Welcome to the Talk Of The Week Club. I began this club as a way to share my love of learning and growing in the gospel of Jesus Christ through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My hope and desire is for you to learn and grow in your faith and love of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Each Thursday a new talk will be posted, come back, open your heart and mind, allow yourself to receive and I promise you will be spiritually fed.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Week 28: The Voice of the Lord

The inspiration for today's talk came from some scriptures I read this week in John 10 verses 3-5 and 27. ..."and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:"
I was wondering how it is that we can know the voice of the Lord. I thought about the times I have felt the promptings and wondered if when I was being called by a stranger would I not recognize the voice and scatter because I knew that it was not the voice of my Shepherd.
I learned from this talk that perhaps at times I have headed counterfeit prompting and failed to recognize the voice of the Lord. But I also learned 5 steps in determining the validity and where promptings come from. I hope that as we all try to know the voice of our Savior we will find comfort that he too knows us and leads us each personally and tenderly back to our heavenly home.
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The Voice of the Lord
Gerald N. Lund was a Church Educational System zone administratorwhen this devotional address was given at BYU on 2 December 1997.
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Today I would like to speak with you about a topic that is of the most singular importance to every person here. It is a topic that is especially important to you who are young adults and facing some of the most important decisions of your life--mission, education, career, marriage. That topic is personal revelation, or hearing the voice of the Lord.
When we are baptized and confirmed members of the Church, we are commanded to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. When you think about it, that is an incredible gift. Imagine receiving a member of the Godhead as our personal companion. We are told that our mission in life is to "come unto Christ, and be perfected in him" (Moroni 10:32). But that is not a simple thing. Life is too complex to provide a rule book that covers every situation. Instead, the Lord has given us the Holy Ghost to serve as our teacher, watchman, mentor, and guide.
I believe that one of the most important challenges of our mortal probation is learning to hear, recognize, and then follow the voice of the Lord. I would like to say that again: One of the most important--if not the most important--challenges in learning how to come unto Christ and to be perfected in him is to learn to hear, to recognize, and then to follow the voice of the Lord.
Part of that challenge is that there is sometimes confusion in the minds of some about personal revelation. Others have important questions about how it works or what it is like. Have you heard statements such as these: "How do I know if an impression is really from the Lord or if it is just my own emotions?" Or "I never seem to have a spiritual experience." Or "I have prayed again and again about this. Why isn't the Lord answering me?"
Let me give just one quick example of how the area of personal revelation can sometimes get confusing. When I was teaching in the institutes of religion in Southern California, there was hardly a semester that went by that I didn't have an experience like this: One of my students would come to me (usually a girl) and report that the boy she had been dating (sometimes seriously, sometimes casually) had received a "revelation" that they were to marry. I won't ask for a show of hands how many here have faced a similar declaration, but I know, from my own experience, it will be more than a few of you. Carlfred Broderick, a renowned LDS family therapist, dubbed these as "hormonal revelations" (Carlfred Broderick, One Flesh, One Heart: Putting Celestial Love into Your Temple Marriage [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986], p. 21).
The interesting thing to me was that often the girl felt intimidated by such a declaration, feeling that she needed to accept the "Lord's will" even though she found the prospect somewhat distasteful. [In some cases that was downright distasteful.] Some were even a little shocked when I boldly explained that unless they received an independent confirmation from the Lord, they should feel no pressure to accept the boy's request.
Today I should like to address three questions about personal revelation:
1. What is the voice of the Lord like?
2. How can I distinguish between true and counterfeit revelation?
3. What can I do to enhance my ability to hear, recognize, and follow the voice of the Lord?
Question 1: What Is the Voice of the Lord Like?
There are two scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants that are particularly helpful in describing what the voice of the Lord is like and how it works with us. The first is in section 85, wherein the Lord says: "Thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things" (D&C 85:6).
Note the descriptive phrases used here. The voice is still. It is small. And it whispers. When you think about that, it becomes clear that hearing the voice of the Lord has inherent challenges. It would be much simpler if the Lord spoke in a voice of thunder or used a microphone and 80-megawatt speakers. Then there would be no doubt. But he does not. He whispers. His voice is still and small. Elder Boyd K. Packer said this about the nature of the Lord's voice:

The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all. . . .
Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening. [Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, January 1983, p. 53]

The second scripture that tells us what the voice of the Lord is like is found in section 8, a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery. In that section the Lord defined what revelation is and how it comes:

Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation. [D&C 8:2­3]

"In your mind and in your heart"--think about that for a moment. If the Lord spoke something to our mind, how would it come? We would probably describe it as coming to us as "thoughts." If he tells us something in our hearts, we would probably describe that as coming as "feelings."
Thoughts and feelings--these are the most common ways the Lord gives his children personal revelation. And therein lies another challenge. Every one of us is a veritable stream of thoughts and feelings. Every day our minds are constantly occupied with thoughts, and we are filled with various emotions. In the midst of that torrent of thought and feeling, the Lord from time to time inserts a thought or a feeling that comes from him. How do we tell the difference? Revelation is rarely preceded by a drumroll or by the announcement "The following thought or feeling will be from the Lord."
There is yet one other thing we need to note when we talk about what the voice of the Lord is like. It has to do with revelation that does not come from the Lord. Note what Elder Packer said about counterfeit revelation:

Be ever on guard lest you be deceived by inspiration from an unworthy source. You can be given false spiritual messages. There are counterfeit spirits just as there are counterfeit angels. . . .
The spiritual part of us and the emotional part of us are so closely linked that it is possible to mistake an emotional impulse for something spiritual. We occasionally find people who receive what they assume to be spiritual promptings from God, when those promptings are either centered in the emotions or are from the adversary. [Packer, "Candle," pp. 55­56]

If something is counterfeit, it means that it resembles the original so closely that it is difficult to distinguish which is the true and which is the false. So it is with counterfeit revelation. On the surface it may feel real. It may appear to be from the Lord. We may even have very strong feelings about what we have received. But this alone is not proof it is from God. Note that President Packer warns that we must ever be on guard against being deceived by our emotions or by revelation from an unworthy source. That suggests that counterfeit revelation is not a rare thing.
This shouldn't be too surprising to you, should it? If you were Satan and knew that personal revelation was absolutely essential for a person striving to come unto Christ, wouldn't you try to sow confusion and deception about it? Which brings us to our second question.
Question 2: How Can I Distinguish Between True and Counterfeit Revelation?
Personal revelation comes in many different ways and forms. It may vary from one person to another, and therefore it is difficult to set down rigid rules that cover every situation. But the Lord has not left us without guidance in this matter. Through the scriptures and the statements of his modern prophets, we find principles that can help us determine how to decide if revelation comes from the Lord or from another source. I would like to briefly outline five of those guidelines or principles to you today. There are others, but these have proven to be particularly helpful to me.
Principle 1: It is God who determines all aspects of revelation.
By definition, revelation is the communication of the mind and will of the Lord to his children. If you think about that for a moment, then you will understand that revelation is always unidirectional. It comes only from God to us. We may communicate back and forth with God in a two-way process, but revelation always comes in one direction. We never reveal anything to God.
Since all revelation comes from the Lord, then it is reasonable that he should set all of the parameters of that revelation. Those parameters include (a) to whom a revelation is given; (b) what content is given in the revelation; (c) when the revelation comes; and (d) in what form the revelation may be given. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we inadvertently seek to tell the Lord how he should conduct his business. We may feel a particular urgency about a question and press the Lord for an answer by a certain deadline. Or we may strongly desire a particular kind of manifestation, such as one of the more dramatic forms of revelation, and be satisfied with nothing less. We may try to tell the Lord how to solve our problems or what answer we would like. But these are not our choices. All aspects of the revelation are determined by the Lord.
Elder Packer counseled against trying to force spiritual things:

It is not wise to wrestle with the revelations with such insistence as to demand immediate answers or blessings to your liking. You cannot force spiritual things. Such words as compel, coerce, constrain, pressure, demand, do not describe our privileges with the Spirit. . . . You can create a climate to foster growth . . . ; but you cannot force or compel. . . .
[And then comes this warning:] . . . Do not force it or you will open the way to be misled. [Packer, "Candle," p. 53]

