Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and people around the world had the opportunity to spend two weekends listening to the words of modern-day prophets in the 184th Semiannual General Conference.
“We, with Jesus, can walk the path of obedience,” said President Thomas S. Monson.
Christ’s Atonement and the Sacrament
Several speakers in conference focused on what Elder James J. Hamula said has been called one of the Church’s most holy and sacred ordinances — the sacrament.
“Brothers and sisters, the most important event in time and eternity is the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Elder Hamula said. “He who accomplished the Atonement has given us the ordinance of the sacrament to help us not only remember, but also claim all the blessings of this supreme act of grace.”
Sister Cheryl A. Esplin also spoke of the sacrament and its sacredness.
“Aaronic Priesthood holders represent the Savior when they prepare, bless and pass the sacrament,” she said. “As a priesthood holder extends his arm to offer us the sacred emblems, it is as if the Savior himself is extending his arm of mercy, inviting each one of us to partake of the precious gifts of love made available through his atoning sacrifice — gifts of repentance, forgiveness, comfort and hope.”
Sister Esplin also emphasized the enabling power of the Atonement, which is sometimes easy to forget when people focus on correcting their sins.
“‘As I thanked God for the Savior’s enabling power in my life, I felt so much more optimistic toward the repentance process I was working through, and I looked to the next week with renewed hope,'” she quoted a Young Women leader as saying.
President Boyd K. Packer focused on the Atonement and the Savior as the “reason for our hope.”
“Those who will repent and forsake sin will find that his merciful arm is outstretched still,” he said. Those who listen and heed his words and the words of his chosen servants will find peace and understanding, even in the midst of great heartache and sorrow. The result of his sacrifice is to free us from the effects of sin, that all may have guilt erased and feel hope.”
President Monson also discoursed on the Atonement. “The primary purposes of our existence upon the earth are to obtain a body of flesh and bones, to gain experience that could only come through separation from our heavenly parents and to see if we would keep the commandments,” he said. “We, with Jesus, can walk the path of obedience.”
Stay on the ‘Old Ship Zion’
Another common theme throughout conference was staying close to the gospel, despite the chaos in the world.
“Stay in the boat, use your life jackets, hold on with both hands. Avoid distractions,” counseled Elder M. Russell Ballard, likening life to a rafting trip down a raging river.
He used the analogy of staying on the “Old Ship Zion,” a metaphor President Brigham Young used to describe the Church. However, he didn’t pretend that members wouldn’t have questions that would tempt them to stray.
“Having questions and experiencing doubts are not incongruent with dedicated discipleship,” he said. However, he said, the Lord has given his children many tools to safely make it home and stay on the path, including the words of the scriptures and modern-day prophets, which will act as a spiritual life jacket to protect them from the adversary.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf also spoke of staying strong in a world of confusion and chaos. He said although we may feel like we are drifting “aimlessly on an ocean of conflicting information,” God will answer people’s questions when they ask.
“Please consider the magnitude of this promise: The Everlasting and Almighty God, the Creator of this vast universe, will speak to those who approach him with a sincere heart and real intent,” he said. “He will listen, and he will answer your personal questions. The answers to your prayers will come in his own way and in his own time, and therefore, you need to learn to listen to his voice.”
He emphasized that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a place for people of all levels of testimony and that we are all striving for more light.
“It is my testimony that this spiritual light is within the reach of every child of God,” he said. “It will enlighten your mind, bring healing to your heart and joy to your days. My dear friends, please do not delay the moment to seek and strengthen your own personal testimony of God’s divine work, even the work of light and truth.”
Elder Lynn G. Robbins emphasized that, despite questions that may arise, following the world’s way and trying to please man before God is inverting the first and second great commandments.
“Lowering the Lord’s standards to the level of a society’s inappropriate behavior is apostasy,” he said.
He advised listeners to use the perfect example of Christ to remember which way they face.
“When others demand approval in defiance of God’s commandments, may we always remember whose disciples we are, and which way we face,” he said.
Sustaining the prophet
One of the most important ways we can stay on the “Old Ship Zion” is by following and sustaining the prophet.
