Be Ye Doers of the Word, Not Hearers Only

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Donald L. Staheli Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

February 1, 2007

Elder Donald L. Staheli
Second Quorum of the Seventy
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Thank you, President Shumway. It is a pleasure to be with you in this great gathering.

I am impressed with the beauty of this campus, along with the cultural diversity, the spiritual strength, and the future potential of you students.

I trust you recognize the great privilege it is to be a student at this university. Although you come with diverse cultural backgrounds from over 70 countries, you are bound together by the gospel principles which you embrace. I assume that each of you are here because you are genuinely seeking both intellectual and spiritual development, in preparation for a career, family, and the special opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. You represent some of the very best and brightest in your home countries. As you complete your education, much will be expected of you.

The challenge of your professors and leaders is to help you prepare, both spiritually and temporally, for the opportunities that await you.

I trust that they are doing just that and that you are "anxiously engaged" in learning and preparing for the future.

You are very much aware that we are living in troubled times. Since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, our world has changed, never to be the same again, regardless of where in the world we may live.

The crusade against terrorism is ever present. Ideological differences and divisiveness around the world continue to grow. Satan's influence continues to abound, not only in the hearts of those who seek to destroy lives and property, but also on the morality and integrity of people everywhere.

Yet, through all of this, the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the shining light of truth that lights the pathway to eternal life, as well as providing the foundation for success and happiness here in our earthly life.

Notwithstanding the perilous nature of our time, you young people are a choice generation. You are the future of the Church.

Many of you will have opportunities for considerable influence in your communities and countries as you live the commandments and stay true to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

President Hinckley has described you "as the finest generation in the history of the Church."

From that commendation, I hope you feel the love and confidence that the prophet has for each of you. Your challenge and mine is for each of us to live up to President Hinckley's and the Lord's expectations.

This is a critical time in your life when you make choices and establish patterns and habits that will have a major impact on who you will become. Your future happiness, personal righteousness, and relationship with the Lord will depend in large part on the values and habits you embrace and the choices and commitments you make over the next few years.

A philosopher once gave good counsel regarding choices: "Choose well; your choice is brief, and yet endless."

Good choices will add significantly to your future success and happiness. However, we must remember we are here to be tested and so, even the righteous will be periodically challenged.

For the next few minutes I want to talk to you about a few principles that hopefully will help you in your choices and motivate you to achieve success and happiness in your life, while staying strong in living gospel principles. Let me begin with an excerpt from the New Testament.

Jesus had an experience the day following His miracle of "feeding the five thousand," that should be instructive to each of us. Many of those who were fed sought out Jesus the next day at Capernaum. As they questioned Him, He said, "Ye seek me not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled."

Jesus then delivered His great discourse on the "Bread of Life," introducing them to the gospel of Jesus Christ and openly declaring his Messiahship.

His followers then said unto Him, "What shall we do that we might work the works of God?"

He then taught them the importance of commitments and believing in Him and His gospel as the Bread of Life.

Apparently many struggled with what Jesus was teaching. They murmured, "This is an hard saying."

Many were amazed at His miracles, but they couldn't really accept "Jesus of Nazareth" as the promised Messiah. Without accepting His divinity, they could not commit to do what Jesus taught.

Jesus sensed what they were feeling and asked if they were offended. And then the scriptures record, "From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him."

Then Jesus said unto the Twelve, "Will ye also go away?" Jesus was testing their resolve. Peter responded and reassured Jesus of their belief and commitment.

I don't know whether James, whom we presume to be Jesus' half brother, was with Jesus on that occasion. Yet I find it interesting that James, in the same Epistle that moved the young boy Joseph to go into the grove and pray for wisdom, reminds us of our responsibility to "...Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."

Thousands of people heard Jesus and beheld His miracles. They were "hearers of the word." However, many did not have the faith to accept Christ as their Savior. They did not take any action to follow Him—they were not "doers of His word."

Prophets through the ages have counseled us to "be doers, not hearers only."

There are numerous admonitions in the scriptures and from the prophets on our responsibility to work for and live for the blessings that the Lord has in store for us.

The Savior talked in a number of settings about the value of good works and commitment.

The Book of Mormon is replete with numerous situations where prophets and leaders exhorted their followers to be "doers of the word and not hearers only."

