Mathematics Faculty Member
Paul Cox was born in Provo, Utah and raised in Provo and Singapore. He served a mission to Seoul, Korea. His father introduced him to his wife, Kathy, and they have worked together through the inevitable challenges of being married for 30 years. They have six children and one grandchild. Paul’s favorite church calling has been assistant nursery leader. When not teaching students about math, Paul enjoys golfing (he gets more strokes for the dollar than anyone) and watching old movies with his wife and children.
Please respond to the questions below on the devotional discussion board:
Nephi testifies that the Lord will prepare a way for us to accomplish the things he reveals for us to do. How has the Lord done this in your life? What is the most surprising way that the Lord has prepared you to be of service to someone else?
When I was 14 years old and a freshman in high school, we studied the Book of Mormon in seminary. As part of this study, we memorized a number of verses from the Book of Mormon. The first verse we memorized was 1 Nephi 3:7, the verse that Mandy just read to us. As I read Nephi’s testimony to his father, Lehi, that “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them,” I thought about what it would look like for the Lord to “prepare a way” for me to accomplish His will in my life. The image that came into my teenage mind is shown in this video clip. As you can see, I imagined the Lord bringing in bulldozers and other heavy equipment along with all the materials necessary to level out any rough spots and fill in the gaps. I also imagined Him building bridges over any rivers or ravines that might be in the way, putting down asphalt to make the way smooth, and putting up road signs so that I would know exactly where to go and how fast to go there.
I read the entire Book of Mormon that year in seminary, so I know that I read the rest of the story of Nephi getting the brass plates. However, for some reason, it did not register in my head that the “way” the Lord prepared for Nephi to accomplish His commandment included Nephi and his brothers running for their lives from men intent on killing them (twice), that it involved Nephi and his brothers having their best earthly possessions stolen, that it had Nephi and Sam being beaten up by their brothers Laman and Lemuel with a rod, that it required Nephi to go back at night to the home of a man who had sworn to kill him, not having a clue what he would do when he got there, and, finally, that Nephi had to take one man’s life and kidnap another.
Obviously, the Lord did not bring in any bulldozers or build any bridges to make Nephi’s way smooth and easy, but Nephi testifies to receiving the “tender mercies” of the Lord. It is difficult to see tender mercies in Nephi’s challenges getting the brass plates, but if we think a little we see that:
- Nephi and his brothers were given the strength to be faster than Laban’s servants so they could escape being killed.
- An angel was sent to stop Laman and Lemuel from continuing to beat up Nephi and Sam. Notice that the angel did not stop Laman and Lemuel from hitting Nephi and Sam—just from doing any permanent damage.
- Nephi was given the faith and courage to walk down that dark road to Laban’s house even though he did not know what he would do when he got there.
- And Nephi was given the strength to hold Zoram and keep him from running back to Jerusalem and raising the alarm, and then he was given the eloquence to convince Zoram to come with them.
As I have lived through the 40 years since my freshman year in high school, I have discovered that the way the Lord prepares for each of us to accomplish His will in our lives looks more like Nephi’s experience getting the brass plates than it does my naive vision of bulldozers and bridges.
I am not saying that I have ever faced anything like what Nephi faced; the closest I have come to running for my life is when some small children threw rocks at me and my companion when I was on my mission, but the children were so young and their distance from us so great that there was never any danger of being hit. The stories of violence between my brother and I are all about me being violent to him, not the other way around. However, we all face challenges as we work to fulfill the Lord’s purposes in our lives. I am very grateful to those of you who have shared your stories on the devotional discussion board this past week. I appreciate Kasandra Matus being willing to share her story with us of how the Lord prepared the way for her to receive a college education in this video. As you watch the video, think about how the Lord has prepared ways for you to accomplish His will in your life. After the video we will take time for you to briefly share the things that came to your mind with the person next to you.
[Video] "Before I graduated from high school, I felt the need to apply to a Church Education System university; however, I had no idea how to do so. And shortly after that, I found out my mom was sick with cancer, so I felt that I needed to stay at home and help my family with whatever they needed. I didn’t know exactly how things were going to turn out; however, as I prayed about it, I felt I needed to enroll in Pathway, so I did. And as I took the different classes, I learned about the different things I needed to do to apply for a college and different things I needed to do to succeed in college. And later on I reached out to people I knew could help me to successfully apply for a college, so I did, and shortly before I finished my first semester in Pathway, I was able to finish my college application and start college shortly after. And as I look back, I’m able to see all the friends, people that helped me, and all the different things I learned through all that process, and I was able to understand that if you’re meant to do something, God will always help you."
Turn to the person next to you and share one of the ways you remember the Lord having a hand in your life.
I am sorry, but I have to interrupt your discussions now. Thank you for sharing those experiences with each other. In my life, there have been a multitude of times that the Lord has prepared ways for me to accomplish the things He has inspired me to do. The one that I would like to share with you today is how the Lord guided me to become a math teacher. It started with a tender mercy given me when I was a senior in high school. Through an unusual confluence of circumstances I was given the opportunity to teach an algebra class for six weeks while the regular teacher recovered from surgery. I was pretty stressed out as I prepared for the first class period, and very nervous as I walked in the door to the classroom. The students had been warned what was coming, but still were very kind to me. They were not quite sure about having a fellow student be their teacher, but we became good friends and accomplished all of the learning objectives for the class over our weeks together. At the end of each class, I was exhausted and wondered how I would make it through the rest of the day. I had no idea the work involved in teaching, but as I continued, I came to love the experience working with the students.
