Making Decisions and Feeding Sheep
February 1984

“Making Decisions and Feeding Sheep,” New Era, Jan.–Feb. 1984, 15

Making Decisions and Feeding Sheep

To be in position to make a great catch, you have to start running before the ball comes down.

Today’s world presents constant challenges. You are forced to choose between attractive alternatives, compelled to make value judgments, obliged to solve problems, and pressured to make decisions. Many of these decisions are important to you now. Some will have an influence on your opportunity to enjoy an exalted hereafter and will have a lasting effect for eternities to come.

Make Important Decisions Once

There are so many things in life that can be solved in advance and but once. We have to make decisions, I believe, when we’re emotion-free, when we’re clear to think and to think rationally. In baseball, for example, prior to the game, the two managers or the two coaches meet with the umpires and go over what are called the “ground rules.” The ground rules are unique little rules that pertain just to a particular baseball park. For example, if the ball rolls into the dugout, the ball is dead and the runners advance a base. This is decided before the game ever starts. But can you imagine making that kind of decision when rivals such as the University of Utah and BYU are already playing a baseball game? We’d never arrive at a logical decision because in the middle of the game we are not emotion-free.

I see people sitting in the stands and watching a young quarterback make what they consider to be a great decision. Sixty thousand fans screaming in his ear, the ball on the four-yard line, fourth and goal, his team behind by a few points, and he needs a touchdown. That quarterback comes out and makes the decision, and his team goes in for the touchdown and wins a very important football game. The people sit back and say, “Gee, that kid thinks well on his feet. Boy, what a fine young thinker he is.” They give him credit for being something that he really may not be, because that decision was probably made far in advance. Under the guidance of a very capable coach, this young man has discussed strategy and learned about football hour after hour. The coach has said, “Look, when there are 60,000 fans in the stands, when it’s fourth and goal and we really need a touchdown, these are the one or two plays that you have as alternatives. You do not have the whole range of three or four hundred plays; you have but one or two that will really help you.”

I believe that’s what we have to do in our lives—make decisions in advance. I know that we have to make boy-girl decisions far in advance, because if we wait till after the dance and after the malt and the hamburger, and we’re close to each other and are feeling the emotions of being near someone who is attractive, we may not make the right decision. And so I suggest to you this day that you make as many decisions as you possibly can, make them one time, make them in advance, and make them when you are absolutely emotion-free.

Five Helps for Successful Decision Making

There are some things that have helped me in decision making, and perhaps they will be helpful to you. In 1 Nephi, Nephi’s brothers came to him with a question. Their father, Lehi, had made some explanations about doctrine, and they really didn’t understand them. They asked Nephi, “Help us with this. What should we do?”

Nephi’s question to them was, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” (1 Ne. 15:8). First, inquire of the Lord.

The second step is also illustrated in the scriptures. As Adam offered sacrifice, an angel appeared and said, “Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord?” Adam’s answer was, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6). That’s excellent advice, I think, for you and me. We do some things because our Heavenly Father commands us. Someone may have said, “Nephi, why do you keep two records? One record would be plenty.” Nephi could have answered, “I really don’t know except the Lord commanded me” (see 1 Ne. 19). Neither Nephi nor his questioner would have known that Martin Harris was going to lose a few pages and that a few other things were going to happen.

The third point about problem solving is illustrated in the life of the Savior. The entourage of which the 12-year-old Jesus was a part had started their journey northward after having been in the city of their birth to observe the Passover. They’d gone about a day’s journey and found that the boy Jesus was not with them. We’re told that it took three days before they discovered this 12-year-old discussing weighty matters with very wise men in the temple. His mother was upset and wondered why he had dealt this way with his parents. And his answer was very, very important. He said, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). I believe that it helps in problem solving to be about our Father’s business.

The fourth help to me in solving problems comes from the Savior’s teachings to the Nephites. Third Nephi records the Savior’s appearance to the Saints and the great advice he gave. He told the people what to name the Church and other important things they should do. Toward the latter part of chapter 27, he asked them the question, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” As only the Savior could teach, he taught them there on the spot, “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).

Here is the fifth point that I think helps in problem solving. After the Savior’s resurrection, he visited with his chosen Apostles on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, and he confronted one by saying, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?”