Note that he says we can create a climate that fosters spiritual growth. Through appropriate action we can influence the process of revelation. We can study and pray, on occasion we can add fasting to our prayers, we can importune the Lord with deep yearnings, we can keep sacred covenants--all of these will help create a climate that fosters spiritual growth. But we must remember that when all is done, it is still up to the Lord to determine when the revelation comes, how it is given, what is revealed, and to whom.
In connection with the principle that God determines all aspects of revelation, I should like to make two other points. The prophet Jacob taught a simple principle with these words: "Seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand" (Jacob 4:10). Think about that for a moment. God's wisdom is infinitely greater than ours. His knowledge is infinitely more complete. How foolish we are when we presume to tell him how he should do his work.
There is also great wisdom in what some have called the Gethsemane principle. With the utmost earnestness and the deepest of pleadings, the Savior called on his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane to remove the dreaded cup of his coming sacrifice. But that request was followed immediately by these profound words: "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). That should be part of every prayer we utter, every request we take to the Lord. In that simple phrase lies the key to our willingness to let the Lord decide what is best.
Principle 2: The content given in a revelation is more important than the form in which it comes.
Another mistake some make is to covet the more dramatic forms of revelation. God reveals his mind and will to man across a broad spectrum of experiences. These may range from the very direct and dramatic: the appearance of divine beings, open visions, fire from heaven. Or they may be very subtle: quiet premonitions, gentle thoughts, a feeling of peace. The latter are by far the most common. We must be careful that we don't feel that only the more direct forms of revelation are valid. President Spencer W. Kimball warned of this tendency:

Even in our day, many people . . . expect if there be revelation it will come with awe-inspiring, earth-shaking display. . . .
The burning bushes, the smoking mountains ..., the Cumorahs, and the Kirtlands were realities; but they were the exceptions. The great volume of revelation came to Moses and to Joseph and comes to today's prophet in the less spectacular way--that of deep impressions, without spectacle or glamour or dramatic events.
Always expecting the spectacular, many will miss entirely the constant flow of revealed communication. [Spencer W. Kimball, CR, Munich Germany Area Conference, 1973, pp. 76­77; emphasis added]

We must learn to be content, not only with what the Lord decides to reveal to us but with what form he chooses to send that revelation. As Elder Packer warned, if we try to force a spiritual manifestation to our liking, we open the way for us to be deceived.
Principle 3: True revelation does not contradict gospel principles or go contrary to established Church policy and procedure.
This principle seems self-evident and hardly worthy of mention, but again and again we hear of cases where the principle is violated. Sensational stories or wild rumors go through the Church like wildfire. Some are almost ridiculous in nature, and yet there are still those who believe them. For example, one story that has been around for years tells of a hitchhiker supposedly picked up by Church members. As they drive along, the hitchhiker tells the people that if they don't have their food storage now, it is too late. Then he mysteriously disappears out of the car. You would think that everyone would be skeptical of such a story, but there are always a few who believe it. In another case a person predicted that the great earthquake foretold in the scriptures was about to hit Utah. For months he was a popular fireside speaker, and tapes of his talk were widely distributed. Do you remember a major earthquake in Utah in recent years? Neither do I. Another man worked out the exact day and date that Christ will come, and that, too, went around the Church like a sensation. The scriptures say that "no man, no, not [even] the angels of heaven" know the day nor the hour of his coming (Matthew 24:36). So where does that leave him? And why aren't we wise enough to see the contradiction? Here is what President Harold B. Lee had to say of such things:

It never ceases to amaze me how gullible some of our Church members are in broadcasting sensational stories, or dreams, or visions, or purported patriarchal blessings, or quotations, or supposed [entries] from some person's private diary. . . .
. . . We find that these [things] are finding their way into our Relief Society meetings, into priesthood quorums, firesides, institutes, and seminaries.
Brethren of the priesthood, you defenders of the faith, . . . cease promoting the works of the devil . . . for they are the works of Satan. [Harold B. Lee, CR, April 1970, pp. 55­56; emphasis added]

Now is that strong enough language for you? Here is something equally clear given in an official declaration by the First Presidency:

When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. . . . Anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable. ["A Warning Voice," August 1913, in Messages of the First Presidency, comp. James R. Clark (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), 4:285, as cited by Harold B. Lee, CR, April 1970, p. 55; emphasis added]

Is that plain enough? If the Lord wants to warn the Church about the importance of food storage, he won't do it through a hitchhiker. If you need to be told of a coming earthquake, you won't get that news from an audiotape your neighbor hands you. Let us be wise, brothers and sisters. When there is new doctrine or new procedures to come forth, you will get it in one of three ways:
a. A formal press conference will be called by the leaders of the Church and an official announcement will be made.
b. It will be announced through the Church News, the Ensign, or other official Church organs.
c. It will be announced in general conference by those in authority.
Otherwise we should be very wary about accepting it ourselves, and also we should not share it with others.
Principle 4: The Lord wants us to use our agency and develop spiritual self-reliance.
In some ways this guideline may at first seem like a paradox. There is no question but what the Lord wants us to rely on him, to turn to him, and to trust in his guidance, counsel, and direction. On the other hand, the scriptures and the prophets warn us about having to be directed in every matter of life. From time to time we meet people who feel that being "spiritual" means that the Lord inspires or confirms every action they take. Everything they do is attributed to the Spirit. In some cases they submit even the most trivial of matters to the Lord for confirmation. When I was a young college student many years ago, I remember a teacher saying something like this: "If you are living by the Spirit, you will even know which brand of toothpaste to buy." I was deeply impressed then and hoped that someday I might reach that level of "spirituality." Today I have a different understanding.
Do these words sound familiar?

For behold, it is not meet [i.e., it is not proper, it is not good] that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. [D&C 58:26]

They should sound familiar. They come from the Lord. It seems to me that if I require spiritual direction in whether to buy Crest or Colgate, I run the risk of being slothful and not wise.
We know from scripture that there are some things that don't matter to the Lord, that he leaves the choice up to us. There are several places in the Doctrine and Covenants where you will find this phrase: "it mattereth not unto me" (see, for example, D&C 60:5, 61:22, 62:5, 63:40). It is clear then that the Lord does not expect us to seek help on every trivial matter. As president of BYU, Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke of this:

The Spirit of the Lord is not likely to give us revelations on matters that are trivial. I once heard a young woman in a testimony meeting praise the spirituality of her husband, indicating that he submitted every question to the Lord. She told how he accompanied her shopping and would not even choose between different brands of canned vegetables without making his selection a matter of prayer. That strikes me as improper. [Dallin H. Oaks, "Revelation," BYU 1981­82 Fireside and Devotional Speeches (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1982), p. 26]

Striking the balance between trust in the Lord and spiritual self-reliance is a delicate matter, but it is clear that the Lord does not want us to be spiritual automatons who are afraid to move without first being told what to do.
Principle 5: A person is not given revelation to direct another person unless they have priesthood or family responsibility for that person.
Some time ago I was speaking at a Know Your Religion lecture in another part of the country. My topic was the same as it is today. Afterward a woman came up and told me that this was the first Church meeting she had been to in more than six years and that she had come only at the urging of a friend. Then she told me why. She and her husband had been unable to have children for several years after marriage. Finally she got pregnant, and they looked forward with great joy to having a child. Shortly before the baby was due, she went into terrible contractions and started to hemorrhage. Her husband rushed her to the hospital barely in time to save her life, but not in time to save the baby. You can imagine their devastation.
About a week after the funeral a sister from the ward came to visit this woman. This neighbor told the woman that she had had a dream the previous night in which it had been revealed to her that if the father had taken the time to give his wife a priesthood blessing before he had rushed her to the hospital, the baby would have lived.
"That was when I stopped going to Church," the woman told me. "My husband is a faithful priesthood holder, but all he could think about that night was saving my life. I decided that if God would let my child die under such circumstances, I wanted nothing more to do with him." Then she said this: "But what that woman told me wasn't from the Lord, was it?"
I shook my head and said no.
What had led her to that conclusion? It came from two quotes I read that night. Let me read them to you now. The first is from an official declaration by the First Presidency: "In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others" ("A Warning Voice," pp. 285­86; emphasis added).
The second statement comes from Elder Oaks:

We should understand what can be called the principle of "stewardship in revelation." . . . Only the president of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. . . . Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own stewardship . . . you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord. [Oaks, "Revelation," p. 25; emphasis added]

This young mother began to weep then and said: "I am so glad I came tonight. It is time I came back to the Lord." I am sure the neighbor woman was well-meaning. I am sure that she felt that her dream was from the Lord. But had she understood this principle, she would have known that it wasn't from God because she had no right to direct the lives of that couple.
Remember those cases of "hormonal revelation" that I came across while teaching institute? I told my students that they didn't have to accept another's so-called revelation about marriage unless they received independent confirmation of it for themselves. Why did I feel bold enough to make such a statement? Because it comes under this same principle of not getting revelation to direct another over whom we have no responsibility. Again from Elder Oaks:

I have heard of cases where a young man told a young woman she should marry him because he had received a revelation that she was to be his eternal companion. If this is a true revelation, it will be confirmed directly to the woman if she seeks to know. In the meantime, she is under no obligation to heed it. . . . The man can receive revelation to guide his own actions, but he cannot properly receive revelation to direct hers. She is outside his stewardship. [Oaks, "Revelation," p. 25; emphasis added]

