Personal Prayers and Personal Covenants

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Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

January 29, 2004
Larry C. Linton
Chairman of the Board, BYU-Hawaii Center for Entrepreneurship

Aloha!

I'm grateful to be here today with you wonderful students from all over the world. We are grateful to be associated with BYU-Hawaii with President and Sister Shumway and all his administration and staff. We know you are a school of destiny. As you finish your schooling and return to your countries, you will be a great influence for good, you will provide leadership not only to the Church but to your people and your countries. You will fulfill President McKay's prophecy when he said at the dedication of this great school in February 1955: "Mark my word...from this school, I tell you, will go men and women whose influence will be felt for good towards the establishment of peace internationally."  And we see this among you great and beautiful students.

As I speak to you today, I ask for your faith and prayers, that the Spirit of the Lord will be here, that it will help me convey His message to you and that you will hear His message.

I sense your desire to be faithful, to love our Heavenly Father, to love the Savior, and to walk in obedience to their commandments. I sense your struggles to continue faithful in consistent daily prayers, consistent daily scripture reading, staying morally clean, finding your eternal companion, paying a full and completely honest tithing, and your struggles to get through school and then live a life of dedicated service to repay the Lord for helping you come to BYU-Hawaii to get not only a secular education but a deep spiritual education and conversion.

Today, I feel impressed to speak to you about personal prayers and personal covenants.  I hope that you say your personal prayers.  I hope they are sincere.  I hope you are talking heart to heart with Heavenly Father.  As a stake young men's president, one of the things that I continually emphasize with our leaders is, "please help the boys get in the habit of saying their morning and evening prayers, and help the boys read their scriptures, read the Word of God, every day.  I think we could have the greatest activity programs, the greatest sports programs, the greatest scouting programs, the greatest combined activities, but none of those activities would bless and affect the eternal salvation of those young men like their honest, sincere morning prayers and their evening prayers. 

I want to talk to you about covenants this morning.  There are two different kinds of covenants: there are Gospel covenants, and there are personal covenants.  The Gospel covenants start with baptism, when we make a covenant with God and he makes a covenant with us.  Then there's the covenant of the priesthood, there are covenants of endowment and sealing; we make a covenant when we partake of the sacrament, those are Gospel covenants.  But have you ever considered making a personal covenant with Heavenly Father about some aspect of your life?

As an older brother who has walked the same path that you are on, who struggled in his youth with the same struggles you are going through today, let me share with you some deep and personal experiences of how I wrestled before the Lord and made it past these struggles of youth.

Let me set the stage by sharing the struggles of Enos as recorded in the Book of Mormon:

1 BEHOLD, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man, for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and blessed be the name of my God for it, 
2 And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

Let me share with you, from the the Book of Alma, a beautiful scripture from Alma 34 talking about prayer:

17 Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;
18 Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
19 Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
20 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
21 Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
22 Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
23 Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
26 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

Another beautiful scriptures I just read last night before retiring, Helaman 3:27:

27 Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.

story of struggles and an answer to prayer is the First Vision. From the experience of Joseph Smith in the sacred grove we learn the elements of a true, sincere prayer. Joseph Smith needed an answer. He had a great desire to know the truth, which church was right? When he read in James 1:5: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him," he knew from this scripture that God would answer his prayer and "it entered with great force into every feeling of his heart." With faith in that promise, he took action. He retired to the woods. He knelt down. In his own words, "It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally."

Have you ever prayed vocally? Can you sense the power of a sincere vocal prayer? You are talking heart to heart with God. You are saying the words out loud. How can you not be sincere and pray earnestly and with real intent?

Now let me share with you my first attempt in prayer. As a little boy my mother taught me to pray. She would kneel down with me at night and help me say my prayers. It was a consistent every night pattern. I'm so grateful for her and for the habit of praying. It has stayed with me all my life.

In 1946, I was six years old. I had been given a nice rubber ball and I had been out in the pasture behind our home, throwing the ball 50 feet or so and then running to pick it up and throwing it again. After many throws, I went to find the ball but could not find it. I looked for over 30 minutes. I could not find it. I didn't want to lose that ball. I decided to pray and ask Heavenly Father to help me find my ball. I stood in that pasture, folded my arms, bowed my head and talked heart to heart with Heavenly Father. Something like this, "Heavenly Father, I've lost my ball. I really need to find it. Will you please help me find my ball?" I closed in the name of Jesus Christ. As I opened my eyes and looked up, I was shocked. There, not 6 feet away, was my ball, in clear sight. It may not sound like a lot to you, but to me, as a little boy, I came to know first hand, that there is a real Heavenly Father, that he hears and answers prayers. It was so amazing. I never forgot that experience. It was the beginning of my everlasting faith and trust in Heavenly Father. What a blessing that became as I continued to say my prayers through grade school, junior high, high school, college, a mission, courtship, and now marriage and family.

