Things Expedient to Understand

ELDER GERRIT W. GONG
 The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,
October 20, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters, it is a special pleasure to join you in this Brigham Young University–Idaho devotional.

Over the years, my family and I have been grateful for association with you and this campus. This past weekend my colleagues and I were grateful to meet the stake presidencies, bishops, elders quorum and Relief Society presidents, and other leaders across nine BYU–Idaho YSA stakes. Likewise, we love and admire President Henry J. Eyring and Sister Kelly Eyring and each of you who dedicate your lives to becoming disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. You lead, lift, and bless those around you, with unselfishness, inspiration, and creativity, and, if it may be said, with continuing gospel humility and consecration.

You teach by example what we seek by the Spirit to share today—what the scriptures call “things expedient to understand.” [1] 

May I share an experience that continues to teach me about how the Lord helps us learn, grow, and serve?

Some years ago, I was on a Church assignment reorganizing a stake in Florida. When my plane flight was delayed, I had a clear feeling there was something I could do with the extra minutes I had in the Orlando, Florida, airport. 

In an airline lounge, I met a couple, and we began to chat together. I did not think they were members of our Church; each was holding a glass of red wine.

As the conversation turned naturally to family, I learned they had two sons.

“Tell me about your older son,” I asked. They said he was involved in some kind of military training in North Carolina.

I mentioned I had once lectured at Fort Bragg in North Carolina on international relations, my then-professional field. While there, I had learned about HALO parachute training—not Halo the video game but HALO, which stands for High Altitude, Low Opening. 

A HALO-trained special forces soldier can jump out of a plane at high altitude, free fall, then open his parachute at the last minute to land—in the water. In the water, he can use a special scuba breathing apparatus which does not emit bubbles. Of course, to make detection even harder, all this is done at night. 

The couple looked surprised. Their eyes got big. “That’s what our son does,” they said proudly. I commended their son’s courage, discipline, and skill. We then talked warmly about his (and their) patriotism and service to the country. 

I asked about their second son. They said he liked music and was preparing for a musical production. 

“What musical production?”

“Something called Les Miserables,” they said.

“I see,” I said. “Which character is your son playing?”

“He’s playing someone called Gene Val Gene.”

I said, “I love Les Mis. When Victor Hugo first published Les Miserables in 1862, it was so popular, groups of workers pooled their limited wages to buy one copy to share.”

I said “Jean Val Jean is one of literature’s great examples of second chances, transformative redemption, forgiveness, keeping one’s word no matter what. And besides,” I added, “the music will make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time.” 

“Is a Les Mis recording available?” the couple asked. We talked about the 10 th anniversary and 25 th anniversary Les Mis Dream Cast concerts. When we parted, I gave the couple my Church name card, and invited them to join me at a Tabernacle Choir concert when they next visited Salt Lake City. They later sent a nice note, and a Les Mis DVD. 

When I think of that experience in Florida, and other similar experiences, I marvel at how the Lord helps us learn, grow, and serve in ways that seem individualized for our later needs and opportunities.

Think of it: HALO parachuting in North Carolina and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables coming together in a laser-personalized conversation in a Florida airport. 

It is almost as though the Lord is saying, “Gerrit, pay attention here. This is an opportunity to learn something you will need five years from now to talk with someone I will want you to meet.”

I wondered: can everything we learn become part of our personal storehouse of spiritual experience? Inspired by the Holy Ghost, which can bring all things to our remembrance, can we and the Lord draw upon our personal spiritual experiences to serve those around us in uniquely personalized ways? 

And, if it is true that the more we learn, experience, and can do, the more we can serve those around us, are there principles of learning and teaching that can help me as a student here at Brigham Young University–Idaho, in a new school year, in COVID-19 pandemic circumstances? 

Let’s consider these themes one at a time. 

First, as this new school year begins, may I testify to each BYU–Idaho student: you are a loved son or daughter of our Heavenly Father, with divine capacity to learn and teach, grow through experience, and find enduring joy.

As morning stars we shouted for joy. We were grateful to know “the glory of God is intelligence” [2] and that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.” [3] 

This is because “there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” [4] 

Here we are talking not only about being students at BYU–Idaho, but also life-long, eternal learners and teachers as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

In that spirit, let me say something about general education classes and choosing a major. It is said we think in generalities but live in specifics. In that sense, all education is general education until we apply it in a specific situation. In the same way, our major or discipline-specific learning becomes general education as we connect it in new and creative ways to the people and world around us.