That concludes the five principles that can serve as guidelines concerning personal revelation. I hope from these examples that you can see how they provide a standard by which we can judge and measure the processes of personal revelation. They help us better understand how the Lord works with us and also help us weigh which things are truly from the Lord and which may be counterfeit.
This now brings us to the third and, almost certainly, the most important of our three questions.
Question 3: What Can I Do to Enhance My Ability to Hear, Recognize, and Follow the Voice of the Lord?
There are obviously many answers that could be given to that question: be worthy, earnestly seek the Lord, pray always, follow the Brethren. But I should like to answer in a little different way. To do that, I would like to conduct a brief experiment with you. Even though we are a large audience in a massive hall, I would like to have absolute silence for a few moments. Then I would like you to listen to the silence and see what you can hear.
What did you hear? Could you hear the hum of the air conditioning? There is something up there. I don't know if it is the lights or something else. Had you heard those sounds before? Why not? Do you see the principle now? If, as we noted before, the Lord's voice is still and small and it whispers, then if our lives are filled with noise, we will find it difficult to hear. Elder Henry B. Eyring noted in his recently released book:

Your problem and mine is not to get God to speak to us; few of us have reached the point where he has been compelled to turn away from us. Our problem is to hear. [Henry B. Eyring, To Draw Closer to God [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1997], p. 29; emphasis added]

In our little experiment, only in the silence did we begin to hear the more subtle and quieter sounds. And yet they were there all along. Other sounds cover, mask, or distract us from those quieter sounds. If the voice of the Lord is still and small and whispers to us, then we must find ways to reduce the inner noise in our lives and create times of inner stillness and quiet.
There are many sources of inner noise. Some are obvious. Sin is clearly a major source of spiritual noise. The effect is similar to what loud prolonged noise does to the auditory nerves. Prolonged permanent hearing loss can result. I believe this is what Paul meant when he spoke to Timothy about having our "conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Timothy 4:2). It means we are beyond feeling. Sin rapidly impairs our spiritual senses. It can create tremendous inner noise.
Anger and contention are a major source of inner noise. Remember the story of the Prophet Joseph during the days of translating the Book of Mormon? It was reported that one day he came up to the room to translate but could get nowhere. He then admitted that he and Emma had spoken some disagreeable words earlier. He excused himself and went to make his peace with his wife. After a time he returned and indicated he was now ready to proceed.
Other sources of inner noise are not necessarily bad in and of themselves. Physical tiredness, stress, busyness, apathy, and worry can all create inner noises of their own.
Even outer noise can detract from inner quiet. Noise is endemic in our society. We live in envelopes of outer noise. We play music in our homes and cars, we watch television while we study, we even buy portable tape and CD players so we can carry this envelope of noise with us when we walk or jog. This is not a bad thing, but it may interfere at times with the quiet whisperings the Lord wants to give us. One observer noted that before a revelation could be given to some people, there would have to be something like this: "We interrupt this broadcast to bring you the following message."
Irreverence is a source of inner noise. Elder Boyd K. Packer made this observation in a conference talk:

Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit. . . .
Leaders sometimes wonder why so many active members get themselves into such predicaments in life. Could it be that they do not feel what they need to feel because our meetings are less than they might be spiritually?
. . . Leaders should teach that reverence invites revelation. [Boyd K. Packer, "Reverence Invites Revelation," Ensign, November 1991, p. 22]

Let me mention one other common source of great inner noise, often found even among faithful, obedient people. It is what Elder Eyring on another occasion described as "having your wants too high." When we desperately desire something, it creates a great rush of emotion within us. And high emotion can mask or cover spiritual promptings. Even if the thing we desire is a good thing--such as wanting help for a critically ill family member--our "wants" may be so high that we become unwilling or unable to hear the Lord's will in the matter.
In summary then, if the voice of the Lord is still and small and it whispers, should it surprise us that his counsel is "Be still and know that I am God" (D&C 101:16; emphasis added). Only as we are still can we learn to hear the still small voice.
Thankfully, the scriptures and the prophets teach us how to reduce inner noise and create times of quiet and reverence. These will neither be new nor surprising ideas to you, but they are of great importance. I list only a few.
Reading and studying the word of God is a great source of inner quiet. There are many here who already understand that principle. Life has left you torn and troubled. Inside you feel like a churning, boiling cauldron of anxiety and unrest. Then you turn to the scriptures. Almost immediately you can feel things begin to change. The churning calms, the agitation melts away, and peace comes in its place. I have experienced that time and again in my own life.
Prayer is another source of inner quiet and serenity. I am not talking about the perfunctory "I-have-to-do-my-duty" sort of prayers. I speak of prayers that are filled with yearning. I speak of prayers when your heart swells with gratitude for the almost countless gifts God has given you. I speak of prayers that are consistent, focused, and submissive to God's will.
If irreverence is a great source of static and noise, then we can deliberately set about to increase our own personal reverence. In sacrament meetings we can sit quietly and prepare for the covenant-making process offered there. We can sing the hymns, paying attention to the words so they become a prayer unto the Lord. We can focus on what the speaker is saying and try to understand how the principles being taught apply to us.
Here is a simple thing, and yet one of the most effective ways to attune our inner hearing to spiritual things. In the sacramental covenant we witness to God that we are willing to do three things. One of those, to "always remember him," is repeated in both of the sacramental prayers. If we keep that covenant, what is God's promise back to us? That we shall always have his Spirit to be with us (see D&C 20:77, 79). What a promise! Let me give you a quick example of how that simple promise could bring tremendous inner peace and quiet.
One of the great sources of inner noise in our society is driving the freeways, a challenge that earlier generations did not have to face. In Utah, at the moment, that has become particularly so. After half an hour or more on the freeways, we feel anger and frustration, irritation and impatience. Some even experience rage. By the time we reach our destination we are fuming with anger or trembling with fear. The next time you get in your car to drive the freeway, try this experiment. Pause for a moment and offer this short prayer: "Help me to remember the Savior as I drive today. Help me to try and act as he would act. When that person in front of me is talking on his cellular phone and not paying attention to his driving, help me to remember the Savior and act accordingly. When some knucklehead cuts directly in front of me, help me to not say anything that the Savior would not say." I suggest that it will not only dramatically reduce the inner noise within you, but it will directly bring the promise of the Lord to you: "That they may always have his Spirit to be with them."
Finally, one of the most important things you can do when you are searching to reduce inner noise in your life is to take time to ponder and reflect. Get away from the bustle of life. Find a quiet place and take time to simply sit and think, to listen to your thoughts and feelings, to open yourself to the promptings of the Spirit. Note what the following prophets said they were doing prior to receiving important revelations. Nephi: "I sat pondering in my heart" (1 Nephi 11:1). Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon: "While we meditated upon these things" (D&C 76:19). Joseph F. Smith: "I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; and reflecting" (D&C 138:1­2). Joseph Smith: "My mind was called up to serious reflection. . . . I reflected . . . again and again [upon the words of James]" (JS--H 1:8, 12).
Sometimes we must deliberately put aside the cares of the world, put aside the rush of our daily lives, and find a quiet place and a quiet time where we can sit and ponder and reflect and mediate--and listen for that still small voice that whispers. Part of that time of pondering will be to deliberately push your wants down. You will remind yourself that it is not your place to counsel the Lord or to try and tell him what is best for you. You will consciously remember the Gethsemane principle mentioned earlier and submit your will to his.
I say again now, as I said at the beginning: One of the most important--if not the most important--challenges in learning how to come unto Christ and to be perfected in him is to learn to hear, to recognize, and then to follow the voice of the Lord. Fortunately the Lord has given us this almost incomprehensible gift of the Holy Ghost--a member of the Godhead--to be our constant companion and spiritual guide. If we learn how to distinguish the voice of the Lord from the many other voices and sounds that fill our lives, the promises are incredibly rich. I cite only one such promise:

For thus saith the Lord--I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. [D&C 76:5­6]

To the realities of that promise I add my own testimony, having experienced to some small degree the blessings therein promised, and I testify to that in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Week 27: Our Legacy

Did you know that I am a pioneer? Funny, I’ve never walked the plains or driven a covered wagon. I’ve never lived in a log cabin or carried all my possessions in a handcart, but still I am a pioneer. I may not be a pioneer in the usual sense of the word but I was the first in my family to be baptized into the Church. I am a pioneer.

Further and more importantly did you know that you’re a pioneer, too?! I’m sure there is something you’ve done in your family that you have been the first to do, something that’s forged the way for others to come. The things you do today, even the seemingly small things, help to build the LEGACY you will leave tomorrow.

I feel so incredibly blessed to be able to contribute to this blog and share this message with each of you. As we celebrate Pioneer Day today and those great pioneers who forged the way for each of us, it only seems fitting that we honor them with today’s talk. As I searched and prayed for inspiration as to which of the many talks I should choose to share on this subject I felt impressed that the talk entitled “Our Legacy” by Stephen B. Oveson, was the perfect choice. Just like the amazing legacy of faith passed down to us by those first pioneers we, too, have a great legacy to pass down to the generations to come. May we all remember to center our lives on the gospel and "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope" (2 Ne. 31:20). My hopes are that in doing so our legacy can be one of Christ-like love, faith, and a firm testimony of the gospel. : ) Alida

Windows Media File:

Our Legacy
Elder Stephen B. Oveson Of the Seventy
What are we doing to ensure that [our] legacy is being passed to our beloved children and to our grandchildren?

