In His Strength I Can Do All Things
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
April 12, 2014
Craig C. Christensen
of the Presidency of the Seventy
My dear brothers and sisters, aloha!
Sister Christensen and I are honored to share this special day with you. You have truly made us feel welcome here in Laie, and we are in deed grateful. We express our heartfelt congratulations to all—graduates, families, and loved ones, and the wonderful faculty and administrators who have supported you here in this sacred place. We pray that this day—graduation day—will become a beloved milestone in your lives, one you will look back on with gratitude and a deep sense of accomplishment for many years to come.
As you may know, we are here on assignment from the First Presidency. Looking into your joyful faces today, I know that they would want me to convey to you their love and commendations for a job well done. As prophets, seers, and revelators, they understand that what you have accomplished here is a work of eternal significance, and they rejoice with you.
Elder M. Russell Ballard recently noted that the longest commencement speech on record was delivered at Harvard University in the early 19th century. It lasted more than six hours and was delivered first in Latin, then in Greek, and then in English. The shortest speech was given by the late Nels Smith, the former governor of the state of Wyoming. When called upon to speak, Governor Smith arose slowly, approached the podium, surveyed the rows and rows of graduates, and simply said in his downhome accent, “You done real good.” He then turned around and sat down (see M. Russell Ballard, “Commencement Remarks,” Brigham Young University–Idaho, Apr. 6, 2012). I begin today by saying, “You done real good!” But if you don’t mind, I won’t sit down yet. I’d like to say just a little bit more!
Garden of Eden
I’m not the first one to tell you that you’ve been going to school in paradise! For me, the BYU–Hawaii experience inspires comparisons to the Garden of Eden in a variety of ways. For example, you’ve been able to share this experience with friends and colleagues who embrace your same values. You have been surrounded by the wonders and beauty of this earth, and you have been schooled in a rich spiritual environment that nurtures faith and supports righteous living.
For the most part, “the world” will not offer you this same kind of experience, yet just as Adam and Eve had to leave their garden paradise in order to grow and progress, you must now leave these beautiful surroundings for the same reasons. There is more to learn, and much of this learning can only take place “out there.”
As a caution, I must tell you that at times the realities of the world—the temptation, the opposition, the adversity—will seem overwhelming. I am sure you have been wondering whether or not you are well enough prepared to face it successfully. Even though we live in perilous times, you will be strengthened by remembering two important truths:
First, while Satan may be intensifying his efforts, God is literally hastening His holy work. Satan may get more airtime in the media, but you can be certain that “the truth of God [is continuing to] go forth boldly, nobly, and independent,” until it literally fills the whole earth (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 444).
And second, an essential element of God hastening His work was to send you to earth at this time and in these circumstances. He knew the conditions in which you would grow up, and He sent you here now because He saw in you the spiritual gifts and attributes that would be needed in these latter days. Listen to these inspiring words from Elder Russell M. Nelson, words that describe you well:
Your Heavenly Father has known you for a very long time. You, as His son or daughter, were chosen by Him to come to earth at this precise time, to be a leader in His great work on earth. You were chosen not for your bodily characteristics but for your spiritual attributes, such as bravery, courage, integrity of heart, a thirst for truth, a hunger for wisdom, and a desire to serve others. You developed some of these attributes premortally. Others you can develop here on earth as you persistently seek them. (“Decisions for Eternity,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 107)
Now, Heavenly Father knows who you are and what you can become. He sent you to earth with specific talents and gifts—including talents and gifts you haven’t even discovered yet. He has big plans for you, but don’t be surprised if His plans aren’t exactly the same as the plans you have made for yourself. Our Heavenly Father sees more in you than you see in yourself, and His vision for you is greater than you can even imagine.
As you leave this wonderful university, you should have a sense of what you would like to accomplish. But I hope—oh, how I hope—that you will be willing to change your plans as you come to understand more clearly what the Lord has in store for you.
How will you do that? In the university setting, we tend to categorize ourselves and others based on our specific field of study. “I’m an English major,” “She’s a chemistry major.” and so on. As you graduate, I invite you to think differently about yourself and your life. From this point forward, resist the temptation of letting your major, your degree, your job, or your hobbies limit your sense of who you really are. You would sell yourself short if you see yourself primarily as an engineer, a scientist, a journalist, or even a surfer. That is not how God sees you! Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Whether one is a neurosurgeon, forest ranger, mechanic, farmer, or teacher is a matter of preference not principle. While those career choices are clearly very important, these do not mark your real career path. Instead, [brothers and sisters,] you … have been invited to take the path that leads [you] home” (“Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel,” Ensign, May 1998, 38).
