It is such a privilege to be with you tonight, my dear young brothers and sisters. I want you to know what a blessing it is for my wife and me to be with you this evening. When we look at you, we see countless possibilities. You are so full of potential. No matter how high your hopes, I’m here to tell you they can be even higher. You can accomplish more in this life than you know. With the Lord at your side, you can experience miracles. You can do the thing that you first thought impossible. You can overcome any problem. You can rise above anything that would pull you down. You can reject evil and embrace everything that is good. You came to earth for a purpose, and with the Lord’s help you will achieve that purpose.
I hope you realize how many are praying for you. There are so many prayers offered in this Church every day for the youth of the Church—for the young adults. Sometime, when you have a quiet moment, I invite you to reflect on all of the prayers that are offered every day specifically for you, the rising generation. Prayers in the temples, prayers by General Authorities and general officers of the Church, prayers by stake and ward leaders, and prayers by parents, other family members, and friends—I hear many of these prayers. They’re heartfelt. I hope you will reflect on the powers that are being drawn from the heavens in your behalf.
And I hope you feel loved, not only by those who know you, but by all those who care for you and care about you even though they may never have met you. I know that if President Monson were here today, he would express his love to you. We have a living prophet who loves the youth of this Church.
My wife and I are so grateful to this choir for singing the song “I Will Give Myself to Him.” We wrote the song for our missionaries while serving in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission, but the words apply to all of us throughout our lives. The first verse says:
These are the words of someone reflecting on the blessings of the Atonement, the blessings of feeling the love of our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ. We all have moments like this—moments when we know the Lord is mindful of us.
I invite you to reflect right now on the blessings that you feel as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and if there is someone in this audience who is considering joining the Church, I invite you to reflect on a blessing you are seeking. Then I would like you to share that blessing with the person sitting next to you. If you’re not acquainted with that person—even better—you can become acquainted as you share. Share as many blessings as you can in the next minute or two.
I recently invited a group of students to my home to discuss the topic for this evening. Let’s see what they said when I asked them to share their feelings about blessings in their lives:
Male 1: The knowledge that I have—the knowledge of the plan of salvation, my Heavenly Father, and what He’s like and what He wants for me, and knowing what I can do to live my life in harmony with what He wants for me. Blessings that come from the sealing power and from temples on the earth—knowing that I can be with my family forever, as a family.
Female 1: The knowledge of the Atonement, and then the ability to gain access to the power that comes through the Atonement. A lot of it is through the ordinances of the priesthood and feeling a very real connection with my Heavenly Father through those ordinances and the covenants that I make with Him. To have power in our lives, to have strength and all the things that we need to get back to Him.
Female 2: The opportunity and privilege to have the gift of the Holy Ghost with us always, to guide our decisions in submitting our wills and to give us that comfort and strength and that power to make it through this life and then to be with Him forever afterwards.
Male 2: I feel like all of these are blessings of the priesthood that are available to both men and women. I’m really grateful for the priesthood that was restored so that we could have all of these blessings: the temple, the Holy Ghost, the opportunity to access the Atonement.
Female 3: How grateful I am to know I can progress and that this life is not about being apathetic or sitting on a fence—or sitting anywhere. It’s about standing up and going somewhere. And to me, progression is so essential to know that that happens and that it can still happen even beyond death.
Male 3: The Book of Mormon. As a student I spend so much time reading stuff that I have to have this guard—like, Is this true? What assumptions do they have? How am I going to sift through all the stuff they’re saying? But I feel like I can just take off my shoes, so to speak, when I read the Book of Mormon. Because it’s just true—translated by the gift and power of God.
Without the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, we would have none of the blessings my friends just mentioned. Reflecting on our blessings gives us strength to move forward in life, but we all know that moving forward is challenging. This is mortality, and mortality is not easy. The second two verses of the song the choir sang say:
This time I invite you to write down—or simply make a mental note—of challenges that you are facing right now in your life, concerns that sometimes keep you awake at night.