As the Saints arrived in Jackson County, it is interesting that at their first meeting on August 8, 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith gave the following strong counsel, now contained in the 58th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants:

"For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

"Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

"For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward."

Listen carefully to this last verse.

"But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned."

It has been said that one of the great tragedies of our time is that so many people live so far below their potential.

President Spencer W. Kimball continually encouraged us to "lengthen our stride" and to "enlarge our vision."

President Hinckley continually counsels, "Do your best." Recently he added, "But I want to emphasize that it be your very best. We are too prone to be satisfied with mediocre performance. We are capable of doing much better."

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it another way:

"The Lord loves each of us too much to merely let us go on being what we now are, for he knows what we have the possibility to become."

Implicit in the statements from each of these distinguished leaders is the message that each of us can and should do more to meet the Lord's expectations of us.

With the background I have just given you, I will now outline three basic principles that will help you more fully "become doers, not hearers only" in pursuing your temporal goals while holding fast to your spiritual values.

The first principle relates to your spiritual strength and resolve to be obedient to gospel principles. "To be doers—not hearers only." It is:

1. "Live to be worthy of the direction of the Spirit—at all times and in all places."

I assume that all of you who are members of the Church have a basic testimony of the gospel. Hopefully, you feel that your testimony is vibrant and growing stronger each day. That may be especially true for those of you who are returned missionaries.

Yet, even though you are living in a protected environment here at BYU—Hawaii, I suspect that many of you are challenged periodically with the things of the world, as well as the normal temptations of your interpersonal and dating relationships. Enticements from the media of TV, movies, and especially the Internet, are the adversary's way of distracting you from staying completely true to gospel principles and covenants.

These distractions, at best, test the strength of your commitment and testimony. At worst, they open the gate to the pathway leading to the loss of one's testimony and the right for periodic direction from the Spirit.

You all know what it takes to develop and maintain strong testimonies. President Hinckley frequently counsels us to combine our faith with sincere prayer and study of the scriptures. Then as we become "doers" of what we are studying and feeling, our testimony grows stronger. This strengthens our commitment to be obedient to the principles of the gospel.

President Hinckley further teaches: "Our individual testimonies of the truth are the basis of our faith. We must nurture them. We must cultivate them. We can never forsake them. We can never lay them aside. Without them we have nothing. With them we are everything."

Strong testimonies, combined with our responsibility to serve others and magnify our callings, builds a protective shield from the adversary, while opening the windows of heaven for the spiritual promptings and blessings that come with being "doers of the word."

While eternal life is the greatest of all gifts, I can't think of anything in this life that is a greater gift than having the blessing of the periodic promptings of the Spirit as we are proven worthy to receive them. By worthy, I am not implying perfection, but I am emphasizing the need for our strong commitment to pursue obedience with exactness and to be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit. Such promptings are generally sacred and personal, yet they become key building blocks in keeping our commitment and testimonies strong.

To illustrate my point, I would like to share a personal spiritual experience which I have not previously shared beyond my family. It is very personal to me. I trust you will accept it in the spirit in which it is given.

I was called by President Hinckley to serve as a Seventy ten years ago this month. In response to the call, I agreed with the President that within the following two months I would appropriately resign as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the company that I headed at that time in New York City. He asked that I be free to attend the General Authority training meetings beginning on April 1, 1997. I agreed.

My company retirement dinner was held in New York City on the Monday evening prior to the meetings to be held in Salt Lake City the next morning.

The dinner concluded about 11:00 p.m. Our plan was to have our driver take us to our apartment in New York City, where we would pick up our bags and then be taken to a nearby airport where our corporate airplane was waiting to take Sister Staheli and me to Salt Lake City.

As we left the dinner, we found that a "northeaster," a blinding blizzard with strong winds, had engulfed the area.

As we reached the car, the driver informed us that our pilots had called, advising that the storm had forced closure of the airport.

The forecast indicated no letup in the winds and blizzard for the next several hours. Our pilots were ready to scrub the flight and go home.

As I called our pilots and discussed the situation with them, I felt a special prompting of the spirit. I was impressed to tell them that we would continue our plan to arrive at the airport, at which time we would again review weather conditions. They reluctantly agreed but made it clear that they saw no chance of getting out that night.