For 96 years and counting, President Russell M. Nelson has exemplified that “education is the difference between wishing you could help other people and being able to help them.” [5] Here at BYU–Idaho, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson admonished: “Please be true to yourself. Honor—yes, even demand—highest expectations from yourself. . . . With us as Latter-day Saints, education is a religious responsibility.” [6] 

Please pay attention in your general education classes, your major classes, and your quorum, class, and family home evening lessons. You will need and use them all. As it is said, please think of your education as more the lighting of a fire than the filling of a pail. [7] 

As lifelong learners and teachers, all we learn in every place and circumstance can be a blessing as we reach out to others—perhaps even at an airport in Florida. 

Second, we spoke a moment ago about a law decreed in heaven upon which all blessings are predicated. Here at BYU–Idaho we are blessed to have explicit gospel learning principles. 

You know these five student leadership and learning principles:

1. We learn by study and by faith.

The Lord says, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost . . . Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation.” [8]

Since our spirit and our body make our soul, [9] it is no wonder that purity of body and purity of mind are essential to clean and clear channels for spiritual communication, inspiration, protection, and guidance to our souls.

Personal worthiness, moral character, and our consistent best efforts are part of our eternal, educational model—where “true teaching is done by and with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.” [10] 

2. We act rather than be acted upon.

As BYU–Idaho students, we know much of learning comes because we seek it, we are open to it, we desire it. We know “there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.” [11] As BYU–Idaho students, we act in our learning; we are not waiting to be acted upon. 

The Lord says, “It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise [student].” [12]

3. We take responsibility to innovate and improve.

Continuing with the verses in D&C 58 that encourage us as students:

[Each student] should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in [each student], wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as [each student does] good [he or she] shall in nowise lose their reward. [13]

Recently, Sister Gong and I had the great privilege to visit with some of you by Zoom in your apartments. Thank you for inviting us, even for a few minutes, into your world. We so appreciated learning about you, your faith, your hopes, your diligent efforts and many accomplishments in these unusual and challenging times. 

Here are Sabitry, Abby, and Nzinga. Look at their smiles. They are a new apartment, but you can tell these roommates will care for each other.

Here are Samuel, Connor, Ernie, Jayden, Isaac, Stephen, Tyler. I’ll let you guess who is studying electrical engineering; computer engineering; preparing to serve a mission in Lansing, Michigan; a returned missionary from Reno, Nevada; loves and can fix any car; a new convert to the Church; and a master chef of monster cookies.

Here are Karla, Lilly, Emma, Piper, Kreslan. Their countenances are full of light and joy. They love learning and serving others.   

Carl worked with Native Americans and others on his mission in Farmington, New Mexico.

Carl is very busy, but still finds time to take his younger brother duck hunting.

This is Victory. During her mission in Nigeria, she learned to hear the whispering and inspiration of the Spirit. This blessed her and those she taught.

Thank you again to each and every one who welcomed Sister Gong and me and our associates to visit with you by Zoom. We felt so honored to get acquainted, even a little bit, and to feel your love for the Lord and for the opportunity to be a student at BYU–Idaho.

When I was a YSA stake president, I noticed three small daily practices helped apartments have greater unity. Of course, everyone’s schedules are busy and different. But, when you can, please consider making time as roommates to: 1) kneel and pray together, perhaps in the morning or evening; 2) periodically eat together; talk and laugh as you do so; and 3) keep a current copy of the Ensign (soon to be Liahona) in an open place in your apartment, a reminder that the words of the living prophets and apostles can influence for the better our living environment.

Would you like greater peace, harmony, unity in your apartment and in your life? Better focus, and better grades? A temple-like spiritual feel where you live? If so, please nurture a living environment that invites the Spirit and makes you smile as you take care of each other.

4. We teach in order to learn.

What we give away comes to us in greater measure. It is bread upon the water. It is why missionary and other Christlike service is so fulfilling.

But the benefit comes not in simply giving something away. It comes when we establish a covenant, caring relationship between giver and receiver, between learner and teacher. 

Remember Carl whom we met earlier? I was impressed by how Carl and a friend use precious study time. Carl helps his friend with chemistry, and his friend helps Carl with anatomy. Both know our best learning and teaching occur when we do both. 