I asked my friends who came to my home what their challenges were, and this is what they said:
Female 2: Lots of thoughts right off the bat! One thing I was thinking is that it’s easy to tie your worth and your identity with accomplishments: I haven’t gotten married yet, or I haven’t gotten a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree yet, or those things you do or don’t accomplish.
Male 2: Maintaining the spirituality that we had while we were serving full-time for the Lord. That’s something that I have to choose daily, whether I will be able to continue the same habits that I developed on the mission or not.
Male 1: One of the biggest things that brought the Spirit into our lives during the mission was our opportunity to minister and to bear testimony that continues through home and visiting teaching and through fellowshipping—with great opportunities to do many meaningful things. And that same Spirit can be with us as we minister to others.
Male 3: Finding the right balance between being guided by the Spirit and inspiration in the decisions you make in your life and just making them. Some people just seem like they have a lot of guidance from the Lord. And some people just have to work on things and just go for it before they know what’s right or not.
Female 1: An overarching theme, like delayed blessings and understanding that they will come at some point. But just having that faith and trust and submitting our will to Heavenly Father.
Female 3: Why do bad things happen to good people? Or hard things—really, really difficult things—happen to good people? That has been something that has been on my mind. For example, I just found out my dad has cancer. And I thought, “How does that happen to a man who has served so much?”
Whatever your challenge, I testify that the topic we will discuss this evening can help you overcome it.
To begin, let’s reflect for a moment on our last CES devotional. In the apostolic blessing that Elder Russell M. Nelson pronounced on that occasion, he said, “I bless you … that [God’s] will may be done by you and through you.”3 Consider the power of these words. If God’s will is to be done by us and through us, then our will needs to be the same as God’s. We need to want what He wants.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said: “As you submit your wills to God, you are giving Him the only thing you can actually give Him that is really yours to give. Don’t wait too long to find the altar or to begin to place the gift of your wills upon it!”4
This evening I invite you to consider with me three questions: (1) What is the meaning of the word will? (2) How do we give our will to God? and (3) How can we know that we’re succeeding?
First, what does the word will mean? We don’t often talk about will, at least using that word. Sometimes we say “willpower.” For example, “I just don’t have the willpower to resist that cheesecake.” So will is the “inclination to do something,”5 the desire that causes us to act.
If you ask people in the United States to name the two most important things for our physical health, nearly 95 percent say “diet and exercise”—like we would think. Then, if you ask these same people, “Are you eating right and exercising enough?”—what do you think they would say? Between 5 percent and 10 percent say they are. There is an obvious gap between knowing something and doing it. Most people know what they should do, but few have the will to do it.
An example from our mission shows that when we get help we can develop the will to do what we know we should do.
One of our assistants on our mission once said to his companion, “Hey, I’ve gained 30 pounds since I came on a mission. I can’t go home like this. Could you help me lose some weight?” (He was on a basketball team, and he didn’t want to go back like that.)
His companion agreed.
Soon after that I was following these two missionaries in a buffet line. The missionary who wanted to lose weight went to pick up a brownie. His companion whispered in his ear, “You don’t want that.”
The hungry missionary, a little put out, said, “Oh, yeah, I do want that.”
“No, you don’t want that; you really don’t,” counseled his companion.
The missionary did not take the brownie.
This missionary wanted to lose weight, but he needed help overcoming his desire for that brownie. Remember that line in the song that said, “How will I help them try?” The companion was helping his fellow missionary try to do what he really wanted to do but could not do without a little outside help from someone else. He was trying to help this missionary see that his desire to be healthy could overcome his desire for that brownie. He was trying to help him strengthen his will.
The adversary would have us believe that there is no such thing as will—that we have no choice but to follow our own natural impulses—to eat as many brownies as we can. Some mistakenly believe that our will is predetermined by our genes and that we have no control at all over it.
