What a marvelous opportunity to be with you tonight. It’s such an honor for my wife and me to be here this evening. I thought it was interesting that my phone knew that I had this trip to Rexburg on my calendar today. It told me what the weather would be like and gave me a list of the hotels and restaurants in town. My phone even told me about the many attractions available in Rexburg this weekend.
Hey! Now that I think about it—it didn’t list my talk as one of the attractions. I guess that’s how you know it’s a smart phone!
Even though your smartphone didn’t recommend it, each of you has chosen to spend an hour of your time with me tonight—an hour that you will never get back. So, I feel a great responsibility to make it worthwhile. But I also know that what I say won’t be as important as what the Spirit teaches you, and that will only be as valuable as your commitment to act on those promptings.
I think you will agree with me that this is a marvelous time to be alive. Sociologists named my generation the Baby Boomers, although the term hardly applies anymore; they named the next generation Generation X; and they have named you Generation Y or the Millennials. Known for your ease with technology and how you have embraced social media, you are smarter and more educated than previous generations. These characteristics not only make you extremely valuable in today’s society but also in doing the Lord’s work.
You have more choices and more opportunities than ever before. Like so many things in life, this is both a blessing and a curse. Too many choices and the fear of making bad decisions often lead to decision paralysis, which is one of the challenges of your generation. It is more difficult to focus than ever! With technology, as soon as you buy something, chances are it will be obsolete shortly after you leave the store. Too many people are afraid to commit to anything because they question whether a better option is right around the corner. So they wait—and end up choosing nothing. In this passive state they are easy targets for distraction. The antidote for that, brothers and sisters, is what I’d like to talk about this evening—living with purpose: the importance of real intent.
Imagine for a moment you are in a lifeboat on the ocean, with nothing but rolling waves in every direction, as far as the eye can see. The boat is equipped with oars, but which direction would you row? Now imagine you’ve caught a glimpse of land. Now you know the direction you must go. Does seeing land give you both motivation and purpose? People who don’t maintain a clear sense of purpose are drifters. Drifters allow the tides of the world to decide where they are going.
The life of the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, illustrates this point. Leo Tolstoy had a rocky youth. His parents died when he was about 13. Educated by his older brothers in the ways of alcohol, gambling, and promiscuity, Leo was less than diligent in his studies. At the age of 22, he began to feel that his life lacked real purpose, and he wrote in his journal, “I am living like a beast.” Two years later he wrote, “I am 24 years old and I still have done nothing.” Tolstoy’s dissatisfaction motivated him to begin a lifelong quest to find, mostly through trial and error, the purpose of his life—the why. Before he died at the age of 82, he concluded in his journal, “‘The whole meaning and joy of life,’ … lay in the search for perfection and understanding God’s will”1—and, I would add, doing God’s will.
It has been said that “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why” you were born.2 Because we have the gospel, we don’t have to spend our entire life trying to discover its purpose. Instead, we can focus on fulfilling that purpose.
In Matthew 5:48 we read, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
I think each of us has an innate yearning to improve. But because we all make mistakes, many of us are convinced that the goal of perfection is unattainable. And it would be if it weren’t for the Atonement. Our Savior’s sacrifice makes perfection possible: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32; emphasis added).
Our Savior has given us the hope that inspires us to become like our Father in Heaven. You know, as Leo Tolstoy found, that there is joy in the journey to perfection. Great purpose comes into your life when you make it your quest to follow the will of the Lord.
Elder Tad R. Callister asked: “Why is it so critical to have a correct vision of this divine destiny of godliness of which the scriptures and other witnesses so clearly testify? Because with increased vision comes increased motivation.”3
When I was a young man, I had almost decided not to go on a mission. After a year in college and a year in the army, I had a good job at a local hospital as an X-ray technician. One day Dr. James Pingree, one of the surgeons at the hospital, invited me to have lunch. In the course of our conversation, Dr. Pingree discovered that I was not planning on serving a mission, and he asked why not? I told him that I was a little older and it was probably too late. He told me that wasn’t a very good reason and that he had gone on his mission after he had finished medical school. Then he bore his testimony of the importance of his mission.
His testimony had a significant impact on me. It caused me to pray like I’d never prayed before—with real intent. I could think of a lot of reasons not to go on a mission: I was shy—so shy that the thought of giving a farewell talk in sacrament meeting was reason enough not to go. I had a job that I liked. I had a scholarship possibility that wouldn’t be available after a mission. Most importantly, I had a girlfriend who waited for me while I was in the army—and I knew that she wouldn’t wait another two years! I prayed and prayed to get confirmation that my reasons were valid and that I was right.