As we went to the apartment and readied for the trip, Sister Staheli and I had a special prayer asking for the Lord's help as to how we might arrive in Salt Lake City in time for that opening session, where I was to be introduced as a new Seventy.

As we arrived at the airport, which was a private airport for corporate planes, the pilots reinforced what we already knew: there had been no letup in the blizzard and the high winds. Again, I was prompted to respond to Don, our chief pilot, as follows: "Don, in the many years that we have flown together and the thousands of miles that you have piloted me on various trips, I have never, ever, asked you to do anything that was contrary to the laws of safety. Tonight I want to bend that rule just a bit."

I then asked the pilots to request clearance to take the plane to the end of the runway and let us sit there to see if there was any chance of any break in the weather within the next hour or so. The pilots and tower personnel reluctantly agreed. After de-icing the plane for the third time, we moved to the end of the runway.

We sat there for only a few minutes with the wind and blizzard howling around us, when all of a sudden the chief pilot came over the intercom stating, "Buckle up, the tower has informed us that there has been a strange opening in the storm, and we're going to try and make it through."

As we rolled down the runway I quietly pleaded with the Lord to let us have a safe takeoff. We did exactly that. No sooner had we gotten through the heavy storm cloud cover when the pilot came back on the intercom saying, "You can't believe this. The heavy winds and blizzard conditions have reappeared. The airport is again closed. The pilots were perplexed with what had happened. We knew the Lord had intervened on our behalf.

As we landed in Salt Lake City about 4:30 a.m. in the morning, the pilots were still musing about the unique occurrence that had taken place. Only we knew that the Lord had responded to our prayers for help.

The Lord is in the details of our lives. As we continue our efforts to stay spiritually strong, He will respond and bless our efforts at the appropriate times. If you will always strive to live to be worthy of the direction of the spirit, you will be blessed in unimaginable ways.
In keeping with the principle of developing your spiritual strengths, my second principle relates to the application of a simple personal commitment. It is:

2. Carefully develop a set of values and standards by which you will live.

While you are here, but even more importantly after you leave this special university environment, you will be challenged and tested as never before. You will be in a new job environment. Hopefully, you will either be married and preparing for a family, or preparing for marriage. You will be engaged in Church service.

Who you are and what you stand for will become transparent to those with whom you work and associate. And with it will come the challenge to stay true to gospel principles.

I was raised in a small town in Southern Utah. Most of my high school class was LDS, yet some of my friends with whom I played on football and basketball teams occasionally found ways to break training rules and pressure the rest of us to follow their lead. For me, resisting their pressure turned out to be good training for the business life to follow.

Following completion of a doctorate at the University of Illinois and my service in the Air Force, we have spent our career living near and working in the cities of Chicago and New York City.

In my work, I was privileged to be associated with businesses in upwards of 100 countries. Each of these countries has their own cultures and standards. While people everywhere generally want to be good, honest, family-oriented people, their standards of integrity and morality frequently differed from ours.

The temptation and pressure to be "one of them" will periodically require a decision of character on your part. As you stand tall and true to your standards of gospel principles, you will either gain their respect or separate yourself from those who would seek to break "your standards of behavior."

I could give you dozens of personal examples where I have been challenged in some rather uncomfortable circumstances, yet in almost all cases I have earned the respect of my antagonists for staying true to my principles. You too will be respected for staying true to your standards and the Lord will bless you for it.

Now, may I give you a simple assignment relating to this principle of values and standards? And may I ask that you complete the assignment before you go to bed this evening? Are you ready with your pencil and paper? Here is the assignment:

Make a brief list of fixed, non-negotiable principles, which you will commit not to compromise at any time or under any circumstances in the future. Think carefully and prayerfully before making your list.

Your list should include three major categories: integrity, morality, and your personal and social conduct, including principles of the Word of Wisdom. You may wish to add others.
This simple list will become the guiding code of conduct for virtually all future occasions. As you develop your list, think seriously about your commitment to follow it.

One more request. Put your list on a small card. Either carry it with you or put it where it will serve as a daily reminder of who you are. If you will follow this one simple principle, our time together will have been worthwhile, and you will be generously blessed for it.

