I’ll say this straight off: For me, this was the most important General Conference I’ve ever seen. It’s not every 6 months that you go with a question and have nigh-on every talk touch on it in some way, and, like pieces of a puzzle, form a map to an answer.
I also think this conference is significant as a culmination of a certain urgency that I’ve been detecting in recent conferences. The question before us is “Who do we trust as our guides?”. This conference has laid out a guide to preparing for the trials to come, if we will accept it. Otherwise, we may let our insistence that the Lord do things our way lead us to follow another path, and lack the necessary preparation.
Now it is time to take that beloved phrase “I am a child of God” and add the words “Therefore, what?” We might even ask questions such as these: “What will I do to live my life as a child of God?” “How can I develop the divine nature that is within me?”
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “God sent you here to prepare for a future greater than anything you can imagine.”
I do not know why we have the many trials that we have, but it is my personal feeling that the reward is so great, so eternal and everlasting, so joyful and beyond our understanding that in that day of reward, we may feel to say to our merciful, loving Father, “Was that all that was required?”
Before we were born, we accepted our Heavenly Father’s plan “by which [we] could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize [our] divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.” Of this premortal covenant, Elder John A. Widtsoe explained: “We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves but … saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work. The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation.”
Aunt Rose reached over to the end table and pulled her well-worn scriptures onto her lap. “I don’t think I was clinically depressed—I’m not sure you can talk yourself out of that. But I sure had talked myself into being miserable! Yes, I had some dark days, but all my brooding and worrying wasn’t going to change that—it was only making things worse. Faith in the Savior taught me that no matter what happened in the past, my story could have a happy ending.”
Saturday Morning Session
After a recent medical procedure, my very capable doctors explained what I needed to do to heal properly. But first I had to relearn something about myself I should have known for a long time: as a patient, I’m not very patient.
Consequently I decided to expedite the healing process by undertaking my own Internet search. I suppose I expected to discover truth of which my doctors were unaware or had tried to keep from me.
It took me a little while before I realized the irony of what I was doing. Of course, researching things for ourselves is not a bad idea. But I was disregarding truth I could rely on and instead found myself being drawn to the often-outlandish claims of Internet lore.
Sometimes, the truth may just seem too straightforward, too plain, and too simple for us to fully appreciate its great value. So we set aside what we have experienced and know to be true in pursuit of more mysterious or complicated information. Hopefully we will learn that when we chase after shadows, we are pursuing matters that have little substance and value.
Through the centuries, prophets have fulfilled their duty when they have warned people of the dangers before them. The Lord’s Apostles are duty bound to watch, warn, and reach out to help those seeking answers to life’s questions.
Twenty years ago, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” In that inspired document, we concluded with the following: “We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”
They assumed, after watching him, that this would be quite simple. However, none of them were successful in their attempts to make even a simple bowl. They proclaimed: “I can’t do this!” “Why is this so hard?” “This is so difficult.” These comments took place as the clay flew all around the room.
He asked the youth why they were having such difficulty making pottery. They responded with various answers: “I don’t have any experience,” “I have never been trained,” or “I have no talent.” Based on the result, what they said was all true; however, the most important reason for their failure was due to the clay not being centered on the wheel. The youth thought that they had placed the clay in the center, but from a professional’s perspective, it wasn’t in the exact center. He then told them, “Let’s try this one more time.”
Our family motto doesn’t say, “It will all work out now.” It speaks of our hope in the eternal outcome—not necessarily of present results. Scripture says, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.”5 This doesn’t mean all things are good, but for the meek and faithful, things—both positive and negative—work together for good, and the timing is the Lord’s. We wait on Him, sometimes like Job in his suffering, knowing that God “maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.”
I would like to suggest that each of you participate in a spiritual exercise sometime soon, perhaps even tonight while saying your prayers. Humbly ask the Lord the following question: “What is keeping me from progressing?” In other words: “What lack I yet?” Then wait quietly for a response. If you are sincere, the answer will soon become clear. It will be revelation intended just for you.