My brothers and sisters, how grateful I am to be here with you in this historic Tabernacle today. Seventy-four years ago, my grandfather Lars Peter Oveson stood at this pulpit and bore his testimony as an invited stake president from Emery County, Utah.
Although he died when I was just a boy, my grandfather has always been one of my heroes. I have studied his journal, which recounts over and over again his willingness to answer the calls that came to him throughout his lifetime. He and his parents converted to the gospel in Denmark, immigrated to this country, and came across the plains to join the Saints in Utah. One of the calls that came to him required leaving his new, young wife for six months to work on the building of the St. George Temple. He left her and their young family again to serve a two-year mission in his native Denmark. Later, the calls of bishop and stake president necessitated their relocating and rebuilding their home and farm on three different occasions. Through all of these upheavals, he remained grateful, cheerful, and faithful to the principles of the gospel, leaving a great legacy of faith to those of us who bear his name.
This legacy was passed to me by my father, Merrill M. Oveson, the youngest in the family of 13 children. He and my mother, Mal Berg Oveson, also from a faithful lineage, were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, boarded a train, and went to Oregon to further my father's education. They remained for more than 40 years, during many of which they lived in a very small farming community where we were the only members of the Church.
I have often thought how easy it would have been for my parents simply to change their faith and join their many friends in the community's Christian church. This action would have simplified life for them, especially during the World War II years, when rationing of gasoline and tires made it impossible for them to travel the 40 miles to the nearest organized branch of the LDS Church. Instead, they received authorization to have a home Sunday School, which they faithfully held weekly during all those years. There we shared the sacrament as a family. There my brother and sisters and I learned the principles of the gospel and listened to Bible and Book of Mormon stories literally at the feet of our parents.
My father, another one of my heroes, passed away several years ago, but my mother, now in her 96th year, still attends her ward faithfully every week and is an inspiration to all who know her.
My wife has a similar legacy in her background. How grateful we are for this. We know that we have been entrusted with this current calling partly because of the faithful actions of those who have gone before us. The question is, what are we doing to ensure that this legacy is being passed to our beloved children and to our grandchildren?
Whether we descend from generations in the Church or are the first link in the generational chain, we have a responsibility to convey to our posterity a heritage of faith, manifest through our daily actions. Those who are newly converted members have a particularly great opportunity to become the pioneers for their ancestors and for their posterity. In order to fulfill this obligation, all of us need to ask ourselves some pointed questions:
Are we building lives of honesty and integrity?
Are we following the counsel of our prophets, past and present?
Are we covenant keepers?
Do we hold our family home evenings and study the scriptures, trying to live the precepts we gain from them?
Do we obey the Word of Wisdom?
Are we generous in our tithes and offerings?
Do we fast and pray regularly and with sincere hearts?
Do we listen for the answers to our prayers and try to follow the promptings of the Spirit?
Are we good neighbors and loyal friends?
Do we help to build the kingdom by honoring the priesthood, magnifying our callings, and sharing the gospel with others?
Are we slow to anger and quick to forgive?
Can we honestly say that we not only repent of our mistakes but learn from them?
Are we putting the Savior and His gospel first in our lives? Or, as someone once said, "If we were accused in a court of law of being Latter-day Saints, would there be enough evidence to convict us?"
Brothers and sisters, if we aren't comfortable with the answers to these kinds of questions, we need to begin today to build a more exemplary life so that those dearest to us will "see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
I must confess that whenever my life has failed to measure up to the standards of my forebears, it is because I have allowed worldly priorities to take precedence over my spiritual ones. But I have learned that it is possible to redirect our goals and to put our sights on eternal values.
My wife and I have watched many converts to the Church make the necessary changes to become gospel-centered souls. We have seen hundreds of young full-time missionaries in Buenos Aires, Argentina, make the sacrifices to become truly consecrated servants of the Lord. All it takes is desire, obedience, dedication, and endurance. The Lord will do the rest!
We are His children. He loves us and knows each one of us by name. He wants us to return to His presence and live with Him eternally. This is the great legacy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of the atoning sacrifice of our Savior, we have an assurance of life hereafter and the possibility of inheriting all that the Father has. With this knowledge and legacy, we must "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope" (2 Ne. 31:20).
We must follow the lead of our beloved prophet, President Hinckley, who recently told the students at Ricks College: "To you I say with all of the energy of which I am capable, do not become a weak link in the chain of your generations. You come to the world with a marvelous inheritance. You come of great men and women. . . . Never let them down. Never do anything which would weaken the chain of which you are a fundamental part" (Scroll, 14 Sept. 1999, 20). To me that means that we must do all in our power to ensure that we instill within our loved ones the great legacy of an abiding testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As my grandfather so eloquently stated 74 years ago: "I rejoice to bear my testimony to the truthfulness of this work of the Lord to the world, for I know it is true; I know it is for the uplift and the advancement of the children of God, and I pray that the Lord will help . . . us that we may remain faithful and true, that we may be found valiant workers in the cause of righteousness and help to build up his kingdom upon the earth" (Lars Oveson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1925, 127). To these truths I add my own witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Welcome Alida!

I am so excited to have the opportunity to introduce another awesome contributor to the Talk Of The Week. Alida answered my request for help and I immediately felt she was perfect. She will be posting on the 4th week of each month. I am excited for us to learn from her beautiful testimony and for her to learn and grow from this experience.

I am the daughter of a loving Heavenly Father who has blessed me in countless ways. I am a mother to 5 beautiful children, the wife to an amazing priesthood holder, a daughter of goodly parents, a sister and a friend to many.

My journey began almost 19 years ago when I was just 8 years old and two beautiful sister missionaries knocked on our door in Bayside, Queens, NY. That day my life changed forever. Two short months later I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Our membership in the church led us to Provo, Utah when I was 12 years old. After graduating from Provo High School, I married my best friend on April 17, 1999. We were sealed together in the Bountiful, Utah Temple. Over the last 9 years, our life together has seen its share of ups and downs, including the birth of a child with Cystic Hygroma. Our family has just moved from Las Vegas, Nevada to Kansas City, Kansas.

Throughout our trials I have been able to stay close to the Lord through study and much prayer. The knowledge that we have a living prophet by which He speaks to us has sustained me. I know that I can always turn to Latter-Day talks to build my faith and understanding. I always seem to find the right words at the right time when I seek to know more.

Throughout this year I have been striving to learn patience and trust in the Lord and in his timing. I want to be an example of Christ-like love and to make Him the center of my home. I know that through the gospel of Jesus Christ those things are not hard to achieve if we put our faith in him. I am thankful that he guided those two sister missionaries to our house that September day in 1989 and that my parents chose to let them come in and share their message. I am dedicated to sharing that message with the world so that they to may know my JOY!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Week 26: Let Our Voices Be Heard

Recently the California Supreme Court overturned a ruling about marriage called Proposition 22 and legalized same-sex marriages in the state of Calififornia. Yet, this debate is not over. Thankfully, the Protection of Marriage Amendment will appear on this November’s ballot in the state of California. The campaign of the next few months will be our opportunity to remind Californians and the ENTIRE world why the unique role of traditional marriage in society is worth protecting. Because of the seriousness of this issue and because this is not just an issue the influences people in California the 1st Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints send letters to every Stake/Ward in California just a few weeks ago urging each us to get involved. It read, "our best efforts are required to preserve the sanctity of marriage." We have been urged to study the Family Proclamation and support the Protect Marriage Coalition at http://www.http//www.protectmarriage.com

Thirteen years ago the Family Proclamation was written and shared with the world. With all of this in mind, this week I bring you a timely message from Elder M. Russell Ballard called, "Let our Voices Be Heard". This message is about media but it can be related to everything else that we must STAND strong in. We must continue as we did in the pre-existence to defend, uphold, and choose Heavenly Father's PLAN for safety, happiness and exaltation.

Let Our Voices Be Heard
Elder M. Russell Ballard Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Let us speak out and encourage a more uplifting, inspiring, and acceptable media.

