The Blessings of Following Counsel
Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
April 8, 2004
Elder William R. Walker
Asia-North Area Presidency
I am honored to be here today. Sister Walker and I are very grateful for the warm welcome that we have received. Thank you very much. What a blessing it is to be on this beautiful campus.
I begin my message by quoting from a book that I love. In the first four chapters of 2nd Nephi, the great prophet Lehi gives marvelous counsel to his children. Father Lehi knows that he is near the end of his life so he shares with his family his deep faith and his great wisdom. As he teaches important doctrine and bears his testimony, Lehi says: " I speak unto you these things for YOUR PROFIT AND LEARNING."
I hope and pray that my message to you with be for your profit and learning.
I grew up in a little town called Raymond, in the Western Canadian province of Alberta. As a boy, I always enjoyed it when my father invited me to ride with him in the car. It didn't really matter where we went, it was just fun to go someplace with my Dad. Dad was the town doctor, so sometimes he took me to his office or the hospital with him. Occasionally he would take me with him when he traveled to the neighboring towns of Magrath or Lethbridge. I especially liked it when we went to the town of Magrath because it usually meant we would get to stop at Denny's Ice Cream Parlor.
One Saturday, I was very excited when my father invited me to accompany him as he drove to visit a farmer friend who lived several hours away near the town of Rosemary. It was a beautiful spring day and I thought life was pretty wonderful as we drove across the countryside, passing the many farms and ranches. Dad would always point out important and interesting things to me as we drove along. We had a new white and green 1955 Plymouth that I thought was just the best looking car around. I thought, "How can life get any better than this?" just Dad and me in the new Plymouth.
When we arrived at the farm, we were greeted by the farmer and his children. Several of the children were about my age and they were happy to have a playmate for a couple of hours. As the fathers went one direction and the kids went the other, my father turned to me and said: "Bill, Have fun, but don't take your shoes off."
A spring thunderstorm had passed through the area earlier in the day leaving puddles of water in the pastures. It was warm and the prairie grass smell that comes after a rain storm was energizing. Soon we were playing tag in the horse pasture and having lots of fun. Running and splashing in the puddles got my running shoes and socks all wet so I decided I would just take them off and try to dry them out. I leaned them up against a fence post and pointed the inside so the sun would dry them out. Besides, running through the wet grass felt good on my feet. From my 10th year to my 11th year, I had grown taller and stronger and I remember being impressed with myself and how fast I could run. I was having a great time running around that pasture barefoot.
Suddenly I headed off in a different direction, running as hard as I could go. In a split second my delight turned to panic as I looked down and realized I was entering a prairie cactus patch. I tried to slow down, but it was too late. Barefoot, I ran right into the middle of that cactus patch. Prairie cactus grows low to the ground, and you can't really see it until you're on top of it.
Well, I was on top of it. So there I stood. In the middle of a cactus patch. Barefoot. In real pain. Embarrassed. Wondering why I had taken my shoes off. I also wondered why my Dad hadn't told me about the cactus. You see, we didn't have prairie cactus around my town, but my Dad knew it was different around Rosemary. Why hadn't he told me about the cactus? Why did he just tell me "Don't take your shoes off?"
Dad carried me to the car and laid me down in the back seat of the Plymouth. He told me we'd be home in a couple of hours when he would work on my feet. I had cactus thorns all over the bottom of both feet. The ride home was different than the ride to the farm.
I had plenty of time to think about why I hadn't followed the counsel my father had given.
When we got home, Dad didn't need to take me to the doctor, because he was the doctor. He just carried me into the house and laid me on the kitchen table. He got out his brown leather doctor bag and went to work on the bottom of my feet. I recall that he spent several hours with his tweezers, needle, razor blade and antiseptic as his slowly extracted every thorn from the bottom of my tender feet.
I know Dad thought I was pretty stupid for not heeding his warning. I'm kind of embarrassed to tell you this story, because you probably think I was pretty stupid, too.
However, the experience was a real blessing for me, because it helped me to focus on advise my father gave me from that time on.
In later years, I don't remember my father ever saying: "Remember the cactus patch."
However, I said it to myself many times. Especially when I got advice that didn't seem all that important, or when I could see no harm in ignoring the advice.
Quite often, I would say to myself: "Maybe my Dad knows something I haven't thought of." or "You're a stupid kid if you don't 'Remember the Cactus patch."
I've had many years to think about this experience. I want to share with you three important lessons that I learned from the Cactus Patch.