To my frustration, I couldn’t get the easy yes-or-no answer that I was hoping for. Then the thought came to me: “What does the Lord want you to do?” I had to acknowledge that He wanted me to serve a mission, and this became a decisive moment in my life. Was I going to do what I wanted to do or do the will of the Lord? That is a question we would all do well to ask ourselves often. What a great pattern for each of us to establish early in our lives. Many times we have the attitude of “I’ll go where you want me to go, and I’ll do what you want me to do, dear Lord—as long as it is where I want to go and what I want to do.”
Gratefully, I chose to serve a mission and was assigned to labor in the Mexico North Mission. To alleviate the suspense some of you might be feeling—I can tell you that my girlfriend didn’t wait for me, but I married her anyway! She is one of the greatest blessings in my life. Knowing the purpose of our life is to become like our Father in Heaven, I have found that there is no greater university than that of being married and having a family to teach us of God’s love for His children. Knowing what I know, I would do everything I could to get into that university if I were you. I understand open enrollment is starting right now.
When our son was just learning to talk, he had an insatiable curiosity. In his limited vocabulary his favorite word was “Why?” If I said, “It’s time to get ready for bed,” he would respond with “Why?”
“I’m going to work.”
“Let’s say our prayers.”
“Time to go to church.”
It was really cute—the first 500 times he said it. But even after the cuteness wore off and it became a little exasperating, I was thankful for the frequent reminder to examine the why behind (literally) everything I did.
I’m not sure there is much significance in the letter Y as a name for your generation, but I do think there is value in thinking of yourselves as the “Why?” Generation. It is important, in today’s world, to be intentional about why you do what you do.
Living with real intent means understanding the “why” and being aware of the motives behind your actions. Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”4 Ponder how you spend your time, and ask yourself regularly, “Why?” This will help you develop the ability to see beyond the moment. It’s far better to look ahead and ask yourself, “Why would I do that?” than to look back and say, “Why, oh, why did I do that?” If the only reason why is that God wants you to, that’s reason enough.
I learned the importance of real intent when I was a young seminary student. Our teacher challenged us to read the Book of Mormon. To keep track of our progress, he created a chart with our names down one side and the books listed across the top. Each time we read a book, a star was placed by our name. At first I didn’t put much effort into reading, and it wasn’t long before I found myself getting further and further behind. Spurred by a sense of embarrassment and my innate competitive spirit, I started reading. Every time I got a star, I felt good. And the more stars I got, the more motivated I was to read—between classes, after school, in every spare minute.
This would be a great story if I could tell you I finished first in the class—but I didn’t. (I wasn’t last either, by the way.) But do you know what I did get by reading the Book of Mormon? I know you are thinking “a testimony,” aren’t you? But I didn’t. I got stars. I got stars because that was why I was reading. That was my real intent.
Moroni was clear when he described how to find out if the Book of Mormon is true: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4; emphasis added).
Looking back, I can see that the Lord was totally fair with me. Why should I have expected to find anything other than what I was looking for? I never really stopped and asked myself why I was reading the Book of Mormon. I was drifting, letting worldly motivations guide me, only to find out that I had read the right book for the wrong reason. Real intent is doing the right thing for the right reason.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was struggling to decide whether or not to go on a mission, that I read the Book of Mormon with real intent. If I was going to spend two years bearing testimony of the book, I first needed to have a testimony.
I know that the Book of Mormon fulfills its divine purpose of testifying of the life and mission of Jesus Christ because I have read it with real intent.
The Parable of the Oranges
I would like to share a modern-day parable that I will call “The Parable of the Oranges.” As you listen, consider what this story teaches you about the power of real intent.
There was a young man who had ambitions to work for a company because it paid very well and was very prestigious. He prepared his résumé and had several interviews. Eventually, he was given an entry-level position. Then he turned his ambition to his next goal—a supervisor position that would afford him even greater prestige and more pay. So he completed the tasks he was given. He came in early some mornings and stayed late so the boss would see him putting in long hours.
After five years a supervisor position became available. But, to the young man’s great dismay, another employee, who had only worked for the company for six months, was given the promotion. The young man was very angry, and he went to his boss and demanded an explanation.
The wise boss said, “Before I answer your questions, would you do a favor for me?”