The fall of the year is when television airs its season premieres and introduces its new shows. A friend told me that there are 37 new TV series being inaugurated this fall. As he has read the reviews, he has found few if any of them that he would want his children to watch. Most of the sitcoms, dramas, and reality shows contain immorality, violence, and subtle ridicule of traditional values and traditional families. Each year the new shows seem to get worse, pushing the envelope of what the public will accept. What comes out of Hollywood, off the Internet, and in much of today's music creates a web of decadence that can trap our children and endanger all of us.
Church leaders have the responsibility to speak out on moral issues and to counsel individuals and families. The family is the basic unit of society; it is the basic unit of eternity. Thus, when forces threaten the family, Church leaders must respond.
The family is at the heart of Heavenly Father's plan because we are all part of His family and because mortality is our opportunity to form our own families and to assume the role of parents. It is within our families that we learn unconditional love, which can come to us and draw us very close to God's love. It is within families that values are taught and character is built. Father and mother are callings from which we will never be released, and there is no more important stewardship than the responsibility we have for God's spirit children who come into our families.
Within this context of the preeminent importance of families and the threats families face today, it is not surprising that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles used strong words in the proclamation to the world on families: "We warn that individuals . . . who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."1 One such prophet was Malachi, who admonished parents to turn their hearts to their children and children to their parents, lest the whole earth be cursed (see Malachi 4:6).
To these warnings, ancient as the Old Testament and current as the proclamation on the family, I add my own voice of warning, specifically concerning today's media and the powerful negative effect it can have on families and on family life.
Because of its sheer size, media today presents vast and sharply contrasting options. Opposite from its harmful and permissive side, media offers much that is positive and productive. Television offers history channels, discovery channels, education channels. One can still find movies and TV comedies and dramas that entertain and uplift and accurately depict the consequences of right and wrong. The Internet can be a fabulous tool of information and communication, and there is an unlimited supply of good music in the world. Thus our biggest challenge is to choose wisely what we listen to and what we watch.
As the prophet Lehi said, because of Christ and His Atonement, we are "free forever, knowing good from evil," able to act for ourselves rather than be acted upon, "free to choose liberty and eternal life . . . or to choose captivity and death" (2 Nephi 2:26–27).
The choices we make in media can be symbolic of the choices we make in life. Choosing the trendy, the titillating, the tawdry in the TV programs or movies we watch can cause us to end up, if we're not careful, choosing the same things in the lives we live.
If we do not make good choices, the media can devastate our families and pull our children away from the narrow gospel path. In the virtual reality and the perceived reality of large and small screens, family-destructive viewpoints and behavior are regularly portrayed as pleasurable, as stylish, as exciting, and as normal. Often media's most devastating attacks on family are not direct or frontal or openly immoral. Intelligent evil is too cunning for that, knowing that most people still profess belief in family and in traditional values. Rather the attacks are subtle and amoral—issues of right and wrong don't even come up. Immorality and sexual innuendo are everywhere, causing some to believe that because everyone is doing it, it must be all right. This pernicious evil is not out in the street somewhere; it is coming right into our homes, right into the heart of our families.
To be strong and happy, families need to be nourished by the truths depicted in the thirteenth article of faith—by a belief "in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men." Gratefully, there are many like-minded men and women of all cultures and faiths who also seek that which is "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy."
But we live in the "perilous times" to which the Apostle Paul referred when he warned about our day as one when "men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, . . . false accusers, . . . despisers of those that are good, . . . heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:1–4).
Conspiring men and women, intent on gain rather than goodness, "stir up the people" to "all manner of . . . wickedness" (see Alma 11:20), preventing the noble uses to which the media could be employed.
The new morality preached from the media's pulpit is nothing more than the old immorality. It attacks religion. It undermines the family. It turns virtue into vice and vice into virtue. It assaults the senses and batters the soul with messages and images that are neither virtuous, nor lovely, nor of good report, nor praiseworthy.
The time has come when members of the Church need to speak out and join with the many other concerned people in opposition to the offensive, destructive, and mean-spirited media influence that is sweeping over the earth.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the percentage of television prime-time shows with sexual content jumped from 67 percent in 1998 to 75 percent in the year 2000.2 Media with this kind of content has numerous negative effects. It fosters a callous attitude toward women, who are often portrayed as objects of abuse and not as precious daughters of God who are essential to His eternal plan. The long-cherished values of abstinence from intimate relationships before marriage and complete fidelity between husband and wife after marriage are denigrated and derided. Children and youth are confused and misled by the deviant behavior they see demonstrated by so-called stars they admire and want to emulate. In the moral confusion created by the media, enduring values are being abandoned.
We see a rapid increase in cyberporn, involving sexual addiction over the Internet. Some become so addicted to viewing Internet pornography and participating in dangerous online chat rooms that they ignore their marriage covenants and family obligations and often put their employment at risk. Many run afoul of the law. Others develop a tolerance to their perverted behavior, taking ever more risks to feed their immoral addiction. Marriages crumble and relationships fail, as addicts often lose everything of real, eternal value.
According to one social observer: "Television . . . has replaced the family, the school, and the church—in that order—as the principal [instrument] for socialization and transmission of values. . . . Greed, debauchery, violence, unlimited self-gratification, absence of moral restraint . . . are the daily fare glamorously dished up to our children."3
We must be concerned with the violent and sexually charged lyrics of much of today's popular music and the relatively new "art form" of the music video. According to industry observers, 40 percent of the music video audience is under the age of 18.4 One study reports that approximately three-fourths of all the music videos that tell a story utilize sexual imagery, and nearly half involve violence.5 And the fashion trends spawned in their images are about as far away from being "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy" as you can get. Ours surely is a time when men "call evil good, and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20).
Let me say again that the family is the main target of evil's attack and must therefore be the main point of our protection and defense. As I said once before, when you stop and think about it from a diabolically tactical point of view, fighting the family makes sense to Satan. When he wants to disrupt the work of the Lord, he doesn't poison the world's peanut butter supply, thus bringing the Church's missionary system to its collective knees. He doesn't send a plague of laryngitis to afflict the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He doesn't legislate against green Jell-O and casseroles. When evil wants to strike out and disrupt the essence of God's work, it attacks the family. It does so by attempting to disregard the law of chastity, to confuse gender, to desensitize violence, to make crude and blasphemous language the norm, and to make immoral and deviant behavior seem like the rule rather than the exception.
We need to remember Edmund Burke's statement: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."6 We need to raise our voices with other concerned citizens throughout the world in opposition to current trends. We need to tell the sponsors of offensive media that we have had enough. We need to support programs and products that are positive and uplifting. Joining together with neighbors and friends who share our concerns, we can send a clear message to those responsible. The Internet Web sites and their local affiliates will have their addresses. Letters and e-mails have more effect than most people realize, especially those like one sent by a Relief Society sister that stated, "I represent a group of over a hundred women that meets every week and often talks about the harm your program is doing to our children."
Of course the most basic way to protest negative-impact media is simply not to watch it, see it, read it, or play it. We should teach our family members to follow the First Presidency's counsel to young people. From the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, their instruction regarding entertainment and the media is very clear:
"Do not attend, view, or participate in entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable. . . .
"Have the courage to walk out of a movie or video party, turn off a computer or television, change a radio station, or put down a magazine if what is being presented does not meet Heavenly Father's standards. Do these things even if others do not."7
Brothers and sisters, refuse to be used. Refuse to be manipulated. Refuse to support those programs that violate traditional family values. We may be a small voice to begin with; nevertheless, let us speak out and encourage a more uplifting, inspiring, and acceptable media.
Besides making our voices heard, let me conclude with seven things that every parent can do to minimize the negative effect media can have on our families:
1. We need to hold family councils and decide what our media standards are going to be.
2. We need to spend enough quality time with our children that we are consistently the main influence in their lives, not the media or any peer group.
3. We need to make good media choices ourselves and set good examples for our children.
4. We need to limit the amount of time our children watch TV or play video games or use the Internet each day. Virtual reality must not become their reality.
5. We need to use Internet filters and TV programming locks to prevent our children from "chancing upon" things they should not see.
6. We need to have TVs and computers in a much-used common room in the home, not in a bedroom or a private place.
7. We need to take time to watch appropriate media with our children and discuss with them how to make choices that will uplift and build rather than degrade and destroy.
May God bless us with courage and wisdom in doing what each one of us can to help turn the tide in the media away from darkness toward truth and light. And may God bless our families to be strong and true to the principles of the gospel is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," Liahona, Oct. 1998, 24; Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.2. See Dale Kunkel and others, Sex on TV 2003: A Biennial Report to the Kaiser Family Foundation (2003), 40.3. Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Weak Ramparts of the Permissive West," in Nathan P. Gardels, ed., At Century's End: Great Minds Reflect on Our Times (1995), 53.4. See National Institute on Media and the Family, "Fact Sheet," Internet, http://www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_mtv.shtml5. See Barry L. Sherman and Joseph R. Dominick, "Violence and Sex in Music and Videos: TV and Rock 'n' Roll," Journal of Communication, Winter 1986, 79–93.6. Attributed in John Bartlett, comp., Familiar Quotations, 15th ed. (1980), ix.7. For the Strength of Youth (2001), 17, 19.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Week 25: As A Child

I am so grateful for the opportunity to send these messages out. This talk was truly meant for today. I love the spirit that comes when we are following the prescribed course for our lives. May the Lord bless us all to be more like a child by humbly submitting to His will and trusting in Him who is our Savior and Redeemer.