First, I learned that Inspired Counsel does not need to include an explanation.
Inspired counsel does not need to include an explanation of the consequences of not following the counsel. (The fact that my Dad did not explain to me that there were cactuses in the field did not make his counsel any less important. There was a time that afternoon, that I felt like my Dad had let me down by not giving me a detailed explanation when he counseled me to Keep my Shoes on.)
Each of us may receive inspired counsel from time to time that is just as simple as "Don't take your shoes off", and it will often come without an explanation.
It may simply be: "Don't go there." Or "Don't do that." Or "Stay away from something, or someone or someplace."
The counsel "Don't go there," will perhaps most often come without an explanation of the physical, or spiritual dangers that may be "there"â€”wherever that may be.
This lesson is not just for your profit and learningâ€”it is for my profit and learning as well. Even though I personally ran through the cactus patch, it is good to keep reminding myself that Inspired counsel does need to have an explanation attached to it.
We need to receive counsel with the saintly attitude that is characterized in Mosiah 3:19 by "yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit."
Much like spoken words of counsel, the promptings of the Spirit will often come without any explanation. The inspiration of Heaven, to which you are entitled, will often come as a direction to do something, or as a direction to avoid something, and will most often not include an explanation.
Second, I learned that Righteous Parents will often give the very best counsel.
I realized that if my Bishop, or even the President of the Church had been there that day, they probably would not have given me any better counsel than that which I received from my own father.
Nephi set a great example in this regard. You will recall that the children of Lehi were suffering from a shortage of food after Nephi broke his bow. While Laman and Lemuel were complaining, Nephi made a new bow. Even though Nephi had received visions and was highly favored of the Lord, Nephi went to his father and asked Lehi "Whither shall I go to obtain food?" ((I Nephi 16: 23)
He went to his father and asked for advice. Some would say: "Even when he didn't need to." Not only was it a blessing to Nephi, it was an even greater blessing to his father.
Hoping to get what they think may be 'more inspired' counsel, some people try to go as far up the church organizational chart as they can reach. The cactus patch helped me to realize that a righteous parent will often give the very best counsel.
For the rest of my father's life I was anxious to hear his advice and counsel. I didn't always like what he said, but I always knew it would probably be for my 'profit and learning' and I had better listen.
The Third lesson I learned from the cactus patch was:
Failure to follow inspired counsel can have very painful consequences. Now I know that cactus stickers in the feet are not nearly as serious as being turned into a pillar of salt like Lot's wife, but it really hurt. It took a long time before my feet felt better.
It wasn't until years later that I thought much about the difference between physical pain and spiritual pain. I was called to be a Bishop and I started to think about it quite a bit as I tried to help people who had run through spiritual cactus patches. I realized then that physical pain is often temporary and our bodies usually heal quickly. Far more devastating can be the spiritual pain and the spiritual damage that comes from sin and transgressionâ€”sin and transgression that occur when we fail to follow inspired counsel.
Thank goodness for the blessings of the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus, we celebrate his Atonement at all times, but this upcoming Easter weekend gives us a special opportunity to remember Him and thank Heavenly Father for the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Part of the beauty of the Easter Message is contained in the powerful passage in Alma Chapter 7 which teaches us that "the Son of God" will not only "take upon him death and loose the bands of death", but that he "will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people" as well as "their infirmities." (Alma 7:11,12)
ATTITUDE TOWARDS RECEIVING COUNSEL
The cactus patch experience, along with other things that I observed and felt as I grew and matured helped me to learn this very important lesson:
An attitude of obedience and a desire to receive and follow counsel would be a great blessing in my life.
There is no better example of the attitude we should have towards receiving counsel than that of Brigham Young. Consider this statement of President Young about how he felt about hearing the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith:
"In my experience I never did let an opportunity pass of getting with the Prophet Joseph and of hearing him speak in public or in private, so that I might draw understanding from the fountain from which he spoke, that I might have it and bring it forth when it was needed..... such moments were more precious to me than all the wealth of the world .... I never let an opportunity pass of learning what the Prophet had to impart." (J.D. Vol 12, p. 269-270)
This great Apostle, who had such great capacity and great confidence was so humble that he would "never let an opportunity pass" to hear counsel from the Prophet.
Our lives will be greatly blessed as we develop a Brigham Young-kind of attitude: that we do not want to let an opportunity pass of learning and receiving counsel.
Next time you put on a shirt or jacket with Brigham Young's name on it, maybe you can remember his attitude about receiving counsel.