“Don’t take lightly the feeling you get of love for the prophet of God,” President Henry B. Eyring said. “It is a gift from God. With it you will receive more easily the gift of confirming revelation when he speaks in his office as the Lord’s prophet.”
President Eyring acknowledged that the adversary directly attacks our allegiance as we are asked to do hard things.
“(Love for the prophet) is not easy to feel continually because the Lord often asks his prophets to give counsel that is hard for people to accept,” he said. “The enemy of our souls will try to lead us to take offense and to doubt the prophet’s calling from God.”
However, as many speakers emphasized, following the prophet is one of the most important things Latter-day Saints are commanded to do.
“In a world threatened by a famine of righteousness and spiritual starvation, we have been commanded to sustain the prophet,” Sister Carol F. McConkie said. “As we give heed to, uphold and affirm prophetic word, we witness that we have the faith to humbly submit to the will, the wisdom and the timing of the Lord.”
Elder Russell M. Nelson emphasized sustaining the prophet not just by raise of hand but in “deed and in truth.”
“‘The obligation that we make when we raise our hands … is a most sacred one,'” said Elder Russell M. Nelson, quoting Elder George Albert Smith. “‘It does not mean that we will go quietly on our way and be willing that the prophet of the Lord shall direct this work, but it means … that we will stand behind him; we will pray for him; we will defend his good name, and we will strive to carry out his instructions as the Lord shall direct.'”
He affirmed that all leaders in the Lord’s Church are called by proper authority, and the prophet’s words are the Lord’s words.
Are we not all beggars?
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland called on members to help the poor. He began with one of the most powerful examples of someone who both helped the poor and was poor himself — the Savior.
“Apparently the Creator of heaven and earth, ‘and all things that in them are,’ was, at least in His adult life, homeless,” he said, citing Matthew 8:20. “Down through history, poverty has been considered humankind’s greatest and most widespread challenge. … The great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join him in lifting this heavy burden from the people.”
He said although people might be tempted to judge the poor and see them as having brought their misery upon themselves, those with means need to realize, as King Benjamin once did, “Are we not all beggars?”
“Don’t we all cry out for help and hope and answers to prayers?” Elder Holland asked. “Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we have made and troubles we have caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses, that mercy will triumph over justice, at least in our case?”
Rather than endorsing panhandling, he said one of the ways members can help the poor is to observe the Law of the Fast. He noted that more than three-quarters of a million members of the Church were helped last year through fast offerings.
“Brothers and sisters, such a sermon demands that I acknowledge the unearned, undeserved, unending blessings of my life, both temporal and spiritual,” he said. “Like you, I have had to worry about finances on occasion, but I have never been poor, nor do I even know how the poor feel. … (But) I know that although I may not be my brother’s keeper, I am my brother’s brother, and ‘because I have been given much, I, too, must give.'”
Proclaiming the gospel
Going along with recent themes and his past address, Elder David A. Bednar once again spoke about proclaiming the gospel. This time, however, he directed his remarks to those who are not members of the Church, answering a question that many of them have: “Why are Latter-day Saints so eager to tell me about what they believe and to invite me to learn about their church?”
He explained that members of the Church do this for two reasons: a divine commission and a desire to share something they love.
“The Church of Jesus Christ always has been and always will be a missionary church,” he said. “The individual members of the Savior’s Church have accepted the solemn obligation to assist in fulfilling the divine commission given by the Lord to his Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament.”
Secondly, he shared a story of his young son who was injured once while he was playing outside. His older brother took him inside and covered his entire arm with ointment and bandages. Upon seeing how much better he felt, the younger son proceeded to return outside and share the remaining ointment and bandages with all of his friends.
“Many of us adults behave in precisely the same way when we find a treatment or medication that alleviates pain with which we have long suffered, or we receive counsel that enables us to face challenges with courage and perplexities with patience,” Elder Bednar explained. “Sharing with other people things that are most meaningful to us or have helped us is not unusual at all.”
He concluded by inviting those to whom he spoke to “come and see,” as Jesus invited in the New Testament.