Giving the Lord Equal Time

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Alfred GraceDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

October 19, 2006
Alfred Grace
Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing
Polynesian Cultural Center

In accepting this opportunity to address you all today, I wondered what I might say that could be of benefit in some small but nonetheless significant way. I reflected on my many years of association with this campus, first as a student, then as a Bishop of a married student ward and now as a Bishop of a regular ward with several ward members enrolled here at school. Some of my fondest memories have also come through interacting with both students and faculty in my responsibilities at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

One of my strongest impressions of you as students here at Brigham Young University Hawaii campus is how busy you all are. Between classes, study, work, church and other extra curricular activities, finding a balance in life can be incredibly difficult. A concern I am sure many of you share with me is that with all this business and in a world full of distractions, we run the risk of becoming negligent in our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

In his book "When Thou Art Converted" Elder M. Russell Ballard relates a reunion he had with one of his former missionaries at church headquarters. I would like to recite this experience as it is written by Elder Ballard:

Some time ago one of my missionaries came to see me in my office at Church headquarters. He had been a fine missionary, and I was pleased to see him. I was also curious about why he had come after so many years. So I asked him, "Elder, how can I help you?"
"President," he said, "I think I'm losing my testimony."
I couldn't believe it. I asked him how that could be possible.
"For the first time, I have read some anti-Mormon literature," he said. "I have some questions, and nobody will answer them for me. I am confused, and I think I am losing my testimony."
I asked him what his questions were, and he told me. They were the standard anti-Church issues, but I wanted a little time to gather materials so I could provide meaningful answers. So we set up an appointment for him to return in ten days, at which time I told him I would answer every one of his questions. As he started to leave, I stopped him.
"Elder, you've asked me several questions here today," I said.
"Now I have one for you."
"Yes, President?"
"How long has it been since you read the Book of Mormon?" I asked.
His eyes dropped. He looked at the floor for a while. Then he looked at me. "It's been a long time, President," he confessed.
"All right," I said. "you have given me my assignment. It's only fair that I give you yours. I want you to promise me that you will read in the Book of Mormon for at least one hour every day between now and our next appointment." He was hesitant but finally agreed that he would do that.
Ten days later he returned to my office, and I was ready. I pulled out my papers to start answering his questions. But he stopped me.
"President," he said, "that isn't going to be necessary." Then he explained" "I know that the Book of Mormon is true. I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God."
"Well that's great," I said "but your going to get answers to your questions anyway. I worked a long time on this, so you just sit there and listen."
I answered all of those questions and then asked, "Elder, what have you learned from this?"
And he said, "Give the Lord equal time."

In my time as a Bishop, I have often encouraged those in my stewardship to pray, ponder the scriptures and counsel of our church leaders, keep the Sabbath day holy, attend required church meetings, hold regular family home evening and so on. When giving this counsel to a Saint as part of their repentance process, I often sensed they had been expecting, even hoping for something more profound, something with deeper meaning and more significance. It almost seemed as if they were disappointed in the attention I placed on everyday, possibly even mundane tasks. But I testify to you now my brothers and sisters that these simple activities of saying your prayers, reading the scriptures regularly, attending your church meetings and so forth are a significant part of "giving the Lord equal time".

In his Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul admonished them to:
11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

In other words brothers and sisters, by giving the Lord equal time through prayer, scripture study and so forth, we clothe ourselves in the armor of God that can and will protect us against the fiery darts of the adversary.

Some of us are likely giving the Lord equal time with fervor and commitment. Others may just be going through the motions of living the gospel. We may be preoccupied with honorable pursuits such as academic or sporting excellence or it could be something far worse that preoccupies our time.

I recall a friend of mine going through a time in his life that shook him to the very core of his being and caused him and his family much heartache and soul searching. He had been raised in a strong member family, his parents had held responsible positions within the Church, but for much of his life he had felt that he had been "living a lie", as he described it, trying to be something he really wasn't. While his actions indicated full activity in the gospel—regular church attendance, full time mission, church service and even temple marriage— his thoughts became more and more focused on worldly pleasures. Over a period of several years, he gradually succumbed to these thoughts, convinced that they represented who he really was and began to act upon them.

My friend ended up isolating himself from his family and losing his membership in the Church and along with it, his self worth. Fortunately, he had a very loyal and faithful wife who stood by him and prayed for his well being constantly, even though she had personally suffered greatly from his actions. He soon realized that his worldly pursuits had robbed him of what was most dear, that made him truly happy, not just in a fleeting, superficial way as his current temporal pursuits did, but in a deep meaningful way. He desperately wanted back what he had lost, far more than the temporal pleasures he was indulging in. Thus began his long journey back into the light.