“Yes, sure,” said the employee.
“Would you go to the store and buy some oranges? My wife needs them.”
The young man agreed and went to the store. When he returned, the boss asked, “What kind of oranges did you buy?”
“I don’t know,” the young man answered. “You just said to buy oranges, and these are oranges. Here they are.”
“How much did they cost?” the boss asked.
“Well, I’m not sure,” was the reply. “You gave me $30. Here is your receipt, and here is your change.”
“Thank you,” said the boss. “Now, please have a seat and pay careful attention.”
Then the boss called in the employee who had received the promotion and asked him to do the same job. He readily agreed and went to the store.
When he returned, the boss asked, “What kind of oranges did you buy?”
“Well,” he replied, “the store had many varieties—there were navel oranges, Valencia oranges, blood oranges, tangerines, and many others, and I didn’t know which kind to buy. But I remembered you said your wife needed the oranges, so I called her. She said she was having a party and that she was going to make orange juice. So I asked the grocer which of all these oranges would make the best orange juice. He said the Valencia orange was full of very sweet juice, so that’s what I bought. I dropped them by your home on my way back to the office. Your wife was very pleased.”
“How much did they cost?” the boss asked.
“Well, that was another problem. I didn’t know how many to buy, so I once again called your wife and asked her how many guests she was expecting. She said 20. I asked the grocer how many oranges would be needed to make juice for 20 people, and it was a lot. So, I asked the grocer if he could give me a quantity discount, and he did! These oranges normally cost 75 cents each, but I paid only 50 cents. Here is your change and the receipt.”
The boss smiled and said, “Thank you; you may go.”
He looked over at the young man who had been watching. The young man stood up, slumped his shoulders and said, “I see what you mean,” as he walked dejectedly out of the office.
What was the difference between these two young men? They were both asked to buy oranges, and they did. You might say that one went the extra mile, or one was more efficient, or one paid more attention to detail. But the most important difference had to do with real intent rather than just going through the motions. The first young man was motivated by money, position, and prestige. The second young man was driven by an intense desire to please his employer and an inner commitment to be the best employee he could possibly be—and the outcome was obvious.
How can you apply this parable in your lives? How might your efforts in your family, at school, at work, and in the Church be different if you always sought to please God and do His will, motivated by your love for Him?
Avoiding Distractions—the Importance of Focus
How many times have you sat down at the computer to do homework or an assignment for work when suddenly up pops an ad for something that you had been shopping for recently? Then, as you are browsing the online stores, you notice that a few of your friends are online, so you begin chatting with them. Then you receive an alert that a friend has posted something on Facebook, and you just have to see what it is. Before you know it, you’ve lost valuable time and forgotten why you got on the computer in the first place. So many times we get distracted when we should have acted. Distractions rob you of time that could have been invested in doing good. The ability to focus helps us avoid distractions.
I know you all enjoy taking tests. So, tonight I am going to give you a quick test of your ability to focus. You will see two teams: one wearing white and one wearing black. They are going to pass a basketball, and I want you to simply count the number of passes the team in white makes.
[The awareness test video was shown.]
How many passes did you count?
Raise your hand if you counted 19 passes. How many counted 20? How many counted 21? How many counted 22?
The correct answer is 21.
All those who got it right at 21, raise your hand. Keep your hand up if you also saw an elderly woman walk, then moonwalk, across the floor. Now, keep your hand up if you saw a ninja warrior replace one of the players wearing black. Did you see players on the team wearing black put on hats?
Now take another look, and focus on something you did not see the first time.
[The awareness test video was replayed.]
We will share this video with you afterward via social media.
Our focus in life is so important. As this test demonstrates, we typically find what we are looking for. Or, as the scriptures put it, “Seek, and ye shall find” (Luke 11:9).
If we are focused on the things of the world, we can miss a whole spiritual world that is all around us. We may not be able to recognize the spiritual promptings that the Holy Ghost is anxious to give us to direct our lives and to bless others. Conversely, if we focus on the things of the Spirit and that which is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” (Articles of Faith 1:13), then we’re less likely to be sidetracked by the temptations and distractions of the world. The best way to avoid distractions is to have our focus firmly set on our purpose and be anxiously engaged in a good cause. Be careful of your focus—don’t spend time focused on climbing a mountain only to discover you have climbed the wrong one.
