Elder Bednar Teaches Women the Spiritual Pattern of Small and Simple Things

  Melissa Merrill, Church News and Events

  • 4 May 2011

Article Highlights

  • Elder David A. Bednar was the concluding speaker at BYU's 2011 Women's Conference.
  • He taught the importance of vital spiritual patterns, such as, "By small and simple things are great things bought to pass" (Alma 37:6).
  • He used the example of a drip irrigation system to illustrate the importance of consistency in seemingly small and simple things.

"Ordinary people who faithfully, diligently, and consistently do simple things that are right before God will bring forth extraordinary results." —Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught women in the Church an important spiritual pattern: “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6), during the Brigham Young University Women’s Conference on April 29, 2011. The scripture was also the theme for Women’s Conference.

Elder Bednar began by reading Doctrine and Covenants 52:14 and then inviting the congregation to consider a specific phrase from that verse: “a pattern in all things.”

“A pattern is a guide or a model,” he said. “Patterns are used in sewing and knitting, in wood- and metalworking, and in a wide variety of other productive pursuits, activities, and jobs. Patterns help to avoid waste and unwanted deviations and facilitate uniformity that is appropriate and beneficial.”

Elder Bednar taught that vital spiritual patterns are evident in the life of the Savior, the scriptures, and the teachings of living prophets and apostles. “These spiritual patterns are now and always have been important aids to discernment and sources of direction and protection for faithful Latter-day Saints,” he said.

Among the powerful patterns the Lord uses to advance His work, Elder Bednar explained, is the pattern taught in Alma 37:6: “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.”

“Many people in our contemporary world are drawn to promises of big results that occur quickly and all at once,” Elder Bednar said. “Consider, for example, all of the money spent on lottery tickets. Recall the claims of advertising messages you have received that pledge immediate weight loss, instant health, fast hair growth, and a more youthful appearance in just 14 days. We are bombarded constantly with messages from a multiplicity of sources promoting speedy supersizing, instant gratification, and outstanding performance that will impress our families and friends.”

The adversary made “impressive assertions about big results” in similar ways in premortality, Elder Bednar said, citing Moses 4:1, 3. In contrast to Satan’s method and the methods of the world, “the Lord typically ministers ‘one by one,’” (3 Nephi 11:15) Elder Bednar taught. “He enables us to learn ‘line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little’ (2 Nephi 28:30). And He accomplishes His work by bringing to pass great things through small and simple means.”

“I believe many, if not all, of the most satisfying and memorable accomplishments in our homes, in the Church, in our jobs and professions, and in our communities will be the product of this important spiritual pattern—of simple and small things,” Elder Bednar said. “Brothers and sisters, we should find great comfort in the fact that ordinary people who faithfully, diligently, and consistently do simple things that are right before God will bring forth extraordinary results.”

He then shared three examples illustrating the truth of the pattern of “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.”

Gustavus Adolphus Perry

The first was the personal story of Gustavus Adolphus Perry, the first ancestor of Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gustavus; his wife, Eunice; and their seven children heard the message of the restored gospel in 1830 and were baptized in 1832. Over the following years they gathered with the Saints in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and then the Salt Lake Valley.

In 1997, the Perry family celebrated the 200th birthday of Gustavus Perry. In preparation for the celebration Elder L. Tom Perry’s brother “conducted extensive research” in identifying as many of Gustavus and Eunice’s descendants as he could. He found more than 10,000 of them.

Elder Bednar then quoted Elder Perry, who said: “The number overwhelmed me. I could not believe that there could be more than 10,000 descendants of Gustavus Adolphus Perry. In seven to eight generations, his family had sufficient numbers to organize three stakes of the Church” (Brigham Young University Devotional, Feb. 11, 1997, 2).

Elder Bednar continued: “In this illustration we witness the power of a profound spiritual pattern— small and simple things bringing great things to pass. A faithful husband and wife did their best to rear children in righteousness; testimony and deepening conversion to Christ persisted across the generations to grandchildren, great grandchildren, and thousands more. Many seemingly ordinary family prayers, common experiences working together, gospel conversations, tragedies and triumphs, and Sabbath days in scores of families across the generations produced a legacy of faithfulness.”

