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The Lilies of the Field

Dear brothers and sisters, it is a sacred privilege to gather in the name of Jesus Christ for this Sabbath day BYU-Idaho devotional. Thank you for making this BYU-Idaho Center a great hall of learning. Sister Gong and I are grateful to be with President Alvin F. (Trip) and Sister Jennifer Meredith, Church and campus leaders, and each of you.

Over the years, I have appreciated every assignment here at BYU-Idaho. On this visit, Sister Gong and I have been grateful to tour special places on campus and meet new friends; see how you love worshiping and serving at the house of the Lord; be part of the Gong show with President and Sister Meredith, Ellie, Ethan, and Christian; worship the Lord at Sabbath day meetings in the Harvest Hills ward; learn from outstanding Relief Society and elders quorum presidents; and say hello to students and Church and campus leaders. The Lord loves you. I love you.

As I was preparing for tonight, I realized this is my third time speaking at a BYUI devotional. I thought, perhaps, it is like the movie Groundhog Day—you keep coming back until you get it right!

As you may know, I attended a university which for many years had a religious requirement to graduate. Yes, BYU Provo has a religious requirement to graduate, but tonight I am thinking of Oxford University in England, where I did my graduate studies. Founded in 1096, Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

As student lore tells it, over time, Oxford’s religious graduation requirement evolved into the same question each year: “Name the prophets of the Old Testament and say something about them.” Dutifully each year, just before the exam, Oxford students would memorize the prophets of the Old Testament and something about them.

But one year the exam question unexpectedly changed. Instead of “name the prophets of the Old Testament,” the exam asked, “Give a literary and religious analysis of the Sermon on the Mount.”

Many students were stumped. But, after taking a deep breath, one resourceful student wrote in his exam book, “Who am I, a mere mortal, to give a literary and religious analysis of the most beautiful sermon ever given? However, if you would allow, I could name the prophets of the Old Testament and say something about them.” Of course, he passed with high marks.

So, the next time you find yourself in a tight spot, take a deep breath, then begin with what you do know. This principle holds for spiritual things too. No one knows everything, but trust the Lord and what you do know. If there is something you don’t know, stay anchored in Jesus Christ, the scriptures, the teachings of the prophets and apostles. The Holy Ghost will help you, as I know He has in the past.

As tonight’s music beautifully testifies, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow . . . He clothes the lilies of the field. He feeds the birds in the sky. And He will feed those who trust Him, and guide them with His eye.” [1]

The promise in these verses that “He will feed and guide those who trust Him” is for you, now and in the future. Sometimes things are not easy. You are working two jobs, helping your family, keeping up with classes, getting along with roommates, facing physical or mental health challenges, fulfilling Church callings, and trying to have a social life—all at the same time.

Sometimes money is tight. I know. I have visited student apartments with bare cupboards.

But across our individual circumstances, “He will feed those who trust Him,” both physically and spiritually, “and guide them with His eye.”

Tonight’s music also invites, “Consider the sheep of His fold, how they follow where He leads. Though the path may wind across the mountains, He knows the meadows where they feed.” [2]

This assurance is also for your whole life’s journey. The scriptures describe Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd and also as the Lamb of God. Who better than the Good Shepherd to guide and nurture each lamb? And who better than the Lamb of God to work out His infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice for us? No man taketh Jesus Christ’s life. By commandment of His Father, Jesus hath power to lay down His life and power to take it up again. [3]

In His own voice and own name, Jesus Christ gathers His people on both sides of the veil into His one fold. By covenant, Jesus Christ invites us to connect our individual name with His holy name, so we can always remember Him and always have His Spirit to be with us.

Though your path may wind through the mountains, Jesus Christ will guide you to the meadows and pastures where you may safely rest. As Psalm 23 assures, even if you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you need fear no evil. His rod and staff will comfort you. He will anoint your head with oil. His goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and you will “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” [4]

The promise of the lilies of the field is so important that Jesus Christ shares them in the New Testament, Doctrine and Covenants, and Book of Mormon. [5]

In the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew and Luke, Jesus asks us to consider the lilies of the field. While aspects of these teachings may have been intended for His disciples, the principles apply to all of us.

