Good morning Brothers and Sisters!
It’s extremely exhilarating to be able to speak to all of you today. It’s funny, because I’ve known for years that I’ve wanted to serve a mission, and I’ve had my mission call now for almost four months, but even throughout the entire of process of applying for the call, receiving it, and buying all of the items I need to take with me, I’m still a little starstruck that the time has finally come for me to go out and serve the Lord.
Now as per tradition, I’ve been asked to give a talk before I leave, and the brethren have asked that I talk about prophets. I absolutely love this topic, because 1. Having a living prophet is something very unique to our church that no one else has, and 2. Because next week is general conference when we will be able to hear our prophet speak once again.
In every dispensation, the Lord has revealed His gospel to prophets. From Adam to Abraham to Moses all the way down to our current prophet, there has been a need for living prophets to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and testify of him as our Savior and Redeemer. Among just about every other Christian religion that I know of, however, they believe that the time of prophets ended with John the Baptist. In fact, I was actually surprised to learn that even in Catholicism, the Pope is viewed as the “head apostle”, but isn’t even given the title of prophet.
But why would the succession of prophets end after Christ’s Earthly ministry? Why shouldn’t we have a living prophet in our midst today? If the God we believe in and worship today is the same God of the Nephites and of Moses and Abraham and Adam, then of course we would have a living prophet now, just like back then.
In one of his talks, President Spencer W. Kimball remarked, “There are those who would assume that with the printing and binding of these sacred records, [the four standard works] that would be the ‘end of the prophets.’ But again we testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord.”
To add to this, President Uchtdorf said, “Because Heavenly Father loves His children, He has not left them to walk through this mortal life without guidance and direction.” In short, we continue to have a living prophet today because revelation continues to come from God.
I remember a discussion we were having in seminary once about prophets and how important the current living prophet is to us today. Now, I don’t remember who my teacher was, but I remember that everyone was making comments about who their favorite prophet in the scriptures is or in church history was, and my teacher took this opportunity to teach us something very important: that while we can most definitely have a “favorite prophet”, we must never forget that the most important prophet to us should be the current prophet and president of the church, because he is the only one that can be receiving the most up-to-date and applicable revelation for our generation.
That’s how it’s been for every prophet that has ever lived, and sadly, not a lot of people have always been so grateful to hear what the prophet has to say. President Harold B. Lee shares this story: “Years ago as a young missionary I visited Nauvoo and Carthage with my mission president, and we were holding a missionary meeting in the jail room where Joseph and Hyrum had met their deaths. The mission president related the historical events that led up to the martyrdom and then he closed with this very significant statement: ‘When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, there were many saints who died spiritually with Joseph.’ So it was when Brigham Young died: so it was when John Taylor died. Do revelations given to President John Taylor, for example, have any more authority than something that comes from our president and prophet today? Some Church members died spiritually with Wilford Woodruff, with Lorenzo Snow, with Joseph F. Smith, with Heber J. Grant, with George Albert Smith. We have some today willing to believe someone who is dead and gone and to accept his words as having more authority than the words of a living authority today.”
I was 10 years-old when President Gordon B. Hinckley passed away, and I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. It was a Sunday night and my family was gathered downstairs on the couch watching a Hallmark movie when the program was interrupted with the breaking news of our beloved prophet’s sudden passing. For the next month or so, the biggest topic on everyone’s mind was speculating who was going to be called as the next prophet, but some part of me always knew and felt like the next prophet was going to be Thomas S. Monson. At this time, I didn’t really understand how the First Presidency and the 12 Apostles were organized, but when the news was announced that Thomas S. Monson was the new President and Prophet of the church, I wasn’t surprised at all. Even at such a young age, I’m so grateful to have always had that testimony that our living prophet is a true man called of God to guide us and lead us through these latter days.
So, what are some recent examples of revelation that the prophet has received?