Luke and Christiana Syphus and Joseph and Adelaide Ridges

The second example Elder Bednar shared was of Luke Syphus and Christiana Long, who are among Elder Bednar’s forebears and who joined the Church in England, married, and then, in the 1850s, emigrated to Australia.

During their five-month voyage, the Syphuses became good friends with another couple, Joseph and Adelaide Ridges, who were likewise immigrating to Australia from their native England. When the ship arrived at its destination in April of 1853, the Syphus and Ridges families lived and worked together at Pennant Hills, approximately 15 miles northwest of Sydney.

During their journey from England, the Ridges had grown to admire the Syphuses for their good habits, kindness, strength, and devotion. Luke loaned Joseph a copy of the Book of Mormon and a text of the teachings of Elder Orson Pratt. Both Joseph and Adelaide ultimately became convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel and were baptized in 1853.

Joseph, who as a child in England had been fascinated by an organ factory near his home, began building a small, seven-stop pipe organ in his spare time. Mission president Augustus Farnham suggested that Brother Ridges donate the organ to the Church in Salt Lake City, to which Joseph agreed. With the help of members and missionaries, Joseph dismantled the organ, packed the parts, and stowed the instrument in the cargo hold of a sailing vessel, the Jenny Lind. In 1856 the Ridges and the Syphus families and some 100 others boarded the vessel and set sail for Utah.

Upon arriving in California, the families loaded the organ in a wagon and hauled it across the desert by mule team. They arrived in Salt Lake City in June of 1857. Brother Ridges installed the small organ in the old adobe tabernacle on Temple Square, where the Assembly Hall now stands. That simple instrument was the forerunner of a great organ Brother Ridges later built—the organ for the Tabernacle on Temple Square. That instrument would take more than 10 years to construct and would eventually have two manuals, 27 pedals, 35 stops, and approximately 2,000 pipes—and would measure 20 feet long by 30 feet wide by 40 feet high (6m by 9m by 12m). It would become, Elder Bednar said, “one of the iconic symbols of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

This example also shows the “profound spiritual pattern” of small and simple things bringing great things to pass, Elder Bednar said. “Acts of kindness, of righteous influence, and of Christian compassion by Luke and Christiana were instrumental in bringing to pass the conversions of Joseph and Adelaide. A small and simple organ in Australia helped to bring forth the great Tabernacle organ. … No big results occurred quickly or all at once. Rather, by small and simple things great things were brought to pass.”

Elder and Sister Bednar’s Sons

The third example Elder Bednar shared came from his own life. After Elder Bednar completed his studies at Purdue University, the Bednar family moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas. “Susan and I were excited to learn if life truly existed after graduate school,” Elder Bednar said. “We anticipated with great excitement the adventure of a new start for our family in a wonderful community.”

But one day, one of their sons came home from school and reported that several children had told him that they could not play with him at recess because “he was a Mormon and not a Christian.” He wanted to know why these children said such things and acted this way.

“We simply told him that they did not know much about our beliefs and Church—and that he would have a terrific opportunity to be a missionary,” Elder Bednar said.

“In the months and years that followed, this son and his two brothers, along with a small number of other Latter-day Saint youth who lived in the area, endeavored to be good examples as they participated in a wide range of school activities, countless athletic contests, and many community events,” Elder Bednar related. “Our sons certainly were not perfect. ... They were quite normal, fun-loving, and often rambunctious boys. But our boys did strive to live the gospel and to be examples of the believers ‘in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity’ (1 Timothy 4:12). They declined invitations to play on all-star athletic teams if Sunday practices and play were expected. And they did not participate in activities or events that would compromise their standards.”

As their sons progressed through junior high and high school, Elder and Sister Bednar were intrigued to learn that the parents of their sons’ friends would frequently ask their children if the Bednar boys were going to attend a party or some other activity.