My commitment to evening prayers has always been there but I struggled to gain the habit of consistently saying my morning prayers. During my mission and college days I always said morning prayers, but during my thirties with so many pressures and responsibilities, I often forgot to say morning prayers. We always had morning and evening family prayers but so often I would get up quickly, get ready for work, have family scripture reading and family prayer and forget my morning prayers. But a mighty change came in 1981 through an experience in a Stake Presidency meeting as our President told us of an interview he had had with a good brother and how he had asked him if he was faithful in saying his evening and morning prayers. As he related that story it came with great force into my heart. I needed to repent. So in mighty prayer I made a covenant with God that I would from that time forward say my morning prayers. I have kept that covenant. I cannot tell you all the blessings that have come from consistent morning prayers.

I will now share the story of my struggle to read the scriptures every day.

In 1980, we again went through a tough time in business. Interest rates sky-rocketed to 22%. Sales went down. We were in trouble. But we accepted a request from our Stake President as a family to go to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for LDS Leadership training in Scouting. I debated whether we should leave the business at such a critical time. But we put the Lord first and went on faith. It was a great experience for all the family. But a significant thing happened to me during a small priesthood meeting that Sunday. A Stake President in his testimony told us of how he and his wife had made a commitment to read the scriptures every day as a couple and how that had changed their lives.

When he shared that testimony, I felt like Joseph Smith. Never did any story of scripture reading come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.

I had been slack in my daily scripture reading. I had explained it away. I was too busy. I had too many responsibilities, I was still living a good life, on and on. But at that very moment, my life changed. I promised, I made a covenant with Heavenly Father that I would never again be slothful in daily scripture reading.

I repented. I kept my scriptures right on the light table next to my bed. I started reading them every night before my prayers. It didn't matter what time I got to bed. The spirit said "don't neglect your scriptures."  What a blessing that has been. Myreel will attest. I have been a better person, a better husband, a better father, and better servant of the Lord. Everything has gone better, because I made a covenant and have kept that covenant.

Let me tell you of my struggles to learn the Law of Tithing. Growing up, I never thought much about tithing. I remember paying tithing, but how committed I was I can't remember. In 1958, I had graduated from High School and entered LDS Business College. I had enough money to pay my tuition for the first term and rent an apartment for two months. I needed to get a job or I'd have to drop out of school. I looked and looked for a job. I could not find one. Finally after two months, I'm desperate. My money is running out. One afternoon, I come home from school and in my upstairs apartment I decide to kneel down and pour out my heart to Heavenly Father. It must have been a long prayer as my needs were great. During the prayer I make a promise, a covenant, "Father please help me, please help me to stay in school. Please help me get an education. Please help me find a job. And Father if you'll help me, I covenant, I promise that I'll pay a full and honest tithing for the rest of my life." It's a very emotional prayer. I'm praying with all my soul. The Lord hears my prayer. He makes a covenant with me. The next day I'm inspired to go to the Utah Genealogical Society and apply for a job. I interview. I get the job that day.

I am so grateful. I shed tears of gratitude. And all my life, I have kept that covenant.

Have you ever needed something so great that you've been driven to your knees and poured out your heart, maybe in a vocal prayer, and in the course of that prayer made a covenant with Heavenly Father?

In 1964, I had finished my courses at LDS Business College, graduated, attended a year at BYU, served a mission to Denver, Colorado, and returned home to re-enter BYU. I've met and dated many fine young women but I'm confused, I can't seem to find the "right one." One afternoon in the bedroom of a rented home on 7th north in Provo, I really feel the need to offer a significant prayer to Heavenly Father. I'm all alone in the house. I kneel down and this time, which has not happened that many times in my life, I said a vocal prayer, reverently but out loud. I really poured out my heart. I ask Heavenly Father to lead me to my future eternal companion. I have not been able to find her and would He lead me to her. I covenant to stay extremely clean and pure in thoughts and actions, to be morally clean in every way, to keep the highest standards of dating, and to show respect to all young women I date; and to keep ALL the commandments of Heavenly Father to the best of my ability. He hears my prayer and covenant. Within six months, in a J.C. Penney shoe department, my beautiful future companion walks into my life. We date for three months, get engaged, have a four month courtship and marry August 19, 1965. During our courtship we never do anything inappropriate. In fact, I am so committed to my covenant with Heavenly Father that we do not kiss on the lips until the sealer in the Arizona Temple tells us "you may now kiss as man and wife."  And I gave her a big one!  I had waited a long time for that. 