So, instead of thinking of yourself in terms of your chosen field of study, think of yourself in terms of your service to others. Instead of focusing on just a career, focus on your contribution to the great work of Heavenly Father, who is bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children through every possible means, including you. To the extent you are willing to engage in the Lord’s work, He will make more out of you than you can ever make of yourself. The fact is that we really cannot comprehend what the Lord has in mind for us. That’s why we must trust in Him—be open to His guidance, to His will, even if it surprises us.
A little over a year ago, President Monson invited all of us “to see individuals not as they are but rather as they can become. I would plead with you,” he said, “to think of [others in terms of what they can become]” (“See Others as They May Become,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 70). Implied in that plea, brothers and sisters, is the invitation to regard ourselves not as we are but rather as we can become. Remember, our ultimate destiny is to become heirs to all that our Heavenly Father has (see Romans 8:16–17; D&C 84:37–38). Indeed, we are called to become even as He is! There is literally no limit to what we can accomplish, to our divine potential in the eyes of God.
In 1909, American author Orison Marden wrote, “Deep within man dwell … slumbering powers; powers that would astonish him, that he never dreamed of possessing; forces that would revolutionize his life if aroused and put into action. … [But] multitudes go through life without ever getting a glimpse of their powers.” To illustrate his point, Marden spoke of poverty-stricken families who struggle desperately to “[eke] out a miserable existence,” never realizing that “there was a fortune in minerals or oils in the very soil which they owned” (Peace, Power, and Plenty, 202–3).
This may remind you of the story President Dieter F. Uchtdorf told in general conference. President Uchtdorf spoke of a man who saved up money to buy passage on a cruise ship but did not join in any of the activities offered on the ship—including the extravagant feasts and excursions—because he felt they would be too expensive. Instead he spent the entire voyage in his cabin, eating the canned beans and crackers he had brought from home. It wasn’t until the final day of the cruise that he learned the succulent food and exciting adventures were all included in the price of his ticket (see “Your Potential, Your Privilege,” Ensign or Liahona, 60).
My dear friends, don’t wait to discover the blessings that are already yours through the covenants you made at baptism or the sacred covenants provided in the temple. You have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost. As disciples of Christ, you have the opportunity to experience great spiritual feasts and incomparable adventures in His service. You have already been provided the blessings of the priesthood and the opportunity to be part of the work of salvation. Are you fully partaking of these rich blessings? Most of you know by heart the words of this powerful Primary song: “I am a child of God, And he has sent me here” ("I Am a Child of God," Children’s Songbook, 2). Do you let this supernal knowledge inspire you, enlarge your thoughts, and shape your dreams about your possibilities?
You may be tempted to look at your past or at your current circumstances and place artificial limits on what you can accomplish. That would be a tragic mistake. As President Uchtdorf said, and I quote, “The adversary likes to take advantage of [our] feelings [of discouragement]. Satan would rather that you define yourself by your sins instead of your divine potential. … Don’t listen to him” (“Four Titles,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 58).
Sometimes, we are too quick to settle for small accomplishments when great ones are within our grasp. You might hear a teacher say, “If I could reach just one student…” when there are 30 in her class! Perhaps we do this out of modesty; more likely we do it out of a lack of faith or a sense of fear that if we set the bar too high, we will only disappoint ourselves.
Here’s another example: What does this scripture mean to you? “If it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” Does that mean we’ll be lucky to bring one soul unto the Savior? How easy it will be to forget about the Lord’s promise in the next verse: “And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15–16; emphasis added). I don’t know what “many” means to you. In The Book of Mormon, it meant thousands. Clearly the Lord wants us to stretch and to be more fruitful (see Matthew 13:8; John 15:1–16; Alma 26:30–31).
Likewise, here’s an example that has blessed all of us. On March 17, 1842, at the very first Relief Society meeting, Emma Smith declared, “We are going to do something extraordinary” (in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society , xi). She did not say, “We are a small group of women in a poor frontier settlement, and our influence is pretty limited, but hopefully we can do some good here and there.” These original pioneer sisters had ambitious plans—not because of their confidence in themselves but because of their faith in the Lord. And they did do something extraordinary: today the Relief Society is the largest women’s organization in the world—instead of a handful of women in Nauvoo trying to make a difference, there are millions of women worldwide. That would not have happened if Emma Smith had set the bar too low back in 1842.
You too have something extraordinary to accomplish. The adversary would like you to think your influence is limited and that the most you can hope for is to touch a life or two here and there. This is his strategy to keep you from reaching your full potential. Ignore him. Don’t listen to him. Pay attention to your Heavenly Father and His servants. You are going to do something extraordinary.