SOURCES OF COUNSEL
Each of us have many valuable and important sources of counsel:
1. Counsel may come to us from our father, or mother. For some you still have the great blessing of being able to receive counsel from a grandfather or grandmother.
2. Counsel may come from our Bishop or our Stake President. If a righteous father or mother is not there for you the Lord will always provide. Every one of us has a Bishop. Even the President of the Church has a Bishop.
3. Counsel may come from other leaders in the church, but especially those whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. Their counsel may come from the pulpit in the Conference Center, but it is just as important as if we received it in a one-on-one conversation. Just last weekend we were all blessed to hear marvelous counsel from the Prophet, his counselors and the Twelve. These are the ones that we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. We are under obligation to give strict heed to their counsel and teachings. We should be serious students of the words of the Lord's apostles. We will gain power and strength and find our lives blessed as we follow their teachings and their counsel.
4. Counsel may come to us from the scriptures. Everyone of us has the daily opportunity to be taught the Word of God, to receive inspired counsel that will bless our lives as we search the scriptures and "liken (them) unto us that (they) might be for our profit and learning." (1 Nephi 19:23)
5. There is also wonderful counsel for each of us in our own Patriarchal Blessing. I have always felt that my Patriarchal blessing is like my own personal section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
6. Additional valuable counsel may come from the words and righteous examples of others with whom we associate who are blessings in our lives.
With these multiple sources of counsel and guidance the Lord has provided that none of us need go astray.
The purpose of counsel is to help us make wise and righteous choices. 2 Nephi 10:23: "Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselvesâ€”to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life." And in the same way, we are free to choose to reject inspired counsel or accept it.
President Boyd K. Packer taught us an important lesson about where we should go for counsel:
"There is an order of things as to where we go for counsel or blessings. It is simpleâ€”we go to our parents. When they are no longer available, if it is a blessing, then we may go to our home teacher. For counsel, you go to your bishop. He may choose to send you to his file leaderâ€”the stake president. But we do not go to the General Authorities. We do not write to them for counsel or suppose that someone in a more prominent position will give a more inspired blessing. (If we could get this one thing taught in the Church, great power would rest upon us)." (Unwritten Order. p.7 BKP)
President Packer teaches us that we go to our parents firstâ€”just as Nephi did.
THE BLESSINGS AND BENEFITS OF FOLLOWING COUNSEL
When the righteous follow inspired counsel they will find that their lives are blessed and they are guided by the Spirit. They will also find that they are protected and given power. They will find that they are happy. And always, the promptings of the Spirit will confirm the path that we should take.
If it is happiness that you seek , consider the words of Lorenzo Snow. You will all remember him as the great prophet in the the inspiring movie "The Windows of Heaven." President Snow said: "No man can be more happy than by obeying the living prophet's counsel." (18 Jan 1857, JD 4:184)
Consider the numerous scriptures that teach that blessings come through obedience. One of my favorites is Mosiah 2:41: "Consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God."
If you want to have the power to do good , consider the 37 th verse of the 105 th Section of the D&C: "And inasmuch as they follow the counsel which they receive, they shall have power after many days to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion."
DOES COUNSEL NEED TO BE SPECIFIC TO YOU?
I began by quoting Lehi's counsel to his son Jacob: "I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning ..." (2 Nephi 2:14) If Lehi's counsel to his sons was good for Jacob's profit and learning, I assure you it is good for our profit and learning as well.
Some of the greatest counsel we could ever receive may be scriptural counsel that was specific to someone elseâ€”but it can become a great blessing for each of us if we heed the counsel and apply it in our lives.
For example, Alma's wonderful and powerful counsel on the Law of Chastity to his son Corianton (Alma 39) is no less compelling, or no less valuable for you and me than it was for Corianton.
In the same way, if a boy knew of my experience of running through the cactus patch barefoot, if he ever found himself in a similar situation, would it be any less beneficial for him to heed the counsel my father gave me? Of course not! It would bless another boy just as much as it would have blessed me if I had been wise enough to follow the counsel of my father.
A few moments ago I mentioned that a message from one of the leaders of the church given from the pulpit need not be specific to you to have great importance for you as an individual. This may be especially important to talk about since we just had the great and wonderful experience of having General Conference last weekend.
I want to ask each of you a question. How important is General Conference to you? Remember Brigham Young's attitude. How important would general conference be to him? If you allow it to be, how much of a blessing can general conference be in your life?