Media Links:
As a Child
Elder Henry B. Eyring Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Our natures must be changed to become as a child to gain the strength we must have to be safe in the times of moral peril.

The prophets of God have foreseen the times in which we live. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come."1 Anyone with eyes to see the signs of the times and ears to hear the words of prophets knows that the peril is great. The peril comes from the forces of wickedness. Those forces are increasing. And so it will become harder, not easier, to keep the covenants we must make to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.
For those of us who are concerned about such a future for ourselves and for those we love—in our families, in our quorums, and in our classes—there is hope in the promise the Lord has given us of a place of safety in the storms ahead. Here is a word picture of that place. You have read about it in scripture. It has been repeatedly described by living prophets. A loving father told his sons of it this way as he tried to strengthen them against the storms of temptation:
"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation . . . whereon if men build they cannot fall."2
It has never been more important than it is now to understand how to build on that sure foundation. For me, there is no better place to look than in the last sermon of King Benjamin recorded in the Book of Mormon. Most of us have read it again recently and have pondered it more than once. King Benjamin could see us and our descendants. He knew by prophetic power what we face. He knew from his own experience the terrors of war. He had defended his people in combat, relying on the power of God. He saw clearly the terrible powers of Lucifer to tempt and to overcome us.
He was a great and a holy man. And he knew how to invite people to build on that rock of safety as well as any of the Lord’s prophets.
He started in his discourse where we must all begin to help people escape spiritual disaster. People have to believe that the danger is real to want to find safety. They have to fear the consequence of ignoring the peril. He made clear the hazards we face because we are free to choose between right and wrong and because we cannot avoid the consequence of those choices. He spoke directly and sharply because he knew what sorrow would come to those who might not hear and heed his warnings.
Here is how he described the consequences which follow our choice either to follow the prompting of the Spirit of Christ or to follow the evil messages which come from Satan, whose purpose is to tempt us and trap us into sin:
"For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that [evil] spirit; for if he listeth to obey him, and remaineth and dieth in his sins, the same drinketh damnation to his own soul; for he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment, having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge. . . .
"Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever."
King Benjamin went on: "O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression."3
For me, the power of that warning is the picture it forms in my mind of that time when we will each stand before the Savior after this life to be judged. When King Benjamin speaks to me of shrinking from the presence of the Lord, it puts fear into my heart. I can see myself standing in that day of judgment before the glorified and resurrected Savior. I want with all my heart not to shrink, but rather to look up at Him and see Him smile and say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter in."4
King Benjamin makes it clear how we can earn the hope to hear those words if we find the way in this life to have our natures changed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. That is the only way we can build on the sure foundation and so stand firm in righteousness during the storms of temptation.
King Benjamin describes that change with a beautiful comparison, used by prophets for millennia and by the Lord Himself. It is this: that we can, and we must, become as a child—a little child.
For some that will not be easy to understand or to accept. Most of us want to be strong. We may well see being like a child as being weak. Most parents have wanted their children at times to be less childish. Even the Apostle Paul used these words as he was about to urge us to incorporate charity, the pure love of Christ, into our lives: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."5
But King Benjamin, who understood as well as any mortal what it meant to be a man of strength and courage, makes it clear that to be like a child is not to be childish. It is to be like the Savior, who prayed to His Father for strength to be able to do His will and then did it. Our natures must be changed to become as a child to gain the strength we must have to be safe in the times of moral peril.
Here is King Benjamin's stirring description of what that change to become like a child is and how it comes to us:
"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."6
We are safe on the rock which is the Savior when we have yielded in faith in Him, have responded to the Holy Spirit's direction to keep the commandments long enough and faithfully enough that the power of the Atonement has changed our hearts. When we have, by that experience, become as a child in our capacity to love and obey, we are on the sure foundation.
From King Benjamin we learn what we can do to take us to that safe place. But remember: the things we do are the means, not the end we seek. What we do allows the Atonement of Jesus Christ to change us into what we must be. Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us to repentance and to keeping His commandments. We obey and we resist temptation by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost. In time our natures will change. We will become as a little child, obedient to God and more loving. That change, if we do all we must to keep it, will qualify us to enjoy the gifts which come through the Holy Ghost. Then we will be safe on the only sure rock.
Like you, I have felt what King Benjamin meant when he said that we could become like a little child before God. I have prayed, as you have, to know what to do when choices that I faced would have eternal consequences. Over many years I have seen a recurring pattern in the times when the answers to such a prayer have come most clearly.
Once, for instance, I prayed through the night to know what I was to choose to do in the morning. I knew that no other choice could have had a greater effect on the lives of others and on my own. I knew what choice looked most comfortable to me. I knew what outcome I wanted. But I could not see the future. I could not see which choice would lead to which outcome. So the risk of being wrong seemed too great to me.
I prayed, but for hours there seemed to be no answer. Just before dawn, a feeling came over me. More than at any time since I had been a child, I felt like one. My heart and my mind seemed to grow very quiet. There was a peace in that inner stillness.
Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself praying, "Heavenly Father, it doesn't matter what I want. I don't care anymore what I want. I only want that Thy will be done. That is all that I want. Please tell me what to do."
In that moment I felt as quiet inside as I had ever felt. And the message came, and I was sure who it was from. It was clear what I was to do. I received no promise of the outcome. There was only the assurance that I was a child who had been told what path led to whatever He wanted for me.
I learned from that experience and countless repetitions that the description of the Holy Ghost as a still, small voice is real. It is poetic, but it is not poetry. Only when my heart has been still and quiet, in submission like a little child, has the Spirit been clearly audible to my heart and mind.
King Benjamin taught us how those moments may come more often, which they must in the perils we face. He told us that there are things we can and must do to invite the blessing of that change to a childlike heart.
All of them have to do with doing what it takes to build greater faith in Jesus Christ and so qualify for the help of the Holy Ghost. King Benjamin gave the reason for that:
"And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent."7
What we need is faith in Him and to love Him. We must know that He lives and who He is. When we do, we will love Him. King Benjamin suggested how to know Him in these words, which you have heard often:
"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?"8
We come to love those we serve. If we choose to begin to serve the Master out of even a glimmer of faith, we will begin to know Him. We will come to know His purposes for the people we serve for Him. Even when they do not accept our offer to serve them, we will feel His appreciation if we persist.
As we persist, we will feel the need for the influence of the Holy Ghost because our task will seem beyond us. Our humble prayer to our Heavenly Father will be answered. The Holy Ghost has as a major purpose witnessing that Jesus is the Christ. As we plead for help in His service, the Holy Ghost will come and confirm our faith in Him. Our faith in the Savior will increase. And, as we continue to serve Him, we will come to love Him. To be called to serve is a call to come to love the Master we serve. It is a call to have our natures changed.
To keep the blessing of that change in our hearts will require determination, effort, and faith. King Benjamin taught at least some of what that will require. He said that to retain a remission of our sins from day to day we must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and help people spiritually and temporally.9 He warned that we must guard against even the feelings of contention entering into our hearts.10 He made it clear that the mighty change which comes through the Atonement working in us can diminish if we are not on guard against sin. The Lord said in warning, "Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also."11
Through sin the gift can be lost. King Benjamin taught that we are responsible for the determined effort necessary to resist temptation. He warned his people about specific temptations. But after giving those warnings, he put the obligation on them. As often as we pray not to be overcome by temptation and to be delivered from evil, we are responsible for ourselves. Here are the words he spoke, which are not his, but from God:
"And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.
"But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not."12
With the help of the Holy Ghost, we can watch over ourselves. We can pray to recognize and reject the first thoughts of sin. We can pray to recognize a warning not to speak words which would hurt or tempt someone else. And we can, when we must, pray for the humility and the faith to repent.
There will surely be some who hear my voice who will have this thought come into their minds: "But the temptations are too great for me. I have resisted as long as I can. For me, the commandments are too hard. The standard is too high."
That is not so. The Savior is our Advocate with the Father. He knows our weaknesses. He knows how to succor those who are tempted.13
I bear you my witness that the Savior lives and that He is the sure foundation. I know that by acting on our faith in Him we can be cleansed and changed to become pure and strong, as a little child. I bear you my testimony that the Holy Ghost can lead us to truth and away from sin.
Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son. The Book of Mormon is the word of God and a witness of Jesus Christ as our Savior. This is the true Church. I know that we can choose the promised joy of eternal life, however perilous the times.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
NOTES1. 2 Timothy 3:1.2. Helaman 5:12.3. Mosiah 2:33, 38, 40.4. See Matthew 25:21.5. 1 Corinthians 13:11.6. Mosiah 3:19.7. Mosiah 3:17.8. Mosiah 5:13.9. See Mosiah 4:26.10. See Mosiah 2:32.11. D&C 20:33–34.12. Mosiah 4:29–30.13. See D&C 62:1.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Week 24: The Glorious Cause of America

This week I was feeling a little sentimental. It is the sixth month anniversary of the Talk of The Week as well as the week of the Independence Day holiday. For the last couple of years I've been studying the constitution and founding father's. One thing that stands out in all my studies is how the Constitution could not have come about without the powers of heaven and how brave and divinely inspired the founding father's were despite their human imperfections. So many miracles preceded and followed the founding of this nation. I am so grateful for the great sacrifices of the generations who have gone on before me. I hope we can all feel grateful and be willing to do our part to keep the sacred covenants and promises that are established upon this land of promise.

