Listen Carefully to Our Living Prophets
Brothers and sisters, I’m grateful to be here today. I want to speak today about the opportunities and blessings of listening to and heeding the voice of our living prophet and apostles. We have the blessing—really the matchless blessing, and maybe we take it for granted sometimes—of living our whole lives on the world at a time when there is a living prophet of the living God, who the Prophet Joseph Smith referred to as “a legal administrator” for the kingdom of God on the earth.” (See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, , p. 274.)
The Lord said, speaking of His servants: “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” (D&C 68:4)
We’re getting ready, I hope, to listen to our prophets and apostles again. In just a few weeks we’ll have general conference. And I’d like our remarks and our time and our pondering [and] the notes you make in the notebooks you brought . . . to be helpful in our preparation, in your preparation and my preparations, to listen again to the prophet of God and the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of my earliest recollections of general conference was when I was about six years old. Rather than watch conference on television that day, I wanted to listen to it by myself on the radio. And so I went to my room, and I heard, among other things—but what I remember I heard that day as a young boy was the voice of President David O. McKay as he bore witness of the Lord Jesus Christ and of God, our Eternal Father, and of the truthfulness of the Church.
With the help of the publishing services of the Church and my assistant, Donna McMillan, and the staff that is here today, we can listen to President McKay’s voice as I could listen to it on my radio. As you do, listen carefully. He speaks slowly; that allows his words to sink right down into our hearts. So don’t get impatient for the next word, and don’t get impatient by the recording—this was in 1961, so you’re going to hear conference as it really was. But focus on what the prophet said that day; focus on his testimony, his witness if you will, and maybe you will feel something that I did.
“I give my testimony that God lives, that He is close to us, that His Spirit is real, that His voice is real, that Jesus Christ, His Son, stands at the head of this great work, and no matter how much the atheistic philosophy takes hold of blinded boys and girls and men who hear Satan’s voice, the truth stands as declared by the Father and the Son to that boy prophet. They are real. And you and I and all the members of The Church of Jesus Christ have the responsibility to declare that truth to the world. And it’s full of honest men and women waiting to hear that truth.”
When I heard President McKay’s testimony, even though I was young, I felt the truth of it. Something inside of me said, “Jesus is real. Jesus Christ does stand at the head of this Church. That man that was speaking through that radio is a prophet.” And I knew it in my heart.
Each and every general conference can provide us with spiritual experiences and with witnesses anew of our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ our Savior, and of their work on the earth today.
King Benjamin prefaced his remarks, his famous sermon, with an invitation and injunction to his people. He said he had asked them to gather together “that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that you may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.” (Mosiah 2:9)
We should prepare for general conference, and I will suggest today five lessons for listening to the prophets. Elder Bednar has taught some of these, and others of the Brethren have taught them. And I hope that they are helpful for you in your preparation for conference this time and always. The five lessons for listening to the prophets are: Listening for revelation, listen for doctrine, listen for invitations to act including warnings, listen for promised blessings, and listen for their witness—especially their witness of the Father and of the Son.
The first lesson for listening to the prophets is to listen for revelation—that which the Lord has revealed to them through the power of the Holy Ghost. For my twelfth birthday, I asked my parents if we could attend conference in the Tabernacle. I hadn’t ever done it before; we hadn’t yet done it before. President Joseph Fielding Smith was president of the Quorum of the Twelve. I remember it so clearly—we sat under the balcony. It was kind of like being over on this side of the row about halfway back but over in the Tabernacle. President Joseph Fielding Smith was president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and that day he spoke as guided by the Spirit. Let’s listen to how he started his talk that morning:
“My dear brethren and sisters, I made a few notes and thought I would present them here on this occasion, but I have changed my mind after what we have heard. And I hope the Lord will help me. The singing of the Choir has called my attention to the fact that there is a divine Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
President Smith proceeded to teach the Fall and the Atonement, but I sat there totally impressed—amazed, perhaps astonished—at the thought of a man setting aside his prepared remarks in front of those TV cameras and all those people, and speaking simply as guided by the Spirit. I’ve thought about it time and time and time again, all through my life, that President Smith was a prophet and an apostle. And the Spirit bore witness to me that day that what he was saying was guided by the Holy Spirit. He had received revelation, and what we were hearing was the result.