I'm so grateful for that covenant.

Now another covenant story.

While in school at BYU I always had the calling of Priests' Quorum Advisor. I tried to prepare a good lesson for Sunday morning, but I did not have the time to really magnify my calling. I was taking a full load in school, working twenty hours a week, serving in the Utah National Guard and striving to get good grades so that I could get into graduate school.

Many times I felt a guilt complex for not giving more time to spiritual things, like service projects, going the second mile in Home Teaching, spending more personal time with those young Priests, or other acts of charity.

Eventually, this feeling drove me to my knees and I poured out my heart to Heavenly Father. I counseled with Him. I tried to explain my circumstances, my burdens, my sorrow for not being more giving of my time. I made a covenant with Heavenly Father: if He would be patient and forgiving and would help me get through BYU and graduate school, as soon as I was out of school, I promised that I would make "serving the Lord" my highest priority in life. That I would accept every calling that came from His servants, and that I would be faithful and valiant in everything He would ask of me or my family. I really meant it.

The Lord heard my prayers. He quickened my mind in my studies. He provided jobs and income to get through school. He helped me finish at BYU and graduate from Arizona State in 1966. I am so grateful. I cannot thank Him enough. I was so ready to keep that covenant.

We graduated from school and accepted a job in Portland, Oregon. We moved into an inner city ward that really needed help.

Myreel became a Primary President at 22 years old. I became an early morning seminary teacher, young men's president, sunday school teacher, and helped with Elder's Quorum projects. A year later, I was called to be the Bishop of our Ward. Since then the Lord has blessed us with countless opportunities to serve for which we are most grateful. And I think it goes back to that covenant in 1965.

Now a few more covenants that I want to share with you:

In 1975 we had some serious business reverses. We'd expanded too fast. We were in trouble financially.

We made a covenant with Heavenly Father: please help us. We will do better. We will remember Thee. We have a baby daughter January 26, 1976. We name her Elise, which means "covenant with God." We dedicate her and ourselves to the Lord, once again. 

I share these very personal stories with you to touch your hearts. To show you an example of personal prayers and personal covenants. I pray with all my heart that you'll have many, many heart to heart talks with your Heavenly Father. That when you're impressed by the spirit to do so, you'll make some personal and mighty covenants with your loving Heavenly Father.

Now in closing, let me ask you some personal questions:

Do you REALLY know God the Eternal Father & His son Jesus Christ? From 1 John 2:3 we read: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments."

Does He know you? From Jeremiah:"Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart."

Are you close to Him in the thoughts and intents of your heart?  From Mosiah 5:12-13: "I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.

"For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?"

How often do you talk to your Heavenly Father? Thank Him?  From Psalms, David says, "GIVE ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication. Ss for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." (Psalms 55:16-17)

How often do you tell your Heavenly Father that you love Him? From Alma 37:36-37:

36 Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.

37 Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

How often do you confess your sins?  From John 1:8-9:"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Do you see why it is so important to confess our sins?

Oh how I plead with you to resolve and covenant to say your personal prayers on your knees every night and morning. That you'll use one-half of your prayer time in thanking Heavenly Father and expressing much gratitude to Him. He loves to hear you say you love Him, that you're grateful for all He has done for you.

That you'll pray with sincerity, earnestness, humility and genuine feeling.

That you'll ask in each prayer for forgiveness and to forgive others.

That you'll ask for help & guidance.

That you'll close "in the name of Jesus Christ."

I pray that you'll read the Book of Mormon every day.  I pray that you'll ponder and consider making personal covenants with Heavenly Father in many aspects of your life, and that you'll keep your covenants with all sincerity and truthfulness.

Through all this, you will develop a very personal, close, loving relationship with Heavenly Father and may I add, His Son Jesus Christ. Then you will see the fulfillment of these beautiful scriptures

John 17:3: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."

And finally from Doctrine & Covenants 93:1: "VERILY, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am."

We love you. We pray for you. We care about you. May the Lord bless you with a multiplicity of blessings.  I close with a testimony of Jesus Christ.  I am so grateful for the Book of Mormon, for the witness that it is of Jesus Christ.  We serve Him.  We love Him.  He is our Savior and Redeemer.  And I love our Heavenly Father like you do.  May we serve Him and love Him in all of our thoughts and actions and the intents of our hearts.  I pray that we'll do so, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.