As the primary song says…
Adam was a prophet, first one that we know.
In a place called Eden, he helped things to grow.
Adam served the Lord by following his ways.
We are his descendants in the latter days.
Enoch was a prophet; he taught what was good.
People in his city did just what they should.
When they were so righteous that there was no sin,
Heav’nly Father took them up to live with him.
Noah was a prophet called to preach the word,
Tried to cry repentance, but nobody heard.
They were busy sinning—Noah preached in vain.
They wished they had listened when they saw the rain.
And so it continues…
Abraham the prophet prayed to have a son,…
Moses was a prophet sent to Israel….
Samuel was a prophet chosen as a boy….
Jonah was a prophet, tried to run away,…
Daniel was a prophet. He refused to sin;…
Sometimes in our adult Church meetings today we sing, “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.” We might challenge ourselves with the question of whether we sufficiently do thank God for a prophet by allowing him “to guide us in these latter days.”
The very last verse of that primary song says…
Now we have a world where people are confused.
If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.
We can get direction all along our way,
If we heed the prophets—follow what they say.
In the 32 years since that song was copywritten, one might argue that the world is even more confused and, hence, that the direction of the living prophet is even more critical.
The scriptures exist, of course, to point us to the Savior—and to help us find and stay on that covenant path that prepares us for life with our Father in Heaven. The scriptures also provide example after example of God’s prophets trying to help people get down that path—and example after example of what happens when people follow the living prophet—and what happens when they don’t.
In our day, people come up with many rationalizations for dismissing or minimizing the words of the prophet. Here are five examples—all of which I have heard from numerous sources:
- First, some maintain that he is a very nice and smart man, but he isn’t actually a prophet of God in any legitimately authorized sense.
- Second, some maintain that he is a prophet, but unless he uses the words “I command you,” his direction is optional and non-binding.
- Third, some maintain that their moral agency is so sovereign that nobody may tell them what to do, including a living prophet.
- Fourth, some similarly maintain that unless they receive a personal spiritual confirmation of what the prophet says, they are not obligated to respond.
- Lastly, some maintain that the prophet’s words don’t mean what they appear to mean on the surface to most people.
All of these are wrong. Here are my own responses to those five arguments…
- First, Russell M. Nelson is a prophet. And, he is a seer, and a revelator. He has the right to exercise all priesthood keys on the earth today. All can know that for themselves through personal revelation. Among the ways you can strengthen your own testimony of the living prophet, you can watch what happens in your life when you follow his counsel.
- Second, no prophet in my memory has ever used words like “I command you.” But such words are not required. “It is not meet that I should command in all things,” the Lord has said. And: “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
- Third, the prophet’s instructions, invitations, or encouragement never limit or negate our moral agency or ability to choose. Nor do living prophets ask us to leave our brains at the door. But we will be held accountable for whether we use our moral agency to choose to follow the prophet who was put here to lead us.
- Fourth, while it is true that we are entitled to receive, and even obligated to pursue, personal revelation, including on the question of the authority of the Church and its president, it strains too much our sustaining him as a prophet, seer, and revelator to put each statement he makes to a test of our personal confirmation. Surely one of the major reasons the living prophet emphasizes personal revelation, is because he, is not going to provide all the individual spiritual instruction each of us needs for our unique circumstances. When, though, he speaks to the world (or to a significant portion of the world) in his capacity as prophet, our understanding that he is God’s prophet is generally enough.
- Lastly, there is no doubt that when the prophet speaks to us, he speaks plainly in ways that members worldwide—from various backgrounds, cultures, and education levels—can readily understand, including through scores of translations.
Of course, the last verse of that primary song is prophetic. “Now we have a world where people are confused. If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.”
From where in 2021 do people get their news? How do we inform ourselves? What voices do we hear? How do we decide which voices to trust and which ideas to believe?
Virtually all so-called news sources today are politically and religiously polarized—as has long been the case. Social media is a platform on which anybody can say anything and nearly everybody does. It’s a cacophony of mostly rubbish, although it can be used productively. Our phones, computers, tablets, radios, and televisions are filled with allegedly “unbiased” news sources, professed experts, partisan politicians, scientists (who may or may not be politically or religiously neutral), bloggers, alarmists, greedy opportunists, aptly named “influencers,” peddlers of conspiracy theories, and even the guy next door—although in my case, that’s Karl Bunnell and I am happy to recommend him to you!