Even though I loved being a teacher, I knew how much school teachers made. I was much more interested in money than in fulfillment. My priests quorum advisor was a computer scientist and told me that if I majored in computer science and math, I could make a lot of money. So, I started at BYU, declaring myself as a computer science major.
I went to a year at BYU before serving my mission, and I enjoyed my classes and did reasonably well in them. I was feeling good about my choice of major and the big house and nice cars I would have after I graduated. However, when I returned from my mission, I had not yet learned to go to the advising center to get help with choosing my classes, and I was absolutely terrified to go to a teacher and ask for advice. Ignorance and fear do not usually lead to wise decisions, and I chose very poorly. I was not prepared for the classes I enrolled in that first semester back from my mission. I failed one of my math classes and barely passed the rest.
That semester was an unhappy one for other reasons. Between missions, marriage, and internships, my close friends were no longer available to hang out with me. I did not make friends easily, so I spent the semester feeling very alone. I did not adjust well to the spiritual transition from mission life and quit my habits of frequent sincere prayer and gospel study. So I struggled spiritually. It was not a good semester.
Despite the fact that I would never want to relive that semester, the Lord used my difficulties to help guide me away from the path I had chosen and towards the path He was preparing for me. My experience was similar to how the recession in 2008 caused Brother Tanner, who spoke in devotional last week, to change from a thriving career as an artist to his current career as an educator. Like the challenges the recession caused Brother Tanner, my failures in my math and computer science classes made me reevaluate my choice of major. After consulting with advisors, parents, and teachers and a lot of prayer and fasting, I felt impressed to change from computer science to secondary education and pursue a career in teaching math.
I still had more math classes to struggle through, and student teaching was so stressful that I developed stomach problems, but I knew that I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do and I received many tender mercies—some of them truly miraculous—that made it so I could succeed in the career path He had revealed to me. I testify that when we follow the revelation we receive from the Lord, He does prepare a way for us to accomplish whatever He asks us to do.
Preparing a way for us to accomplish things in our own lives is an important part of life, but the greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbors. Just as the Lord prepares ways for us to accomplish other commandments, He certainly prepares a way for us to serve Him and His children.
One of the most surprising ways the Lord prepared me to be of service to others started when my three-year-old son became fascinated with toilets. He loved to watch the water twist around and around as it went down. He discovered that it was even more exciting when he put a toy in the water before he flushed. At the time, he had a small toy replica of the Millennium Falcon (Han Solo’s space ship in the Star Wars movies). I think he thought that it was jumping to light speed as it swirled around the toilet bowl and disappeared down the hole. Unfortunately, the toy was small enough to make it past the first bend in the pipe, but too large to make it past the second bend. It was wedged so tight into the bend that nothing I did could get it out.
Finally, I had to remove the toilet and take it outside to be able to get the toy out. Since I knew nothing of toilet removal or assembly, I broke the toilet in the process of removing it. I had to purchase and install a new toilet. We disinfected the miniature space ship and gave firm instructions to our son not to flush any more toys down the toilet. For a couple of weeks he did not flush anything inappropriate down the toilets, but eventually the temptation of watching the Millennium Falcon jump to light speed was too much, and he flushed it down the toilet again. It became wedged in again, and I had to remove the new toilet to get it out again. This time, I had learned enough of toilet removal and installation that I did not break the toilet. After I got the toy out this time, we threw it away.
This loss did not deter my son. A couple of weeks later, he decided to flush Lincoln Logs down the toilet, and I had the opportunity to practice my toilet removal and installation skills yet again. By this time, I was getting quite efficient at removing and installing toilets. I wish that I could say that during this experience I was thinking that surely the Lord must have a purpose in having me learn about toilets. Instead, I was thinking—and muttering—things that one does not repeat in a devotional address.
Shortly after the third time I removed and installed a toilet, I went over to help some friends who were building their home. They were working under a looming deadline for having the home complete and inspected. As I walked in their front door, they turned to me and asked, “Do you know how to install a toilet?” I was surprised by the question, but proud to say that I was quite an experienced toilet installer. I spent the rest of the evening installing their toilets. They later shared that my ability to install toilets had been a “tender mercy.” We never know how the Lord is preparing us to serve.
Now, the Lord could have inspired one of the plumbers in our ward to go and help my friends, but by preparing me to be the one who helped, He accomplished much more than the installation of a few toilets. The Lord taught me to be a little more patient and kind in dealing with my son, He bolstered my faith, and He reminded me that He knew who I was—all things that I needed at that time.
Although I have frequently failed to see it at the time, as I reflect on my life, I see the hand of the Lord everywhere. Brothers and sisters, I hope that each of us will take time to ponder how the Lord has prepared the way for us to achieve His will in our lives and then pray earnestly for the revelation we need to move forward on the path He is preparing for our future. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 1 Nephi 3:7.
He Shall Prepare a Way for Them
Audio of Brother Paul Cox's BYU-Idaho devotional address, Summer 2019