Living Our Lives with Exactness


One of the realities I faced as a professor was that almost nobody ever followed my instructions, at least not completely.

For example, when I would start a new class, I would have the students introduce themselves telling them to, state their name, tell us where they were from, what their major was and why they were taking the class. Almost everybody invariably left something out. It just went downhill from there.

In the instructions I gave my students throughout the semester, I did not want them to experience frustration, get stressed, spin their wheels, waste their time or anything else. So, I would give them explicit and detailed instructions on how to do assignments, papers, and projects properly.

The older and more experienced the students, the better they were about following my guidance. I taught graduate school and I could depend on graduate students to do what they were told, most of the time. Freshmen were almost utterly hopeless.

A story I read in the news a short time back really captures the problem. A music professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga put instructions on page two of his three-page syllabus containing the location of a locker on campus, the combination of the locker as well as the promise of a reward in the locker to the first student to retrieve it.

At the end of the semester after class was over, the professor opened the locker and retrieved the 50 dollars, untouched. Seventy students missed it entirely.

To me, it was dismaying that nearly all my students would try and find shortcuts or cut corners in their coursework. They often spent more time and more angst trying to find ways around my instructions than if they had just followed my instructions in the first place.

In fact, when they did NOT follow my instructions, they actually spent more time and effort failing than it would have taken to succeed had they simply done what I told them to do in the first place.

Doing exactly what I told them to do resulted in the least amount of anguish, the least amount of time spinning their wheels, and the best possible results.

Recipe Analogy

I have heard cooks and bakers express the same frustration. Someone asks them for their recipe for something and then complains to them that it does not turn out the way it should.

When quizzed, they discover that people have not followed their instructions. They have varied the recipe in all sorts of ways, substituted other procedures or ingredients and did a whole host of other things that altered the recipe and the careful instructions they had been supplied with.

Elder Renlund’s Story

In a recent General Conference address, Elder Renlund expressed the same frustration:
You may know that I used to treat patients with heart failure. Their best outcomes were obtained by following established, evidence-based treatment plans. Despite knowing this, some patients tried to negotiate a different treatment plan. They said, “I don’t want to take so many medications” or “I don’t want to undergo so many follow-up tests.” Of course, patients were free to make their own decisions, but if they deviated from optimal treatment plans, their results suffered. Patients with heart failure cannot choose an inferior course and then blame their cardiologist for inferior outcomes.

The same is true for us. Heavenly Father’s prescribed path leads to the best eternal outcomes. We are free to choose, but we cannot choose the consequences of not following the revealed path.19 The Lord has said, “That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, … cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment.”20 We cannot deviate from Heavenly Father’s course and then blame Him for inferior outcomes.
Heavenly Father must feel the same way

Heavenly Father does not want us spinning our wheels, getting stressed, wasting our time, etc. He does not present us with riddles and mysteries. He gives us exact instructions and then leaves us free to follow them.

The problem is not in His instructions and guidance, it is with our being willing to follow exactly what we have been instructed to do.

Following instructions and guidance constructed by mere mortals can sometimes be a problem. It is not for Heavenly Father. Not once has he ever indicated that he missed a vital step and forgot to include it. Deity does not do that. Sometimes mortals do.

We can be confident in following instructions and guidance from an omniscient, omnipotent being.

Lack of Exactness

The problem is we are all suffering from a lack of exactness. We are not living our lives with exactness. This can cause a whole host of problems but it is especially troubling when it comes to living the gospel.

To get the results we have been promised, the gospel must be lived with exactness. Being exact can result in tremendous results and rewards.

This is most evident in the story of Helaman’s 2,000 stripling youth and this is where I have taken the term from.

Helaman’s 2,000 Stripling Youth

The people of Ammon, formerly Lamanites, had taken an oath to give up the murders they had committed in their pre-gospel lives and buried their weapons of war.

The Nephites did not want the people of Ammon to break their oath despite the need for soldiers to protect the people during a time of intense warfare and conflict.

Although the people of Ammon provided extensive provisions and support to the Nephite armies, they wanted to do more.

They offered up their sons, most very young, as soldiers to augment the Nephite armies. Their story is a phenomenal story of faith and protection.

Led by Helaman, these 2,000 stripling warriors fought valiantly and none were ever killed. Verses in the book of Alma tell us how this was achieved.
Alma 57:21 Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them.

Alma 58:40 But behold, they have received many wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come.
“They were totally obedient. Hence, they had unbelievable protection and success.”