HOW IMPORTANT IS GENERAL CONFERENCE?
President Harold B. Lee powerfully taught the importance of giving heed to the messages of General Conference. He said:
"Now, you Latter-day Saints, I think you have never attended a conference where in these three days you have heard more inspired declarations on most every subject and problem about which you have been worrying. If you want to know what the Lord would have the Saints know and to have his guidance and direction for the next six months, get a copy of the proceedings of this conference, and you will have the latest word of the Lord as far as the Saints are concerned. (CR Oct 1973 p.173)
When President Ezra Taft Benson was President of the Church, he quoted President Lee's words about the importance of Genral Conference and added these words: "My dear friend and brother Harold B. Lee said, we should let these conference addresses "be the guide to (our) walk and talk during the next six months." (CR April 1988, p.97)
Some of you may be concerned about the problems that abound in the world today. Your righteous desires may include wanting to make the world a better place. Consider what another great prophet taught about General Conference.
President Spencer W. Kimball said: "In the (conference) truths were taught, doctrines expounded, exhortations given, enough to save the whole world from all its illsâ€”and I mean from ALL its ills. A rather complete education in eternal verities was given to millions....
"There will be other conferences every six months. I hope you will get your copy of (the Ensign) and underline the pertinent thoughts and keep it with you for continual reference. No text or volume outside the standard works of the Church should have such a prominent place on your personal library shelves - not for the rhetorical excellence or eloquence of delivery, but for the concepts which point the way to eternal life." (BYU Speeches of the Year, 14 May 1968, pp. 2,3)
One of the best ways to avoid running barefoot through the cactus patches of life is to pay strict heed to the counsel we receive at General Conference.
A sister missionary who served in the Tokyo South Mission, when Sister Walker and I were there, once asked me for counsel on how to decide who was the right man to marry. Of course there are many important considerations that I shared with her. I told her that one good way to measure a young man's devotion to the Lord was to observe how important General Conference was to him. Was it a weekend to take off and have fun? Or was it a weekend where he showed a Brigham Young kind of attitude and "wouldn't want to let the opportunity pass?"
Mosiah tells us why we need to listen to the sermons and counsel of the prophets:
It is to "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view." (Mosiah 2:9)
That "the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view." Think about that promiseâ€”that "the mysteries of God may be unfolded to (our) view."
My final response to the question of how important is General Conference is contained in two powerful scriptures containing the words of the Lord himself:
In the marvelous preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, dictated by the Lord, we learn this great truth: "Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." (DC 1: 38)
In 3 Nephi Chapter 12, the Lord says: " Give heed unto the words of the Twelve whom I have chosen...."
Need there be any other admonition than the word of the Lord himself?
TAKE COUNSEL FROM GOOD EXAMPLES
One of the great blessings of being on this Brigham Young University campus is that you are surrounded by Administrators and Teachers who are faithful and devoted Latter-day Saint men and women. You would be wise to take counsel from their examples. No matter what your background, or your goals in life, you can find here men and women after whom you can appropriately pattern your life.
The Lord may place people in our path as we go through life for the specific purpose of guiding us or shining a light on the path that we are to walk. It could be that the Lord inspired you to come to BYU Hawaii for the very purpose of having one of these great examples in your life.
In every situation, you are entitled to the personal confirmation of the Spirit that the counsel is appropriate and the course that you should pursue is right.
Sometimes the most wonderful counsel may not come in the form of words, but by personal example. As an Apostle, Elder Harold B. Lee visited a stake conference and gave important and personal counsel to the young Assistant Stake Clerk.
Speaking of the Stake Presidency, Elder Lee said: "They are great men. Never fail to learn from men such as these." (Boyd K. Packer, The Unwritten Order, p. 4, Oct 15, 1966)
You may be interested to know that young Assistant Stake Clerk took very seriously the counsel of the visiting Apostle and he now sits in the Quorum of the Twelve. He followed the counsel. He learned from those great men. Now, every one of us here today has that same kind of opportunity and blessing. You are surrounded by great men and women.
President Harold B. Lee doesn't need to give that counsel to you personally for it to be valuable and important. Please remember: "Never fail to learn from men (and women) such as these."
LEARN FROM THE MISTAKES OF OTHERS
We often say that we need to learn from our mistakes, but it is also a wonderful thing to have the wisdom to learn from other people's mistakes. Someone once said 'Smart people learn from their own mistakes, but really smart people learn from other people's mistakes.' I don't know about you, but I would just as soon be really smart.