To show how pivotal a question this is, I share an excerpt from a recent news article. The author is a respected professor of biology. Here’s how he begins his essay entitled “Why You Don’t Really Have Free Will.” This title caught my eye because, as a member of the Church, I know that we do have will.
He explains that the decisions we think we make, we don’t really make at all. Speaking of the choices we made for breakfast this morning, he says: “You may feel like you’ve made choices, but in reality your decision … to have eggs or pancakes [this morning] was determined long before you were aware of it—perhaps even before you woke up today. And your ‘will’ had no part in that decision.”6
So, he is saying that we have no will, no control over our desires. We are simply subject to whatever our genes dictate. When I read this article, I wanted to tell him about our missionary. He actually did make choices. He did lose his 30 pounds. His will overcame his bodily desires.
We learn from revelation, both ancient and modern, that we do have agency, that we do have will, that we do have desires, and that those desires can change. Elder Russell M. Nelson, in the most recent general conference, said: “We can change our behavior. Our very desires can change. How? … Permanent change … can come only through the healing, cleansing, and enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”7
When Elder Maxwell said that our will is the only thing we can really give to God, he was teaching that anything else we give is something that God already gave to us. When we give tithes or offerings, we are simply giving back to God what He first gave to us. Any money we earn in this life, for example, comes to us because of God’s creations. If we give our time, we are giving what God already gave to us—our days upon the earth. But when we give our will to Him, this is a gift that is uniquely ours to give. When we give our will, we are giving ourselves totally, withholding nothing.
Here’s what my friends said when I asked them to search the scriptures and then give their thoughts about the meaning of the word will:
Male 3: Being “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [them], even as a child doth submit to his father.”8 So that’s talking about yielding and submitting and being willing. Then we kind of got talking about it, and it led us to this other scripture in Helaman 3.
Male 1: Helaman 3:35—“Yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.”
Female 3: This doesn’t happen all at once, I don’t think, but it’s definitely a process that comes with time and work.
Male 2: I feel almost like you gain momentum. As you make the right choice, it’s easier to make the right choice the next time. Prayer and daily scripture study and pondering and writing in a journal.
Female 2: In Mosiah 5:2, it talks about how they describe the mighty change within us and in our hearts that we had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”
Female 1: It’s funny because we were reading the exact same scriptures, but we were having a totally different conversation. I really did think that was super powerful in Helaman 3:35, about yielding our hearts unto God and how that sanctifies us. I think it involves a lot of trust to yield to Him and say, “No, I’m going to trust right now that your plan is perfect. I’m going to give you my will and allow you to then use that to mold me and become who you need me to be.”
Male 2: We were talking about the War in Heaven—how we fought for agency and how we decided to follow Christ and do what He would have us do. We talked about how in this life it’s almost a battle of wills: Will we decide to desire what Christ would want, to become like He is, rather than just saying that we will do the things that He asks us to—will we want to do them?
So, giving our will to the Lord does not mean that we give up our agency. In reality, the opposite is true. The more we give our will to the Lord, the more our own ability to exercise our moral agency grows. Knowing what God wants us to know, saying what He wants us to say, doing what He wants us to do all lead us to being what He wants us to be. God gave us agency so we could yield ourselves to Him, not so we could succumb to temptation.
When you look inside and dig down deep, you can find the desires that lead to your most prized actions. You’ll notice that I did not say “that lead to any actions”—because some of our actions are not motivated by our deepest, most strongly held desires. Some actions happen with little thought. Some actions even seem to go completely against what we most deeply desire.
A young man once came to me for help in the repentance process. While describing the sorrow he felt for what he had done, he said, “Looking back on it, I can’t believe I actually did it. It’s like somebody else did it and not me.” Deep in his heart he did not want to do what he had done, but somehow the natural man took over, and he yielded to the enticings of the adversary rather than to the enticings of the Holy Ghost, who would have helped him resist temptation.9 He was talking about will. He wanted to be good, but there was some part of him—some aspect of his own will—that he had not yet yielded. He was withholding that little part, and that’s what led him to do something he regretted. But he came to a priesthood leader to make things right—to be who he really was, a faithful son of his Father in Heaven. He came so he could try to yield all of his will to the Lord, this time withholding nothing.