As Nephi taught, “By the spirit are all things made known unto the prophets.” (1 Nephi 22:2) So, listen to President Monson. His talks always contain evidence of revelation—that which the Spirit has told him or impressed him to think and say and do.
The second lesson for listening to prophets is to listen for doctrine. I was recently returned from my full-time mission—the year was 1977—when President Boyd K. Packer taught the Atonement and the need for a Mediator, through what he called a parable. He told of a man who had gone into debt, and now could not pay the debt when it came due. The person who had loaned him the money insisted that the man pay the debt or suffer the punishments of the contract. The man who could not pay his debt pleaded for some sort of relief so that he wouldn’t have to suffer all the consequences of the contract. The person who had lent the money wanted justice; the man who couldn’t pay wanted mercy. And it seemed that justice and mercy could not coexist until a third person came, who offered to pay the debt in full, satisfying justice, and offered conditions to the man who couldn’t pay, for him to be able to repent and be forgiven—offering mercy. So justice and mercy could happen—but only through a third person.
Following the parable, President Packer taught pure doctrine. If you listen carefully, you will begin to understand just how important this doctrine is to us every day.
“Each of us lives on a kind of spiritual credit. One day, the account will be closed, a settlement demanded. However casually we may view it now, when that day comes and the foreclosure is imminent, we will look around in restless agony for someone, anyone, to help us.
“And, by eternal law, mercy cannot be extended save there be one who is both willing and able to assume our debt and pay the price and arrange the terms for our redemption.
“Unless there is a mediator, unless we have a friend, the full weight of justice untempered, unsympathetic, must, positively must fall on us. The full recompense for every transgression, however minor or however deep, will be exacted from us to the uttermost farthing.
“But know this: Truth, glorious truth, proclaims there is such a Mediator.
“For, as the prophet said, ‘There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ (1 Timothy 2:5)
“Through Him mercy can be fully extended to each of us without offending the eternal law of justice.
“This truth is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them.” (“The Mediator,” April conference, 1977, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/print/1977/04/the-mediator?lang=eng&clang=eng.)
Hearing President Packer teach so simply and clearly the doctrine of the Atonement and of a Mediator increased my understanding of the Atonement then and it provided a foundation for additional gospel learning ever since then. Like Nephi of old, President Packer had taught that “save Christ should come all men must perish.” (2 Nephi 11:6)
The second lesson then, for listening to prophets, is to listen for doctrine. Listen to President Monson and to his counselors and to the Twelve. They teach the basic doctrine of Jesus Christ.
The third lesson for listening to prophets is to listen for their invitations, including warnings. Remember the Lord has declared, “Whoso heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man.” (3 Nephi 14:24) All the prophets invite us to do specific things. Some of you remember President Hinckley’s voice and his invitations to act. Can you think in your mind some of the invitations from President Hinckley—things that he asked us to do—like read the Book of Mormon? And there are many others.
Perhaps you were far too young to remember a specific warning from President Hinckley. In 1998, in conference, he related the Old Testament account of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream in Egypt. The essence of that dream was that there would be seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine and of want. President Hinckley went on to say that he didn’t want the Church to go into a panic and that he wasn’t preaching or predicting a doomsday, but he did want to warn us to live providently and prudently, to live within our means. He said we should get out of debt. He said we should save money for a rainy day. Listen to President Hinckley’s warning:
“I recognize that it may be necessary to borrow to get a home, of course. But let us buy a home that we can afford and thus ease the payments which will constantly hang over our heads without mercy or respite for as long as 30 years.