“Interestingly, if the answer were yes, then those parents would permit their children to attend,” Elder Bednar said. “If the answer were no, then many parents often would not allow their children to participate. We continue to cherish the associations and friendships we developed with the parents of our sons’ friends—good and God-fearing men and women who were not members of our Church,” Elder Bednar said.

Then, in 1997, the Bednars moved from Fayetteville to Rexburg, Idaho, where Elder Bednar became president of Ricks College, now Brigham Young University–Idaho. In preparing to leave, the Bednars visited a number of friends with whom they had associated for many years.

“I asked a favor of one good friend to whom I previously had given a copy of the Book of Mormon and with whom I had often talked about the Savior’s restored Church,” Elder Bednar told the audience. “I indicated to my friend that falsehoods about our Church and our beliefs often were promulgated in our community. He readily acknowledged that such things occurred. I then asked for his help. He responded that he gladly would be of assistance.

“I gave him a copy of Elder M. Russell Ballard’s book entitled Our Search for Happiness: An Invitation to Understand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and requested that he read it. I explained to him that since I would no longer be in a position to explain our beliefs and defend our Church, I needed him to do so. I invited him to become a defender of our faith in a community where Latter-day Saints often were maligned and mocked.”

Elder Bednar’s friend agreed and then said this: “We have been watching the LDS kids in the schools over the years, and we all know that you Latter-day Saints have something we do not have. I will do my best to help stop the falsehoods.”

“Such a dramatic change of perspective in just a few short years—from an elementary school playground and the taunting of a little LDS boy because he allegedly was not a Christian to an acknowledgement by prominent parents in our community that ‘you Latter-day Saints have something we do not have,’” Elder Bednar said.  

“In this example we again witness the power of a profound spiritual pattern—small and simple things bringing great things to pass. A relative handful of young men and young women lived the gospel in small and simple and ordinary ways. On countless occasions when many other youth used coarse and inappropriate language, these young disciples did not. On countless occasions when other youth engaged in improper or immoral behavior, these young disciples did not. On countless occasions many when other youth turned inward through self-centeredness and selfishness, these young disciples often turned outward with compassion and in service. No big results occurred quickly or all at once. Rather, by small and simple things, great things were brought to pass.”

He then compared the spiritual pattern he had been describing to drip or trickle irrigation, in which water is applied in a more focused and frequent way than with other methods, providing “a high moisture level in the soil wherein plants can flourish,” said Elder Bednar.

“In like manner, if you and I are focused and frequent in receiving consistent drops of spiritual nourishment, then gospel roots can sink deep into our soul, can become firmly established and grounded, and can produce extraordinary and delicious fruit,” he said.  

The spiritual pattern of small and simple things bringing forth great things produces firmness and steadfastness, deepening devotion, and more complete conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel, Elder Bednar explained.

“As you and I become increasingly steadfast and immovable, we are less prone to zealous and exaggerated spurts of spirituality followed by extended periods of slackness.

“A spiritual ‘spurter’ is one who is given to short bursts of spectacular effort followed by frequent and lengthy periods of rest,” he said. While “a big spurt may appear to be impressive in the short run, … steadiness in small things over time is far more effective [and] far less dangerous and produces far better results.”

After providing additional examples from President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) and Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004), Elder Bednar cited additional scriptures showing the principle “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass,” including Doctrine and Covenants 64:33 and 123:16–17.

“In a world of increasing wickedness, in a world where good is called evil and evil is called good, in a world that puts darkness for light and light for darkness (see 2 Nephi 15:20), you can be blessed with ‘the hope of righteousness’ (Galatians 5:5), ‘the light of the Lord’ (Isaiah 2:5), and protection against deception (see 1 Nephi 15:24; Helaman 5:12),” Elder Bednar testified.

He concluded with his witness that Jesus Christ lives and is the Light and Life of the world.

Women’s Conference, cosponsored by the Relief Society organization, was held on April 28 and 29 on the campus of Brigham Young University. For more information, visit womensconference.byu.edu.