Well, in the late 1990s, President Hinckley was becoming increasingly concerned with some “trends” that were occurring with missionary work, such as convert retention, returned missionary retention, the low number of baptisms, and the quality of missionary teaching. Inquiring into why these problems were becoming increasingly abundant revealed that the way missionary lessons were designed was causing missionaries to simply memorize the lessons and ergo the Holy Ghost. As a result, missionaries didn’t have very strong testimonies, recent converts didn’t have very strong testimonies, and investigators didn’t have testimonies at all because they couldn’t feel the Spirit. To remedy this, the church spent the next four years researching, evaluating, writing, and testing a new missionary manual that would allow missionaries to have lessons and discussions that would utilize the power of the Holy Ghost, and on October 15, 2004, Preach My Gospel was officially introduced to the world. In the introduction of Preach My Gospel, it says that the doctrines in the book are there to, first, strengthen your own gospel knowledge and testimony of the church, and second, to teach others and prepare them to make and keep commitments and covenants. I find a lot of beauty and significance in this simple statement, because for years, missionary manuals were directed at investigators, not missionaries. But now, this intentional shift allows for missionaries to become truly converted to the Lord like never before, and when this conversion takes place, the Spirit that accompanies the missionaries when they’re teaching can touch the investigators heart. President Boyd K. Packer said that Preach My Gospel was “designed beyond the veil and put together here”, and after having spent the last year attending mission prep classes and studying the book, I’m inclined to agree.
A few years ago, there was also a new youth curriculum introduced in the church called Come, Follow Me, designed to help teach students after the Savior’s methods. In Preach My Gospel and Come, Follow Me, I can see how both are designed to use the spirit and prepare youths to become worthy full-time missionaries.
Then, almost exactly four years ago, President Monson made the major, shocking announcement on changing the missionary age requirement from 19 to 18 for boys and from 21 to 19 for girls. At the time, I was a freshman in high school, and I remember, once again, being gathered downstairs with my family around the television, watching President Monson make that announcement, and hearing the gasp from the audience. Looking around the room, I could see my sister and my dad with the most shocked looks on their faces. Before this announcement was made, I’d never really been set on a mission. 21 was still way far off for me, and I figured that by the time I was old enough to serve, there would be some other, bigger reason for me to stay, or that if I really should go on a mission, the timing of it would have to be very convenient for me. Then, lo and behold, the missionary age requirement is changed, and what could be a more convenient time for me to leave than right after high school and right before college?
Of course, I would be exceedingly foolish if my only reason for serving a mission was because the timing of going was “convenient” for me.
The Lord is hastening His work. With the restoration of the Church in 1830, the need for worthy missionaries to go out and preach the gospel has only grown. The new missionary lessons manual, the new youth curriculum, and the new age requirement are just a few examples that show how true this is. In D&C 4:4, it says, “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul.” I love this scripture so much. To me, a huge part of the Doctrine and Covenants is all about missionary work, and how important it is that all of God’s children hear His gospel.
Now, I like to consider myself a logical person. I make pros and cons lists to help me make decisions all the time, I use reasoning to help motivate me to get out of bed everyday, and I don’t do things that I don’t find worthwhile or beneficial, and deciding to serve a mission is most definitely the biggest choice I’ve ever had to make, and yet, it was incredibly easy for me to make that choice when the time came. So how was I able to come to this stage in my life where I could be prepared, worthy, and ready to answer that call to serve?
I give a lot of credit to great parents who strived hard to make sure I came to church every Sunday, even when I woke up only ten minutes before sacrament. I’ve been blessed with wonderful leaders who exemplified their callings in the church, and allowed me to feel my Savior’s love through them. My sister has been a major inspiration and example to me. My friends have helped keep me on the straight and narrow, and I think all of these people have been so wonderful because they hearkened to the prophet’s voice.
Having family, friends, leaders, and a living prophet is undeniably the reason why I have a testimony of this church. I know a lot of people who say they’ve always known the church was true, there was never any doubt in their minds. I, on the other hand, always believed that the church was true, thanks to having been raised up in it by goodly parents and by having such goodly influences, but the difference between me believing the church was true and knowing the church was true was like the difference between night and day. The summer following my freshman year was when I came to truly know that the church was true. My parents sent me and my sister to EFY, yet another totally inspired program, and it was during the great week that I received the answer to a question that had been pressing upon my minds for years, and I will never forget that feeling I had when I was kneeling on the floor of my dorm with my roommate, praying out loud and thanking my Heavenly Father for caring so much about me. The Spirit truly overwhelmed my heart, and I knew, I knew that my Heavenly Father was real, and that my Savior was real, and that they knew me and loved me infinitely. And ever since I have felt that Spirit, I have had that desire to share it with others.