“No one knows when emergencies will strike. I am somewhat familiar with the case of a man who was highly successful in his profession. He lived in comfort. He built a large home. Then one day he was suddenly involved in a serious accident. Instantly, without warning, he almost lost his life. He was left a cripple. Destroyed was his earning power. He faced huge medical bills. He had other payments to make. He was helpless before his creditors. One moment he was rich, the next he was broke.
“Since the beginnings of the Church, the Lord has spoken on this matter of debt. To Martin Harris through revelation He said: ‘Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage’ (D&C 19:35).” (“To the Boys and to the Men,” October 1998 general conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/1998/10/to-the-boys-and-to-the-men?lang=eng.)
Brothers and sisters, for the years immediately following President Hinckley’s remarks, things went well. The stock market continued to rise, unemployment was relatively low. For many people in this country and other countries, life was pretty good. But then in 2007 and 2008, the bubble burst. Since that time we have had higher unemployment. We’ve had higher incidence of bankruptcies, of broken hearts and of broken homes. Those who heard and heeded the prophet’s warning were spared much of the anguish that those who didn’t heed that warning had to go through—and some are still going through.
The third lesson for listening to the prophets is to listen for invitations to act, including warnings. The Lord has said to His servants, “I sent you out to testify and warn the people.” (D&C 88:81) Listen to President Monson in some of his most recent talks. He has included warnings against the trials and temptations of our day.
The fourth lesson for listening to the prophets is to listen for promised blessings. When prophets speak in the name of the Lord, they declare the Lord’s promises—the promised blessings that the Lord will extend to all those who follow and obey Him. One of the promised blessings that has influenced my wife and our family for many years came from President Ezra Taft Benson. Listen carefully to the promised blessing from a prophet of God:
“I promise you that, with increased attendance in the temples of our God, you shall receive increased personal revelation to bless your life as you bless those who have died.” (“The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants,” April 1987 general conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/1987/04/the-book-of-mormon-and-the-doctrine-and-covenants?lang=eng. )
When we heard that we could receive the blessing of increased personal revelation through increased temple attendance, we began to attend the temple more frequently. And we’ve experienced—so gratefully and humbly spoken—but we have experienced and continue, time after time, to experience the blessings of increased revelation, personally and to our family through increased temple attendance.
You see, the Lord has said that His word, and that would include His promises, “shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38) The fourth lesson: listen for the promised blessings. Listen to President Monson and our other leaders, and you will hear promised blessings that they declare.
The fifth lesson for listening to prophets and apostles is to listen for their witness, especially their witness of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Among the many powerful witnesses that I have heard throughout my life, one that is easy to recall is the witness of Elder Bruce R. McConkie. It was his final testimony; he died a few days later. He was an apostle, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. During his lifetime, he wrote volumes—literally volumes—regarding the Lord Jesus Christ. There might not have been anybody on this world, anywhere, that knew more about the Savior than He did, unless maybe it was the prophet then. But in his final days, during the April 1985 general conference, Elder McConkie taught again the Atonement of the Lord, and concluded with this powerful testimony:
“And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
“I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.
“But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.
“God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin.” (“The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” April 1985, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/1985/04/the-purifying-power-of-gethsemane?lang=eng. )
The calling of apostles and prophets is to be special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world. When we heard Elder McConkie’s witness, we knew it was true. And it caused us to ponder many, many times over the years—how much better will I know then than I know now that Jesus is the Christ? We know, don’t we? And the witness of the prophets and apostles remind us and renew that witness in us each time.
Listen to President Monson, his counselors, and the Twelve. They bear living witness of the living Christ.
