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What Elder Uchtdorf, Joshua Bell and a Stradivarius violin can teach you about listening to the Spirit

PROVO, Utah — Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf posed a simple yet defining question to thousands gathered Tuesday at Brigham Young University's Marriott Center:

"Can you hear the sublime music of the Spirit?"

Jesus Christ issues a “gentle call” for all to follow Him. Meanwhile, Heavenly Father has “a profound and beautiful message” to impart to His children.

“But,” the apostle again inquired, “do we hear (Their) voices?”

The Apostle began his message during the school's Jan. 15 devotional with the factual account of a casually dressed man who once walked into a Washington, D.C., subway station, pulled a violin from its case and began to play soulful, soft music.

Thousands of commuters passed the musician on their way to work. They were busy and the minds of most were likely occupied with everyday cares. Others, undoubtedly, were wrestling with greater problems — perhaps a challenging health diagnosis, financial loss or some other pressing anxiety.

“In short, these people were people like you and me,” said Elder Uchtdorf. “Unwrapping the gift of a new day, even the gift of a brand-new year, but consumed with the trivial and tragic, the petty and profound.”

But in their rush to get to where they were going, most of the commuters failed to notice that the solitary man was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s most accomplished violinists. He played a centuries-old violin handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari that was worth millions of dollars. And the music he played was some of the most challenging and beautiful ever composed.

Joshua Bell’s anonymous performance was part of a social experiment to determine if busy people would recognize or ignore sublime music “played by a brilliant artist on an unparalleled instrument.”

Some of the experiment organizers worried the impromptu performance would cause “a traffic control nightmare” at the station, with hundreds crowding around to listen to the famed violinist.

But something entirely different occurred.

Nearly 1,100 people passed by Joshua Bell during his 45-minute performance. Yet only seven stopped to take in his performance for at least a minute.

“One commuter, who had passed within four feet of Joshua Bell, later could not recall that he had even seen a musician on his way to work,” said Elder Uchtdorf. “As it turns out, this man had been wearing ear buds, listening to a favorite rock song on his personal playlist. Ironically, the lyrics of the song were about failing to see the beauty right before your eyes.”

The music of the Spirit

The lesson of the Joshua Bell subway performance is profoundly instructive, he said.

“We sometimes get so caught up in the grind of everyday life that we fail to recognize the sublime voice of the Spirit and disregard the profound and beautiful message our loving Heavenly Father imparts to us through His messengers.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Photo: BYU Photo

Elder Uchtdorf challenged his audience to “look inside our hearts” and hear the music of the Spirit.

“I testify that our loving Father in Heaven is reaching out to you. Speaking to you,” he said. “In every hour of the day and throughout the night, He communicates through the divine music of the Spirit.”

How can you hear?

So how does one recognize God’s voice — and distinguish it from other thoughts and feelings?

“Answering these questions is the quest of a lifetime,” he said. “And while the process is similar for all, we each must travel our own individual path to find the answers.

“For some, hearing God’s voice seems intuitive and obvious. Some seem to be born with a testimony of the gospel and a sensitivity to spiritual things. For others, belief comes slowly, and the process may feel difficult or frustrating. They spend years or even decades striving to feel the Spirit. They want to have a testimony, but they can’t honestly say that they do.”

“He communicates through the divine music of the Spirit.”

Elder Uchtdorf said he had believed in the restored gospel since he was a young boy. That belief has been a blessing throughout his life.

“Now, I acknowledge that my experience may not be like yours. But whether the gift of faith comes early or late, all of us must seek and nurture that gift. We all live in a world full of distractions, away from the spiritual and the eternal. This is part of the test of mortality. We are here to learn how to find God, to recognize and follow His voice, even amid the clamor and noise of the world.”

Fortunately, God has given His children “quite a bit of information and counsel” to help them find Him. God has taught much about how to recognize His voice.

A good place to start is in the Doctrine and Covenants, where many revelations were given to Joseph Smith and others on this very topic.

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Photo: BYU Photo

“In the Doctrine and Covenants, we are taught that we must study it out in (our) mind’ and then ‘ask … if it be right’ (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8).

“We are told, 'Put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good' (Doctrine and Covenants 11:12).

"We learn that 'the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith' (Doctrine and Covenants 42:14). And we are promised, 'He that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day' (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)."

The fine print

But Elder Uchtdorf taught there is some “fine print” to be aware of.