Elder Hartman Rector, Jr., pointed out that:
Yes, they gave their mothers credit for teaching them, but they kept the commandments with exactness.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband has counseled that:
The Holy Ghost accompanies those who are “strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day.”6 Alma 58:40
Modern “Stripling Youth” in the Korean War

This story is not an anomaly. There is a more modern example. It comes from the Korean War. I am going to quote extensively from an article on this group of young men and the phenomenal results they experienced in one horrific battle.

Notice how often the word exactness and the concept of exactness crops up in the article.
The battle is called the “Miracle at Gapyeong.” The heroic incident took place on May 26, 1951, in South Korea when a small battalion of 240 brave young soldiers from small-town southern Utah Latter-day Saint homes found themselves suddenly under attack by 4,000 Chinese and North Korean soldiers. It was a terrifying and completely unexpected attack. They were given the understanding that they were to provide artillery support to allied soldiers positioned ahead at the North Korean enemy line. But there were critical miscommunications and in fact, there was no buffer between the Utah soldiers and the enemy.

They were shocked and terrified to discover that they were being directly attacked, and drastically outnumbered. The battle is accurately described as “a ferocious hand-to-hand battle fought in the early morning darkness.” At dawn, Lt. Frank Dalley and Captain Ray Cox led their Latter-day Saint battalion into battle. They courageously fought their way through the Gapyeong Valley, destroying Chinese machine gun forts and inflicting hundreds of enemy casualties. “I just kept firing my .50 caliber (machine gun) until the barrel melted,” said artillery soldier Elmo Robinson.

Despite having a better than 16x advantage (4,000 vs. 240), the Chinese/North Korean opposition finally gave up and attempted to retreat by climbing up the surrounding mountains to the north. In the end, more than 350 Chinese and North Korean enemies were killed, and another 830 were taken prisoner but not one of the Latter-day Saint soldiers was killed.

Many of the Chinese and North Korean soldiers that had been taken prisoner were asked how they could be so completely defeated by a such small battalion of only 240 young men? Their reply was “we shoot them, but they don’t fall down.”

One of the many spiritual aspects of this valiant group’s battle was that this 213th Battalion had been promised by the president of the St. George Utah Temple that they would return home safely if they lived true and faithful to their God. These young men rose to that occasion and were recognized as a standout group who lived their lives with exactness and courage. Many of the family and friends in St. George, Cedar City, Richfield, Fillmore, and Beaver accurately compared this group to Helaman’s stripling warriors (Alma 56).

Their leader, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Dalley, held many similarities to Helaman. He was a man of devout Latter-day Saint faith, who was old enough to be a father to these young boys age 17 to 23. He knew their families and felt a paternal responsibility to take care of them. He felt that if even one of those boys died, he wouldn’t be able to face their parents back home in Southern Utah. He spent hours in prayer pleading with the Lord to help him to know how to lead and protect them from harm's way. It was well known by all in Dalley’s battalion that when the flag was raised at his tent, he was in prayer and communication with God and that he was not to be disturbed.

Regarding that terrifying attack in 1951, Dalley later said on CBS Evening News with Edward R. Murrow: "For moments I supposed I was almost dazed, then instinctively my thoughts turned to God, and I knew that our safety was in the hands [of] our Maker. I humbly asked for help. . . and I feel sure that I was guided by a Supreme Being."

These young Latter-day Saints of the 213th National Guard Battalion became well known for their exactness and intelligence even before shipping out to Korea. Their initial training was held in a military training camp in Washington state. In their training, they were assessed and ranked as “Best in the Business,” the most consistent and accurate of all the battalions to come through that camp. Most other groups trained there were sent as “backup” to other non-combat locations in the US or Germany; but this battalion was sent directly to Korea because of their diligence in learning and executing exactly as they had been taught. A year later, this battalion was awarded President Harry Truman's "Presidential Unit Citation" for extraordinary courage and heroism under extremely hazardous conditions.
From, “Latter-day stripling warriors: The Korea Seoul Mission’s touching visit to sacred ground,” By Brad Taylor December 11, 2020 in LDS Living. Accessed June 8, 2022 from

At a special Thanksgiving address back in 2013, President Nelson told the missionaries at the MTC that:

“Obedience brings success; exact obedience brings miracles,”

He expanded on this guidance in a General Conference address in 2018 soon after becoming prophet when he said:
Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon,14 and regular time committed to temple and family history work.

To be sure, there may be times when you feel as though the heavens are closed. But I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you—even miracles—will follow.
Exact Obedience to What Exactly?

