“Preparation Precedes Performance,” Ensign, Sept. 1993, 70
You, the priesthood of God, represent a truly magnificent sight this evening. Young and old, you are part of the mighty army of the Lord. You are on His errand and are entitled to His help, for whom God calls, God qualifies.
In the races we ran as schoolboys, we would signal the start of the race with the expression, “Ready, get set, go!” And we were off and running. Later, when I was in young manhood training for service in the navy, one element of that training involved a grueling day at the rifle range. Over and over again we would hear the command, “Ready, aim, fire!” No one returned to barracks until all had qualified.
In a very real sense, all of you who hold the Aaronic Priesthood are entering the most exciting and challenging period of your young lives, even the race of life. Danger abounds, enemies lurk; but God is near to guide your way and ensure your victory. May I suggest four guides which, when followed, will assure your success in every endeavor you undertake:
Grow in wisdom.
Walk by faith.
Teach through testimony.
Serve with love.
Let us for a few minutes discuss each of these guides to your success.
First, grow in wisdom. There is but little recorded concerning the boyhood of the Master, even the Lord Jesus Christ. We marvel at His experience in the temple and His response when His loved ones “found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
“And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.
“And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
“And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? …
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”1 I think it most interesting that Jesus was twelve years old when this event transpired—the identical age when you were ordained deacons.
As you who hold the Aaronic Priesthood prepare yourselves in the classrooms of learning, that you can better meet the challenges of life, please remember the advice of Henry Ford, the American industrialist, who said: “An educated man is not one whose memory is trained to carry a few dates in history. He is one who can accomplish things. A man who cannot think is not an educated man, however many college degrees he may have acquired. Thinking is the hardest work anyone can do, which is probably the reason why we have so few thinkers.”2
That which we seek in life requires effort, preparation, study, and perseverance—and the determination to choose the right when a choice is placed before us.
Just because men can think the right thing does not mean that they will heed it. We remember Pierre, one of the central characters in Tolstoy’s monumental work War and Peace. Torn by spiritual agonies, Pierre cries out to God, “Why is it that I know what is right and I do what is wrong?” We can know what is right, but we don’t always have the will to do what is right.
In Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey bemoans his fate. Shorn of his power, deserted by his friends, he cries out: “Had I but served my God with half the zeal / I served my king, He would not in mine age / Have left me naked to my enemies.”3 The sweetness of success had turned into the bitter wormwood of disappointment and defeat.
In a little different category, let us turn to a favorite of every boy—even Huckleberry Finn—as he, through the pen of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, taught us a lesson. Forgive the English, but Huckleberry Finn is talking:
“It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. … I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing … ; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.”4
My young brethren, make every decision pass the test, “What does it do to me?” And let your code emphasize not “What will others think?” but rather, “What will I think of myself?”
I know of no better formula to help each of us to grow in wisdom than is found in the seventeenth chapter of Alma:
“And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.
“Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
“But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.”5
Second, walk by faith. A deacon with whom I became acquainted is not with us tonight. I speak of Aaron Daniel Bower, who died of the ravages of spina bifida and leukemia at home on January 26. Aaron was really a living miracle. In his short lifetime of thirteen years, his small body underwent thirty-three major surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy, along with innumerable lab tests and diagnostic procedures. Aaron, however, taught us valuable lessons. He always chose to do the loving deed, speak the kind word, and was a friend to everyone he met. His smile lit up the world. He taught us courage, compassion, and unconditional love.
Aaron treasured the Aaronic Priesthood which he held, and even though it was difficult for him to climb stairs, he was still able to accept an assignment to take the sacrament to those seated on the stand. When he became confined to a wheelchair, Aaron was able to hold the bread or water trays on his lap. The other deacons would seek the privilege of wheeling Aaron around as he helped pass the sacrament. He was a superb example of one who “walked” by faith. He was a living sermon in the mode of the poet who declared, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” He was a model, fashioned by courage and faith, worthy for others to follow.
Centuries ago, a righteous and loving father by the name of Lehi took his beloved family into the desert wasteland. He journeyed in response to the voice of the Lord. But the Lord did not decree that such a “flight” be undertaken without divine help. A Liahona was provided.
The prophet Alma explained that this Liahona, as it was called, was really a compass prepared by the Lord. It worked for Lehi and his followers according to their faith and pointed the way they should go.6
The same Lord who provided a Liahona for Lehi provides for you and for me today a rare and valuable gift to give direction to our lives, to mark the hazards to our safety, and to chart the way, even a safe passage—not to a promised land, but to our heavenly home. The gift to which I refer is known as a patriarchal blessing. Every worthy member of the Church is entitled to receive such a precious and priceless personal treasure.
You young men are approaching the optimum time and age to receive your patriarchal blessings. Your parents and your bishop will know when the time is proper, as will you. Remember, your patriarchal blessing is your passport to peace in this life. It is a Liahona of light to guide you unerringly to your heavenly home.
Third, teach through testimony. What did the Apostle Paul say about teaching through testimony? How about the Apostle Peter? What did he teach? Paul declared to the Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”7 The late Elder Delbert L. Stapley often taught that if we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, we should not be ashamed to teach it; and if we are not ashamed to teach it, we should not be ashamed to live it. The Apostle Peter urged, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”8
Some years ago I attended a stake conference in the southern part of the United States, where Elder Stapley served as a missionary in his youth. After the conference concluded, a sister came forward and opened for my view a rather old copy of the Book of Mormon. She asked, “Do you know the man who inscribed this book when he was a missionary and presented it to my grandparents?”
I looked at the signature, immediately recognized its authenticity, and replied, “Yes, I serve with Elder Stapley.”
