Taking the Higher Road
August 2002

“Taking the Higher Road,” Ensign, Aug. 2002, 42–47

Taking the Higher Road

From a devotional address given at Ricks College (now BYU—Idaho) on 13 February 2001.

It is an eternal truth that through the choices we make we shape our own destiny.

Elder W. Craig Zwick

Recently my wife and I rented a car and drove from Boston, Massachusetts, to New Hampshire. We were to meet President and Sister Hunter of the New Hampshire Manchester Mission. The president had given us instructions on how to get to the mission home. We also had a map of the area. Our rental car was equipped with a sophisticated instrument called the Magellan vehicle navigation system. It is the most advanced onboard system ever engineered by experts in satellite navigation technology. It gives clear turn-by-turn voice prompts as well as visual directions.

We entered the city and street address of the mission home into the Magellan system and started our journey. The instructions were precise and accurate: “In one mile you will make a right hand turn”; then, after a moment, “Get into the right lane and exit in two-tenths of a mile.” We were instructed to exit the turnpike at the first tollbooth. We became confused because there were different tollbooths for different destinations, and we weren’t sure which was the correct one. We chose the one that we thought was the correct exit, but we made a mistake. We actually got off the turnpike one exit too soon. It required us to stop the vehicle and then to reprogram the system based upon our new location. With the help of our navigation system, we knew precisely where we were. We then got back onto the Everett Turnpike so we could take the correct exit.

We learned to depend upon our onboard navigational instrument. Without it, we would have been lost and confused. We also would not have made a timely connection with the mission president and his wife. As it turned out, we arrived on time and were grateful for the help we received.

We each have our own onboard navigation system to give us turn-by-turn instructions. However, it has nothing to do with finding a certain street or a specific location. It has everything to do with our eternal destination. Our destination is clearly defined, and a good navigation system will help us achieve exaltation and eternal life.

We all want to be on the right road. We all desire to move effectively down that highway of life with the least amount of detours and delays. We all have moments when we get slightly confused and need additional help in making correct choices. We are frequently at a crossroads where we must choose one of two highways: the lower road leading to spiritual delays and sorrow, or the higher road leading to spiritual progress and happiness. It is very important for us to always choose the higher road.

It is an eternal truth that through the choices we make, we shape our own destiny. Our success or failure, peace or discontent, happiness or misery depends upon the choices we make each day. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a built-in navigation system. We have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost to direct us in all things. “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (D&C 8:2).

For our navigation system to work effectively, we must have an understanding of where we are and where we are going. This gives us the point of reference and the tracking system to move us along identified routes to our destination. For example, it would be difficult for the navigation system to work if we were in the Brazilian rain forest and there were no identifiable points of reference. This would present a challenge for even the most sophisticated global positioning system.

In order for an onboard navigation system to work, you must stop, allowing the system to identify exactly where you are by its global positioning system. Then you can program in your desired destination. It will then suggest the best route for you.

That is exactly what you must do in your own lives. You must stop and take time to evaluate precisely where you are. It is not an imaginary place. Look around at your true point of beginning, your precise location. The part that is slightly more complicated goes beyond your physical location. It has to do with where you are on your spiritual highway. That is the part which requires some honest introspection and personal prayer to determine your exact position. The Lord knows your precise spiritual location. He has said, “I know thy heart, and have heard thy prayers” (D&C 112:11).

I assure you that He knows you and loves you. He is aware of your precise physical and spiritual location. He knows if you are well positioned and if you are in need of some course correction. He knows your heart, and He knows your desires to seek and remain on the higher road.

Satan’s Tactics

Often you can be on the right road but will be assaulted from all sides with offers to take other roads or more attractive travel itineraries. The adversary will be doing his best to lead you off your desired course. He is relentless in trying to catch your attention, and then, ever so craftily, he will lead you into dangerous blind canyons and dead ends.

The other day my wife and I were in the grocery store. While we were waiting in line at the check-out counter, I glanced at the magazines. I saw portrayed on the covers of many magazines the idols of the movie screen, the heroes of the athletic field, those faces and bodies that many young people try to emulate even as these heroes defy the laws of God and rationalize away sinful practices, seemingly with no ill effect. Don’t you believe it for a minute. They are destroying their futures.