And Peter said, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”

The Savior responded, “Feed my sheep,” (John 21:16).

These principles have been helpful to me in solving problems: to inquire of the Lord; to do what the Lord commands me to do even if I don’t know why; to be about his business; to use the Savior as an example; and finally, to feed his sheep.

Feed Your Sheep with Love

What do these sheep really need to be fed? I think first and foremost they need to be fed a thing called love.

Quite a few years ago the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year and for ten years had dominated professional football. After that victory, the television crew was in the dressing room, and the interviewer had the microphone right under the chin of the great coach, the late Vince Lombardi. His question was, “How come the Packers win all the time? Your blocking techniques, tackling techniques, game plan, kicking game—all are very similar to everyone else’s in the league. How come the Packers win all the time?”

Vince Lombardi was a very emotional man, a very verbal man, but it took him a long while to get it out. Finally he wiped a tear from his cheek and said, “The Packers win because the Packers love each other.” If you had ever seen Henry Jordan or Ray Nitschke, you know that only a mother could love those guys. This is the thing that makes the gospel so vital. The gospel, the good news of the Lord and Savior, is the gospel of love. That’s the thing that makes it go.

I must confess to you that, up until 24 years ago (I got married about 24 years ago), I had but one prayer in my heart. There was only one thing that I wanted to do. I prayed morning and night, unashamedly, that I could be the shortstop for the New York Yankees. That was my prayer. I don’t pray that anymore.

My prayer changed. It became, “I want to be the father of lovely and virtuous young ladies.” I’ve been blessed with four fine daughters. I’ve observed families that have done a great job with their children. I went to one couple, friends of ours, and asked, “How come your kids are so good? What is it you do with them?”

They said, “Oh, we do this, this, this, and we give them plenty of love.”

I asked some other friends, “How come your kids are so good? What is it you do?”

“Oh, we do this, this, this, and, oh, by the way, we give them plenty of love.” That seems to be the common denominator—give them plenty of love.

Develop a Testimony

I wish we could feed our sheep a thing called testimony. I’ve often thought, wouldn’t it be nice if at the time of confirmation, when we lay hands on the head of the individual being confirmed and tell him to receive the Holy Ghost, we could say, “And, by the way, receive ye a testimony”? Evidently, our Heavenly Father didn’t want it to work that way, because a plan similar to that was rejected in the premortal existence. Evidently a testimony is something that we usually have to work out for ourselves.

I’d like to draw a couple of analogies about testimonies and other things. I’m involved in physical education, and I would like you to know that the law of testimony is very similar to the law of muscle. The law of muscle is this: we take a muscle and overload it; when we work it hard, it grows. It gets bigger and more efficient. Take the bicep, for example, the muscle that makes your arm bend up and down. When we overload that muscle, we work on it and work on it and every day overload it, and we find that the muscle gets stronger and stronger and stronger.

But you know, if a person forgets about his bicep and quits using it, in about the same amount of time that it took to develop that great strength, the muscle will go right back down to where it was when he started. Muscles are much like testimonies. Testimonies have to be used, they have to be “overloaded,” and they have to be expressed. As we do those things, they get bigger and bigger and bigger. Others notice and say, “There goes somebody with a testimony.” It sticks out as a bicep does.

Motivate Yourself

I have two other quick points that help in sheep feeding. It is really important to feed sheep inspiration. We’re now in an era of motivation. Everything we hear about is motivation this and motivation that. After we conclude a great general conference, people come up to me and say, “Oh, didn’t the speakers at conference motivate you?” I don’t mean to be sacrilegious or anything, but my answer to them is, “No, they didn’t motivate me at all, but they surely inspired me to motivate myself.” Inspiration comes from without, and, I believe, motivation comes from within. We’ve each got our own little motivator, just as we have our own little cholesterol maker somewhere in our bodies. That motivator makes you and me do things that are really worthwhile.