Brothers and sisters, there are countless other examples in my life and in my experience. President Harold B. Lee taught us that the most important of the Lord’s work that we will ever do will be that which we do in the walls of our own home. (See Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee (2000), 134)President Spencer W. Kimball taught us to lengthen our stride and quicken our pace in spreading the gospel to all the world. (See “Are We Doing All We Can?” Ensign, Feb. 1983, http://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/02/are-we-doing-all-we-can?lang=eng.) I get chills even when I think about it right now, even when I am talking. President Howard W. Hunter invited all Church members to be worthy of a temple recommend. (See “The Great Symbol of Our Membership,” Ensign, Oct. 1994 http://www.lds.org/ensign/1994/10/the-great-symbol-of-our-membership?lang=eng. ) That was just a few years before President Hinckley, then, had the revelation about having 100 temples built before the turn of the century, and having the temples be closer to the members of the Church. More people had their recommends; more were ready for the temples.
President Ezra Taft Benson promised that in homes where families and individuals—this might have affected our family more than any other one that I’ve mentioned—that in homes where families and individuals read the Book of Mormon daily, “reverence, respect, and consideration will increase and the spirit of contention will depart.” (See “The Book of Mormon, Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1986/11/the-book-of-mormon-keystone-of-our-religion?lang=eng.) And we tested that in our homes, day after day, year after year. And we have seen the spirit of contention give way because of the power of the Book of Mormon, as promised by a prophet of God.
President Monson has taught that the sweetest experience in all of this life is to feel the Lord’s promptings as He directs us in the furtherance of His work. (See “Peace, Be Still,” Oct. 2002 general conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2002/10/peace-be-still?lang=eng.)
Each of these declarations, these invitations and promises, have affected me in my life deeply, and our family’s. Think of the conference moments that you have had—what testimonies, what invitations, what witnesses, what doctrine have affected you? What has been especially meaningful for you in listening to a prophet’s voice?
Whatever the past experiences have been, I hope and pray that we will prepare for the next time we hear the prophet’s voice. Perhaps these five lessons will help us. Just in quick review: Listen for revelation, listen for doctrine, listen for invitations to act including warnings, listen to promised blessings, and listen to their special, special witness.
As we prepare to listen to President Monson and the other leaders this conference, I’d like to repeat to you a caution. Here’s my own little warning. It’s prophetic, too, because it’s really a warning that the Lord gave to the prophet Ezekiel. He warned Ezekiel that sometimes the people might not see him quite as a prophet like they should.
I’m going to read from Ezekiel chapter 33, starting with verse 30:
“Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord.
“And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
“And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.
“And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.” (verses 30-33)
This is the deal. President Monson and all of our leaders today are very enjoyable to listen to. President Monson recounts personal experiences and examples one after another after another. If we are not careful, we can enjoy those stories and experiences he relates so much that we fail to hear and feel and internalize the revelations and the doctrine and the invitations and warnings and blessings and witnesses. If we’re not careful, his words can be to us “as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument,” and we can hear them but forget to do them.
So please remember, when President Monson tells an experience—please remember, he always recounts the experiences that he recounts for a purpose. Whenever you hear him relate a story or an experience, ask yourself—don’t ask yourself, “Have we heard this one before?” Don’t ask yourself that. It’s the wrong question. Ask yourself, “Why is he telling us this experience today? What does the Lord and his prophet want me to learn and to do because of this experience that he is recounting?”
For example, in priesthood session of our most recent general conference, President Monson recounted this experience:
“Some years ago, before this beautiful Conference Center was built, a visitor to Temple Square in Salt Lake City attended a general conference session in the Tabernacle. He listened to the messages of the Brethren. He paid attention to the prayers. He heard the beautiful music by the Tabernacle Choir. He marveled at the grandeur of the magnificent Tabernacle organ. When the meeting had ended, he was heard to say, ‘I would give everything I possess if I knew that what those speakers said today was true.’ In essence he was saying, ‘I wish that I had a testimony of the gospel.’” (“See Others As They May Become,” October 2012 general conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/see-others-as-they-may-become?lang=eng.)
So why did he tell that story? Why did he tell that experience of that man coming to that conference?