My students achieved the best outcomes when they followed my instructions and conscientiously read the text materials.

The scriptures are our textbooks for living life. To do well in life, you need to read and follow them, exactly.

It can seem overwhelming. There is a lot of scripture.

In a recent Liahona article adapted from an address to BYU’s Education Week, Elder Uchtdorf cuts through some of this confusion. He pointed out that the Pharisees were very big on exactness. However, they got it wrong. This is what he says:
When a Pharisee asked Jesus which was the greatest of the commandments, the Savior established once and for all what our priorities as individuals and as a Church should be:

1. Love God (see Matthew 22:37).

2. Love your neighbor (see Matthew 22:39; see also verses 34–40).

That is the center of the gospel. It should be the center of our every effort as a Church and as disciples of Jesus Christ.

The canvas of the gospel is so broad and rich that we could spend a lifetime studying it and scarcely scratch the surface. We all have topics or principles that interest us more than others. Naturally, those are the things we gravitate toward, speak about, and emphasize in our Church service.

Are those principles important? Certainly.

But we would do well to consider whether they are the most important.

The ancient Pharisees compiled hundreds of rules and commandments from sacred writings. They made a great effort to catalog them, comply with them, and enforce others to live by them with precision. They believed that exact obedience to the smallest of these procedures would lead people to God.

Where did they go wrong?

They lost sight of the center.

They lost sight of what was of most worth for their eternal purpose.

They saw the multitude of rules as ends in themselves instead of the means to an end.

Are we susceptible to the same mistake today? If we were to brainstorm, I’m sure we could compile a list of latter-day expectations that would rival or perhaps even surpass those amassed anciently.

It’s not to say these rules and gospel topics are not important or valuable. They have a purpose. They are part of the whole.

They can lead us to the center, but they are not the center.

They are branches of the tree, but they are not the tree. And if they ever become separated from the tree, they will have no life. They will wither and die. (See John 15:1–12.)

When we meet the Savior at the judgment bar, we will account for how we lived the two great commandments.1

Did we truly seek God? Did we love Him with all our heart, might, mind, and strength?

Did we love our families, friends, and neighbors? How did we manifest that love?

We cherish all the principles of the gospel. We “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:44). And yet we must always remember that “all the law and the prophets” point to the two great commandments (Matthew 22:40).

This is the bull’s-eye of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the foundation of who we are as His followers.
[End of quote]

President Nelson has counseled: “Obedience brings success; exact obedience brings miracles,”

Elder M. Joseph Brough, in a Liahona article aimed at Young Adults explained the following:
Sometimes we will not understand why Heavenly Father asks certain things of us. Those times can be some of the toughest times to be exactly obedient. Remember when Adam, one of the greatest of all, was asked why he gave sacrifice: “And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6).
We need to follow the instructions we have been given with exact obedience, whether we understand them or not.

It’s actually pretty easy to follow rules and guidance we completely understand and are committed to. It’s hard to follow rules and guidance we don’t completely understand and don’t fully comprehend why we should do what we are being told to do.

My students did not always know why I told them to do things or to do things the way I did, but I knew why. And, I knew why it was critically important. Sometimes I could not explain why adequately because they did not understand enough at that time.

We often assume that small deviations or being less than exact isn’t going to make much difference or have much of an impact. This is Satan talking.

A small inexactness or series of inexactness’s will have a huge impact.

Elder Uchtdorf has explained:
But even small errors over time can make a dramatic difference in our lives.

Let me share with you how I taught the same principle to young pilots.

Suppose you were to take off from an airport at the equator, intending to circumnavigate the globe, but your course was off by just one degree. By the time you returned to the same longitude, how far off course would you be? A few miles? A hundred miles? The answer might surprise you. An error of only one degree would put you almost 500 miles (800 km) off course, or one hour of flight for a jet.
Satan may not be able to get you to commit an overt sin or some obvious wrong-doing, but he can influence you to commit an inexactness and get you off course.

We have been told that, “Casual and inconsistent covenant keeping leads to spiritual casualty.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson once counseled:

“Be wise with what the Lord gives you. It is a trust. ...”

“Rather than drifting into carelessness, may your life be one of increasing exactness in obedience.”

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, (“A Sense of the Sacred” [Church Educational System fireside for young adults, Nov. 7, 2004], 9, 10;

“Obedience brings success; exact obedience brings miracles,”

It is my hope and my prayer that you can all catch the vision of the importance of exactness and qualify not just for blessings, but for miracles.

In the name of Jesus Christ.


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