Riding the Wave of Belief


Isaiah WalkerDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

March 18, 2008
Isaiah Walker
BYU-Hawaii History Professor


It's very good to be here to day. I don't know if you've noticed, but the lights are a little brighter than usual. I've actually asked that I be able to see you. It's very nice to see your faces, and I'm very appreciative of all that's transpired thus far. The music was inspiring, the prayer, the scripture, and I'd like to thank my wife for that very great introduction. You may have noticed actually, through the musical number and the reading and everything else that there were many references to waves.

In this talk, entitled "Riding the Wave of Belief," I primarily use waves as a metaphor for life. As our life's goals, duties, and challenges can sometimes look intimidating, like big waves crashing in front of us, belief in God and in ourselves empowers us with confidence, confidence to successfully ride these swells of life. So, while you may get caught up in the many stories I tell about waves and surfing today, please do remember that there is an actual message to my talk.

To me, belief is a powerful tool in life. When we believe in God, we nurture a relationship with him. As that relationship develops we believe more and more in ourselves. Belief in God and ourselves lifts our spirits, and blesses us with confidence. So, believe in God and believe in yourselves, no matter who you are or where you come from. If you believe and put forth faithful effort, you can accomplish amazing things.

Nephi understood the power of belief. His strong belief in our Heavenly father helped him accomplish what others thought he couldn't—one of which was to build a large ship and sail it across the great waves of the great oceans. In Nephi 17 it explains how one day the Lord told Nephi to come visit with him in the mountains. When he got there, the Lord told him to "construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters." Nephi immediately believed he could do it, and said, show me where to get the materials. Nephi's belief in God empowered him with a belief in himself. Although he knew he was not a ship builder, he believed that with the Lord's help he could do anything, including building a ship. But there were many who criticized Nephi. When they saw him starting to build the ship, they said, "our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters." (verse 17) Then, they complained and refused to help him, Nephi explained the reason for their discontent, "they didn't believe that I could build a ship, neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord." (18) And yet Nephi continued to believe. The lesson that Nephi teaches us here is to believe in yourself, no matter what your critics may say, especially when God is on your side.

I'll never forget one meeting I had with one of my professors when I was an undergraduate student at a different campus. As we met I told him that I wanted to become a professor some day. His response was, "I don't think that's for you, it requires a lot of hard work and lots of brains." Perhaps because I was a young surfer from Hawai‘i, who still mostly spoke da kine pidgin, that he thought, "Oh, I don't think he can accomplish this task." However, through personal inspiration, I knew that the Lord was encouraging me to become a college professor. So, I left that meeting with a stronger determination to accomplish this goal. Fortunately, after transferring back to BYUH, I found a couple of professors who did believe in me. Eight years later, in 2005, I finished my Ph. D from the University of California, got hired as a tenure-track professor, and published much of my research on Hawaiian history and Hawaiian surfers. I accomplished these things only because I believed in the Lord and then he taught me to believe in myself. As students, you should also feel empowered and able to accomplish great things while here at BYU-Hawai‘i. So take your education serious, and prove your critics wrong.

But, Nephi's critics were much more vindictive than any of mine, especially while he built that ship. But in the face of his adversaries he said, "if God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water be thou earth, it should be earth…" Although he eventually convinced his brothers to help him finish the boat, later, as they rode smoothly across the ocean swells, some of them rebelled, and they gagged him and tied him up. Not long afterward, the waves and winds welled up, and they were quickly humbled in fear of the roaring surf. Their conspiring agenda was reduced to remorse, and then repentance. After they released him, Nephi took the compass and prayed to the Lord, he explained in Nephi 18: 21, "the winds did cease, and the storm did cease, and there was a great calm." Nephi's belief in Heavenly Father's protection and direction allowed him to literally overcome these dramatic waves in his life.

Many of Jesus' apostles were fishermen familiar with the usually small waves of the Mediterranean Sea. But on one occasion, they learned that the Master had much more confidence in the ocean waves than they did. Mark explained the story of how Jesus tempered the raging seas. The following verses are found in Mark 4: 36-41:

36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.

37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.

38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?

39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?

41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

This scripture teaches us that belief can calm fears and anxiety. We all have fears and anxiety about different things in this life. However, I believe the insecurities we harbor within ourselves are the number one tool that Satan wields to limit our greatness in this life. I'm going to say that again. I believe that insecurities we harbor within ourselves are the number one tool that Satan uses to limit our greatness in this life. Our belief in God and ourselves can over-ride such feelings of fear, anxiety, and inadequacy. Just as Jesus showed while sleeping when the waves pounded into the boat, with belief we need not fear.