This young man experienced a change of heart. He had “no more [desire] to do evil, but to do good continually.”10 His desires had changed, and because his desires had changed, his conduct also changed. He was putting off the natural man and yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. A change of heart is a change of motive, not only a change in action. We need to do good things, but even more, we need to do them for the right reason.(click to view larger)
This diagram helps me understand the relationship between our motives or desires and our actions. When we’re on the covenant path of discipleship, our motives are pure and our actions are righteous. We do good things because we love the Lord and His children. But it is also possible to do a good thing with an unrighteous motive. Then we are acting as the hypocrites—we do good because we want to look good, or because we want to look better than somebody else.
If we do an unrighteous act with an unrighteous motive, we are, as the scriptures say, “willfully [rebelling] against God.”11 Those in this frame are proud of the bad things they do. But when we really want to be good but slip and fall, we are yielding to the natural man or woman within us. When we find ourselves anywhere other than on the path of discipleship, we need to draw upon the powers of the Atonement by repenting, and we will once again be on the right path.
This repentance process is clearly a process of changing desires. It is a process of making space for the Spirit. And when we make space for the Spirit, there is no space left for sin.
So, our will is the collective force of our desires or motives. Our will underlies our actions. How do we go about strengthening our will? How can we give our will to the Lord? I invite the choir to sing again the chorus of the song they sang at the opening of our devotional this evening. Listen carefully to the words:
We can all say what He wants said.
While serving as a stake president, I interviewed a sister who had recently married. I asked, “How is your marriage going?”
She responded, “Well, it’s okay, I think. We don’t fight very much.”
I asked, “What do you mean, very much?”
She said, “Well, you know, all married couples fight.”
I responded, “Not all married couples. My wife and I don’t fight. My parents didn’t fight.”
We then had a great conversation about how she and her husband could talk to each other in love rather than in frustration or harshness.
We can say what the Lord would have us say. We can eliminate harshness from our words and our tone. We can lift and build others rather than tearing them down.
I once accompanied Elder Jeffrey R. Holland to reorganize a stake presidency. When we entered the hotel where we were staying, he recognized a hotel clerk and asked her, “So, how’s that nice boyfriend of yours?”
She said, “Oh, we broke up just a few weeks ago.”
He said, “Well, you’ll find another one, and he’ll be even better.”
She smiled, and we went on. The next day I watched as Elder Holland complimented members and leaders, one after another. He did it with ease in such natural ways that everyone we met felt better about themselves and about life—just because he built them up.
We can all do this. If the Savior were here, He would uplift everyone in His path, just as He did when He was here upon the earth. We can all say what He wants said.
When someone asks me what it is like serving with General Authorities, the first thing that comes to my mind is the love that I feel when I’m around them. One might think that standing at the podium in the Conference Center is impossibly intimidating because the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are sitting right behind you as you speak. But they somehow give you the feeling you can actually do it.
As soon as you’ve finished speaking, the Twelve extend their hand and thank you for your contribution to the meeting as you make your way back to your seat. The first time this happened, I was a little taken aback. I was not expecting them to be quite so expressive, but they are. They build everyone in their path, just as the Savior did. This is really the hallmark of President Monson.
President Monson shows love to everyone. Following one of the sessions at October conference, President Monson saw a young boy waving to him. He bent over the rail and motioned for the boy to come closer. And then he shook his hand. The boy was understandably very excited.
On another occasion, following a performance in the Conference Center, President Monson stayed after the meeting to shake hands with as many youth as possible. He walked onto the stage and approached a group of young people with severe disabilities. Even though these youth could not respond verbally to President Monson, the smiles on their faces showed how much they appreciated his handshake and hearty greeting.
If we are reaching out to others, then our capacity to reach out increases even more. This is one of the clearest indicators that we are giving our will to God.