I am pleased to inform you that my friend did hold fast to the process of repentance and has once again achieved full fellowship. His gratitude and respect for his wife has grown immeasurably as she never faltered and never gave up on him. He then shared a very important insight with me from his experience and that is our actions, if we persist in them, can and will shape our thoughts. As he persisted in doing the right things, he found that his thoughts began to fall right into line. It did not happen overnight, but it did happen. His troubles began the day he ceased doing the right things.

Ralph Waldo Emerson stated "That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do—not that the nature of the thing is changed, but that our power to do is increased."

I can remember from a really young age having a perpetual case of stage fright even when there was only an audience of one. I would like to share some of my experiences in running from this fear and finally learning how to deal with it.

As a 19-year-old convert to the Church, I was asked by an uncle, who was conducting the sacrament meeting, to give the closing prayer. I had never stood in front of such a large group of people before and even though I wanted to support my uncle I just sat their frozen to the chair until finally my uncle looked into my eyes and saw that I was absolutely terrified and quickly called someone else to give the closing prayer.

Some years later the opportunity to meet my wife for the first time had much more to do with my height than my bravado. We both attended a New Year's Eve dance right here in the Cannons Activity Center. I could see this tall statuesque women walking around the dance floor and it appeared to me that she was passing by guys and determining if they were taller than her. So as she came by me, I straightened myself up, lifted my head and bingo, she asked me to dance. At this point in my life this was an amazing accomplishment on my part.

I left for my mission from the BYU-Hawaii 10th ward. The Bishopric had scheduled my missionary farewell and asked me to give the closing remarks. Guess who didn't go to church that day. I felt terrible letting my Bishop down, but the fear of standing in front of so many people had got the better of me.

Finally, as a full-time missionary, I was totally uncomfortable with knocking on doors, I had a very patient trainer who knocked on all the doors at first to spare me the anxiety of confronting a complete stranger. However, one day as we approached a strange house, my companion looked me in the eye and said "Elder I don't care to knock on doors either, but it is an important part of being a missionary, it is how we get the opportunity to share the gospel, we are a team and right now you are not pulling your weight." He then stepped aside and I knocked on what was to be the first of many, many doors. An unshaven middle age man opened the door, took one look at us and promptly slammed the door in my face. At that point I was ready to knock more than just the door.

Those who know me today may be surprised to learn of these "stage fright" episodes in my life, and while they still exist to some degree, they have become much easier to deal with because I have persisted in doing them.

Most of us, I am sure, are engaged in worthy and honorable pursuits. However, even a total immersion in our academic studies, as worthy a goal as that might be, can be detrimental to our overall well being especially if we are leaving little, or no time for the Lord.

Elder Donald L. Stahle of the Quorum of the Seventy cautioned us against such an imbalance when he said "I also speak to those adults who have not yet felt deeply the spirit of the gospel in their lives. In the absence of a compelling testimony, some have let their daily thoughts and actions become so focused on the things of the world that they have minimized the influence of the light of the gospel in their everyday lives."

Elder Robert L. Simpson issued an even sterner warning to those who spend their time in more base pursuits "Satan is the master of deceit. He perverts man's God-given attributes from their noble and divine purpose onto a downward track. All seem to agree that one of man's most demanding and ever-present drives is centered in his desire for companionship and sexual fulfillment. To have this highly sensitive and divine human mechanism falsely aroused by unnatural processes creates a serious conflict in that vital control center, the mind. Rationalization quickly rallies to the side of the victim of off-color literature, because rationalization helps him to live with his conscience. He tells himself that his drives are God-given and, therefore, not that bad. He also tells himself, "Nearly everybody does it. I am not so different," and while he may not be so very different, he is just exactly 100 percent wrong in the eyes of God.

Elder Simpson goes on to say, "Now a mind that has been deceived into receiving trashy input cannot but send false signals to the feet, the hands, and the tongue. Future decisions will all be colored by the impurity allowed to enter that control center of his entire being.

As you invite unclean thoughts to become a part of your total being, be assured some of your faculties will become considerably sharpened. Your temper will be sharpened. Your tongue will be sharpened. Your desire for more trash will be sharpened. Your ability to shade the truth will be sharpened. Yes, just about every negative part of your character will be enhanced."

There will also be a noticeable diminishing effect in your life. Your personality will be diminished. Your family relationships will be impaired. Your ability to pray will be lessened. Your spirit will be affected adversely, and your testimony of the truth will start to slip away, probably so gradually at first that you won't even realize it is happening until it is too late. The Lord has said: "...Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord" (D&C 38:42).

In conclusion, Elder Simpson reminds us that "Every prophet from the beginning of this earth has had foreknowledge of our day with its pitfalls and hazards. The scriptures alone give us the formula for avoiding disaster. I like what the Lord says in the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants: "...let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven." [D&C 121:45]."