Hawaiians have a reputation for being knowledgeable and comfortable in the ocean. In 1779, when Captain Cook was in Kealakekua Bay in Kona, he praised the locals for their skills in the ocean his journals. In one entry, he marveled at how even little children swam and surfed fearlessly in the rough waves off shore. He explained that had any of his crewmen been swimming where these young children were playing, they would have most likely drowned.

My two oldest boys, Kahia who is nine and Makani who is six, love to surf. This slide here is a picture of my six year-old Makani. Over the last year and a half we have been taking a group of their friends on regular surfing sessions here in Laie. About three weeks ago, we all went out to Mokuauia, or Goat Island, to surf the waves that break off the island's reef. Since Mokuauia is about a ¼ mile off shore, we decided to paddle to the island on kayaks from Temple Beach. With our surfboards in tow, we headed out into the clear calm waters of Laie bay. The water was beautiful, but the waves were small. Unlike the stories I've shared thus far, our kids didn't pray for the waves to stop, they instead prayed that the waves would get. While we waited, nine year-old D'arman Natoa noticed that a large humpback whale was swimming about 200 yards directly outside of us. Staring in amazement, we then watched her slap her large white-spotted, black tail on the surface of the water. As she repeatedly slapped and splashed, the kids cheered with excitement. Moments later, waves began coming our way. The kids believed that the whale's tail splashing was making the waves bigger. Although a scientific explanation may not corroborate this story, the kids believed that the whale was sent as an answer to their prayers. As we later paddled our vessels back home, the whale, still lounging in the same spot, waved his side fin high in the air, as if saying, "A hui hou, goodbye". And To my surprise, the children waved back in gratitude, "Mahalo, see you later!" Even I, a life-long ocean goer, had never seen anything quite like this. The innocence of their belief allowed us all to witness something miraculous that day. I was also reminded why Jesus asks us to be like little children, because they are so quick to believe. Although we did not get a photograph of that whale, this shot of Kahia sharing a wave with a honu, or turtle, captures a similar experience of being watched over by God's great ocean creatures.

Joseph Smith witnessed great miracles and visions when he was only 14. After reading a particular scripture in the Bible, he believed that God would also answer his prayer. In James 1: 5-6 it reads:

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.

6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

Because Joseph Smith whole-heartedly believed the promise of this scripture, he was charged with confidence and set out to the Sacred Grove for answers. His belief was not flighty or wavering, easily swayed or redirected. His belief increasingly bolstered his confidence, and Joseph Smith's identity was reshaped from that experience. Instead of a being an inconsequential undereducated boy, he became an intelligent leader and a prophet.

The scripture Joseph Smith read in James is unique in the way that it uses waves to teach a lesson. While it first tells us not to doubt or waves in our belief in God, especially in his ability to answer our prayers for wisdom, it later explains that a doubting person is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. There are different kinds of waves in the ocean, some generated by winds, and others by ground swell. The wind swell is unpredictable, unorganized, and like James described them, easily tossed. The ground swell on the other hand is steady, regular, and powerful. Those are the kind of waves we get here in the winter on the North Shore. In most other scriptures, like the scripture Sara read today from Isaiah, waves are compared to righteousness, strength, and obedience. Again it reads, "O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea." This scripture, I believe, is referring to those ground swell waves, ones that are steady, obedient, and powerful. In the scriptures, such strong waves are often juxtaposed with the Lord's strength. In Isaiah 51:15 we read, "The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea." This scripture not only reminds us that waves, like life, can sometimes appear frightening, but we are reassured that the Lord is more powerful than even the most powerful ground swell waves of the sea.

This concept helped me understand God when I was investigating the church at the age of 16. I can vividly remember the moment I finally decided to get baptized into the Church. I was standing on the shore at Honoli'i Beach Park in Hilo. Wet, holding my surfboard, I was staring out into the surf which I had just finished riding. I was mesmerized by a large dark storm cloud approaching from out in the ocean. As I watched the winds and waves grow from the ominous squall moving closer and closer toward me, I felt small and a little intimidated. This experience reminded me that 1) God is powerful and 2) I needed to commit my life to him in order to be confident in a sometimes-frightening world.

I would like to share my story of conversion and other life experiences with you as a way of personally showing that belief can successfully carry us on our wave of life. When I was about two years old, my parents were divorced and my father got custody of us children. Although my mom was quite active in the church, I didn't attend with her because of our family situation. With my four older sisters, I grew up in a Hawaiian community outside of Hilo on the Big Island, called Keaukaha. I was raised by the ocean there. In my youth, the water and waves served as a kind of pu‘uhonua or sanctuary for me, a buffer from family life.