One of the best inspiration stories I know is a football story about a young man playing fullback for the University of Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma had gone ten years without losing a conference football game, had gone 47 straight games without losing to anyone: Army, Navy, Notre Dame, Texas, Alabama—you name the team—they played them and beat them. But on this particular day, while playing the University of Nebraska at Norman, Oklahoma, it looked as if they were going to be beaten. It was late in the game, they had the ball deep in their own territory, and they were behind. The winning streak was going to go down the drain, but in a second down and long-yardage situation, the ball was handed off to the tailback, a young man named Billy Vessels, who ran 67 yards for a touchdown that snatched victory from defeat. His run prolonged that great winning streak. The news media said, “That touchdown run was, without a doubt, the best run in the history of Oklahoma football and maybe in the history of football per se.”

On Monday, when the coaches looked at the film, they found that something strange had happened on this particular play. Billy Vessels did make a great run, but the play went differently than they had thought. The quarterback, Claude Arnold, took the snap from center and handed off to Vessels, the tailback, who was going to run around the right end. The fullback was a young man named Leon Heath; he wore number 40 on his jersey. His job on this play was to hook the end, to block him in, so Vessels could run around him. As the ball was snapped, the end came across too far. The average player would have thought, “Get back over there. The coach said you’d be right there. Get over there.” Players move around from time to time, and they are not always located where we coaches draw them on the board. Instead of trying to hook the end, Heath just drove him out of the play, and Vessels cut inside, got around the corner, and eventually was confronted by the cornerback. Vessels made a quick left, cut behind the line of scrimmage, and ran into the offside linebacker. What a hit! Two great athletes going full speed. Vessels was struggling to stay on his feet and eventually to break the tackle. Just when it looked as if he were going down, into the film came number 40, the man who had just blocked the end. Heath got a shoulder pad into the linebacker and knocked him off the tackle. Vessels spun free, balanced on his hand, headed for the sidelines and then for the tall grass of the end zone, which was about 60 yards away. Billy Vessels—six-foot-two, 210 pounds of Heisman-trophy-winning, All-American tailback—could run like the wind. As he was on his way to the end zone, here came the weak side safety, the man who plays on the weak side of the formation. You could see that he was going to get Vessels on about the 15-yard line. When Vessels got to the 25, he had to make up his mind what he was going to do—run over him, stop, call time, say “King’s X,” or something else. Just as he had to make up his mind, into the film came number 40, Leon Heath, moving like a freight train. He hit the safety, put him about eight rows up in the grandstand, and Vessels walked into the end zone for the greatest run in the history of Oklahoma football.

That’s an inspiring performance. If you and I are going to get where we would like to get eventually, we had better follow Heath’s example and not only complete that first assignment but also go get a linebacker. And if we really want an exalted hereafter, we had better hitch up our belts and go get the safety.

Be Committed

My final point is a thing called commitment, which means you are going to do what you say you are going to do. I think about the commitments that come into our lives. If I could just feed the sheep with whom I work daily this thing called commitment, that would be great. I have seen what a few committed individuals can do, and so have you.

Let’s change the setting. How would you like to be lying on your back on the launching pad at Cape Canaveral, looking at all those dials and switches and hear someone say, “Ten, nine, eight, …”? “Oh, dear, how did I get in here?” you’d think. They tell me that until the count gets to four you can call time, push the off button, abort the mission, and you don’t have to go. But once it gets past four, you are committed. Total commitment? Clear to the moon! That is total commitment.

I believe this has to happen to us in our lives in the Church; we have got to commit totally. The sooner we do that, the better off we are going to be. We have got to do it.

As the Savior began his ministry, he needed helpers. He went to Peter and Andrew and said, “Follow me.” And they straightway left their nets and followed the Savior—commitment! He went to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and said, “Come, follow me.” And they immediately left their father and their boat and followed the Savior (see Matt. 4). That’s commitment! These are the things that we have to do. If we are going to be saved in our Heavenly Father’s kingdom, I believe it becomes incumbent upon you and upon me to make this decision, as others have made it. I think Joshua said it best: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15).

Photo by Grant Heaton

Though athletically ungifted, young Heber J. Grant decided to practice until he became the pitcher of a championship team. He is shown here as president of the Church, throwing the first ball at a centennial conference game in England.

Unable to see, hear, or speak, Helen Keller decided to follow the guidance of a brilliant teacher. Eventually Helen became a famous public figure.

Son of a poor farmer, Horace Greeley decided to write until he could write well. He later moved to New York and became one of the greatest editors of his time.