I am sure all of us can recall times in our lives when we felt so close to Heavenly Father and in tune with His Holy Spirit. As a missionary these feelings happened more often then not for me because we were giving much more than equal time to the Lord. One light hearted moment that stands our for me was walking with my companion down a street in a remote town on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand and being confronted by members of the "mongrel mob", a gang notorious for their violent acts. Things had been going so well for us up to that point that I recall thinking "OK Father, if these guys want to cause us harm and I have to leave this life early, then take me now, because I ain't never gonna be this good again." Needless to say, it was not my time.

Now let's go back to the ways in which we can "put on the armor of God" by giving the Lord equal time, that he might in turn help us, help ourselves;

Elder Rex D. Pinegar said that perhaps the greatest test of our faith and the most difficult part of prayer may be to recognize the answer that comes to us in a thought or a feeling, and then to accept or to act on the answer God chooses to give. Consistency in prayer, along with searching the scriptures and following the counsel of living prophets, keeps us in tune with the Lord and enables us to interpret the promptings of the Spirit more easily. The Lord has said; "Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me." (D&C 19:23.)

We can learn so much from the Savior's prayer in the garden of Gethsemane when he uttered, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done."

Imagine how wonderful our lives would be if we followed the Savior's example and sought to do Heavenly Father's will all of the time. Think of the peace of mind we would have knowing that we were following the direction of one who has only our exalted interests at heart.

The Lord has promised us that "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." What an amazing promise. Who could possibly not want that?

In regards to scripture study, many of us will recall President Spencer W. Kimball saying "I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more, I find it easier to abide their counsel."

I personally have experienced many times what I would call the "smoothing effect" of the scriptures in my life when all of my attention was focused on one particular area that was giving me great consternation. I marveled that the challenge I was dealing with and how to overcome it would somehow be miraculously laid out before me in the scriptures. I found that as I kept reading, the issue that had caused me such great consternation seemed to diminish as the scriptures helped put everything back into perspective.

Another marvelous tool the Lord has blessed us with is our Patriarchal Blessing. In a letter to stake presidents, the First Presidency stated that patriarchal blessings "contemplate an inspired declaration of the lineage of the recipient and, when so moved upon by the Spirit, an inspired and prophetic statement of the life mission of the recipient, together with such blessings, cautions and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give for the accomplishment of such life's mission, it being always made clear that the realization of all promised blessings is conditioned upon faithfulness to the gospel of our Lord"

Whenever I ponder my own patriarchal blessing, or discuss patriarchal blessings with our ward youth I am always comforted by the promise found in Doctrine & Covenants section 82, verse 10 "I the Lord am bound when you do what I say, but when you do not what I say, ye have no promise." This scripture, as much as any other, reminds me that the Lord stands ready to bless us, all we have to do is heed his counsel.

The prophet Alma has helped us understand our purpose for life, our reason for being, when he said "...therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead" (Alma 12:24).

For some of us, working towards eternal life by doing the right things may seem difficult perhaps even irrelevant given our current circumstances, but if you are not set on where you want to go and moving in that direction then you are like "Alice in Wonderland" who upon reaching a fork in the road couldn't decide which way to go. She spotted a large Cheshire cat curled up in a nearby tree and asked the cat "which way should I go", "well that depends on where you want to go" replied the cat, "I don't know" said Alice, "well then, it doesn't really matter which way you go, does it" concludes the cat.

Unlike Alice we already know which way we should go, the path, albeit narrow, is clearly laid out before us. Often times we may even be blessed with certain talents and abilities that on the surface may seem more suited to worldly pursuits. But that should not be a reason to go astray.

If you recall near the end of the movie "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," Harry is sitting in Albus Dumbledore's office recapping his harrowing escape from the dungeons far below. Dumbledore can see that something is bothering young Harry and queries him on it, to which Harry confesses he has been troubled by the fact that many of his talents are more in line with the house of Slytherin than the house of Gryffindor, to which Dumbledore responds "it is not our abilities that make us who we are, it is our choices."

In is book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey refers to the first three habits as being the "Private Victory." The first is to "be proactive" or in other words "if it is to be, then it is up to me".

Second is to "begin with the end in mind" if all we worry about is what is right in front of our own noses then we will always be overwhelmed by the constant noise of the world, unlike Alice, we need to have a clearly fixed destination in our minds so that we will know where we will be at the end of the day and take comfort in that knowledge.

The third habit of highly effectively people, which completes the private victory is "Put First Things, First" which brings us back to giving the Lord equal time. If we not only give the Lord equal time, but place him first in all that we do, our lives will be full of joy, happiness and peace. Again, to quote President Spencer W. Kimball, we will find ourselves loving more intensely those whom we must love with all our hearts and minds and strength.

Now if my talk seems a overly preachy for this setting, please forgive me, but understand that you are a congregation, this is a pulpit and I am a Bishop, it is what we do.