So I surfed, a lot. And I got pretty good at it. By the time I was 15 I was ranked as a top Amateur in the United States. But right about that same time, I found myself turning to my mom with some serious life and death kinds of questions. My questions formed because of conversations I had while surfing with one of my friends, Gary. Although he wasn't LDS, he talked about his pursuit of truth and some stories he was reading in the Bible. Our conversations gave me courage to ask my mom similar kinds of questions, questions about the purpose of life, God, and salvation. She was very pleased, and later told me that she had been waiting all my life for this conversation. She in turn gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon, and began bringing me to church. It was nice going to church in Hilo. I would show up in surf shorts and slippers, and as I think about it, not once did I have someone turn me away. It was a great experience. It is through my experiences of reading the Book of Mormon and praying that my belief and confidence in God and myself began to rise. That was when I really started riding my wave of belief.

I'll never forget the first time I read the book of Mormon.1 It was a cool, sunny, and very green Saturday in Keaukaha. I was in my room, it was quiet, and I had just finished the first 30 pages of the book of Mormon. I was so into it. Although I had already been accustomed to prayer, I remember feeling closer to Heavenly Father after praying that day. I wasn't much of a reader in high school, in fact, my interest in studying History was born out of my new found love of reading the scriptures. In high school I was the type of student who instead of reading a book, would watch the movie and then write a book review about it. I really liked the book the Outsiders, because I wrote plenty book reviews on that movie. But in all seriousness, I learned better, so none of my students try and pull that off, please. But after this point I labored as an honest and hard working student.

The honor code, to me is important. I think often times we think so much about the dress and grooming standards, but being honest in your work and in your studies.

After completing the book of Mormon and investigating the church rather thoroughly, I was baptized in the ocean by my Bishop. It was a cold early misty morning. The service was held at Four Miles Beach Park in front of one of my favorite surfing breaks. The confirmation blessing was pretty monumental for me. I was told of the many great things I would accomplish for the Lord in the church. As the blessing progressed, I noticed that it had a familiar ring to it. You see, a couple years earlier, my grandfather, Mal Helekunihi Duke, flew to Hilo from Oahu and requested that I come see him at my mom's house. He wanted to give me a blessing. In that blessing he pronounced many things on me, about going on a mission, serving in the church, and doing lots of things for the Lord. At that time however, all that was going through my mind was, "yeah right grandpa, I am not going to join your church." Years later, as I sat, wet, in a white jumper getting confirmed a member of the church, my grandfather's voice returned to me and I realized that I had received this blessing before. But this time, I believed.

One promise given to me in that blessing was that I would serve a mission. Up until that time I thought the Lord wanted me to be the Steve Young of professional surfing. You know, don't go on a mission, but preach the gospel as a professional athlete. But in that blessing when I was told that I would serve a full time mission, the Spirit confirmed it, and I willingly abandoned the Steve Young plan. From that day forward, I remember feeling like I too could accomplish anything that the Lord wanted me to do.

Belief helped carry me through both good and bad, or difficult times in life. Shortly after I joined the church my father unexpectedly died of a heart attack. Although performing CPR on your dad at the age of 16 sounds traumatic, because of my new-found belief, faith, and confidence, it was more of a growing experience for me.

My family lost virtually everything after his passing, including our home, and I had no means to pay for college or a mission. But as I remained faithful to my covenants, and maintained my belief in the Lord, he opened all kinds of doors for me. I was able to support myself through school at BYU-Hawaii because of scholarships, and jobs on campus and at PCC, and loving Laie families, like the Kaupua, who adopted me into their home.

After finishing my first year of college, I was called to serve a mission, however, I did not have the finances to pay for it. But when it came time for me to leave the Lord helped provide a way. As I gave my missionary farewell speech in sacrament meeting, a less-active sister attending for the first time in years sat and listened intently. After sacrament, she went into the stake president's office and told him that she now knew why the Lord told her to attend church today. She opened her checkbook and paid for all two years of my mission.2

I'll never forget this one wave I surfed while I was a missionary in San Diego. We were baptizing a young man on Coronado Island. As we waded in the ocean for the right time to submerge him, my keen wave knowledge came in handy. We dunked him under this one perfect little wave. It was the coolest barrel of my life, and my heart was full of joy. Although I didn't surf waves with a surfboard on my mission, riding the metaphoric wave of belief kept me stoked my entire mission.

Nearly a year after I returned home, I met my wife. When I first met her, it was love at first sight. That first introduction was magical. We were at church, and she was in the ward that met after mine, I was a primary teacher and she had just returned home from school at BYU Provo. A mutual friend introduced us and we only exchanged about 20 words. And yet I went home and told my roommate I had just met my wife. We still dated a while before getting married, and we took time to learn relationship skills through things like marriage prep classes. But, throughout the last 11 years, my wife and I have thrived on teamwork, and friendship. We've been companions and co-partners in all of our duties, primarily working together in our key job of parenting. It's nice to have a fellow believer to work side by side with on numerous assignments in this life.