Have a wonderful week and happy anniversary! I have truly enjoyed and been blessed more than you will ever know because so many of you are willing to listen or read these talks.
The Glorious Cause of America
How a coarse, untrained army—“rabble in arms”—stood up to the world’s most powerful army.

David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of 1776 and John Adams, gave this forum assembly address at BYU on 27 September 2005.
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One of the hardest, and I think the most important, realities of history to convey to students or readers of books or viewers of television documentaries is that nothing ever had to happen the way it happened. Any great past event could have gone off in any number of different directions for any number of different reasons. We should understand that history was never on a track. It was never preordained that it would turn out as it did.Very often we are taught history as if it were predetermined, and if that way of teaching begins early enough and is sustained through our education, we begin to think that it had to have happened as it did. We think that there had to have been a Revolutionary War, that there had to have been a Declaration of Independence, that there had to have been a Constitution, but never was that so. In history, chance plays a part again and again. Character counts over and over. Personality is often the determining factor in why things turn out the way they do.Furthermore, nobody ever lived in the past. Jefferson, Adams, George Washington—they didn’t walk around saying, “Isn’t this fascinating living in the past? Aren’t we picturesque in our funny clothes?” They were living in the present, just as we do. The great difference is that it was their present, not ours. And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out, they didn’t either.We can know about the years that preceded us and about the people who preceded us. And if we love our country—if we love the blessings of a society that welcomes free speech, freedom of religion, and, most important of all, freedom to think for ourselves—then surely we ought to know how it came to be. Who was responsible? What did they do? How much did they contribute? How much did they suffer?Abigail Adams, writing one of her many letters to her husband, John, who was off in Philadelphia working to put the Declaration of Independence through Congress, wrote, “Posterity who are to reap the blessings, will scarcely be able to conceive the hardships and sufferings of their ancestors.”1 Alas, she was right. We do not conceive what they went through.We tend to see them—Adams, Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Rush, George Washington—as figures in a costume pageant; that is often the way they’re portrayed. And we tend to see them as much older than they were because we’re seeing them in the portraits by Gilbert Stuart and others when they were truly the Founding Fathers—when they were president or chief justice of the Supreme Court and their hair, if it hadn’t turned white, was powdered white. We see the awkward teeth. We see the elder statesmen.At the time of the Revolution, they were all young. It was a young man’s–young woman’s cause. George Washington took command of the Continental Army in the summer of 1775 at the age of 43. He was the oldest of them. Adams was 40. Jefferson was all of 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Rush—who was the leader of the antislavery movement at the time, who introduced the elective system into higher education in this country, who was the first to urge the humane treatment of patients in mental hospitals—was 30 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, none of them had any prior experience in revolutions; they weren’t experienced revolutionaries who’d come in to take part in this biggest of all events. They were winging it. They were improvising.George Washington had never commanded an army in battle before. He’d served with some distinction in the French and Indian War with the colonial troops who were fighting with the British Army, but he’d never commanded an army in battle before. And he’d never commanded a siege, which is what he took charge of at Boston, where the rebel troops—the “rabble in arms”2 as the British called them—had the British penned in inside Boston.Washington wasn’t chosen by his fellow members of the Continental Congress because he was a great military leader. He was chosen because they knew him; they knew the kind of man he was; they knew his character, his integrity.George Washington is the first of our political generals—a very important point about Washington. And we’ve been very lucky in our political generals. By political generals, I don’t mean to suggest that is a derogatory or dismissive term. They are political in the sense that they understand how the system works, that they, as commander in chief, are not the boss. Washington reported to Congress. And no matter how difficult it was, how frustrating it was, how maddening it could be for Washington to get Congress to do what so obviously needed to be done to sustain his part in the fight, he never lost patience with them. He always played by the rule.Washington was not, as were Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and Hamilton, a learned man. He was not an intellectual. Nor was he a powerful speaker like his fellow Virginian Patrick Henry. What Washington was, above all, was a leader. He was a man people would follow. And as events would prove, he was a man whom some—a few—would follow through hell.Don’t get the idea that all of those who marched off to serve under Washington were heroes. They deserted the army by the hundreds, by the thousands as time went on. When their enlistments came up, they would up and go home just as readily as can be, feeling they had served sufficiently and they needed to be back home to support their families, who in many cases were suffering tremendously for lack of income or even food. But those who stayed with him stayed because they would not abandon this good man, as some of them said.What Washington had, it seems to me, is phenomenal courage—physical courage and moral courage. He had high intelligence; if he was not an intellectual or an educated man, he was very intelligent. He was a quick learner—and a quick learner from his mistakes. He made dreadful mistakes, particularly in the year 1776. They were almost inexcusable, inexplicable mistakes, but he always learned from them. And he never forgot what the fight was about—“the glorious cause of America,” as they called it. Washington would not give up; he would not quit.When he took command of the Continental Army at Cambridge in the summer of 1775, Washington had probably 14,000 troops. And from those troops and from the officers who were there at the time when he arrived, he selected two men as the best he had. Here is another aspect of his leadership that must not be overlooked or underestimated: Washington was a great judge of other people’s ability and capacity to stay where the fighting was the toughest and to never give up. He picked out Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox.Nathanael Greene was a Quaker with a limp from a childhood injury. He knew no more of the military than what he had read in books, and he was made a major general at 33 years of age. Henry Knox was 25. He was a Boston bookseller. He was a big, fat, garrulous, keenly intelligent man who, like Greene, had only about the equivalent of a fifth-grade education but had never stopped reading. He, too, knew of the military only what he had read in books. But keep in mind that this was occurring in the 18th century, their present. It was the Age of Enlightenment, an era when it was widely understood that if you wanted to know something, a good way to learn was to read books—a very radical idea to many in our day and age.Those two men were quintessential New Englanders. Greene was from Rhode Island and Knox had grown up in Boston. Washington had discovered very soon after arriving in New England that he ardently disliked New Englanders, so to single out these two, he also overcame a personal bias.To skip far ahead, let me point out that Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox, along with Washington, were to be the only general officers in the Revolutionary War who stayed until the very end. So Washington’s judgment could not have been better. Nathanael Greene turned out to be the best general we had, and I’m including Washington in that lineup—Greene, the Quaker with a limp, the man who knew nothing but what he had read in books, who, like Washington, learned from his mistakes.Let’s not forget what a war it was—eight and a half years, the longest war in our history, except for Vietnam. Twenty-five thousand Americans were killed. That doesn’t sound like very much to those of us who have been bludgeoned, who have been numbed by the horrible statistics of war in the 20th or 21st centuries. This was 1 percent of the American population of 2.5 million. It was a lot. If we were to fight for our independence today and the war were equally costly, there would be more than 3 million of us killed. It was a long, bloody, costly war.And as it wore on in the year 1776, we suffered one defeat after another. At Brooklyn—a huge battle over an area of six miles with 40,000 soldiers involved—we were soundly defeated. We were made to look foolish. We were outsmarted, outflanked, outgeneraled, outnumbered. Some of us were immensely heroic, but we never had a chance.But then, in a miraculous escape from Brooklyn Heights on the night of Oct. 29, we got back across the East River and were saved. It was the Dunkirk of the Revolution. If the wind had been in the other direction that night or the two or three nights preceding it, there’s not much question that the war would have been over then because Washington and 9,000 American troops would have been captured. If the British had been able to bring their warships up into the East River, between Brooklyn and Manhattan, they would have had us right in the trap. But because there was a howling storm out of the northeast, they weren’t able to do that.Washington ordered that every possible small craft be rounded up and be made ready to bring the army back to New York. It was to be done at night. An organized retreat for an experienced army is the most difficult maneuver of all when faced by a superior force. But for this amateur pick-up team, this rude, crude, un-uniformed, undisciplined, untrained American army of farm boys—some of whom had been given a musket and told to march off only a few weeks before—for that kind of an army to make a successful retreat across water at night, right in the face of the enemy without the enemy knowing, was a virtual impossibility. And yet they did it.When they went down to the shores of the East River, right where the Brooklyn Bridge now stands, to start the crossing, the same wind that was keeping the British from bringing their fleet up was keeping the river too rough for them to make the crossing. It looked as though they weren’t going to be able to pull it off. Then, all of a sudden, almost like the parting of the waters, the wind stopped. The makeshift armada started going back and forth, back and forth, all night long, ferrying men, horses, cannon—everything—back across the river to New York. And they succeeded. Nineteen thousand men and all their equipment—horses, cannon, and the rest—were taken across the river that night without the loss of a single man and without the British ever knowing it.I wanted to write about that event, the reality of what happened there, as much as anything else in my book 1776. It shows so much that we need to