In several related passages, Jesus asks, “Why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” “And yet,” Jesus adds, “I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” [6]

Jesus also asks, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” [7] In other words, can any of you by simply willing it make yourself more important?

In the same scripture passage, He says, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” [8]

Jesus also teaches, “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” [9]

Jesus further admonishes, “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light,” and “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” [10]

Similarly, in Doctrine and Covenants 84, the Lord uses the lilies of the field to invite us to live with faith and trust in God:

Therefore, take ye no thought for the morrow, for what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, or wherewithal ye shall be clothed. For, consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin; and the kingdoms of the world, in all their glory, are not arrayed like one of these. For your Father, who is in heaven, knoweth that you have need of all these things. Therefore, let the morrow take thought for the things of itself. [11]

In the Book of Mormon, our Savior similarly blesses His disciples and the people with instruction about the lilies of the field. [12]

There is a second, related dimension to the lilies of the field. In Psalms 46:10 and Doctrine and Covenants 101:16, the Lord invites us to “be still, and know that I am God.” President Russell M. Nelson used these verses in April 2021 General Conference when he asked us to hear God by being still. [13]

“Consider the lilies of the field” and “be still and know that God is God” are related invitations. Both invitations encourage us to open our hearts and minds (in the spirit of revelation) so that the divine beauty, majesty, and purpose of God’s creations can bear testimony of their Supreme Creator. [14] Both invitations urge us to feel Heavenly Father’s and our Savior’s spiritual assurances that They love and are close to us. And both invitations call us to let go of things which matter less, or which may ultimately not matter at all.

Our world is noisy, busy, pushy, cluttered, with too much posturing and pretense. It can be unjust and unfair. In contrast, in splendor and beauty, the lilies of the field witness God’s plan of happiness. They remind us that Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ will help make all things right for each of us, in time and eternity, in Their time and way.

The lilies of the field also remind us that some daily things which seem important now may ultimately be of little or no consequence. As we treasure up the things of heaven, we become less concerned with today’s fickle fashions, comparing ourselves to others, judging who deserves or does not deserve what we or they receive from God, or anything else that becomes worldly dead end for our spiritual growth.

Please let me also mention that, in my understanding, the lilies of the field do not mean, simply, “no worries,” “take it easy,” or in Lion King wording, “hakuna matata.” Trust and faith in the Lord increase personal responsibility for our choices and actions, even as we learn to depend on the Lord for wisdom, strength, and inspiration far beyond our own.

As you aspire and achieve in appropriate ways, which you will, please remember this truth: God our Father and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ love you more and know you better than you love or know yourself.

Put another way, we become our best selves only with God’s love and help. Faith, humility, and regular change and repentance help us connect by covenant with God and each other. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want to bless your life, your marriage and family, your profession and career, and your capacity to be good and do good in ways we cannot do on our own.

We have spoken tonight of the Lord’s promised blessings as we trust Jesus Christ and live with trust, faith, joy, and gratitude in the spirit of the lilies of the field. Let us now add a third dimension to the lilies of the field. As we walk uprightly and remember our covenants, the Lord also assures us “all things shall work together for your good.” [15]

Several scriptural passages outline the promise and circumstances under which all things work together for our good. These include Romans 8:28–29 and four passages in the Doctrine and Covenants.

What a remarkable promise our all-knowing, all-good Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ promise! And the promise is true that “all things shall work together for our good.”

Of course, we are responsible to choose well, including (as the scripture says) to walk uprightly and remember our covenants. But as we do so, the covenant path leads us to enduring joy and celestial glory with God our Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and our eternal families.

Brothers and sisters, let’s now briefly apply the lessons of the lilies of the field to two life areas in which many of you are making important decisions: choosing an eternal companion and choosing education, family, and profession.

First, choosing an eternal companion. In the spirit of lighthearted, but not lightminded, may I ask if you know any good jokes? Ours is a gospel of joy. Also, if you really want to know someone, watch what makes them laugh. Do they laugh with, or do they laugh at?

I had a hard time finding Sister Gong. I have a quirky sense of humor, and it wasn’t easy finding someone who would laugh with me at my jokes. For example: It is a romantic night at the beach. The moon is full and bright. You are holding hands, strolling through the warm water. Something slithers against her leg. Don’t worry, it’s a moray.