First, this “light” comes in God’s time, “not ours.” Second, it will come in God’s way — including, perhaps, ways unexpected or even unwanted. And third, it comes “as we believe.”

The hope and desire to believe can start “the seed of faith” growing in one’s heart.

“Eventually, that seed will grow until you can begin to believe,” he said. “Those first glimpses of belief lead to faith. And your faith will grow stronger day by day until it shines bright within you. And then you will truly be able to ‘ask in faith, nothing wavering’ (James 1:6).

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sits on the stand with his wife Harriet R. Uchtdorf during a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sits on the stand with his wife Harriet R. Uchtdorf during a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Photo: BYU Photo

“This is the kind of faith that has the power to unlock the mysteries of heaven and fill your heart with the wondrous knowledge and sublime testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Seeking God’s light is not a “once and done” process, he added. It is the process of a lifetime. It is a mission without end.

“So, don’t ever stop seeking. Jesus promised that if we seek, we shall find. If we knock, it will be opened. If we listen, we will hear.”

The problem of now

In an age of instant answers, it is not easy to be patient. Today’s technology often provides instantaneous responses to questions and desires.

“Want to watch a video of baby ducks crossing a busy street? You can see that. Want a backscratcher in the shape of a moose antler? You can have it on your doorstep within a day or two. Want a wall-mounted, motion-activated, lifelike plastic fish that sings, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’? You can find it, and if you act now, you may even get free shipping.”

But the desires and answers of “true and lasting value” require patience and diligence. But be assured, the process of communication between mortals and heaven is not broken.

“If we attune our hearts, eyes, and ears to recognizing the Spirit — if we strive to walk in the way of light — we will surely find what we seek,” he said. “We will surely learn how to hear the music.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Photo: BYU Photo

Struggling, fighting and evening failing occasionally in the pursuit of the Divine, he added, is part of the process that refines character and perfects spirits. Heaven’s favor comes from following the Savior and His teachings.

Elder Uchtdorf directed a final thought to any who might be feeling unworthy or ashamed:

“To all who feel defective in some way, may I tell you a secret? We are all defective. You. Me. Everyone.”

One might even think he or she is a “special case” that makes “too many mistakes, too often.”

But being mortal is synonymous with mistakes. Mortals fall short again and again. But mistakes, assured Elder Uchtdorf, are merely events “on the timeline of your life.” They are don’t define one’s life.

“They don’t define you as a person or as a child of God. However, what you do about your mistakes by using the gifts given to us by Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ will go a long way in defining the person you will yet become.

“You can allow godly sorrow, for your sins lead you to change for the better — help you become the men and women God designed you to become.”

“Being a disciple or follower of Christ does not mean we live perfectly. It means we stay on the path. ”

That change, called repentance, is not about shaming. “It is about becoming.”

True disciples of Christ carry on. They believe. They seek light. They trust God. They keep trying even when they stumble. They are refined as they walk the path of following Jesus. They love as He loved. They strive to do as He taught.

“Your mistakes have not disqualified you from heaven’s reach,” he said. “If God answered the prayers only of the perfectly obedient, He would have to shut down heaven’s entire prayer-answering department.”

Be assured, God reaches out to His children when they are struggling and failing.

“Being a disciple or follower of Christ does not mean we live perfectly. It means we stay on the path. We rise when we stumble. We hold onto the light we are given, even when we feel darkness gathering around us.”

The Apostle concluded his devotional message with a blessing of hope, belief, love and the desire to walk in Christ’s “redeeming and glorifying light.”

“Far more than the sublime music in that Washington subway station, God’s glorious light, love and power is all around you, always. You need only to seek it.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles his wife Harriet R. Uchtdorf following a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles his wife Harriet R. Uchtdorf following a devotional on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Photo: BYU Photo

The legions of students who squeezed into the Marriott Center — and the many more who watched a live broadcast of the Tuesday devotional — likely had long lists of tasks that demanded attention.

But many, such as Spanish major Bethanie Davies from Maine, said an hour with an Apostle was not to be missed.

“Just hearing Elder Uchtdorf is always uplifting,” she said. “He really knows how to speak to our generation.”

Bethanie added the devotional motivated her to always remain sensitive to the music of the Spirit.

Mike Leishman, a BYU sophomore from Canada, said Elder Uchtdorf’s message taught him to pray with increased focus and intent. “I was looking for answers to some questions I have had, and I definitely found them today."

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