Keep It Simple


From a devotional address delivered at Brigham Young University on February 16, 1988.
Living the gospel isn’t complicated. It begins with such simple things as talking to our Heavenly Father in prayer.

The gospel is based upon simple principles—things like prayer, faith, and repentance. I think they are as plain and simple as anything in the whole world can possibly be. I am going to tell you three simples stories about prayer, faith, and repentance.

Prayer is the way we talk to the Lord. We bow before Him and in humble prayer we pour out the feelings of our heart, thank Him, and ask Him for special blessings. If we have simple faith, those answers will come.

I remember one day when I was serving in the mission field under President Matthew Cowley. We arrived at the home of Brother Stewart Meha, a great and wonderful Maori man.

When it came time for the evening meal, Brother Meha stood on his front porch and shouted “Come on home for supper. Come on home for prayer.”

Soon family members came from every direction. We all assembled in his home in the big front room, in a large circle. Brother Meha was at the head of the circle, President Cowley was on his left, and I was next to President Cowley.

Brother Meha said to the little boy on his right, “You start.” I bowed my head in anticipation of the little boy’s prayer. Instead of praying, he quoted a scripture, after first reciting the chapter and verse. Then the young person next to him recited a scripture with the reference. After about four scriptures had been given, I realized that we were going around the circle, with each person quoting a different passage. One youngster started to quote one that had already been used, and he was quickly corrected.

I immediately began to think of a scripture I could quote when my turn came. I mentally polished my scripture and had no sooner silently rehearsed it when one of the young people gave that exact scripture. But I still had one in reserve. I worked a little on it, only to hear someone directly across from me quote it. I then panicked as I realized that I could not think of another scripture I could give.

My turn was coming closer and closer, and I felt tension building within me. My mind went totally blank. In my moment of greatest concern, President Cowley nudged me with his elbow, and out of the side of his mouth, said, “Quick—tell me a scripture. I can’t think of a single one to say.” I then realized that the two of us were in the same desperate situation.

At that moment it was my turn. I bravely said the first article of faith. President Cowley followed by quoting the second article of faith, and then Brother Meha prayed. When the prayer was finished, a little boy about eight years of age came over to us and said, “I guess you two guys don’t know that the Articles of Faith are not allowed in our scripture study.”

That was an excellent example to me of family prayer and how children can be taught the scriptures. Prayers do not need to be long or complicated; they need only to be simple and sincere. If we listen with faith, we will hear His answers.

Now let me say something about faith. Faith is the first principle of the gospel. No one seems to have enough faith; the faith of most of us seems to come and go. We all need a little bit more. Faith is simply knowing that the Lord is there and that He will keep His promises to those who humbly approach Him.

Let me tell you an unusual experience that happened to me while I was presiding over the Florida Mission. It all started when I received a letter from a sister named Flavia Salazar Gomez.

In her letter, Flavia stated she had joined the Church when she was about 12 years old, and had been very active in Mexico. Later she had fallen in love with a Dominican man, married him, and moved with him to the Dominican Republic. Flavia thought she was the only Latter-day Saint in the whole country of five million people. She mentioned that she had a year-old baby boy who had not been named or blessed.

She wrote that she was seriously ill with cancer and had been told she did not have very long to live. She asked if it would be possible for someone holding the priesthood to come to Santiago to bless her baby and to give her a blessing.

I wrote to her and told her we would get there as soon as possible. There was one Latter-day Saint family living in Santo Domingo—Dale Valentine and his wife and children. I wrote Brother Valentine and asked if he would take me to Santiago so we could find Flavia and give her a blessing.

When we arrived at the outskirts of Santiago, Brother Valentine asked me where Flavia lived. At that moment we realized that none of us knew exactly. We didn’t have a street address; all I knew was her name and that she was hoping we would come.

We stopped for a few minutes on a high point overlooking the city. I told Brother Valentine to drive into the city and turn to the left. He obediently drove on. I then told him to make a right turn and proceed toward the center of this large, congested city.

I said, “Go to the next corner; make a right turn; and after you turn, you will find an empty parking place.”

He drove to the corner and made the right turn. There in front of us was an open parking place. We parked, got out of the car, and stood. “Now what do we do?” he asked.

I said, “Let’s just start asking people.”