understand. First of all, it was said right away that the hand of God had intervened in behalf of the American cause. Others trying to interpret what had happened used the words Providence or chance. But it couldn’t have happened only because of chance or the hand of God. It also required people of skill and experience with the nerve to try it.That escape was organized and led by a man named John Glover from Marblehead, Mass., and his Marblehead Mariners—fishermen, sailors who knew how to handle small boats. During the crossing—and the East River can be a treacherous place to cross, even in the best of conditions—boats were loaded down so that the gunwales were only a few inches above the water. No running lights, no motors, no cell phones to talk back and forth. And they did it. It was character and circumstance in combination that succeeded.The men were totally demoralized. They had been defeated; they were soaking wet; they were cold; they were hungry. They lost again pathetically at Kip’s Bay. They lost again in the great battle of Fort Washington, when nearly 3,000 of our troops and all of their equipment were taken captive. By the time Washington started his long retreat across New Jersey, they were down to only a few thousand men. Probably a quarter of the army were too sick to fight, victims of smallpox, typhoid, typhus, and, worst of all, camp fever, or epidemic dysentery. Men deserted, men defected—went over to the enemy by the hundreds. Or they just disappeared, they just went away, never heard from again. By the time Washington was halfway across New Jersey, he had all of 3,000 men.We are taught to honor and celebrate those great men who wrote and voted for the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. But none of what they committed themselves to—their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor—none of those noble words about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, about all men being created equal, none of that would have been worth any more than the paper it was written on had it not been for those who were fighting to make it happen. We must remember them, too, and especially those who seem nameless: Jabez Fitch and Joseph Hodgkins; little John Greenwood, who was all of 16 years old; and Israel Trask, who was 10 years old. There were boys marching with the troops as fifers or drummers or messenger boys, not just Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox and John Glover and George Washington. And they were in rags—they were in worse than rags. The troops had no winter clothing. The stories of men leaving bloody footprints in the snow are true—that’s not mythology.Washington was trying to get his army across the Delaware River, to put the river between his army and the oncoming British army, which was very well equipped, very well fed, very well trained—the best troops in the world led by an extremely able officer, Cornwallis. On they were coming, and they were going to end the war. But Washington felt that if he could just get across the river, get what men he had left over on the Pennsylvania shore on the western side, destroy any boats the British might use to come chasing across the river, that they’d have time to collect themselves and maybe get some extra support. Again they went across at night. Again it was John Glover and his men who made it happen. They lit huge bonfires on the Pennsylvania side of the river to light the crossing.The next morning a unit from Pennsylvania rode in—militiamen, among whom was a young officer named Charles Willson Peale, the famous painter. He walked among these ragged troops of Washington’s who had made the escape across from New Jersey and wrote about it in his diary. He said he’d never seen such miserable human beings in all his life—starving, exhausted, filthy. One man in particular he thought was just the most wretched human being he had ever laid eyes on. He described how the man’s hair was all matted and how it hung down over his shoulders. The man was naked except for what they called a blanket coat. His feet were wrapped in rags, his face all covered with sores from sickness. Peale was studying him when, all of a sudden, he realized that the man was his own brother.I think we should feel that they were all our brothers, those brave 3,000, and remember what they went through, just as Abigail Adams stressed in her letter. And that they didn’t quit!Washington took stock, just as the British army was taking stock, of the situation, as were most every officer and all of the politicians, many of whom had fled from Philadelphia by this time. It seemed clear that the British were heading for Philadelphia and there was nothing to stop them. Most everybody concluded that the war was over and we had lost. It was the only rational conclusion one could come to. There wasn’t a chance. So Washington did what you sometimes have to do when everything is lost and all hope is gone. He attacked.They went up the river nine miles to McKonkey’s Ferry on Christmas night. They crossed the Delaware, famously portrayed in the great painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, which as everyone knows is inaccurate in many ways. But it does portray with drama and force what was one of the most important turning points, not just in the history of the war, but in the history of our country and, consequently, of the world. He had the nerve, the courage, the faith in the cause to carry the war once more to the enemy. After the crossing, they marched nine miles back down the river on the eastern side and struck at Trenton the next morning.The worst part of the whole night was not the crossing, as bad as it was. The worst part was the march through the night. Again a northeaster was blowing, and again that northeaster was beneficial to our cause because it muffled the noise of the crossing and the noise of the march south. But it also increased by geometric proportions the misery of the troops. It was very cold. What the wind chill factor must have been can only be imagined. It was so cold that two men froze to death on the march because they had no winter clothing.They struck at Trenton the next morning. It was a fierce, house-to-house, savage battle. It was small in scale but very severe. It was all over in about 45 minutes, and we won. For the first time, we defeated the enemy at their own profession.Now it wasn’t a great battle like Brooklyn. But its consequences were enormous, beyond reckoning. Because of the psychological effect, it transformed the attitude of the army and of much of the country toward the war. It was a turning point. They struck again at Princeton a few days later and won there too—again by surprise, again after marching through the night, again taking the most daring possible route, risking all and winning.In conclusion I want to share a scene that took place on the last day of the year of 1776, Dec. 31. All the enlistments for the entire army were up. Every soldier, because of the system at the time, was free to go home as of the first day of January 1777. Washington called a large part of the troops out into formation. He appeared in front of these ragged men on his horse, and he urged them to reenlist. He said that if they would sign up for another six months, he’d give them a bonus of 10 dollars. It was an enormous amount then because that’s about what they were being paid for a month—if and when they could get paid. These were men who were desperate for pay of any kind. Their families were starving.The drums rolled, and he asked those who would stay on to step forward. The drums kept rolling, and nobody stepped forward. Washington turned and rode away from them. Then he stopped, and he turned back and rode up to them again. This is what we know he said:
My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than could be reasonably expected, but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses, and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you can probably never do under any other circumstance.3
Again the drums rolled. This time the men began stepping forward. “God Almighty,” wrote Nathanael Greene, “inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.”4Now that is an amazing scene, to say the least, and it’s real. This wasn’t some contrivance of a screenwriter. However, I believe there is something very familiar about what Washington said to those troops. It was as if he was saying, “You are fortunate. You have a chance to serve your country in a way that nobody else is going to be able to, and everybody else is going to be jealous of you, and you will count this the most important decision and the most valuable service of your lives.” Now doesn’t that have a familiar ring? Isn’t it very like the speech of Henry V in Shakespeare’s play Henry V: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . . And gentlemen in England now a-bed / Shall think themselves accursed they were not here”?5 Washington loved the theater; Washington loved Shakespeare. I can’t help but feel that he was greatly influenced.He was also greatly influenced, as they all were, by the classical ideals of the Romans and the Greeks. The history they read was the history of Greece and Rome. And while Washington and Knox and Greene, not being educated men, didn’t read Greek and Latin as Adams and Jefferson did, they knew the play Cato, and they knew about Cincinnatus. They knew that Cincinnatus had stepped forward to save his country in its hour of peril and then, after the war was over, returned to the farm. Washington, the political general, had never forgotten that Congress was boss. When the war was at last over, Washington, in one of the most important events in our entire history, turned back his command to Congress—a scene portrayed in a magnificent painting by John Trumbull that hangs in the rotunda of our national Capitol. When George III heard that George Washington might do this, he said that “if he does, he will be the greatest man in the world.”So what does this tell us? That the original decision of the Continental Congress was the wise one. They knew the man, they knew his character, and he lived up to his reputation.I hope very much that those of you who are studying history here will pursue it avidly, with diligence, with attention. I hope you do this not just because it will make you a better citizen, and it will; not just because you will learn a great deal about human nature and about cause and effect in your own lives, as well as the life of the nation, which you will; but as a source of strength, as an example of how to conduct yourself in difficult times—and we live in very difficult times, very uncertain times. But I hope you also find history to be a source of pleasure. Read history for pleasure as you would read a great novel or poetry or go to see a great play.And I hope when you read about the American Revolution and the reality of those people that you will never think of them again as just figures in a costume pageant or as gods. They were not perfect; they were imperfect—that’s what’s so miraculous. They rose to the occasion as very few generations ever have.

NOTES:1. Abigail Adams to John Adams, March 8, 1777, Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; spelling modernized.2. John Burgoyne, in Sir George Otto Trevelyan, The American Revolution (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1926), vol. 1, p. 298.3. Sergeant R——, “Battle of Princeton,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 20 (1896), pp. 515–16.4. Nathanael Greene to Nicholas Cooke, Jan. 10, 1777, in The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, ed. Richard K. Showman and Dennis Conrad (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), vol. 2, p. 4.5. Henry V 4.3.63–68.