My beloved young adult brothers and sisters out across this vast virtual audience, it’s a very personal privilege for me to speak to you tonight in this devotional setting. One reason I am so pleased is because this evening’s activity is sponsored by and devoted to the Institute of Religion program of the Church and is something of a “first of its kind.” Tonight we are making an effort to reach far beyond earlier borders.
In the past, it was customary to have one of the General Authorities or General Officers of the Church go to one institute location and give his or her message to that one audience. Well, that approach was fine when the Church was small and institutes were few. But as the Church and our Young Adult population have grown, we’ve had to use the time of our brethren and sisters more effectively. So tonight we are teaching and testifying not to one institute location only, but with the advantages of technology, we are broadcasting to perhaps one of the largest multi-institute audiences we have ever had—from Newcastle to Novosibirsk, from Copenhagen to Cape Town. To be part of that is exciting indeed. You are making history tonight.
Another personal privilege tonight is the opportunity to be with Bishop Gérald Caussé, Sister Bonnie Cordon, and Brother Chad Webb. They have been introduced to you as leaders in the Church, but I introduce them to you as my dear and very personal friends.
And lastly, this devotional is special for me because 55 years ago, I graduated from BYU and took my first real, honest-to-goodness full-time job. In what was probably a serious misstep on their part, the administrators in the Church Educational System hired me as an institute teacher and director. I loved that experience and I’ve loved the institute program and institute students ever since.
Now, right at the outset I want to make it clear that the four of us are not going to make a big push to have you “come to institute,” or as some of the students say, “take institute.” We are not recruiters for that program, and young adults ought not to feel that filling up institute classes is the purpose of this devotional or, for that matter, the purpose of the institute program itself. You don’t exist so institute can become a successful Church program. No, it’s the other way around. Institute exists so you can become a successful Latter-day Saint. So we won’t be telling you to take institute nearly as much as we’ll be inviting you to allow institute to take you. Indeed, the title of my remarks tonight is “The Institute Journey: To Take or Be Taken?” And where should it take you?
Well, first and foremost, we want it to take you closer to your Father in Heaven, closer to His Son Jesus Christ, closer to the Holy Ghost. From our experience on various assignments around the world, we sense that some of you feel distant from God, cut off from a personal feeling for the mission and Atonement of Jesus Christ, and foreign to everyday experiences with the Holy Ghost and its guidance in your life. Not all of you feel this way, obviously, but many of you do. This is a concern for all of us because the Savior Himself said in His great prayerful declaration, “This is life eternal, that [you] might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ [me] whom thou hast sent.”1
So the institute journey isn’t just a pleasant spiritual experience or a little comfort for a discouraging day. No, our knowledge of and relationship to the members of the Godhead is at the heart of our quest for eternal life. So one of the destinations to which institute can take you is to the profound, powerful, stunning realization that your happiness, your safety, your peace of mind, and ultimately your salvation is at the heart of everything these godly beings do. Now, I don’t mean just some things that they do; I mean everything that they do. Everything God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost do—to say nothing of the angels of heaven at their command—has something to do with granting you your hopes and dreams and your eternal life. If something doesn’t contribute to your happiness and progress, they don’t do it. How can you know that? Well, you will know it in an institute class that “takes” you to the word of God. In this case, perhaps it might take you into the Book of Mormon.
As the Prophet Nephi got closer and closer to the end of his life, his sermons and teachings got more bold and, for me, more beautiful. His writings constitute the first 117 pages of the Book of Mormon as we now have it in the English edition, but please note the concluding 20 pages of that material, the pages which constitute his final testimony. There he writes to us this simple truth which is at the heart of his faith: “I say unto you that the Lord God … doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world.”2
What a simple, simple statement, but what powerful comfort when we realize you and I are His world. That verse, along with many other passages of scripture, says to me that we are God’s highest priority, that His very purpose—His work—is to bless us. As such, He has not now nor will He ever forsake nor forget nor give up on us. And this love, this care for us, is unending. Mormon taught “that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually.”3 Continually. In spite of the fact that He has a universe to manage—planets to keep in their orbits, solar systems to keep from burning up, stars without number which He nevertheless numbers and whose names He knows, and all those flowers to bring up in the spring—do I need to go on? Do I need to outline all the work and responsibilities and duties God has in order to make the point that all of that is directed toward but secondary to us, our children, His children—and that the pull—the enticement of His love for our good, our happiness, our salvation—is continuous?
“This is my work and my glory,” He said, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”4
“He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of [His children].”5
“That which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually.”6
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son.”7
Well, we could go on. The institute program is dedicated to bringing you closer to an understanding of that kind of faithful, reliable, unfailing God.
These examples I have just used from the scriptures suggest a delightful journey on which an institute class can take you. It is to travel into the holy scriptures and find the wonder that is there. One of my many spiritual experiences with the scriptures was the day I studied section 5 of the Doctrine and Covenants in a class at BYU. (The Doctrine and Covenants happens to be the Come, Follow Me course of study we are following this year.)