He tells us. Just listen to the next words. He says, President Monson, “There is absolutely nothing in this world that will provide more comfort and happiness than a testimony of the truth.” By telling the experience of a man who visited general conference, President Monson helped us understand that a testimony of the truth will provide more comfort and happiness than anything else in this world. Now that’s why it’s so important that we share the gospel. That’s at the heart of the change in missionary age. It is the major purpose underlying why we need to be better missionaries, every one of us, now. Because all people in the world, President Monson recounted in his talk—everyone needs to have a testimony, everyone needs to have the opportunity to have the comfort and happiness and joy that come from a testimony of the truth. That’s why he told us that experience.
Now let’s listen again, from our most recent conference. Listen carefully—and this is helpful when we listen to prophets, too—kind of listen on the edge of your seat. Don’t sit back like the people of Ezekiel and say, “Well, let’s see what the prophet will say now. Let’s see if it’s enjoyable to listen to.” Listen on the edge of your seat. Try to hear, because in this that we’re going to hear, you can hear all of the five—you can hear revelations and doctrines and invitations and warnings, and you can hear promised blessings and witnesses. So sit on the edge of your chair and wait to hear the next one, and take as much in as you possibly can.”
“May we ever watch over one another, assisting in times of need. Let us not be critical and judgmental, but let us be tolerant, ever emulating the Savior’s example of loving kindness. In that vein, may we willingly serve one another. May we pray for the inspiration to know of the needs of those around us, and then may we go forward and provide assistance.
“Let us be of good cheer as we go about our lives. Although we live in increasingly perilous times, the Lord loves us and is mindful of us. He is always on our side as we do what is right. He will help us in time of need. Difficulties come into our lives, problems we do not anticipate and which we would never choose. None of us is immune. The purpose of mortality is to learn and to grow to be more like our Father, and it is often during the difficult times that we learn the most, as painful as the lessons may be. Our lives can also be filled with joy as we follow the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“The Lord admonished, ‘Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33) What great happiness this knowledge should bring to us. He lived for us and He died for us. He paid the price for our sins. May we emulate His example. May we show our great gratitude to Him by accepting His sacrifice and living lives that will qualify us to return and one day live with Him.” (President Thomas S. Monson, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again, October 2012 general conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/god-be-with-you-till-we-meet-again?lang=eng.)
Did you hear the invitations? Did you hear the invitation to watch over one another, to be of good cheer, the warning that there will be difficult times and the lessons we learn may be painful? Did you hear the promised blessings of happiness and joy if we’re following the gospel teachings of Jesus Christ? What else did you hear? What did you hear and feel?
Finally, let’s listen to one more. Listen for the specific blessings again and the invitations. Listen especially to a promise about prayer and for President Monson’s witness of the Lord.
“I testify to you that our promised blessings are beyond measure. Though the storm clouds may gather, though the rains may pour down upon us, our knowledge of the gospel and our love of our Heavenly Father and of our Savior will comfort and sustain us and bring joy to our hearts as we walk uprightly and keep the commandments. There will be nothing in this world that can defeat us.
“My beloved brothers and sisters, fear not. Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith.
“I declare that God lives and that He hears and answers our prayers. His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and our Redeemer.” (“Be Of Good Cheer, April 2009 general conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2009/04/be-of-good-cheer?lang=eng.)
I bear my testimony. I know that God is our Father and that Jesus Christ is His holy and Only Begotten Son, our Redeemer and Savior. And I know that this is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, restored by the Savior through a prophet, Joseph Smith, and led now by the Savior through living prophets. How great we should count a blessing to live on the earth when the heavens are open. God speaks through living oracles, living prophets. How wonderful it is to have the Spirit bear witness to us that that is true, and that their words are true.
I pray that we will prepare. I pray that we’ll look forward with anticipation. I pray that we’ll sit on the edge of our seats as we have the blessing and opportunity of listening to the prophets, this time and every time. And I pray it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.