Years ago I read these words of President Spencer W. Kimball, which had a lasting impact on me. He said: “I have learned that where there is a prayerful heart, a hungering after righteousness, a forsaking of sins, and obedience to the commandments of God, the Lord pours out more and more light until there is finally power to pierce the heavenly veil. … A person of such righteousness has the priceless promise that one day he shall see the Lord’s face and know that he is.”
If we attempt to appease our conscience by trying to “excuse [ourselves] in the least point because of [our] sins” (Alma 42:30) or by trying to hide them, the only thing we will accomplish is to offend the Spirit (see D&C 121:37) and delay our repentance. This type of relief, besides being temporary, will ultimately bring more pain and grief into our lives and will diminish our possibility of receiving a remission of our sins.
While the fluctuation of the tide in the Bristol Channel is somewhat predictable and can be prepared for, the storms and temptations of this life are often unpredictable. But this we know: they will come! In order to overcome the challenges and temptations that each of us inevitably faces, it will require righteous preparation and the use of divinely provided protections. We must determine to be temple worthy regardless of what befalls us. If we are prepared, we shall not fear.
Saturday Afternoon Session
Now, you may have serious questions about the choices ahead. In my young adult years, I sought counsel from my parents and from faithful, trusted advisers. One was a priesthood leader; another was a teacher who believed in me. Both said to me, “If you want my counsel, be prepared to take it.” I understood what that meant. Prayerfully select mentors who have your spiritual well-being at heart. Be careful about taking advice from your peers. If you want more than you now have, reach up, not across!
His mission president, his stake president, his bishop spent countless hours searching and weeping and blessing him as they held on to him, but much of his wound was so personal that he kept at least parts of it beyond their reach. The beloved father in this story poured his entire soul into helping this child, but his very demanding employment circumstance meant that often the long, dark nights of the soul were faced by just this boy and his mother. Day and night, first for weeks, then for months that turned into years, they sought healing together. Through periods of bitterness (mostly his but sometimes hers) and unending fear (mostly hers but sometimes his), she bore—there’s that beautiful, burdensome word again—she bore to her son her testimony of God’s power, of His Church, but especially of His love for this child. In the same breath she testified of her own uncompromised, undying love for him as well. To bring together those two absolutely crucial, essential pillars of her very existence—the gospel of Jesus Christ and her family—she poured out her soul in prayer endlessly. She fasted and wept, she wept and fasted, and then she listened and listened as this son repeatedly told her of how his heart was breaking. Thus she carried him—again—only this time it was not for nine months. This time she thought that laboring through the battered landscape of his despair would take forever.
But with the grace of God, her own tenacity, and the help of scores of Church leaders, friends, family members, and professionals, this importuning mother has seen her son come home to the promised land.
As I continued to think about my experience with Pablo, I felt sad because my four daughters were grown and the nine grandchildren I had at the time didn’t live nearby. I then thought, “How could I ever help them the way Pablo’s father helped him? Had too much time gone by?” As I offered a prayer in my heart, the Spirit whispered this profound truth: “It’s never too early and it’s never too late to begin this important process.” I knew immediately what that meant. I could hardly wait to get home. I asked my wife, Sharol, to call all of our children and tell them that we needed to visit with them; I had something really important to tell them.
Remember that the Son of the Highest descended below all and took upon Him our offenses, sins, transgressions, sicknesses, pains, afflictions, and loneliness. The scripture teaches us that Christ “ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things.”
It does not matter what our personal struggles are—whether they are disease or prolonged loneliness or suffering the temptations and tests of the adversary—the Good Shepherd is there. He calls us by name and says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
We live in a world in which we will experience challenges to our faith. We may feel confident that we are ready to face these challenges—only to find that our preparations have been insufficient. And just as my friend had warned me about the darkness, we are warned today. Apostolic voices urge us to prepare ourselves with the powerful light of spiritual strength.
Likewise, we might feel embarrassed, uncomfortable, or confused spiritually when we encounter a challenge to our faith. Generally, the intensity and duration of these feelings will depend upon our reaction to them. If we do nothing, doubt, pride, and eventually apostasy may drive us from the light.
