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Paul Lambert gives devotional at BYU-Idaho | ‘Go Forth with Faith’


Paul W. Lambert is a national expert on religious pluralism in society. He has worked extensively with global businesses on accommodating religious belief in the workplace. He currently serves as the Director of the Religion Initiative at Brigham Young University’s Wheatley Institute, where he is responsible for engaging students, scholars, thought leaders in the public and research-supported work that fortifies the core institution of religion in society. He is also a faculty member at BIO’s Marriott School of Business. Brother Lambert spent most of his growing up years in Paradise Valley, Arizona, before attending Brigham Young University for his undergraduate education. Following BIO, he attended Tufts University, where he earned his master’s in Georgetown University for his doctorate. He and his wife, Joel Lambert, have three children.

I am grateful to be on the BYU-Idaho campus and grateful for the invitation to speak to you today. As I prepared for this devotional and an answer to prayer, I felt a sincere love for you as students, despite or not knowing each other personally. I’m grateful for that reminder from heavenly Father about who you are and how he feels about you. I’m also grateful to feel the spirit present here. My prayer is that the spirit can teach us what we need to know as I speak. I want to start I’ll start by going back to when I was in a similar position to many of you. I was starting my first job after graduating from BYU, where I had a wonderful educational and spiritually empowering experience. I was moving to Washington, DC, and entering into an environment of diverse ideas and ways of living that I hadn’t experienced before, be it at BYU or in Arizona, where I grew up. My faith, then as it is now, was important to me, central to who I was and how I saw the world. But as I moved into this new chapter in my life, I wondered about how my faith and religion would impact the years ahead.

I didn’t always know what being a person of faith would look like in new environments and contexts. Now, here at BYU-Idaho, you are encouraged and empowered to live and grow in your faith as you also grow in intellect and capability. In fact, here at BYU-Idaho, development as a contributor to society and development as a disciple of Christ are seen as one and the same. But like me, when I was entering into my first job after BYU, you might be thinking, What about life after BYU-Idaho? How will your BYU-Idaho education with its religious affiliation be seen? How will others view you as a person of faith as you enter into the workplace or a new community with views very different from your own. It’s possible and perhaps likely that you will not be in an environment where your faith is as encouraged as it is here. How should you think about religion and faith in these contexts? Perhaps some of us, worried that our faith could be seen negatively, in certain situations, have wondered if we need to dampen our faith identity or even set it aside as we enter into the diversity of the world.

With these real questions in mind and drawing from gospel teachings, research, and my own experience since that time when I was entering in the post-university world, my message today is this: The greatest success, joy, and peace you can achieve in any context, be it personal, educational, professional, social, or otherwise, will come as you put Christ at the center of your life. Today, I invite you to consider this statement and its application to your life. As you do, I will make three suggestions. First, I will suggest to you that religion and faith matter deeply for you and for the world. Second, I will suggest that you consider your divine potential and purpose. And third, Third, I will suggest that you put the Lord first everywhere and always. First, religion and faith matter to you and to the world. As was mentioned in my introductory biography, I represent the Wheatley Institute at Brigham Young University. At the Wheatley Institute as Striving Disciples of Christ, we focus on three core institutions of society: religion, the family, and constitutional government. Specific to religion, we look closely through rigorous research at how religion impacts society. For For example, we ask how religion and religious institutions impact communities and families.

We ask how religious practice or religious identity impacts mental health, the justice system or politics. We even explore how religion impacts economics and business. Let me share a few findings from some of our recent work that I expect will be interesting to you. In a recent Wheatley Institute study of over 16,000 people across 11 countries looking at the impact of religious practice on various aspects of well-being, researchers found that individuals who reported engaging in religious practices in the home, in addition to attending church regularly, scored significantly higher when it comes to life happiness, life meaning, and feeling loved by God. The same study found that marriage religious and family ties are stronger among those that engage in religious practice at home. The Pew Research Center, in their own study, found similar findings that individuals that are actively engaged in their faith are happier, healthier, and more civically engaged. Specific to your experience as college students, a recent study of over 100,000 university students found that religious students had, on average, better mental health than non-religious university students. Further, being at religious universities tended to be protective against mental health difficulties, even and particularly for those that were non-religious.