3. My third principle relates to the so-called "Sins of Omission."

Sins of omission refer to a passive or a "too busy" attitude to do many of the good and essential things that the gospel requires. Procrastination also fits into the concept of sins of omission.

Periodically, the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles invite members of the Seventy to join with them in the temple for a testimony meeting and the sacrament. In one of those meetings a member of the Twelve stood and related his testimony of the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees found in Jacob 5. Like the Master of the Vineyard, he asked the rhetorical question, "What could I have done more?" relating the question to his life and calling as an Apostle. He then taught us how we might review our own personal stewardship with our families, our Church callings, and service to others. The reflection on "What could I have done more?" becomes a soul searching experience.

Would you try it?

If you were to reflect on that question, "as to what more you could do" for a few moments each evening prior to your evening prayer, I predict it will have major impact on what you are seeking to become.

Earlier I commented that "one of the greatest tragedies of our time is that so many people live so far below their potential." The word "potential" implies talent and ability. It remains "potential" because positive action has not been taken to develop and magnify those talents and abilities to their full potential.

Generally we fail to achieve, not because we are engaged in evil acts or doing the wrong things, but rather we fail to fully do the important things that will support our personal development in things of a temporal and spiritual nature.

While we call these sins of omission, I tend to think of them more as the tendency of the natural man to procrastinate or passively drift along with the events and happenings of the day. Without focus and priority this is so easy to do, and it is generally quite comfortable, too.

A story is told of two men walking across a Midwestern university campus on a beautiful fall day. Surrounding a large oak tree, in its full fall colors, was a group of people.
Curiosity led the two men to move into the crowd to see what was attracting them. They found the crowd was watching a squirrel run up and down the oak tree. On the ground was a beautiful retriever dog lying on his stomach, with his paws outstretched. His eyes and attention were focused on the squirrel.

As the squirrel would run up the tree, the dog would inch closer to the base of the tree. The crowd was enjoying the game that they saw being played out between the dog and the squirrel. Then without warning, as the squirrel came down the tree to play on the grass, the dog grabbed the squirrel by the neck and with one shake, broke the squirrel's neck.
The crowd rushed forward to restrain the dog and to save the squirrel, only to find it was too late. The squirrel was dead.

What more could any one of them have done to save the squirrel? The answer is clear. Any one of the spectators could have easily restrained the dog by its collar, once they realized what was going to happen.

The question to ponder: how many opportunities do each of us have to save a so-called "squirrel" in our daily lives, either for others or for our own personal spiritual development? Think about it!

President Thomas S. Monson painted the picture as follows:

"We have been provided divine attributes to guide our journey. We enter mortality not to float with the moving currents of life, but with the power to think, to reason, and to achieve."

This raises the question for each of us: are we "doers of the word" or are "floating with the moving currents of life?"

In a more positive sense, paraphrasing the question of the apostle of whom I spoke, "What more might each of us be doing to more fully be "doers of the word?'"

  1. Strengthen our testimonies: live so the Spirit can direct us.
  2. Stay true to our standards: write down non-negotiable principles.
  3. Magnify our talents: fulfill the Lord's expectations for us.

Don't let the sins of omission or the drift of life detract from a life of happiness and accomplishment. As King Benjamin counseled, "If you believe all these things, see that you do them."

Paraphrasing King Benjamin, I don't know that any of you need a "mighty change of heart." But I suppose that each of us has a few "stumbling blocks" that keep us from fully achieving what we are capable of becoming.

As those stumbling blocks are removed, you will be blessed and strengthened as you become "doers of the word."

The Lord loves each of you. He intimately knows you and your potential. He will bless you in unimaginable ways as you live worthy of the Spirit to guide and direct your actions and decisions.

President Hinckley has spoken repeatedly of his love, respect, and expectations for you. He encourages us with the following counsel.
"Rise to the great potential within you. I do not ask that you reach beyond your capacity. . . I hope you will simply do what you can do in the best way you know how. If you do so, you will witness miracles come to pass."

May the Lord's choicest blessings be with you. May you so conduct your lives as "doers of the word" that when that special moment arrives in the future, you may receive that coveted accolade, "Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy lord."

In the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.