Take, for example, Laman and Lemuel. Like Nephi, they were “born of goodly parents” and taught “in all the learning of [their] father.” Yet they murmured because their father was a visionary man. From their point of view, his decisions defied logic, for they knew not the things of God, and therefore they would not believe.
It is interesting to note that their choices allowed them access to potentially faith-building experiences. They left their home and their riches. They suffered through wanderings in the wilderness. They eventually helped build the boat, and they agreed to journey to an unknown land.
Nephi passed through these same experiences. But did these actions build their faith? Nephi’s faith was made strong, but Laman and Lemuel grew more cynical and angry. These brothers even saw and heard an angel, but alas, they continued to doubt.
Our Savior experienced and suffered the fulness of all mortal challenges “according to the flesh” so He could know “according to the flesh” how to “succor [which means to give relief or aid to] his people according to their infirmities.” He therefore knows our struggles, our heartaches, our temptations, and our suffering, for He willingly experienced them all as an essential part of His Atonement. And because of this, His Atonement empowers Him to succor us—to give us the strength to bear it all.
But brethren, we have been given something more: the priesthood of God, the power of God restored to earth by holy angels. This makes you different. You no longer stand on neutral ground. Your faith will grow not by chance, but by choice.
How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes. Why did the Savior say to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not”? Because there is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.
Two essential weekly signposts that mark our journey back to our Father in Heaven are the perpetual covenant of the ordinance of the sacrament and our Sabbath day observance. President Russell M. Nelson taught us last general conference that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to us. Our devoted weekly observance of the Sabbath is our sign to the Lord that we love Him.
Each Sabbath day we witness that we are “willing to take upon [ourselves His name], and always remember him, and keep his commandments.” In return for our repentant heart and our commitment, the Lord renews the promised remission of sin and enables us to “always have his Spirit to be with [us].” The Holy Spirit’s influence improves, strengthens, teaches, and guides us.
If, in remembering Him each Sabbath, we turn our hearts to the Savior through these two important signposts, our efforts are again more than matched by the Lord by His promised blessings. We are promised that, with devoted Sabbath day observance, the fulness of the earth will be ours.
Many of you know how it feels to defend an unpopular truth. In the Internet slang of today, we talk about getting “flamed” by those who disagree with us. But Daniel wasn’t just risking public ridicule. In Babylon, those who challenged the religious authorities understood what it means—figuratively and literally—to be “flamed.” Just ask Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
Just think about it. How much easier would it have been for Daniel to simply go along with the ways of Babylon? He could have set aside the restrictive code of conduct God had given the children of Israel. He could have feasted on the rich foods provided by the king and indulged in the worldly pleasures of the natural man. He would have avoided ridicule.
He would have been popular.
He would have fit in.
His path might have been much less complicated.
That is, of course, until the day when the king demanded an interpretation of his dream. Then Daniel would have found that he, like the rest of Babylon’s “wise men,” had lost his connection to the true source of light and wisdom.
Daniel passed his test. Ours still continues.
One of my grandsons is here tonight in his first priesthood session. He was ordained a deacon six days ago. He may expect that his first performance of a priesthood duty will be passing the sacrament next Sunday. My prayer is that he will see that moment as it really is.
He may think that his work for the Lord is to pass the sacrament tray to people seated in the sacrament meeting. But the Lord’s purpose is not simply to have people partake of bread and water. It is to have them keep a covenant that will move them along the path to eternal life. And for that to happen, the Lord must give a spiritual experience to the person to whom the deacon offers the tray.
Great courage will be required as we remain faithful and true amid the ever-increasing pressures and insidious influences with which we are surrounded and which distort the truth, tear down the good and the decent, and attempt to substitute the man-made philosophies of the world. If the commandments had been written by man, then to change them by inclination or legislation or by any other means would be the prerogative of man. The commandments, however, were God-given. Using our agency, we can set them aside. We cannot, however, change them, just as we cannot change the consequences which come from disobeying and breaking them.