We can learn a lot from the poor example of others. I call these negative lessons. Often we may simply learn how not to do something.
As a young man serving on a Stake High Council, I sat through disciplinary councils and learned some very important lessons of things NOT to do. I witnessed the heartache and devastation that can occur in the lives of individuals and families when temple covenants are not kept. I resolved to learn from the mistakes of others and never, never make those mistakes in my life. You don't have to be on the High Council to learn those lessons.
I hope you will all learn from the negative examples that you may see. Here at BYU-Hawaii you are in a corner of Paradise and the negative examples may be quite rareâ€”but when you see them, learn from them. Learn from the mistakes of others.
Take counsel from the spirit and you will see things through inspired eyes.
I want to share with you one such experience. As an 11 year old scout, I learned a great lesson from an assistant scout master who took us into the woods to give us a lesson in AX SAFETY. After speaking for a few minutes and giving us a lecture on how to care for an ax and to be careful with it, the Assistant Scout Master said: "I will now teach you how to safely use an ax when chopping down a tree." He identified a young tree to chop down. We gathered around to watch. He showed us how to grip the handle. He took a swing at the tree. The ax glanced off the trunk of the tree and hit him squarely in the knee, splitting his knee wide open.
It was the best lesson on AX SAFETY that a group of 11 year old scouts could have ever received! We all went home that day with a deep understanding of the importance of Ax Safety.
In the same way, if we are wise we will learn from the mistakes of others. The more vivid the mistake, perhaps the more lasting and important the lesson. I have never looked at an ax since that day without having a sense of respect for the ax and an understanding of what can go wrong. I learned the lesson taught by the Assistant Scout Master. I want you to know, I STRONGLY believe in Ax Safety.
WHEN IS IT COUNSEL AND WHEN IS IT A COMMANDMENT?
You all know the famous admonition of the Prophet Joseph Smith: "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." We do not need to be commanded in all things.
I once heard a man say from the pulpit in a ward meeting: "Unless the prophet says 'Thus sayeth the Lord', I feel I am under no obligation to follow what he says." I thought it was one of the dumbest things I had ever heard said in church.
I wasn't his priesthood leader, but I wanted to say something to him. My response to him was simply this: "Brother, If the prophet says his favorite ice cream is Burndt Almond Fudge, that's good enough for me, I'm going to try Burndt Almond Fudge." Now I know that is not a doctrinal response, but I wanted him to know that I didn't need to hear the prophet say "Thus sayeth the Lord" to get me to respond. Even on a trivial matter, I would be pleased to know the thoughts of the Lord's prophet.
President Wilford Woodruff once said: "We have been governed by counsel instead of commandment in many things , which has been a blessing to the Saints, for "he that is commanded in all things" and obeyeth it with slothfulness and not a willing mind, is not qualified before the Lord as that man is who, having the power within him, bringeth to pass much righteousness without being commanded in all that he does. " (JD 14:36)
On a far more serious note than Burndt Almond Fudge, President Harold B. Lee said: "In my mind there is grave doubt that any man can abide the day of the Second Coming who is not willing and able to follow the leadership of these men whom the Lord has set to counsel and guide us in this day ." (CR October 1941, p.114)
You know who the men about whom President Lee was speaking. President Lee teaches us that the Lord has set these men before us to give us counsel and guidance. They need not say "Thus sayeth the Lord."
CONCLUSION AND TESTIMONY
As I conclude I want to share with you a very important truth about counsel. In 2 Nephi 28: 30, we read: "Thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, AND LEND AN EAR UNTO MY COUNSEL , for they shall learn wisdom; for UNTO HIM THAT RECEIVETH I WILL GIVE MORE...."
The Lord teaches us that when we lend an ear to his counsel, then he will give us more.
"Whether by mine own voice of the voice of my servants, it is the same."
"Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little."
If we want the guidance and direction of the Lord in our lives we must have the wisdom and the humility to follow the counsel that He gives to us - whether it comes directly from the Lord, or through the inspired counsel of our parents, or our Bishop, or our Stake President, or from the Apostles and Prophets. As we lend an ear to the counsel that He gives, we shall receive more.
The Apostles and Prophets have taught us that through obedience we become worthy to receive personal revelation. With the important and life altering decisions that you students face, surely you realize that there may not be any other time in your life when inspired counsel and personal revelation are more important.
Please live righteously so that you will be entitled to the blessings and guidance of heaven. You can have fun running in the pasture but: "Don't take your shoes off."