There was a man on the sidewalk leaning up against the front of a residence. Brother Valentine went over to him and asked him in Spanish if he knew Flavia Salazar Gomez.

Surprised, the man said, “Yes, she’s my wife. She’s just inside that door.” We had parked in front of their home.

Flavia’s husband went inside and she came out onto the sidewalk with her baby. We were invited into the home and were delighted to know that she was living the Word of Wisdom and that she prayed every day. Because of her illness, she couldn’t attend church, but she felt she was a good, faithful member.

We named and blessed the little boy, and then I asked Brother Valentine to give Sister Gomez a blessing in Spanish. I felt impressed to tell him to bless her that she would recover from her cancerous condition and become well.

Six months later, I stopped in Santo Domingo and Brother Valentine drove me to where Flavia and her husband were living. We found her in good health, looking well and happy. She told us she had been completely cured.

When this lovely young mother had needed a priesthood blessing, she knew there was no way to receive one except to ask the Lord to help her. So she had very simply written a letter to the mission president, whom she didn’t know. The mission president had read her letter and immediately done what the Lord told him to do: he had arranged to go and answer her need. It was that simple.

Repentance is just about as simple as prayer and faith. All that we really have to do to repent is to quit doing what is wrong and then make amends as much as we can to rectify the problems we have created. Then we must tell the Lord about it, and sometimes we need to tell the bishop or the branch president; but it can all be handled in a simple, practical way.

Let me read from Doctrine and Covenants 58:42–43: [D&C 58:42–43]

“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.

“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”

Nothing is more direct or simple than that scripture.

There was a man by the name of Syd who lived in a little Maori village on the east coast of New Zealand. At that time there was a large branch of the Church there with about 400 members. One Saturday afternoon President Cowley arrived at this village and went to see his old friend Syd.

As a young man, Syd had been an outstanding athlete. He had attended high school and college in the United States. He had become a well-known basketball player, and, as an all-star athlete, he had received a lot of publicity.

Syd had been ordained a seventy while he had lived in the United States, and when he returned to New Zealand, he had found that he was the only seventy in the whole area, and he didn’t have a quorum to belong to. He had become somewhat inactive, and he hadn’t been keeping the Word of Wisdom, but deep within his heart he still knew the gospel to be true.

President Cowley found Syd sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch, smoking a cigar.

After they had talked and laughed for a while, President Cowley became serious and said, “Syd, I want you to come to church tomorrow.”

They both looked toward the old chapel that was there, and Syd said, “I think it’ll fall in if I do. I haven’t been there for a long time. I don’t think I’d better risk it.”

President Cowley said, “Syd, I want you to be there. I’m going to do something important tomorrow.”

Syd inquired, “What are you going to do?”

President Cowley answered, “I’m going to release the branch president and put in a new one.”

Syd said, “Why don’t you just tell me who the new branch president will be, and then I won’t have to get myself cleaned up for church in the morning.”

President Cowley said, “Well, I’ll tell you who it is. It’s going to be you.”

Syd pulled that old cigar out of his mouth, looked at it, and said, “President, you mean me and my cigar?”

President Cowley said, “No, Syd—just you. We don’t need your cigar.”

Then Syd threw the cigar out on the ground in front of the porch. He thought for a minute, turned to President Cowley, and very humbly said, “I don’t break the Word of Wisdom anymore. I’m a full-tithe payer. I’ll be the branch president, and I’ll be worthy. Tomorrow morning I’ll be there, and I promise you that I’ll be the best branch president in the whole country. You won’t have to worry about me and whether or not I’m living the gospel.”

For the next several years, Syd served as one of the strongest and finest leaders in the mission. His son became the first bishop in the ward when the stake was created. His grandson also served as a bishop. Syd’s whole family is strong and active in the Church today and one of the great families in New Zealand. Why? Because old Syd knew how to repent. He repented on the spot. He remained a faithful Saint until the day he died.

My whole purpose in telling you these stories is to bear testimony to you that simplicity is possible. It is absolutely possible to live righteously and properly in a simple way.

Our Heavenly Father hears our prayers, so pray!

He will give us faith, so ask Him for it!

He will help us to repent, so repent as needed!

In the most simple way I know, I bear to you my humble witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and the head of this Church. May we all be the kind of followers of Christ that we ought to be.

[photos] Photography by John Luke