Sunday Morning Session
The words we use can lift and inspire, or they can harm and demean. In the world today there is a profusion of profanity with which we seem to be surrounded at nearly every turn. It is difficult to avoid hearing the names of Deity being used casually and thoughtlessly. Coarse comments seem to have become a staple of television, movies, books, and music. Bandied about are slanderous remarks and angry rhetoric. Let us speak to others with love and respect, ever keeping our language clean and avoiding words or comments that would wound or offend. May we follow the example of the Savior, who spoke with tolerance and kindness throughout His ministry.
Now, if I could leave one small message with you today, it would be this: the Lord has said, “Love one another; as I have loved you.” I’m conﬁdent that there is no choice, sin, or mistake that you or anyone else can make that will change His love for you or for them. That does not mean He excuses or condones sinful conduct—I’m sure He does not—but it does mean we are to reach out to our fellowman in love to invite, persuade, serve, and rescue. Jesus Christ looked past people’s ethnicity, rank, and circumstances in order to teach them this profound truth.
Our loving Heavenly Father and His Son, Jehovah, with a knowledge of the end from the beginning, opened the heavens and a new dispensation to offset the calamities that They knew would come. The Apostle Paul described the forthcoming calamities as “perilous times.” For me, this suggests that Heavenly Father’s generous compensation for living in perilous times is that we also live in the fulness of times.
As I agonized over my inadequacies this week, I received a distinct impression which both chastened and comforted me: to focus not on what I can’t do but rather on what I can do. I can testify of the plain and precious truths of the gospel.
I now realize that in the Church, to effectively serve others we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes. Only then can we begin to comprehend the true worth of a soul. Only then can we sense the love that Heavenly Father has for all of His children. Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them. We cannot completely fulfill our covenant obligation to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort unless we see them through God’s eyes. This expanded perspective will open our hearts to the disappointments, fears, and heartaches of others. But Heavenly Father will aid and comfort us, just as Chad’s parents comforted me years ago.
Thirty-six years ago, in 1979, President Spencer W. Kimball made a profound prophecy about the impact that covenant-keeping women would have on the future of the Lord’s Church. He prophesied: “Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world … will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”
My dear sisters, you who are our vital associates during this winding-up scene, the day that President Kimball foresaw is today. You are the women he foresaw! Your virtue, light, love, knowledge, courage, character, faith, and righteous lives will draw good women of the world, along with their families, to the Church in unprecedented numbers!
[As an aside, note the dates – Pres. Kimball’s prophecy would not have been uttered were it not for his surgery that Pres. Nelson nearly gave up on]
The Apostle Paul taught us about comparing communication to musical instruments when he wrote to the Corinthians:
“And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
If ever there was a time when the world needs disciples of Christ who can communicate the message of the gospel with clarity and from the heart, it is now. We need the clarion call of the trumpet.
The sacrament is also a time for Heavenly Father to teach us about the Atonement of His Beloved Son—our Savior, Jesus Christ—and for us to receive revelation about it. It is a time to “knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” to request and to receive this knowledge. It is time for us to reverently ask God for this knowledge. And if we do, I have no doubt that we will receive this knowledge, which will bless our lives beyond measure.
The companionship of the Holy Ghost makes what is good more attractive and temptation less compelling. That alone should be enough to make us determined to qualify for the Spirit to be with us always.
Just as the Holy Ghost strengthens us against evil, He also gives us the power to discern truth from falsehood. The truth that matters most is verified only by revelation from God. Our human reason and the use of our physical senses will not be enough. We live in a time when even the wisest will be hard-pressed to distinguish truth from clever deception.
Sunday Afternoon Session
In the body of Christ, we have to go beyond concepts and exalted words and have a real “hands-on” experience as we learn to “live together in love.”
This religion is not concerned only with self; rather, we are all called to serve. We are the eyes, hands, head, feet, and other members of the body of Christ, and even “those members … which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.” We need these callings, and we need to serve.
One of the greatest blessings of being part of the body of Christ, though it may not seem like a blessing in the moment, is being reproved of sin and error. We are prone to excuse and rationalize our faults, and sometimes we simply do not know where we should improve or how to do it. Without those who can reprove us “betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” we might lack the courage to change and more perfectly follow the Master. Repentance is individual, but fellowship on that sometimes painful path is in the Church.