Satan doesn’t want you to reach your ultimate destination, and he doesn’t want you to fulfill your divine roles, so he tries to lead you astray. He makes things that are wrong appear right and even exciting. He wants you to destroy your bodies, and he encourages you to break the commandments. He makes the wrong road look smooth and enticing.

With permission, I share with you an excerpt from a letter I received from a father who is concerned with the welfare of his daughter:

“I have four beautiful daughters aged from 19 to 26. All of them have suffered to some extent from eating disorders. They all relate this destructive tendency to pressures from the outside world to conform to its image of women. This has been reinforced with unfortunate comments by young men. Three of my daughters seem to have controlled the problem, but my youngest daughter is in trouble. She is now consuming 300–500 calories per day and shows no sign of overcoming her self-destructive habits. We are at the threshold of placing her in an institution for help. We have nowhere else to turn.

“I am currently grasping for understanding of this disorder, which I think is one manifestation of women’s low self-esteem imposed by our society. It is Satan at work. At the moment, her body image, imposed by the world, has control. Does she understand that the most important image she should have of herself is that of a holy temple endowed with the power and love of God? Does she understand that she should do nothing to desecrate her temple? I have not taught her this truth with enough consistency and clarity. Would it make a difference if I had?”

I pondered the anguish and heartbreak of this father. He loves his precious daughter. This is happening to many of our young women. You must not let Satan reduce your feelings of self-worth. Don’t let the world pull you off course. Our Heavenly Father loves each of you and wants you to return home, but He will not remove your agency. You must do your part and be steady in making correct choices.

Satan’s desire is for you to not know where you are and to not check in to confirm your location. He is the father of lies and will do all possible to lure you into his cunning snare. His desire is to throw enough immediate pleasure your way that you never even worry about where you are. He even causes you to have moments of discouragement or lack of faith.

Overcoming Discouragement

There may be moments when you are driven off-course or have unexpected detours. Don’t allow yourselves to be discouraged by events you cannot control. Overcome discouragement by trusting in the Lord and losing yourself in serving others. When your service is pure, you will be able to make adjustments in your own behavior that will result in happiness and in a knowledge of your own self-worth. This will also qualify you to receive more responsibility and to have added light and understanding.

There are times when it is hard, very hard. You may be worrying about finances, health, work, or school. Relationships are sometimes difficult and family problems are real, and sometimes it seems that no one understands. Immorality, dishonesty, immodesty, pornography, discouragement, and all kinds of evil influences are flaunted on every side. Self-discipline is a lifetime process, one that requires you to trust and act upon the promptings of the Spirit. If you will pray and study the scriptures, you will know what direction to take, and you will be blessed in making correct choices.

Just because we have challenges or difficult decisions to make, just because sometimes it seems we take two steps forward and one step back, we must never allow Satan to pull us off course. When we begin to make incorrect choices, we move further and further away from our true source of happiness. The Lord has made it clear to us that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Too many try to serve two masters—the Lord and their own selfish interests (see Matt. 6:24).

I have thought recently of one of my finest missionary companions. He was an inspirational leader in our mission. He had such unusual skills that everyone wanted to learn from him.

He returned from his mission and made some excellent choices that resulted in his marrying a wonderful young woman for time and all eternity in the Los Angeles Temple. They were blessed with four outstanding children.

Part of his law enforcement and legal work required close contact with individuals involved with drugs and other sinful behaviors. He was caught in Satan’s subtle snare. One bad decision led to another and then another. Within a short period of time he was caught in a spiritual free fall. He lost his fine wife and children in the process. Today he lives without the benefit of the priesthood or his temple blessings. His life has been one of sadness, anger, and frustration. Seemingly small decisions resulting in the loss of the Spirit of the Lord have now caused him to be bitter toward the very things which were at one time his meaningful treasures.

My heart is troubled because of his present condition in which he is without the blessings of the gospel in his life.

I believe that my friend is saddened with all he has lost by taking this unmarked trail of destruction. I marvel that one of the very elect of God, with a spiritual destiny of excellence, has now fallen prey to the wicked influence of the adversary. It makes me sad to think that his wife, to whom he was once sealed, and those beautiful children born under sacred covenant will not be his eternally. Oh, how I mourn his loss!