Such students seem to absorb the benefit from being in a religious environment. In short, religious institutions play a critical our role in society. And religiosity, or the faith that comes from being religious, has powerful and important benefits we need individually and collectively in the world today. Now, some of you might be thinking, Okay, that all makes sense, and it’s easy for me to live my faith and see those benefits here at BYU-Idaho, where there’s an environment that supports that living. But what about when I head off to a place where I’m the only person that believes what I believe? Well, that’s a great question, even if you weren’t thinking it. To answer that question, I actually want to start by looking at why we focus so much on religion and faith here at BYU-Idaho and other church education system schools. Your immediate thought might be because they’re operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Lattery Saints, and you would be right in part. But let’s go deeper. Why even have church-sponsored schools? What is it that BYU-Idaho, and its sibling schools are trying to do that’s so unique and so valuable?

To help us answer this question, let’s start by looking at mission statements from a few other universities universities across the country. Statement one, to qualify its students for personal success and direct usefulness in life. Statement two, to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. Statement three, to advance new ideas and promote enduring knowledge. I share these particular statements because they serve as a good representation of many university statements. Most universities are primarily focus on advancing knowledge through teaching and research within the disciplines they offer. Now, let’s look at BYU-Idaho’s mission statement. BYU-Idaho’s mission is to develop disciples of Jesus Christ who are leaders in their homes, the church, and in their communities. As you can see, the mission of BYU-Idaho stands apart in higher education today with its focus on Jesus Christ, and it should. After all, this university, along with its sibling Church Education System schools, is built upon the principles the gospel of Jesus Christ and is managed under the direction of living prophets of God. Church Education System Schools are not just institutions of academic learning.

They are disciple preparation centers. These schools recognize that true and meaningful knowledge, success, and growth come through a commitment to the savior, Jesus Christ. You are encouraged to live your faith here at BYU-Idaho, not simply because it is a school affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are encouraged to have Christ central in your educational experience here because learning in the light of Christ is the best way to learn. Having Christ central to your learning also reminds you of the purpose of your learning. It reminds you of who you are. Christ-centered learning is simply a more holistic approach to education. An education that fails to recognize and empower you as a spiritual being, as a child of God, is missing a foundational, in fact, the foundational aspect of your ability to grow and succeed. Likewise, having Christ central to your life after BYU-Idaho, isn’t important only because you are a member of the church, but because having Christ central in your life will lead to greater and more meaningful success, greater contributions to the world around you, greater happiness, and greater peace. Please know that your faith in Christ is your greatest strength as you go out into the world.

Upon graduation, many of you will enter into the professional world, surrounded by people that are different from you in many ways. Let’s look at the workplace as an example of how your faith can be your greatest strength in a diverse world. A recent study by McKinsey explored what constitutes a healthy employee within a given workplace setting. Now, healthy employees mean employees that are best positioned to contribute their full potential. Simply put, healthy employees make better workers, and better workers make better products and services. The study found that spiritual health is one four foundational components of healthy employees, or again, those that are able to contribute most fully. In fact, respondents to the research said that spiritual health was listed by the majority as extremely or very important to their health. Other studies show that employees that feel free to live according to their faith have higher job satisfaction, better productivity, and experience less turnover. That’s in large part why we’ve seen a significant increase in the last few years, from 40% to 85% of Fortune 500 companies that include religion in corporate inclusion efforts. As one Jewish employee of a large manufacturing company here in the US said, When I am able to bring my whole self to work, that makes me want to give my all to my company.

They’ve enabled me to be who I truly am, and I want to use that to give my all to my work. In short, living true to who you are, your true identity empowers you to contribute more fully. That’s true for your colleagues of other faiths, and it is true for you. In his powerful 2022 address, Choices for Eternity, President Russell M. Nelson reminded us that the most important part of our identity… He reminded us of the most important part of our identity. He said, First and foremost, you are a child of God. Second, as a member of the church, you are a child of the covenant. And third, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. I plea with you not to replace these three paramount and unchanging identifiers with any others. As you focus on these identities, you will succeed in the right ways. This truth applies in all contexts, including your professional, community, and political life. Brothers and sisters, the best student, professional, spouse, parent, or citizen you can be is the best disciple of Christ that you can be because that is who you truly are. As you consider what will bring you true success, joy, and peace, remember that religion and your personal faith in Christ matter.

They matter to you, and they matter to the world. Embracing the critical importance of religion and faith builds the foundation for my second suggestion. Please consider your divine potential and purpose. Specifically, I invite you to consider your potential and purpose according to heavenly Father in Jesus Christ, as well as by those that are invested in your BYU-Idaho education. In John 3, Jesus helps us understand our potential and purpose when he spoke with Nicodemus, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. In Moses 1:39, Christ reminds us of our potential and purpose when he speaks of his purpose, For this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Brothers and sisters, your divine potential and purpose is eternal life and exaltation. Education. Let that knowledge be a guiding star. Now, let me also share a few statements about your potential and purpose in the more immediate term said from this very pulpit by those that are invested in your education here at BYU-Idaho.