In this section of scripture, the Lord is giving instruction to Joseph Smith about bringing forth the Book of Mormon to the public. Joseph is only 23 years old, exactly the age of some of you. He’s had possession of the gold plates for almost 18 months, but he has been besieged with so many challenges and has faced so many obstacles that he has been unable to do any significant translation.
Furthermore, he must have had so many things on his mind that he knew he was yet supposed to do. Just think of what was entailed in restoring everything that pertained to the Kingdom of God. He had to be the agent for restoring the Church itself with its apostles and prophets and officers and priesthoods. He would receive revelation regarding tithing and missions, the Word of Wisdom, and Church governance. He had to teach principles of self-reliance, organize the Relief Society, build temples. He had to make plans for the New Jerusalem and to send missionaries to the four corners of the earth. He had all of this to do, and, as it turns out, he would not live very long in his effort to do it. But in any case, all of this and more lay ahead of him in the spring of 1829.
But here is what the Lord said:
“[Joseph,] you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will [not] grant unto you [any] other gift until it is finished.”8
I can remember when we studied that verse of scripture in my religion class. I realized—almost for the first time—how truly crucial scripture was to our Father in Heaven and to the Restoration of the gospel and to us in our daily lives. The message of section 5 is that in spite of all Joseph had lying ahead of him to accomplish, he was to do nothing—he was to pursue no other gift—until he finished the translation of the Book of Mormon and offered that majestic scriptural witness for Christ to the world. It was first things first, and the scriptures were to be first of Joseph’s duties. Then and only then was he to undertake the other tasks awaiting him. There could have been no successful Restoration or organization of the Church without the foundation of this revealed scripture. In that same spirit, our lives can’t go forward on their prescribed courses without a foundation of scripture upon which to progress and build on. That’s what and institute class can provide. That’s where it can “take you.”
Scripture study provides a crucial preparation for another important journey many of you must take. We hope every able young adult man and as many adult women as choose will serve a full-time mission. But before you do, you ought—you should—study and love the scriptures. That is what the Lord taught Hyrum Smith when he wanted to go on a mission even before the Church was formally organized. Just two months after the Lord told Joseph to give his highest priority to translating the Book of Mormon, He gave this revelation to the Prophet’s wonderful and faithful older brother. Note the role that scriptures play in bringing power to a missionary’s teaching.
And I quote: “Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap let him thrust in his sickle with his might, … and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion. … Behold, I command you that you need not suppose that you are called to preach [yet]. Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, … and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine.”
“Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.”9
I remember the story of President Hugh B. Brown visiting a mission once. During the course of the conference, he wanted to hold a testimony meeting. Time after time, missionary after missionary stood and said, “I know the gospel is true.” At the close of the meeting, President Brown rose and said, “I am grateful that all of you ‘know the gospel is true,’ but I am waiting for one of you to say ‘I know the gospel.’ Then I would be more impressed when you say you know it is true.”10
Of course, he was trying to teach those missionaries something. He was playing the part of an investigator who was hearing the missionary lessons for the first time. He wanted the elders and sisters to know they had to have some reasonable command of the doctrine of the Church before their testimony of it could be very influential. That is still as true today for all of you missionaries and prospective missionaries as it was for Hyrum Smith. Know the scriptures. Then the Spirit will aid you in teaching with the “power of God unto the convincing of men.”11 What a great formula for missionary success. And for all of you out there who have already served your missions, keep being missionary minded. Stay in the scriptures. Stay sharp with them in an institute class. We need you to teach and testify of them for the rest of your lives.
Let me share with you one concluding journey to which the standard works and an institute class can take you. It’s a journey to hear the voice of the Lord, an experience all of us surely yearn for. Listen to this doctrine.
Following an early revelation that would become section 18 of the Doctrine and Covenants, given just before Peter, James, and John came to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood, the Lord says of these revelations that were now being written down and collected:
“These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; …
“For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
“Wherefore”—now listen—“Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words.”12
Reading the scriptures “one to another”? Sounds like an institute class to me. But whether it’s a class or a sacrament meeting, a stake conference or private study time, when we read or hear the scriptures, we are hearing the voice of God, and that is a special, sacred thing. That is a journey worth taking.
Let an institute class help provide it. Now, my beloved young friends, you have a great work to do. You have, like Esther, been born for such a time as this. Don’t be fearful and don’t be discouraged. God will be with you on your journey always. Just be sure to take Him and His word with you. Pray always to hear His voice in those scriptures.
I will have an opportunity to bear my testimony as we close this meeting, but let me say here that I love the scriptures and wonder where my journey in life would have taken me without them. I know that Jesus is the Christ, and I know the gospel is true, at least in part because of the scriptures and because of experiences in classes like those offered by the institutes of religion. I can say “I know Jesus is the Christ and the gospel is true” because I can say “I know Jesus Christ and I know the gospel”—at least I am beginning to know them, and that is the privilege of a lifetime. I invite you to undertake the same journey. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.