Please learn to love good humor. We laugh with; we do not laugh at. For those of you dating and falling in love and wondering if you have found your eternal partner—watch what makes them laugh. What makes someone laugh says much about who they really are. Choose someone who will help you laugh, in joyous, genuinely happy, kind, and generous ways, for eternity.  

5. We build those around us.

When I taught late summers freshmen at BYU, our class curriculum included discussing the characteristics of great learners. 

President Henry B. Eyring teaches, “The way to humility is also the doorway to educational excellence. The best antidote I know for pride also can produce in us the characteristics that lead to excellence in learning.” [14] I loved studying President Henry B. Eyring’s five characteristics or habits of great learners. Great learners welcome correction, keep commitments, work hard, help other people, and expect resistance and overcome it. [15]

Students here at BYU–Idaho already know you are part of something miraculous, the establishment of a university as a temple of learning located next to a House of the Lord. 

Think of it! In all the world, there are only three places where we find a House of the Lord, a Brigham Young University campus, and a learning and serving community dedicated to living the standards of the Lord’s house and Brigham Young University.    

   

Where else in the world is there solemn prophecy “graduates of BYU–Idaho will become legendary for their capacity to build the people around them and to add value wherever they serve”? [16] That’s an invitation and challenge to each of us, each day. 

Please remember there are no limits to what faith can bring, and hence, no theoretical limits to how fast or how deep or how many students can ultimately be blessed, on and off a physical campus. 

I close by citing Thomas Jefferson, who wisely said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free . . . it expects what never was and never will be.” [17] How grateful we are for Founding Fathers. “Honest, wise, and good men” [18] raised up by God, “unto this very purpose,” [19] to establish the Constitution of this land. These principles of freedom, “honorably and nobly defended,” [20] are “for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles.” [21] They are part of the Lord’s blessing to His precious sons and daughters everywhere.

In this bicentennial anniversary year of the First Vision, I bear witness God our Eternal Father and His Beloved Son our Savior Jesus Christ did come to the Prophet Joseph Smith in a process of Restoration that continues today. The Book of Mormon is Another Testament of Jesus Christ, translated by the gift and power of God to help gather God’s children in all nations, kindreds, and tongues on both sides of the veil. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we are blessed with the fulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and divine doctrine, ordinances, and covenants, with all priesthood keys and authority directed by President Russell M. Nelson, the Lord’s prophet today. 

Dear BYU–Idaho students, faculty, staff, and community, dear brothers and sisters—may the fulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ continue to bless you in every dimension of your life. May this 2020 and 2021 school year include health, peace, and deepening conversion. I humbly pray you will find great delight in your hopes and accomplishments, grow through your challenges, and find rich fulfillment of your righteous desires and your most joy-filled dreams, in the sacred and holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

 Notes:

[1] See Doctrine and Covenants 88:78.

[2] Doctrine and Covenants 93:36.

[3] Doctrine and Covenants 130:18–19.

[4] Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21.

[5] Russell M. Nelson, “What Will You Choose?,” Ensign, 2015, 32.

[6] Russell M. Nelson, “Education: A Religious Responsibility,” Brigham Young University–Idaho devotional, Jan. 26, 2010; byui.edu/devotionals/elder-russell-m-nelson-winter-2010 .

[7] See for example Plutarch, “On Listening,” Moralia, in Essays, translated by Robin Waterfield (London: Penguin Classics, 1992), 50, Google Books.

[8] Doctrine and Covenants 8:2–3.

[9] Doctrine and Covenants 88:15.

[10] See President David A. Bednar, “Inaugural Response,” Brigham Young University–Idaho Foundational Addresses, Feb. 27, 1998, 4.

[11] 2 Nephi 2:14.

[12] See Doctrine and Covenants 58:26.

[13] Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–28.

[14] Henry B. Eyring, “A Child of God,” Brigham Young University devotional, Oct. 21, 1997; speeches.byu.edu.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Elder Henry B. Eyring, “A Steady, Upward Course,” Brigham Young University–Idaho Foundational Addresses, Sept. 18, 2001, 15.

[17] Thomas Jefferson, “Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, Jan. 6, 1816,” image 4, letter, from Library of Congress, The Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress.

[18] See Doctrine and Covenants 98:10.

[19] Doctrine and Covenants 101:80.

[20] Doctrine and Covenants 109:54.

[21] Doctrine and Covenants 101:77.

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