President Meredith, just two months ago, admonished students of BYU-Idaho that you venture beyond this special place with a duty to build, lift, and inspire those around you. You will be a light to the world. You can go forward with the assurance that the Lord will be with you, for he is the light of the world. Elder Clark G. Gilbert, speaking of this student body, said that you will fulfill Jacob Spori’s prophetic vision, that the seeds we’re planting today at BYU-Idaho, will grow and become mighty oaks, and their branches will run all over the earth. Indeed, BYU-Idaho’s influence on the world will continue unabated through the lives and impact of its graduates. And finally, from President Henry B. Iron, a statement that I hope you know by heart, graduates of BYU-Idaho will become legendary for their capacity to build the people around them and add value wherever they serve. Eternal life, exaltation, and building the world around you in legendary in very ways. What incredible potential and purpose. As you consider what will bring you true success, joy, and peace, please remember why you are here and what your heavenly parents and a loving savior see in you.

Please remember the the trust and inspired expectations your leaders have in you, please remember your divine potential and purpose, and that it is through Christ that it can be realized. Let us now consider my third suggestion. That is to put the Lord first everywhere and always. We live in a world today with many voices, endless options about what to think, ideas to support, and ways to live. It can be hard to always know how to navigate all these voices, ideas, and options. What What happens when we face influences, persuasions, affiliations, or even our own ideas that conflict, or at least seem to conflict with the gospel of Jesus Christ? What happens when we don’t understand or feel unsettled about what our knowledge tells us compared to what the gospel teaches. All of us will face such situations. All of us will be required to exercise our faith. I am grateful for the inspired guidance of President Nelson, who has given us powerful invitations that can help us understand how to exercise faith and make choices that will bring us clarity, joy, and peace. In April 2020, President Nelson pleaded with us to hear him or hear the Lord, inviting as we seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ, our efforts to hear him need to be ever more intentional.

It takes conscious and consistent effort to fill our daily lives with his words, his teachings, his truths. In October 2020, President Nelson implored us to let God prevail, asking us to Are you willing to let God prevail in your life? Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life? Will you allow his words, his Commandments, and his Covenants to influence what you do each day? Will you allow his voice to take priority over any other? Are you willing to let whatever he needs you to do take precedence over every other ambition? Are you willing to have your will swallowed up in his? A year later, President Nelson counseled us that it is It’s now time that we each implement extraordinary measures, perhaps measures we have never taken before to strengthen our personal spiritual foundations. Unprecedent in times call for unprecedented measures. In 2023, President Nelson invited us to emulate the savior by being pacemakers, saying that one of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassion that person treats other people. I urge you to choose to be a pacemaker now and always. Later that year, he taught us to think Celestral, noting that the very things that will make your mortal life the best it can be are exactly the same things that will make your life throughout all eternity the best it can be.

Just this year, President Nelson taught us that time in the temple will help you to catch the vision of who you truly are, who you can become, and the life you can have forever. Regular temple worship will enhance the way you see yourself and how you fit into God’s magnificent plan. To To me, each of these invitations is inviting us to truly put Christ first and at the center of our lives. Brothers and sisters, we need to put Christ first. He and his gospel cannot come second. They cannot come after careers. They cannot come after interesting ideas. They can’t come after politics. They can’t come after sports or grudges or opinions or desires. Christ and his gospel must come first everywhere and always. As President Holland so beautifully said in reference to our devotion to Christ, When things are asked of us, even things contrary to the longings of our heart, remember that the loyalty we pledge to the cause of Christ is to be the supreme devotion of our lives. Although Isaiah reassures us that it is available without money and without price, and it is, we must be prepared, using TS Elliott’s line, to have it cost not less than everything.

The greatest sacrifices or costs required to follow Christ and his prophets will be different for each of us. But let me speak briefly to one that I expect many of us will face. That is the cost of putting our own ideas, our knowledge, and our intellect second to the Lord. We are blessed to live in a time when we have access, we have incredible access to knowledge. As college students, you have access to limitless information and can study from the best thinkers present and past. What a blessing. But there are challenges that come from such access to knowledge. Perhaps one of the most difficult is falling into the temptation to think we know more than we do or to think we know better than the Lord. The story of Naaman in the Old Testament is a good illustration of this. Naaman, an accomplished man, was put off by the counsel he received from the prophet Elisha to wash in the River Jordan seven times in order to cure his leprosy. He thought he knew better. His knowledge told him that washing in the River Jordan would not have the desired result. Thankfully for Naaman, he humbled himself and followed the prophet’s counsel.