Where a living prophet fits into all this should be obvious and comforting because, in fact, he doesn’t “fit in.” He rises above the noise if we will listen. Our testimony of restored priesthood authority should cause us to look to his counsel just as we would hope the Children of Israel would have looked to and trusted Moses—or the people in Noah’s time would have responded to his warnings.
When we’re born into and raised in the Church, I think we can be at risk of certain familiar things being so familiar to us that they are like wallpaper and we miss the critical experience of inquisitiveness and developing a thoughtful understanding.
For example, ask 100 random members of the Church, how many people on the earth today we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators and listen to how many answer correctly. We often have the opportunity to sustain the president of the Church as a prophet, seer, and revelator and sometimes, almost automatically, we say yes or raise our arm, but to what extent do we consider and trust in President Nelson as a seer—one who sees things differently than we do, who sees more than we do, who has a better perspective than we do—even a perspective which may contradict our own initial instincts?
And to what extent do we acknowledge and respond to his role as a revelator? If he responds to circumstances that are new to us—or responds to things in a way that is new to us—does that lead us to doubt his guidance? Or does it lead us to consider his role as one who reveals?
Also, when we answer “yes” in our temple recommend interviews, how thoughtful are we about the president of the Church being authorized to exercise all priesthood keys on the earth today? Or about the idea of there being 15 living prophets, seers, and revelators who each hold all the keys and who work together in unanimity?
It is important for all our well-being that we see President Nelson as more than a nice man and accomplished doctor who ended up leading a large religious organization. Personal revelation is of critical importance, but Russell M. Nelson is the authorized mouthpiece for God to the world today. Responding to him takes faith and humility.
What has he asked us to do? What are we talking about?
- He has asked us to allow God to prevail in our lives.
- He has asked us to honor the Sabbath.
- He has asked us to help gather Israel.
- He has asked us to adjust our approach to social media.
- He has asked us to pray and to repent.
- He has asked us to be on the covenant path.
- He has asked us to regularly set appointments with the Lord in the temple.
- He has asked us to seek to understand temple covenants and ordinances.
- He has asked us to seek personal revelation and learn how to ‘Hear Him.’
- He has asked us to change our homes into places of faith and learning.
- He has given us guidance in how we should respond to the pandemic.
- He once asked us to “identify the debris [we] should remove from [our] lives.”
- He has asked us to “abandon attitudes and actions of prejudice”—and to eliminate contention.
- He has asked us to find the Savior in the Book of Mormon.
- He has asked us to refer to the Church by its proper and scriptural name.
- He has asked us to strengthen our spiritual foundation, built upon the Savior.
- He has asked us to make time for the Lord in our lives—every day.
Let me mention one last concept related to prophets before I close.
It is in vogue to point out that prophets are humans and subject to human errors. The fact that they are humans is inarguable and the fact that they are imperfect is documented in scripture. In some ways, it is very important and helpful to accept and appreciate their humanity. But here’s the risk:
If we are not careful, we can allow our emphasis of their humanity to life ourselves into a role of judgment over them which minimizes or even extinguishes (to us) their divine callings as prophets, seers, and revelators. If we are not careful, we will decide—when their teachings or instructions collide with our ideas—that our perspective is better than theirs; that we see things more clearly than they do (or did); or that we can generously dismiss their “foolish error” as part of their well-intentioned humanity, but elevate ourselves as the great arbiters of all things prophetic or mistaken (and we do sometimes like to pat ourselves on our backs for our condescending generosity) .
This is a path that leads to apostasy. More specifically, it leads us to distance ourselves from the very priesthood keys which are in place to help us along the covenant path. This can be spiritually fatal.
Brothers and sisters, let us not “be slothful because of the easiness of the way.” Prophets are humans. They are the very humans God has authorized to lead and guide us. Blessings of safety, peace, happiness, contentedness, worthiness, and prosperity, both in this life and the hereafter, are ours if we will follow them. I join you in thanking God for a prophet—to guide us in these latter days—our latter days, if you will. And I join the children singing:
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, don’t go astray.
Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, he knows the way.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Among the many things I eagerly look forward to in life (like family vacations, children returning from missions, Mariners games, every “next meal,” the opening night of really good movies…) is General Conference. I sometimes find myself between conferences counting the number of weeks to the next one. I love hearing the talks. I love feeling what I feel. And I particularly enjoy the messages from each of the twelve apostles.