Willing to Change
Perhaps the most important expression of our faith in Jesus Christ is our willingness to change, to improve, and to aim for things that we have never achieved before. Whenever we, as true believers, strive for greatness that seems to be well beyond our powers, we are implicitly saying, “I know I can’t do this on my own, but I’m going to do it anyway. Why? Because I know that I am not on my own. God is with me. And with Him, ‘nothing shall be impossible’” (Luke 1:37).
In this, I hear the words of Ammon, who said, “I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things” (Alma 26:12).
It is interesting to note that when Ammon and his brethren began their rather audacious mission to their sworn enemies, the Lamanites, their hope was to “save some few of their souls” (Alma 26:26). The Lord, however, had bigger plans. He told their father Mosiah that “many [would] believe on their words” (Mosiah 28:7). When the brothers faced opposition and afflictions early in their efforts, when their “hearts were depressed” and they “were about to turn back,” the Lord comforted them, saying, “Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success” (Alma 26:27). “I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls” (Alma 17:11; emphasis added). There’s that word “many” again!
And, of course, that’s what happened. As Ammon later reflected, “We have suffered all manner of afflictions, and all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul; and we supposed that our joy would be full if perhaps we could be the means of saving some. Now behold, we can look forth and see the fruits of our labors; and are they few? I say unto you, Nay, they are many” (Alma 26:30–31). Entire cities were converted, and the course of Nephite and Lamanite history was changed forever.
How tragic would it have been if Ammon and his brothers had given up and turned back at that pivotal moment when their hearts were depressed! How much good has been left undone in the world because someone got discouraged and gave up! As Thomas Edison observed, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up” (in Deborah Hedstrom, From Telegraph to Light Bulb with Thomas Edison , 22).
Giving up in the gospel means not trusting the vision, inspiration, and direction that comes from our Heavenly Father and His servants. What if Lehi and his family, after eight years in the wilderness, had decided that the land Bountiful was good enough, that crossing the ocean was too ambitious, and that the idea of a promised land was a little far-fetched? What if Moses had decided that liberating the Israelites was unrealistic and that a more practical approach would be to negotiate with Pharaoh to secure improved working conditions and union representation for the Hebrew slaves? What if Joseph Smith had decided that, rather than establishing the true church from scratch, he would take what he had learned from the heavenly messengers and from the Book of Mormon and “work it in” to the doctrines and creeds of the existing churches? Or, to use a more recent example, what if President Thomas S. Monson had decided that the current state of missionary service was good enough and rejected the inspiration to adjust the missionary age so that young men and young women could serve missions to hasten the work of salvation?
What did Ammon, Lehi, Moses, Joseph Smith, and President Monson all have in common that enabled them to accomplish such great miracles? To borrow a phrase used to describe Lehi, they were all “visionary men” (see 1 Nephi 2:11). Their vision did not come from themselves. It came from God. They sought His will, and He revealed it to them. And though it was more expansive than their mortal minds could conceive, they were not limited by their fears or opinions about what was possible. They trusted in God and said, in effect, “I will go and do the things which the Lord [has] commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7).
This isn’t to say that the Lord will reveal the whole picture to you before He expects you to act. Nephi didn’t know exactly how he would get the brass plates, but he went to Jerusalem anyway. Brigham Young couldn’t see every mile to the Great Salt Lake Valley, but he embarked just the same. In my experience, when I get a sense that God has something important for me to do, the details do not come until I start to take action. As President Harold B. Lee admonished, “Walk to the edge of the light, and perhaps a few steps into the darkness, and you will find that the light will appear and move ahead of you” (in Lucile C. Tate, Boyd K. Packer: A Watchman on the Tower , 138).
“When the Lord was trying to teach the early Saints, He reassured them with these words:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you; And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours. And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. Wherefore, do the things which I have commanded you.” (D&C 78:17–20)
Trust in Him
Brothers and sisters and friends, today is a wonderful day to celebrate all you have accomplished at Brigham Young University–Hawaii, but remember, this is literally only the beginning. Compared to the great things God has in store for you—well, we are all still little children in many ways. We don’t have to see the end from the beginning. We just have to learn His will and do it. Never forget this simple declaration and promise: “I am a child of God. Rich blessings are in store; If I but learn to do his will, I’ll live with him once more” ("I Am a Child of God," Children’s Songbook, 2).
I share my personal testimony and experience that God will lead you along if you will put your trust in Him. I testify of your divine potential and your ability to do anything the Lord requires of you; not because of your own strength, but because He has all power to work through you. I pray that your Heavenly Father will help you see as much as you need to see—as much as you are able to bear—of the greatness He has in store for you. And I pray that you will exercise faith and make the effort needed to learn His will and follow His direction. We express our love and our confidence in your future, in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.