So, we can say what the Lord wants us to say. We can also do what He wants done. Sometimes actions matter more than words.
When we were raising our family, my wife got a serious infection and had to be hospitalized. I was trying to put food on the table and take care of our five young children while she was recuperating. But I didn’t have to work very hard to put food on the table. Meals were delivered to our door one after another—so many, in fact, that we couldn’t eat them all. So, I began putting these meals in the freezer until it was full.
These actions might seem small in comparison to some acts of compassionate service, but I will tell you that those meals meant a lot. They rescued me. My wife was weak, and I was discouraged. But I could just go to the freezer to see what was for dinner that evening. With every meal those good ward members delivered to our doorstep, they were giving their will to God. They were doing what He wanted done.
Those ward members had pure motives to help a family in need, but it’s possible to do a good thing with an improper motive. Then, as the scriptures teach, the good thing we do is actually counted as evil because our heart was not right.13 We did the good deed, but we did it reluctantly. So, desires are everything. We need to want what God wants. We need to say what He wants said because we want to say what He wants said. We need to do what He wants done because we want to do what He wants done. And we need to be a witness of God’s Beloved Son because we want to be a witness. Then we know we are giving our whole soul to Him—no little piece of us wants to do something contrary to His will.
Saying and doing the right things become easier as we make promises to the Lord.
Covenants play a central role in the development of will. When we are baptized, we covenant to take the Lord’s name upon us—to do what He would have us do. Then, every Sabbath day we renew that covenant. We witness to our Heavenly Father anew that we are still willing to take the Lord’s name upon us and remember Him and keep His commandments. Each time we worthily take that piece of sacramental bread in our hand or press that cup of water to our lips, we are giving our will to Him. We are saying, “I will be a witness to the world of God’s Beloved Son.”14
When we are sealed in the temple to our eternal mate, we again make covenants that strengthen our will. We can feel the strengthening power of the Atonement every time we enter God’s holy house. It is there that we covenant to consecrate ourselves to the Lord. This is why Elder Maxwell said, “Don’t wait too long to find the altar [and] to place the gift of your wills upon it.”15 He may have been speaking metaphorically, but he was, I believe, also speaking clearly about how we can give our will to God by making and keeping covenants with Him.
So, we do all we can to give ourselves to Him—our heart, our will, our soul. The more we follow this path, the more the Lord will bless us with His love. And the more we feel His love, the more we know we are succeeding in giving our will to Him.
I hope we are learning something this evening that will help us fulfill Elder Nelson’s blessing—that God’s will can be done by us and through us. When I asked my friends what they had learned, this is what they said:
Male 2: I think I’ve often coupled agency and giving my will to God, and this has helped me see them as two different things. I feel like I do a lot of the right things, but now that makes me want to go and purify the motive so that I can become what He wants me to become.
Female 2: I love making connections. I’m thinking, okay, this is what’s happening in my life, and oh, this is what I’ve been studying, and oh, this person said that. And, so, I guess I’ve just been making a lot of connections.
Male 1: No matter what our challenges, we just need to give more of ourselves to God. It’s like President Eyring says: “Hard as things seem today, they will be better in the next day if [we] choose to serve [God] this day.”16
Male 3: Giving your heart and your will to God … the first thing He does with it is He sanctifies it. It’s not like we’re all just giving our hearts to God and He just puts them in a big vault and says, “Yes, one more heart for me to enjoy.” He takes it and sanctifies it and proves it and gives it back to us and says, “Now go use this and do great things.” I just never really thought about what happened after you gave it to Him. I thought that was kind of the end, but that’s just the beginning.
Female 3: I know I don’t know everything, and it seems like the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. But I do know that God lives. And I think today was just more of a confirmation of that—that He is aware and He really is anxious and waiting and wants to bless His kids, and that’s us.