She then asked, “Would you please take this book to Elder Stapley with our love and tell him that his testimony and this book guided my entire family to become members of the Church.”
I wholeheartedly assented to her request. However, I waited for an appropriate opportunity when neither of us was hurried, and then I went to Elder Stapley’s office, told him of my experience, and handed him the copy of the Book of Mormon he had presented many years before. He read the inscription he had written on the title page of the book and saw his name; then great tears came to his eyes and coursed down his cheeks. Teaching through testimony had brought to him indescribable joy and profound gratitude. You young men will also earn such heavenly rewards as you follow Elder Stapley’s inspired example.
Fourth, serve with love. As bearers of the Aaronic Priesthood, you have weekly, if not daily, opportunities to serve with love. I hope each of you will live the teachings of the Lord and keep His commandments so you can qualify to be worthy to fill a mission. I want each of you to have in your life the promise of the Lord to the missionaries when He declared: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”9 Until that day dawns, you will have the privilege as a deacon, as a teacher, as a priest to prepare for such divine service.
Bishops, may I suggest that you guide the footsteps of every deacon, that he may receive a spiritual awareness of the sacredness of his ordained calling. In my life this was accomplished when a member of the bishopric asked that I, as a deacon, leave the meeting and take the sacrament to a shut-in who lived about a half mile from the chapel. He didn’t have to encourage me to leave the meeting. Tom Monson would rather be out walking across the tracks, delivering the sacrament, than staying inside. That special Sunday morning, as I knocked on the door of Brother Wright’s humble home, I heard his feeble reply, “Come in.” I entered not only his cottage but also a room filled with the Spirit of the Lord. I approached his bedside and carefully placed a piece of the bread to his lips. I then held the cup of water, that he might drink. As I departed, I saw him smile, and he moved his fingers through my blond hair and said, “God bless you, my boy.” And God did bless me with an appreciation which continues even today for the sacred emblems.
Is every ordained teacher given the assignment to home teach? What an opportunity to prepare for a mission. What a privilege to learn the discipline of duty. A boy will automatically turn from concern for self when he is assigned to “watch over” others.10
And what of the priests? These young men have the opportunity to bless the sacrament, to continue their home teaching duties, and to participate in the sacred ordinance of baptism.
On one occasion, I attended the sacrament meeting of a small branch which consisted of patients in a nursing home. Most of the members were elderly and somewhat incapacitated. During the service, a sister called out, “I’m cold; I’m cold!” Without as much as a glance, one of the priests at the sacrament table arose and walked over to this sister, removed his own suit coat, placed it around her shoulders, gave her a smile, and then returned to his duties at the sacrament table. After the meeting, he came to me and apologized for blessing the sacrament without his suit coat. Quietly, I said to him that he was never more appropriately dressed than he was that day when a dear widow was uncomfortably cold and he provided the warmth she needed by placing his jacket around her shoulders. A simple act of kindness? Yes, but much more—a genuine love and a concern for others.
A few weeks ago I received a letter from a longtime friend. He bore his testimony in that letter. I would like to share it with you tonight, since it illustrates the strength of the priesthood in one who grew in wisdom, walked by faith, taught through testimony, and served with love. I shall read excerpts of a letter from my friend Theron W. Borup. He writes:
“At the age of eight, when I was baptized and received the Holy Ghost, I was much impressed about being good and able to have the Holy Ghost to be a help throughout my life. I was told that the Holy Ghost associated only in good company and that when evil entered our lives, he would leave. Not knowing when I would need his promptings and guidance, I tried to so live that I would not lose this gift. On one occasion it saved my life.
“During World War II, I was an engineer-gunner in a B-24 bomber fighting in the South Pacific. Before the takeoff on our combat mission, a prayer was always said. One day there was an announcement that the longest bombing flight ever made would be attempted to knock out an oil refinery. The promptings of the Spirit told me I would be assigned on this flight but that I would not lose my life. At the time I was the president of the LDS group.
“The combat was ferocious as we flew over Borneo. Our plane was hit by attacking planes and soon burst into flames, and the pilot told us to prepare to jump. I went out last. We were shot at by enemy pilots as we floated down. I had trouble inflating my life raft. Bobbing up and down in the water, I began to drown and passed out. I came to momentarily and cried, ‘God save me! God save me!’ Again I tried inflating the life raft and this time was successful. With just enough air in it to keep me afloat, I rolled over on top of it, too exhausted to move.
“For three days we floated about in enemy territory with ships all about us and planes overhead. Why they couldn’t see a yellow group of rafts on blue water is a mystery. One evening a storm came up, and waves thirty feet high almost tore our rafts apart. Three days went by with no food or water. The others asked me if I prayed. I answered that I did pray and we would indeed be rescued. That evening we saw our submarine that was there to rescue us, but it passed by. The next morning it did not see us and stop. This was the last day to be in the area. Then came the promptings of the Holy Ghost. ‘You have the priesthood. Command the sub to pick you up.’ Silently I prayed, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the priesthood, turn about and pick us up.’ In a few minutes, they were alongside of us. When on deck, the captain offered us cigarettes and whiskey, which I of course refused. Later he said, ‘I don’t know how we ever found you, for we were not even looking for you.’ I knew.
“How glad I was that somewhere in my growing years, my parents and Church teachers inspired me to so live that I might have the gift and protection of the Holy Ghost.”
My dear brethren, do you with me remember the name of a popular ballad of our time, “I Did It My Way”? May I suggest that there is really a better way—even the Lord’s way. Let us learn of Him, let us follow in His footsteps, let us live by His precepts. By so doing, we will be prepared for any service He calls us to perform. This is His work. This is His church. Indeed, He is our captain, the King of Glory, even the Son of God, of whom I testify that He lives. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.