What is this? A tie. In Mandarin Chinese, “wife” is “taitai.” Can you say “tai-tai?” The adjective for someone who lives in Thailand is—Thai. So, his Thai taitai tied tying his tie-dye tie.

Anyway, you get the idea. It’s a miracle I found Sister Gong. Something that helped me may help you. When I prayed, “Should I marry Susan?” I felt peace. But later, I made my own best decision. My prayer changed to one of real intent and commitment. “Heavenly Father, I love Susan and want to ask her to marry me. I promise I’ll be the best husband and father I can be.” It was then my clearest, strongest confirmation came.

When Sister Gong and I were married, Elder David B. Haight wisely counseled, “Always hold a calling in the Church,” he said. “Be wise and don’t neglect your family, education, or profession. But especially when life is busy, hold a Church calling so you feel the Lord’s love for those you serve and for you, as you grow in His service.”

Dear brothers and sisters, please commit now to lifelong service in the Lord’s Church. Let your BYUI experiences and testimony bless those around you, and let the spiritual growth that comes through Church service bless your marriage and family.

When I served as a university campus stake president, I often quoted Doctrine and Covenants 88 that likes attract. As you seek your eternal companion, please remember, “Intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue.” [16] Of course, this does not mean you should only date those with your same personality or those who only like the same ice cream flavors you do.

But in terms of spiritual compatibility, consider becoming spiritually the kind of person you hope to attract, the kind of person spiritually with whom you are genuinely happy. Look for someone who, by their spiritual nature, is consecrated to creating a marriage and family relationship you can together take into the presence of God as part of the sociality of heaven and the faith and the joy of the Saints.

As a student stake president, I interviewed many happily engaged couples for their temple recommends. (To this day, many years later, I love it when someone stops me and says, “You were my student stake president,” or, “You interviewed me for my mission,” or, “You interviewed us for our temple recommends before we were married.”)

May I share something I have observed about what makes happy couples happy? Happy couples CTR in DTR—they “choose the right” in “defining the relationship.” In intentional ways, small and large, whether just starting to date, courting, or during their engagement, happy couples set distinct, appropriate goals and bounds that bless their lives now and later.

In our temple recommend interviews I would sometimes say, “My purpose as your priesthood leader in asking about testimony, tithing, the law of chastity, etc., is not to keep you from entering the temple. It is to help you know that when you are in the house of the Lord you are worthy to receive every blessing pronounced upon you.”

The Lord wants us to qualify for every blessing. Indeed, “There is a law, . . . And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” [17]

Now just a word as we apply the spirit of the lilies of the field to your important choices of education, family, and profession.

I treasure the advice from my father, Walter A. Gong. For many years, he served as a patriarch in the Church and also as a university science education professor. When I was choosing education and career, he said, “Choose something that excites you each morning and lets you return each evening feeling you have learned, grown, and contributed.” He also said, “Consider what you’ll actually do each day, and how and with whom you’ll work.”

Job satisfaction is less about fancy titles or abstract job descriptions. It is more about what we actually do each day. This from a man who loved doing what he did so much that he smilingly once said he had never worked a day in his life. He also said, “Take time to share and learn with your spouse so you grow together in all you do.”

Choose now to learn for eternity. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, work hard and smart each day so you can support and nurture your family, and contribute to the Church, your community, society, and the world.

God always cares about your trajectory. What we do has consequences. God does care about what you do. Humbly do your best, knowing perfection is in Jesus Christ. You can trust God. You can step off this world’s perfectionist treadmill and its siren song that you are inadequate, never good enough.

Today’s economy is continuing to shift from agriculture and industry toward services and information-driven productivity. As the industrial revolution did in its day, generative artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming knowledge-based innovation. Many opportunities are opening for those who know how to learn, who truly become lifelong learners.

BYU-Idaho’s Learning Model has profound spiritual implications and everyday applications. Today’s society and His restored Church need those who learn by study and by faith, [18] who act rather than are acted upon, who take responsibility to innovate and improve, who teach in order to learn, and who build those around us.