The Power of Small Things
Thirty-five years after I “adjusted my focus” and decided to serve a mission, my son encouraged me to visit Mexico with him and, hopefully, find some of the people I had taught. We attended a sacrament meeting in the little town where I began my mission, thinking I might recognize someone—but not a one. After the meeting, we asked the bishop if he recognized anyone from my list of people we had taught and baptized. Not a one. He explained that he had been a member for only five years. He suggested we talk to another man who had been a member for 27 years—still a long shot but worth a try. I went through my list with him without success until we got to the last name: Leonor Lopez de Enriquez.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “This family is in another ward, but they attend Church in this building. Their sacrament meeting is next; they should be here shortly.”
We only had to wait about 10 minutes before Leonor came walking into the building. Although now in her mid-70s, I recognized her immediately, and she recognized me. We shared a long, tearful hug.
She said, “We’ve prayed for 35 years that you would return so we could thank you for bringing the gospel to our family.”
As other family members entered the building, we shared hugs and tears. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my son standing with two full-time missionaries who were wiping away their tears with their ties.
As we attended sacrament meeting, it was amazing to discover that the bishop was one of Leonor’s sons, the pianist was a grandson, the chorister was a granddaughter, and there were several young men in the Aaronic Priesthood who were grandsons. One of the daughters was married to a counselor in the stake presidency. Another daughter was married to the bishop of a nearby ward. Most of Leonor’s children went on missions, and now grandsons have also served missions.
We learned that Leonor was a much better missionary than we were. Today, her children thankfully recall her tireless efforts to teach them the gospel: the importance of tithing, temples, and scripture study, of prayer and the faith to trust in it. She taught them that small decisions, over time, result in a full, righteous, and happy life, and they taught those things to others. Add it all up and there are more than 500 people who have come into the Church because of this one wonderful family. That is one of the many reasons why the Lord wanted me to go on a mission. It taught me the eternal consequences of seeking to do the Lord’s will.
It all began with a simple conversation over lunch. I often think that if Dr. Pingree had been more focused on his career or other worldly pursuits, he may never have asked why I wasn’t serving a mission. But his focus was on others and on furthering the work of the Lord. He planted a seed that has grown and has brought forth fruit and continues to compound, or multiply, exponentially. Inspired thoughts produce good deeds; good deeds produce other good deeds, and so on, eternally.
Mark 4:20 says, “These are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.”
The idea that small, simple but purposeful acts can have dramatic consequences is well supported in the scriptures. Alma taught his son Helaman:
“By small and simple things are great things brought to pass. …
“… By very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:6–7).
One of life’s early lessons should be that there is great power in the compounding effect of little things that we do each day. Small and simple things are at work in your life right now—working either for you or against you. Just as the Lord uses such things to build you up, Satan uses them to distract you and lead you slowly, almost imperceptibly, off the path.
Our challenge is that when we see a wonderful family or a financially successful person or a spiritual giant, we don’t see all the small and simple acts that produce them. We watch Olympic athletes, but we don’t see the years of daily training that made them champions. We go to the store and buy fresh fruit, but we don’t see the planting of the seed and the careful cultivating and harvesting. We look at President Monson and other General Authorities, and we sense their spiritual strength and goodness, but what we don’t see are the simple, daily disciplines repeated over and over again. These things are easy to do, but they are also easy not to do—especially because the results are not instantaneous.
We live in an instantaneous world. We want to go directly from planting to harvesting. We are so used to getting instant results—anytime we have to wait more than a few seconds for Google to answer our every question, we get irritated—but we forget that these results are the compounded effects of generations of work and sacrifice.
Alma gave Helaman counsel that is excellent for us today. Speaking of the Liahona and the “many other miracles” that guided Lehi’s family “day by day,” he said:
“Because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey. …
“O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.
“And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live” (Alma 37:40–41, 46–47).
Three Small and Simple Things
I want to emphasize three small and simple ways to “look to God” that will help us maintain our focus on our eternal purpose. None of them will surprise you—you’ve heard them many times before. But I testify that doing these things consistently and with real intent not only makes a difference, it makes all the difference. If you understand—I mean really understand—the why behind these simple disciplines, without question, you would make them a top priority in your life.
First, as we partake of the sacrament, too often we just go through the motions. As you watch this video, notice the focus that is placed on remembering, and consider why that is so important:
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “As a final and specially prepared Passover supper was ending, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to His Apostles, saying:”
Jesus Christ: “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
Elder Holland: “Since that upper room experience on the eve of Gethsemane and Golgotha, children of the promise have been under covenant to remember Christ’s sacrifice in this newer, higher, more holy and personal way. With a small cup of water we remember the shedding of Christ’s blood and the depth of his spiritual suffering.