Over the years, she has proved to be the adventurous one. For example, with her encouragement, we decided to leave our comfort zone in Hawaii to go to graduate school in California. We attended graduate school together at UC-Santa Barbara, her in Anthropology and me in History. Despite the fact that we had two kids, part time teaching jobs, and graduate seminars to attend, those years were happy, meaningful, and memorable. So, thank you, Rebekah for riding this wave of life with me.

I have learned through our family experiences that belief helps a family function. Most importantly, we need to believe that Heavenly Father will direct us as we ask for guidance, keep his commandments, and follow His Spirit. Second, spouses function at their best when they believe and support each other.

This coming Sunday is Easter Sunday, a time we celebrate the resurrection of the savior. Belief is a key part to the Easter story. After the Savior had appeared in his resurrected state, to the Apostles, the apostle Thomas, who wasn't there, could not believe the other apostles story without seeing with his own eyes. When the savior appeared to Thomas he taught Thomas, and us, a valuable lesson about belief. He said, in John 20: 29, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." My favorite Easter story however is found in John chapter 21. After having quite an emotional week, Peter decided to go to the sea, telling his friends, "I'm going a fishing." I cannot imagine the despair he must have felt when his Master was crucified and then the excitement of seeing him alive again. Plus, he was most likely stressed about publicly denying being one of Jesus' apostles about a week prior. But I can totally relate with his desire to settle these emotions by going into the sea. My guess is that his heart wasn't really into the fishing, perhaps that's why they didn't catch any fish that night. But in the morning a man on the shore told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat. The nets were so full of fish that they couldn't even lift the net onto the boat. Upon learning that the man was Jesus, Peter dove in the water, and swam to shore. When he reached the shore, Jesus was sitting down cooking some fish over a fire. After having breakfast, Jesus reminded Peter three times to feed His lambs and sheep.

Like all of us, Peter had to learn to grow his faith and belief. On one occasion, Jesus was teaching Peter to surf, I mean walk on water. In Mark chapter 6 and 14 we can read the story. But I'll paraphrase it today. One night, the disciples went out to sea on their boat, but Jesus stayed behind to pray. Later, as he saw their boat being tossed in rough seas, and so he decided walked to them from the shore, on the water. The disciples were frightened, thinking that he was a spirit, but when he called to them their fears turned into amazement. Once again anxious to follow the savior, Peter asked Jesus if he could try, and Jesus told Peter to come. Although Peter at first stood on the water, the rough seas and strong winds intimidated him and he began to sink. Jesus grabbed Peter by the hand and helped him back onto the boat. The sea became calm again, and the disciples testified that Jesus was the Son of God.

I believe that our Heavenly Father, like a loving teacher or coach, wants us to learn so we can increase our confidence. As we trust in the Lord, he will help us, guide us, and push us, to rise above the turbulent waters of life.

Today I started today with a story about Nephi accomplishing the great task of building and sailing a large ship. On our campus, we also have an impressive voyaging vessel; it is called 'Iosepa'. This wa'a kaulua, or double-hulled voyaging canoe, was also built by an ohana of community members who constructed this beautiful canoe through faith in the Lord. As the story has been told to me, Iosepa was not built with blueprints, but by divine guidance. Despite the confidence that carvers Tuione Polotu and Kawika Escaran had with this unscientific approach, others doubted that the canoe would be sea worthy without a detailed design plan. Although critics voiced their doubts, the canoe was completed and through succeeding voyages proved, as Nephi's ship of old, that with belief and guidance, anything is possible. I hope you all get a chance to visit this beautiful canoe. It is a reminder to us that great things can be accomplished in our own neighborhoods, our own families, and in our own lives, if we believe in the Master's plan and go forth in confidence to accomplish them.

Like big waves, life can sometimes seem intimidating, and when critics discourage us, we often lose confidence in our selves. However, we can gain confidence to succeed and be happy in this life by first believing in God and then believing in ourselves. I pray that you will apply this formula to your lives while here at BYU-Hawaii. Seek the Lord's guidance in your studies, and surround yourselves with friends, advisors, and teachers, who believe in you. Then go forth and accomplish great things. The Savior is our greatest source of strength, and through his example and guidance, we are empowered. I pray that you will know how much he loves you and wants you to be happy and confident. May you always feel his love, especially during this Easter season, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

1. This was not the first actual time, but rather the first time I sincerely started reading it. On one occasion, a day or two after my mom gave me the book, I opened it and read a scripture that said something along the lines of "wo be unto the sinner he shall be thrust to hell." I closed the book, threw it on the shelf above my head over my bed (bottom bunk), and didn't pick it up for probably a week. That's when I decided to read if from the beginning.

2. The Stake President, Okura, told this story later that night, at a farewell fireside I was speaking at.