As you reflect on your selected verse each week, words and phrases will be written on your heart. Words and phrases will also be written on your mind. In other words, memorization will take place easily and naturally. But the primary goal of ponderizing is to provide an uplifting place for your thoughts to go—a place that keeps you close to the Spirit of the Lord.
The Savior said, “Treasure up in your minds continually the words of life.” Ponderizing is a simple and edifying way to do just that.
I believe Nephi was a ponderizer. He said, “My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them [continually], and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.” He was mindful of his children as he pondered and wrote the scriptures. How might your family benefit as you continually strive to fill your mind with God’s words?
Finally he rose and walked over to the group. Without saying anything, he pulled a pair of binoculars from his backpack and handed them to one of the surfers, pointing out toward the barrier. Each of the surfers looked through the binoculars. When my turn came, with the help of magnification, I could see something that I had not been able to see before: dorsal fins—large sharks feeding near the reef on the other side of the barrier.
The group quickly became subdued. The old surfer retrieved his binoculars and turned to walk away. As he did, he said words I will never forget: “Don’t be too critical of the barrier,” he said. “It’s the only thing that’s keeping you from being devoured.”
In the “premortal realm” we used our agency to accept God’s plan, and we learned that obedience to God’s eternal law was vital to our success in His plan. Scriptures teach, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated.” If we obey the law, we receive the blessings.
Even with all of the mistakes, opposition, and learning that accompany our mortal experience, God never loses sight of our eternal potential, even when we do. We can trust Him “because God wants His children back.” And He has provided a way through the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Atonement “is the core of the plan of salvation.”
I testify that the Savior will never turn away from us when we humbly seek Him in order to repent; will never consider us to be a lost cause; will never say, “Oh no, not you again”; will never reject us because of a failure to understand how hard it is to avoid sin. He understands it all perfectly, including the sense of sorrow, shame, and frustration that is the inevitable consequence of sin.
Repentance is real and it works. It is not a fictional experience or the product “of a frenzied mind.” It has the power to lift burdens and replace them with hope. It can lead to a mighty change of heart that results in our having “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” Repentance, of necessity, is not easy. Things of eternal significance rarely are. But the result is worth it. As President Boyd K. Packer testified in his last address to the Seventy of the Church: “The thought is this: the Atonement leaves no tracks, no traces. What it fixes is fixed. … The Atonement leaves no traces, no tracks. It just heals, and what it heals stays healed.”
[I can’t think of a more concise, yet powerful summary of the power, scope, and necessity of the Atonement of Jesus Christ than this talk]
An experience my mother and father had many years ago illustrates the importance and power of eyes to see and ears to hear. In 1982 my parents were called to serve in the Philippines Davao Mission. When my mother opened the letter and saw where they were called, she exclaimed to my father, “No! You’ve got to call them and tell them we can’t go to the Philippines. They know you have asthma.” My father had suffered with asthma for many years, and my mother was very worried about him.
A few nights later my mother woke up my dad at about 2:30 a.m. She said, “Merlin, did you hear that voice?”
“No, I didn’t hear any voice.”
“Well, I have heard the same voice three times tonight, saying, ‘Why are you worried? Don’t you know that I know he has asthma? I will take care of him, and I will take care of you. Get yourself ready to serve in the Philippines.’”
The principle is that the God who created the heavens and the earth knows the grand design of this earth, that He has dominion over all things in the heavens and the earth, and that in order to bring to pass the plan of salvation, He provides us with many different experiences—including some trials—while we are on this earth.
“Hold on thy way” is a key choice during times of trial. Turn your heart to God, especially when you face trials. Humbly obey the commandments of God. Show faith to reconcile your wishes with the will of God.
The limitations that are the natural consequence of advancing age can in fact become remarkable sources of spiritual learning and insight. The very factors many may believe limit the effectiveness of these servants can become some of their greatest strengths. Physical restrictions can expand vision. Limited stamina can clarify priorities. Inability to do many things can direct focus to a few things of greatest importance.
Some people have suggested younger, more vigorous leaders are needed in the Church to address effectively the serious challenges of our modern world. But the Lord does not use contemporary philosophies and practices of leadership to accomplish His purposes.