“With a crust of bread, always broken, blessed, and offered first, we remember his bruised body and broken heart.
“In the simple and beautiful language of the sacramental prayers those young priests offer, the principal word we hear seems to be remember.
“If remembering is the principal task before us, what might come to our memory when those plain and precious emblems are offered to us?”
Jesus Christ: “And this shall ye do. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”
Text on screen: How will you “always remember” Him?5
As we always remember Him and keep His commandments, think how the compounding effect of always having His Spirit to be with us would impact every area of our lives. Imagine how it would influence our daily decisions and our awareness of the needs of others.
There are countless ways we can keep our promise to always remember the Savior in the course of a day. How will you always remember Him?
Most would say, “Pray, and study the scriptures.” And you would be right, if, and that is a big if, they are done with real intent.
Praying and studying the scriptures are the next two small and simple things that I would like to stress.
The Lord is clear about how ineffective our prayers are when we are offering them out of habit: “It [is] counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such” (Moroni 7:9).
The real intent of prayer is to open two-way communication with our Father in Heaven, with the intention to follow whatever counsel He gives: “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 37:37).
Prayer and scripture study naturally go together. When we study the scriptures and the words of our modern prophets, it primes the pump of personal revelation. The examples and warnings found in the scriptures educate our desires. This is how we grow to know the mind and will of the Lord.
Prophets past and present have pleaded with us to do small and simple things like praying and studying the scriptures. So, why doesn’t everyone do them? Perhaps one reason is that we don’t necessarily see dramatic negative consequences if we miss a day or two—just as your teeth don’t all decay and fall out the first time you forget to brush. Most of the consequences, positive and negative, will come later, over time. But they will come.
Years ago I planted two trees of the same species and the same height in my back yard. I planted one where it got a little sun daily, and I planted the other where it enjoyed full sunlight. Over the next year I didn’t notice much difference in the growth of the two trees, but then my wife and I left on a three-year mission. When we returned, I was shocked at the big difference! The compounding effect of a little more sun each day made a huge difference—over time—in the growth of the trees. The same thing happens in our lives as we expose ourselves each day to the source of all light. We may not notice an immediate change, but be assured that a change is happening inside you, and the results will be apparent in time.
This simple idea of the compounding effect of daily disciplines, with purpose and real intent, can make a big difference in all areas of your life. It can mean the difference between struggling through an ordinary life or being immensely successful and filling the measure of your creation.
I’ve often looked back on my life and wondered why it was so difficult for me to make the decision to go on a mission. It was hard because I got distracted—I lost sight of my eternal purpose. My desires and my will were not aligned with the Lord’s will; otherwise, the decision would have been easier. And why were they not aligned? I went to church, and I partook of the sacrament on Sundays—but I didn’t focus on its meaning. I prayed, but I was mostly going through the motions. I read the scriptures, but only sporadically and without real intent.
As you have listened today, I hope you have felt, through the whisperings of the Spirit, what you should do to live a deliberate and focused life. I encourage you to follow those promptings. Don’t be discouraged by thoughts of what you have already done or have not done. Let the Savior wipe the slate clean. Remember what the Lord has said: “As oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven” (Moroni 6:8; emphasis added).
Start now. Live a purposeful life. Put the power of the compounding of daily disciplines in place in the important areas of your life. I promise that a year from now you will either be glad you started today or you will wish you had.
I would like you to ponder these three questions. I invite you to share your responses on social media, using #ldsdevo.
First: Can you do it? Is it possible for you to do these three small and simple things? Can you strive to keep your covenant to “always remember him” (D&C 20:77, 79)? Can you make time to pray with real intent and study the scriptures daily?
Second: Will it work? Do you really believe the Lord’s promise? Do you believe that the compounding effect of always having His Spirit with you will have a profound influence on all aspects of your life?
Finally: Is it worth it?
I testify that it is worth it and it makes all the difference. As you do these things, you will discover that the most important “why” behind everything you do is that you love the Lord and recognize His great love for you. May you each find great joy in your search for perfection and in understanding and doing His will. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2015 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 12/14. Translation approval: 12/14. Translation of “Living with a Purpose: The Importance of ‘Real Intent.’” English. PD10053116 000