us—the more we know that He can provide the power that we need for our lives.
“Earlier this year, I asked the young adults of the Church to consecrate a portion of their time each week to study everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the standard works. I invited them to let the scriptural citations about Jesus Christ in the Topical Guide become their personal core curriculum.
“I gave that challenge because I had already accepted it myself. I read and underlined every verse cited about Jesus Christ, as listed under the main heading and the 57 subtitles in the Topical Guide. When I finished that exciting exercise, my wife asked me what impact it had on me. I told her, ‘I am a different man!’”4
I wanted to remind you of this invitation because I have personally seen the benefits of this focused study and know that the more we come to understand and love the Savior, the more our faith in Him will increase.
As I mentioned earlier, the Prophet Joseph taught that another significant element of faith is to learn to align our lives with the Lord’s will. To illustrate this, let me share with you an example that the mothers who are here will relate with:
Celeste Davis is a young mother of three whose baby woke up often, every night. She began to pray that she and her baby could get the sleep they needed. But her prayers seemed to go unanswered. This caused her to want to better understand prayer and why she wasn’t being blessed with relief. She learned from the Bible Dictionary that “we pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ. … We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent His mind but spring out of the selfishness of man’s heart.”5
So Celeste decided to make a list of the things for which she had been praying. By making this list, she realized that her prayers primarily consisted of asking Heavenly Father for what she wanted, which was for Him to change her circumstances. She then decided to make another list, writing down those things that she was certain Heavenly Father wanted for her. Of course the two lists were not entirely incompatible—He loves us and wants us to be happy. But this little exercise teaches an important truth. While she wanted to change her circumstances, He wanted to change her. So, she decided to adjust her approach to prayer in order to better align her will with Heavenly Father’s. She wrote:
“I came up with a little formula to help me in my prayers. It is simply this—whenever you ask for something you want and you’re not totally sure if it’s something God wants for you, tack on the phrase ‘but if not’ and then add something you’re sure God would want for you.
“For example: ‘[Heavenly Father], please help me get some sleep tonight, but if not, help me to have enough energy to be pleasant and hardworking anyway.’ ‘[Heavenly Father], please bless that my child will get over this sickness and feel better, but if not, help us to trust in Thee and be patient with each other.’ ‘[Heavenly Father], please bless that I will be included in my group of friends, but if not, even if I feel excluded, help me to be kind and generous.’”
“I’ve tried this out for about a year now, and I can say my rate of prayer success has skyrocketed. …
“I feel like I’m finally fulfilling the real purpose of prayer, which is not to negotiate my desires, but to align myself with God. …
“An unexpected benefit has been that I don’t fear hard situations or not getting what I want nearly as much as I used to because I’ve seen and felt God answer my prayers—both my desires and my ‘but if nots.’”6
Celeste’s experience provides a pattern that can help us with our prayers and our efforts to exercise faith as a principle of action. To be clear, faith will not take away the agency of our children or our students and it will not remove all trials and challenges in our lives. But it can help us endure well and even learn from difficult circumstances. It will also change how we see our students (and our children) and how we pray for them. It will change our interactions in our classrooms and our homes. It will help us to stand with hope, happiness, and optimism in a darkening world. It will create opportunities for personal revelation and bring power to our teaching. It will carry our testimonies to the hearts of those we love.
True faith eliminates rationalization. It leads to self-examination, which leads to sincere repentance and meaningful growth. It compels us to avoid the trap of expecting solutions to be found only if others change, such as when we say things like “If I had more support from parents or Church leaders, then things would be better.” That approach does not rely on the Savior and, therefore, will not access His power. It will not produce the miracle we need. We have and we are enough to accomplish the Lord’s work if we have enough faith to sincerely ask Him to change us and to mold us as instruments in His hands.
This is true even when we feel inadequate and overwhelmed. I learned this lesson as a young man preparing for a mission. I had always thought I’d serve, but in my younger years the thought of it made me very nervous. I was not at all comfortable speaking in front of people. I have an aunt who still says that she didn’t see my eyes until I was a teenager because I walked around with my head down, hiding my face. In junior high I received a D- in a drama class, the lowest possible passing grade. I simply could not make myself stand in front of the class, even to read a prepared script my teacher gave to me.
After I received my mission call to Mexico, I was asked to speak at a youth fireside with my older brother. I took about five minutes, and he took the remainder of the time. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that mine was probably the worst talk ever given in this or any church. When the fireside ended, many youth lined up to greet my brother. One kind soul veered slightly from the line and said to me, “Thanks. That was a good talk.” I literally thought, “You are kind, but you are such a liar.” I went home discouraged, wondering how I could ever hope to serve a mission. I did not feel adequate to teach the gospel in English, let alone in the Spanish language that I still needed to learn.