My friends, be very cautious not to allow even a slight deviation from your course of happiness. If you think you can procrastinate repentance, or if you are of the opinion that personal prayer and daily scripture study are not important, just remember what happened to my fine missionary companion. I assure you there is no happiness in what he is now going through.

Seek the Spirit of the Lord

Our personal navigation system has a detailed set of instructions with specific directions that must be followed in order for it to function properly. These instructions in our personal lives are the holy scriptures. They are “the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (D&C 68:4). There are so many blessings promised to those who know the scriptures. One of these blessings is that the scriptures, like the iron rod, can help us pass safely through the mist of darkness that surrounds us in this world.

If we catch hold of the scriptures and cling to them, if we increase our study and application, and if we pray for understanding and live so the Spirit can teach us, the scriptures will save us from temptations. The scriptures can help us make good decisions. The scriptures can keep us safe and lead us to salvation. When we read the scriptures, we invite and make ourselves accessible to the communications of the Holy Ghost.

Learn to ponder the things of the Spirit and to respond to its promptings; filter out the static generated by Satan. As you become attuned to the Spirit, “thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa. 30:21).

We must each decide which of all the outside voices we will listen to and believe. Throughout our lives we must be steady in choosing that which comes from the Lord and avoiding that which comes from Satan. Our daily choices shape our character.

The Spirit’s voice is calm and peaceful. “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isa. 32:17). To have joy in this life, we are told to “give ear to the voice of the living God; and attend to the words of wisdom which shall be given unto you” (D&C 50:1).

As we earnestly seek the Spirit in our lives by daily scripture study and by quiet moments in which we connect with our divine source, we position ourselves to receive clear spiritual direction in our lives.

I remember clearly the very place I was at the University of Utah when I made a decision not to pursue architecture as a professional career and to focus my attention on a different course of study. It came in subtle suggestions at first, which motivated me to pray with the intent to know. After prayerful consideration, it was perfectly clear to me that I was not to be an architect.

Since that time more than 30 years ago, I have worked with many architects, and although I have great respect and admiration for their noble profession, it became clear to me that the satisfaction I received from actually building a structure was more satisfying for me than designing it. My own career as a builder was a direct result of listening to the Spirit and following its whisperings.

Hearkening to the voice of living prophets is another navigational tool that gives us “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23).

President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) reminded us: “The most important thing you can do is to learn to talk to God. Talk to Him as you would talk to your father, for He is your Father, and He wants you to talk to Him. He wants you to cultivate ears to listen, when He gives you the impressions of the Spirit to tell you what to do. If you learn to give heed to the sudden ideas which come to your minds, you will find those things coming through in the very hour of your need. If you will cultivate an ear to hear these promptings, you will have learned to walk by the spirit of revelation” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1996], 130).

President Gordon B. Hinckley has warned us: “You must find a place to commune with the Lord and feel of His Spirit. This must happen in our lives not occasionally but constantly. The need is so great. We can be so much more effective. In the rush of our lives, we do not take enough time to ponder and meditate and go to the Lord. We need the Lord’s help if we are to do His work.”

Our lives are extremely busy. We can all relate to this. We run from one activity to another. We may wear ourselves out in thoughtless pursuit of goals that are highly ephemeral. We are entitled to spend some quiet time alone, in introspection, in spiritual development. Blessings from priesthood leaders, fathers, and husbands are additional tools that allow us to stay on the higher road. Frequently review your patriarchal blessing for guidance. It will give you additional light and understanding. Be honest with your priesthood leaders when you meet with them. It is your opportunity for introspection and a progress review. It is a safety precaution that will prevent a costly detour along the critical path of reaching exaltation and eternal life.

The Lord Himself has said, “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” (D&C 84:88).

It is not possible for me to describe to you what a powerful force for good you are in the world. You are powerful and can make a positive difference in the lives of many. You must always know precisely where you are, even when all that surrounds you is a background of darkness and confusion. Your responsibility is to continue to generate a bright light and to even co-generate light and knowledge as you link up with the Holy Ghost as your source of inspiration. We are on a well-marked path that leads to our eternal home.

Let’s Talk about It

Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:

  1. Why is discouragement one of the adversary’s most effective tools?

  2. How can we overcome it?

  3. How can we become more receptive to the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord?

Illustrated by Greg Newbold