Every time someone asked me why I wanted to serve a mission, all I could think of was Lehi’s vision, where he sees the tree of life. In 1 Nephi 8:10-12, it says, “And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also, for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.”
I cannot think of better analogy for how I felt after having gained my testimony. I love this part of Lehi’s vision so much, because I truly cannot imagine a more wonderful sensation than to know that Heavenly Father knows and loves you. And after coming to learn and realize this for myself, how could I not have that desire to share it with others? How many people in the world do we see struggling and suffering, feeling like there is no hope left for them in the world, when the atonement provides eternal hope?
The rest of my high school years, I went through a lot of struggles — my family can bear witness to this, not to mention my friends and I’m sure even my Young Women leaders can testify to hearing me complain nearly nonstop since they’ve met me. But to me, it seemed like I had no sooner gained my testimony of this church than the adversary tried to destroy it, and I had a lot of nights spent by myself in my bedroom, praying with all my heart that everything would just be okay, and all I could do was trust in my Savior and my Heavenly Father that I could make it through my struggles, that I could endure to the end. And the good news is that so far, I have! And it seems so silly to me now that difficult teachers and difficult classes that caused me so much grief at the time can now be looked back upon as just “something that was really hard”.
My testimony of this church has, consequently, only grown, and with it, my desire to share it with others.
Now, I’m going to switch gears a little bit, and I hope you can all forgive me, because I’m not quite done with my talk yet and I have a few other things I’d like to share with you that may not be so directly related to “prophets”.
In Elder Holland’s talk The First Great Commandment, he narrates what he thinks Christ said to Peter when he found him fishing after his resurrection. “After asking Peter three times if he loves him, “Peter earnestly replies, “Lord, … thou knowest that I love thee.”
To which Jesus responded…perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”
I absolutely love Elder Holland, and I absolutely love this talk of his, because the message in this talk is so true and so accurate. The Lord needs and will always need missionaries to feed his sheep and save his lambs, to preach his gospel and defend our faith. And I love my Heavenly Father and I love my Savior.
I was reading the other day an article called The Mormonizing of America. The author wasn’t LDS, but is of some other Christian denomination. At the beginning of his article, he talks about how the LDS faith has only 14 million members, and only 7 million in the US. 7 million is about 2% of our country’s population. San Francisco and London boast of having 7 million residents. 7 million is one million more than the population of Washington and one million less than Virginia, and 14 million is about the population of Guatemala.
As I was reading these statistics, I started to feel a little overwhelmed. The task of going out all over the world to preach the gospel so that every living thing may hear it seems impossible on a planet with 7 billion people living on it (that we know of). There are so many people in the world who need to hear the gospel, but for one reason or another, never will. But as I was musing about this situation, I was reminded of another story, The Starfish Story.
The story goes: As an old man walked the beach, he saw a boy picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. He asked the boy what he was doing, and the boy answered that the starfish would die if left stranded on the shore. Confused, the old man responded, “But the beach goes on for miles and there are thousands of starfish. You can’t make a difference.” The boy looked at the starfish in his hand, tossed it into the ocean and said, “Made a difference for that one.”
So many times we are like the old man in this story. We see that there are so many starfish on the beach and see no point in going out and saving them because we feel like it will make no difference to save just a few when we can’t save them all. But to those who are saved, it has made all of the difference.
Just like how Christ will leave the 99 to find the one lost sheep, we need to go out and help him in bringing back that one sheep to the fold.
I know that Heavenly Father knows and loves each and every single one of us. When he looks at His children here on earth, He’s not thinking of us in terms of numbers but by our names. He knows what are trials are. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows our unlimited potential, and He wants us to be happy so much so that He sent His Only Begotten Son to die for us so that we might choose to return to Him and have everlasting joy.
I am so grateful for our Savior and the Atonement, and we are so blessed to have a living prophet today. Next week we have the amazing opportunity to once again listen to our prophet’s voice, and I hope that all of you will take the time to hearken to it. I am so excited to have the opportunity to serve a full-time mission is Bolivia, and to be able to share my testimony and the gospel to the people there. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.