A few days later, still with a heavy heart, I opened the scriptures and read the story of Enoch. When Enoch was directed to call the people to repentance, verse 31 says, “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?”7 In response to Enoch’s self-doubt and apparent lack of confidence in his calling, the Lord gave this beautiful and reassuring answer found in verse 34: “Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.”8
Nervous, unsure of myself, and ill prepared for what was ahead, but holding onto those words like a lifeline, I got onto an airplane for the first time in my life and flew to Mexico to serve. There I learned that if we are willing, we really can walk with the Lord. I learned that what President Ezra Taft Benson said is true: “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can.”9
Exercising Faith as a Principle of Power
From the story of Enoch, I also learned something else about faith. Listen to the description of what became of this lad, who was slow of speech and hated by the people. Moses 7:13 reads, “So great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.”10 That doesn’t sound like a boy who was slow of speech. It sounds like a man of faith who, walking with the Lord, moved mountains.
Sometimes we use the phrase “move the dial” or “move the needle” to represent small, needed improvements, but the Lord has not invited us to move the needle. He has invited us to move mountains. He said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”11
This faith to move mountains—whether those mountains are literal or figurative—is another level of faith. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught:
“[There] is a level of faith that consists of spiritual assurances and that produces good works, most especially obedience to the principles and commandments of the gospel. This is a true faith in Christ. …
“There is, however, a level of faith that not only governs our behavior but also empowers us to change what is and to make things happen that otherwise would not happen. I am speaking of faith not only as a principle of action but also as a principle of power.”12
This is the kind of faith described in Hebrews 11 which was used by Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses. This was the faith by which prophets “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, … [and by which] women received their dead raised to life.”13
This is the kind of faith described in Ether 12, referring to Alma, Amulek, Nephi, Lehi, and Ammon.14 It is the faith demonstrated by “the brother of Jared [who] said unto the mountain Zerin, Remove—and it was removed. And if he had not had faith it would not have moved.”15 And finally, “there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil”—and then listen to this phrase—“but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith.”16
These are all memorable illustrations of faith as a principle of power. But the last example is especially fascinating to me. They first saw these things with the eye of faith before they saw them with their physical eyes. There is a significant modern-day example of this from President Brigham Young. When referring to the ground upon which rests the Salt Lake Temple, he said: “I scarcely ever say much about revelations, or visions, but suffice it to say … I was here, and saw in the spirit the Temple. … I never looked upon that ground, but the vision of it was there.”17
To have a vision of what can be, of what the Lord desires, is a necessary part of exercising faith as a principle of power.
Can you see the miracle we need with your eye of faith? Can you see yourself teaching classes with more trust in the Lord, His word, and your students? Can you see your students leaving your classrooms more reliant on the Savior’s teachings and Atonement, more resistant to sin, and more prepared to do all the Lord is asking of them? And can you see with your eye of faith more young people, both members and those not of our faith, responding to our invitations to come and join in this miracle? What might the Lord do if we were to exercise our collective faith, both as a principle of action and as a principle of power?
“The Lord Is with Us; Fear Them Not”
Before I close, I would like to share one last example. I have in my office an olive-wood carving that portrays one of my favorite scriptural accounts and is a constant reminder to me of the need for faith. It is a depiction of Caleb and Joshua, who had been assigned by Moses, along with 10 other men, to search out the land of Canaan and to bring back a report. The other 10 men returned saying, “The people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great.”18
“Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
“But the men that went up with him said, we be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.”19
Because of their lack of faith, “they brought up an evil report of the land … saying, … there we saw the giants, … and we were in our own sight [like] grasshoppers.”20
But Joshua and Caleb responded, “The Lord is with us: fear them not.”21
But the people, like the 10 faithless messengers, could not see what the Lord was willing to do and would not follow Joshua and Caleb. Because of this lack of faith, the people wandered in the wilderness for 39 more years. From that original group, only Joshua and Caleb survived and were allowed to enter the promised land. You may remember Caleb’s famous words as he and Joshua stood before Mount Hebron, the very place they had searched out so many years before. Caleb said:
“As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me. …
“Now therefore give me this mountain.”22
Because of his faith, he and his family for generations inherited his mountain in the promised land.
There are challenges ahead. We may be tempted to doubt and bring back a bad report filled with fear and doubt. This lack of trust in the Lord will not get us to the promised land. Like Caleb and Joshua, we must cast aside our fear and exercise our faith to claim the blessings He has waiting for us. We must see every challenge and trial in our lives as an opportunity to deepen our faith in Jesus Christ.
What might the Lord do if collectively we replace fear and doubt with hope and faith? I believe He would move not just the needle but mountains—so that miracles will happen in the lives of the youth and young adults of the Church. As our faith increases, so will the faith of those we teach. I know our Father in Heaven will bless you and He will bless our students as we exercise our faith in His loving and perfect Son, the Savior, Redeemer, and Deliverer of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 5/17. Translation approval: 5/17. Translation of “Faith as a Principle of Action and Power.” Language. PD60004121 xxx