Prophesy is fulfilled as disciples of Jesus Christ act by the Spirit to bring to pass what prophets have declared by the Spirit will come to pass. When President Meredith was inaugurated as BYU-Idaho president, he asked us to “press forward and upward with joyful optimism coupled with a spirit of divine discontent.” [19] As we strive to do our very best, we become true BYUI learners and teachers. We help fulfill the prophecy that “graduates of BYU-Idaho will become legendary for their capacity to build the people around them and to add value wherever they serve.” [20]

We say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Your learner and teacher roles develop each day in and outside the classroom, in and outside your Church callings, in and outside your roommate and social relationships.

May I encourage you and your roommates, when possible, to pray together, cook and eat together, put up a picture of the house of the Lord in your apartment, and place a current copy of the Liahona on your table. These small and simple things can help create a spiritual environment where you live.

Seek purity of heart, clarity of purpose, humility, and wise persistence. These virtues can help you avoid compartmentalizing what you think and do on Sunday from what you think and do Monday through Saturday. Your patriarchal blessing can help.

A week ago, my mother passed away five days before her 98th birthday. Her funeral was on Friday. When my mother joined the Church, she was the only Church member in her family. She has been valiant and true. Now, because of her, there are four generations on this side of the veil—her 3 children and their spouses, 18 grandchildren and their spouses, and 17 great-grandchildren—and counting.

And, because of my mother, more than 30 generations of the Gong family and more than 30 generations of the Char family are receiving the opportunity to accept covenants and ordinances with Jesus Christ on the other side of the veil.

So please remember, whether you are the first and only member of the Church in your family or whether you are a 10th-generation Church member, what you do matters. Be a strong link in your forever family. As we conclude, in the office of my calling, may I offer you a testimony and a blessing. God our Eternal Father lives. He loves us more and knows us better than we love or know ourselves.

Jesus is the Christ. His Atonement gives us second and third chances to come to Him. Though we turn our face from Him, He never loses sight of us. His love is infinite and eternal. There is no point of no return.

If the Spirit has prompted you tonight to do something, however big or small, please do it. Please do not put it off, please write it down and do it. And if you have felt inspiration or new understanding, please find a moment to share it—you can be a BYU-Idaho teacher today.

President Russell M. Nelson, now in his 100th year, is the Lord’s true and living prophet in our day.

The eternal truths in the Book of Mormon, exalting covenants of the house of the Lord, testimonies of the prophets and apostles, and the supernal gift of the Holy Ghost are given by God to bring us to Him and to bless each other as He would, all the days of our lives.

May the lessons of the lilies of the field bring peace, assurance, and trust of God to your heart. In today’s busy, cluttered world, may know God has a plan of happiness for you, that Jesus Christ’s Atonement is real, and all things can work together for your good, in His time and way. Please walk uprightly and remember your covenants with Jesus Christ as found in His restored Church called in His name—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jesus Christ lives and loves you. I love you. In the sacred and holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Notes

[1] Roger Hoffman, “Consider the Lilies,” Hoffman House, available at https://rogerandmelaniehoffman.com/ctl.html. You can listen to the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square sing the song at “Listening to the Spirit Let to the Creation of the Song, ‘Consider the Lilies,’” available at https://www.thetabernaclechoir.org/articles/consider-the-lilies-history.html.

[2] Roger Hoffman, “Consider the Lilies.”

[3] See John 10:17–18.

[4] Psalm 23:4–6.

[5] See Matthew 6: 28–30; Luke 12:27–28; 3 Nephi 13:28–30; Doctrine and Covenants 84:82–83.

[6] Matthew 6:28–29.

[7] Matthew 6:27.

[8] Matthew 6:26.

[9] Matthew 6:25.

[10] Matthew 6:20–22.

[11] Doctrine and Covenants 84: 81–84.

[12] 3 Nephi 13:27.

[13] See Russell M. Nelson, “What We Are Learning and Will Never Forget,” Liahona, May 2021, 80.

[14] Alma 30:44.

[15] Doctrine and Covenants 90:24; 98:3; 100:15; 105:40.

[16] Doctrine and Covenants 88:40.

[17] Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21.

[18] Doctrine and Covenants 88:118.

[19] Alvin F. Meredith III, “From Birthright to the Steady Upward Course,” byui.edu/speeches/inaugurations/inaugural-response-from-president-alvin-f-meredith-iii

[20] Henry B. Eyring, “A Steady, Upward Course,” September 18, 2001, 15.