He was also healed. We will all face similar choices to Naaman. There are and will be times when the Lord’s counsel or the prophet’s words challenge us, and we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Challenges of faith are not outlier events. They are intended components of the plan of salvation necessary for our growth. In third Nephi, Norman references the incredible teachings of Christ during his visit to the Nephites, saying, Behold, I was about to write them, all that had been taught by the savior, but the Lord verbade it, saying, ‘I will try the faith of my people. ‘ This account teaches us that by design, there is truth and knowledge that we will not have access to in this life. It also teaches us that we should expect times in our life when our faith will be tried, stretched, and challenged. Why? Because we need strong faith more than we need full knowledge. Let me share an experience from my own life that has been helpful to me. In graduate school, I had the privilege of studying many philosophies that have attempted to explain truth and existence throughout history. I loved studying these ideas. Some of the world’s most gifted minds have produced fascinating constructs and frameworks to explain humanity, our purpose, our existence, and even the concept of truth itself.

Yet, as I studied these ideas throughout history, I noticed that as persuasive and compelling as these ideas or truth constructs were at the time of their development, a future generation of philosophers armed with additional insight and knowledge, would inevitably develop a more persuasive construct. Regardless of their original allure, each idea eventually fell out of favor. There are two important lessons that occurred to me as I reflected on this in my schooling. First, we should be humble about what we think we know. Gaining knowledge is a wonderful and even sacred process, but we can’t let ourselves think that because we’ve gained some knowledge, that we’ve gained all knowledge. There will always be others that have more knowledge, especially those that come after us. And more importantly, God will always have more knowledge. Second, when it comes to pure eternal truth, we simply can’t trust in humanity’s knowledge, be it our own or someone else’s. It simply isn’t reliable enough to make decisions regarding eternal truth. We must appeal to a greater source, a divine source. What I am trying to say is this, be humble about the knowledge that you have. Cherish it, be grateful for it, and use it.

But remember that you don’t have a fullness of it. You cannot. Don’t depend on your knowledge or ideas alone. Because we are human, our perspective and knowledge is finite. It is limited. It is incomplete. What can be complete, however, is our faith in an all-knowing heavenly Father and in our savior, Jesus Christ. Such faith in the savior can guide us through the most difficult of circumstances. Let me share a foundational experience that helped me learn this when I was 21 years old and in the middle of my university experience, like so many of you. I had I just returned home from my mission, and I was preparing to return back to BYU in Provo. While I was on my mission, my dad had developed some serious health challenges. When I saw him greeting me at the airport for the first time in two years, it was actually quite a shock to see him in the condition he was in. Physically, he appeared frail and was half the weight he was when I left. He, of course, was still my dad, and I could feel of his love and was so grateful to be able to talk to him and my family in person. But as you can imagine, I had a lot of questions and concerns.

How was he really? Was this life-threatening? Would he recover? One afternoon, I asked my dad how his illness had impacted his faith. His response deeply impacted me then and has continued to since that time. Drawing from my records of that experience, he said, Paul, I don’t know why this illness is part of my life experience. I I’d rather I didn’t have this illness. Your mother and I have prayed continuously that I could be healed. I’ve sought blessings of health and have counseled with our church leaders. We’ve sought the best possible medical care and will continue to. I don’t know if I’ll be healed. But whatever the outcome, I want to ensure that I’ve placed my life in the hands of the Lord. If I fully recover, I want to be aligned with the Lord. And if I don’t recover, I want to be aligned with the Lord. Being in the Lord’s hands is the only place where there is promise and peace. My dad’s wise and faith-filled words truly blessed me that day, and they were words I leaned on heavily when he passed away just a few months later. He, through his words and example, taught me in a very personal way that whatever the circumstances, whoever the audience, and whatever the possible outcomes, even when life and death are at stake, the only answer is to seek, trust, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ, or in other words, to ensure that Christ is the center of our lives.

As Christ taught, Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. As I close, let me return to the principles and invitations we discussed as you consider what would bring you true success, joy, and peace. Remember that religion and your faith at home, at school, at work, and in our communities. Remember that you have a divine potential and purpose, and remember to put the Lord first everywhere and always. Brothers and sisters, the greatest success, joy, and peace you can achieve in any context, be it personal, educational, professional, social, or otherwise, will come as you put Christ at the center of your life. My prayer and invitation is that we will all commit to putting Christ first at all times and in all things and in all places, even until death. I testify of the abiding peace, the liberating clarity, and profound joy in putting the savior first. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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