Female 1: About three days ago I got a priesthood blessing for something coming up in my life. And something said in the blessing was how I needed to have more trust in God and submit my will. But for some reason, during that blessing I felt very specifically that I needed to go and study that and what does that mean more deeply. How does that change the things I do every day and all day long and how to submit myself fully to Him.
So, giving our will to the Lord is something we do every day. It is not an isolated act. It is not the end, but just the beginning. We can say what He wants said. We can do what He wants done. We can be a witness to the world of God’s Beloved Son—all because we want to do these things. When this change happens in our heart, our gratitude for the Atonement increases so much that we are strengthened by it continually.
Alma said, “If ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”17
The song of redeeming love is a song of rejoicing in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is not necessarily a song with notes and lyrics; it is a song of feelings. The words we might use to express our gratitude when we want to sing the song of redeeming love are constantly changing, depending upon the specific blessings we receive. But this feeling of gratitude for the Savior is like a song. It can play itself over and over again in our heart every time we think about how the Redeemer has saved us from everything that would pull us down.
That is why Alma asked if we felt like singing it now. Now is the moment that matters. If we feel like rejoicing in the Atonement of Jesus Christ right now, then our heart is right. We are giving our will to Him, and He is strengthening our will. If we are attracted to the things of the world, our heart is not right, and our will is not being strengthened.
In the latter part of the Book of Mormon, the Nephites, who had once been a righteous people, turned away from the Lord. They began to boast in their own strength rather than rejoicing in the strength of the Lord. They willfully rebelled against God. And what happened to them? They were left to their own strength—to the point that they lost everything.18
We don’t want to do that. We know we cannot make it on our own in this life. We just can’t do it. We need the Lord’s help. We need the help of each other. We simply can never rely on our own strength alone. The Lord’s outstretched arms invite us to be strengthened by Him so that we are never left to our own strength alone.19
I know that we can accept His invitation to come and be strengthened, to come and be forgiven, to come and feel His infinite love. Then, with a smiling heart, we will want to sing the song of redeeming love. Not just once in a while—we will want to sing this song always. When we feel strength to do something difficult, we will sing the song in our heart. When we allow truth to find us and enlarge our soul, we will sing the song. When we feel forgiven, we will sing the song. And when we feel His love, we will sing the song.
Each time we sing it, we will be giving our will to Him, the only gift we have to give Him. He will not only accept this gift, He will expand it and deepen it. He will cause us to feel more capable. He will help increase our capacity to love and be loved. He will lead us out of darkness into light. He will heal and help us in ways that permit us to forgive and be forgiven.
I testify that He is our Savior and Redeemer. I testify that His Father loved us enough to send Him to earth to live and die for us. I know that this is His Church. I know that His living prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, understands the needs of the membership of the Church and knows how to help us find our way back home. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2013 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 1/13. Language. PD50048935 000
1. Russell T. Osguthorpe and Lola Osguthorpe, arr. Steve Schank, “I Will Give Myself to Him” (2009).
2. Russell T. Osguthorpe and Lola Osguthorpe, “I Will Give Myself to Him.”
3. Russell M. Nelson, “Youth of the Noble Birthright: What Will You Choose?” (Church Educational System devotional, Sept. 6, 2013); LDS.org.
4. Neal A. Maxwell, “Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 46.
5. Oxford English Dictionary, “will”; oed.com.
6. Jerry A. Coyne, “Why You Don’t Really Have Free Will, USA Today, Jan. 1, 2012; usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2012–01–01/free-will-science-religion/52317624/1.
7. Russell M. Nelson, “Decisions for Eternity,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 108.
8. Mosiah 3:19.
9. See Mosiah 3:19.
10. Mosiah 5:2.
11. Mosiah 15:26.
12. Russell T. Osguthorpe and Lola Osguthorpe, “I Will Give Myself to Him.”
13. See Moroni 7:9.
15. Neal A. Maxwell, “Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been,” 46.
16. Henry B. Eyring, “This Day,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 91.
17. Alma 5:26.
18. See Helaman 4:13.
19. See Matthew 11:28.