As this weekend approached, the thought occurred to me to do a bunch of live tweeting to my army of Twitter followers during conference. That seemed a little weird, though. Instead, I decided to take a cue from Tim’s lesson to the YSAs last Thursday on preparing for conference and blog about it instead.
So here, in bullet format, are the things that resonated with me the most from conference. (This is not intended to be a play-by-play recap, but rather a few points that were especially meaningful to me.) Your list will, no doubt, be different than mine. That’s one of the beautiful things about hearing messages from dozens of inspired church leaders: we can all hear what we need to hear and we can each receive private and personal inspiration. I’d love to hear what words or messages resonated with you.
- I was particularly struck by two concepts raised by Elder Holland. First, he quoted the Savior saying that if our eye offends us we should pluck it out and if our hand offends us we should cut it off. I am reminded that the JST teaches that our eyes and hands are our friends and family. And I am reminded that we must be very careful regarding the level of influence that we grant to others. (Elder Hales also taught that we must be careful who we follow.) Second, he said that the Savior taught vigorously both the concept that we must be generous in our forgiveness of others and that we ought never condone sin. We must be careful about the sinner and the sin.
- I thought it was interesting for a member of the General Relief Society presidency to address pornography. I assume that is because of its horrible impact on wives and families, though there are many good reasons we should all be concerned about it, to be sure.
- Elder Anderson spoke of whirlwinds as challenges that help us grow. Elder Bednar spoke of “loads” that help us get spiritual traction. Muscles grow through resistance; spirits through opposition.
- There is divine purpose in the delayed positive consequences of good decisions and the delayed negative consequences of bad decisions to help us exercise faith (President Eyring).
- Elder Nelson: 50 million people can be wrong and we need to get used to being more starkly in the minority. Our response needs to be to let our faith more starkly show.
- Interesting that both Elder Hales and Elder Perry focused on obedience.
- Quentin L. Cook: we need to emphasize family history and ordinance work with young single adults.
- It’s probably not right to have favorites, but I always love Elder Oaks’ messages and speaking style. Notable ideas (to me) from his talk included: the presiding councils of the Church are not authorized to change the pattern of priesthood offices being held exclusively by men; women acting in their callings act with priesthood authority; the topic of responsibilities should get more play and the topic of rights should get less; quoting J. Reuben Clark: the role of women is as important as the priesthood, itself; and both men and women are endowed with the same priesthood power in the temple.
- I enjoyed Elder Hallstrom’s comments about claims of “that’s just the way I am” being an unnecessary, unproductive, and premature admission of defeat.
- Both Elder Hallstrom and President Uchtdorf spoke in the priesthood session of manhood and addressed selfishness, service/priorities, worthiness/addiction, and Christlike attributes. President Eyring also addressed aspects of manhood, including service and a profound commitment to honesty.
- I enjoyed hearing President Uchtdorf talk about the restoration being an ongoing event and emphasizing that we believe that many great and important things are yet to be revealed.
- President Uchtdorf’s talk about gratitude this morning was a game-changer. Replacing gratitude for things with gratitude as a disposition, a way of life, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves… This feels right! While it is OK to identify and be grateful for blessings, perhaps catching myself thinking of gratitude for things is a chance to check that my gratitude is, additionally, also independent of those things. If Nephi “praised him all the day long” (and Paul and Silas also sang praises while in chains in prison), I can do much better in this area!
- Saturday evening I said to myself, “We haven’t yet heard a talk on missionary work!” And then I immediately thought, “We haven’t yet heard from Elder Ballard!” Well, sure enough, Elder Ballard, who God sent to ensure I am never comfortable (among other, better reasons), spoke on that topic which pierces my soul every six months more than any other. I’ve got to do better with missionary work!!
- President Monson reminds me (as I’ve been reminded numerous times to too-little avail) that I need to see everyone properly—as a child of God and brother or sister—and that I need to see them with empathy and compassion and be kind. If I could just be more kind to everyone for heaven’s sake!!
- I could not help but get excited to hear that Elder Corbridge would be speaking, since he gave a few years ago what has become my all-time favorite conference talk. It makes sense that he would follow up his powerful testimony of the Savior with a powerful testimony of Joseph Smith, careful to place Joseph and the Savior in their proper relationship. Again, I enjoyed his style very much. And I enjoyed his list of eleven (by my count) key teachings that uniquely came to light through the Prophet.
Now, to try to become a better person and not let these ten hours fail to change me…