The following speech was delivered to the Canyon View 9th Ward on 21 March 2021.
I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to do something a little different today. Rather than deliver a talk, I’m going to give you a test today to measure an important aspect of your spiritual life. There are lots of different aspects, but we’re just going to measure just one of them.
Now I’m doing this because for a living, I write assessments that measure different phenomena. Sometimes they have to do with psychological or relationship attributes, and other times they have to do with preferences, such as why you do the things you do or why you purchase the things you purchase, and so on. But today I’m going to venture outside of the norm and deliver a spiritual assessment.
As you may know, I live at the southern tip of your ward. My next door neighbors are Eileen and Lane Strong, behind me are the Lambsons and the Brobergs. Every day I try to go for a walk, which often takes me around the park or up through your neighborhoods. A couple of weeks ago, after I received this assignment to speak to your ward as well as the topic, I was pondering what I should say, and this idea came to mind. So I hope it will be meaningful to you.
If you want to participate, you will need a pencil and a piece of paper or some sort of new-fangled electronic gadget to keep track of your score. You will make a tick mark if you answer the question with a yes. At the end, we will count up how many tick marks you’ve made and this will give you an indicator on how well you are doing.
At least on this particular aspect. There are others that are important, but according to President Benson, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, this is perhaps the most important one. In 1980 at a speech at BYU, he said:
“To help you pass the crucial tests which lie ahead I am going to give you a grand key which, if you will honor it, will crown you with God’s glory and bring you out victorious in spite of Satan’s fury.”
Now, to you old timers who were alive in 1980, do you recall what that grand key was? I had just started the 9th grade at that time, and everyone knows 9th graders shouldn’t be held accountable for anything. Your brains are totally full of mush. Such an awkward time. I remember barking like a dog and eating handfuls of grass to impress the girls. Its no wonder I didn’t have my first kiss for 10 more years. But those of you who were older and more mature, do you remember President Benson’s advice?
Let me give you a clue. We’ve studied this idea in Come Follow Me a couple of times this year. You will find it clearly described in D&C Section 1:38 and D&C Section 21:4-7. Now both of these declarations come directly from Jesus Christ. The first reference is a scripture mastery scripture from seminary and is also a key principle in the missionary discussions. Let’s read it, shall we? D&C 1:38:
“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
So have you guessed the grand key yet? Let’s read D&C 21:4-7 now. It should make it crystal clear. This time, the Lord is talking to the newly organized church about its first designated Prophet.
“Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed to all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith. For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory. For thus saith the Lord God: Him have I inspired to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good, and his diligence I know, and his prayers I have heard.”
There you have it, President Benson’s grand key is “to follow the prophet.”
That’s also the title of one our children’s favorite primary songs. It was written by Duane Hiatt, one of The Three D’s. Remember that comedy/western folk-music singing trio from the 60s and 70s? He passed away last May at the age of 82.
Brother Hiatt said the inspiration for that song came from the story of pioneer Stillman Pond. Stillman had been driven out of Nauvoo and crossing the plains he lost his wife, and all but two of his eleven children to what they called “chills and fever.” He himself became so sick he could only sit tipped sideways on his wagon seat. To drive his team, he peered through a knot hole in the dashboard of the wagon. All he could see were the wagon tracks of those who had gone before him, including Brigham Young. Brother Hiatt imagined that this is what Stillman Pond thought in his mind, “I know God lives, but I am so sad, so sick, so weak. How can I go on? I will peer through this knot hole and step by step, I will follow the prophet.”
Perhaps some of us can relate to old Stillman Pond, especially after what we have experienced lately. If not, fasten your seatbelts, because this sort of trial of our faith might be right around the corner. In fact, many of us are likely to experience amazing challenges in the not too distant future as the earth is thrown into chaos and commotion in preparation for the Savior’s second coming.
So how well are you doing in following the prophet? That’s what we’re going to measure now. There are 25 possible points.
Now, please keep in mind that most of us aren’t going to score a perfect score. Many of us won’t even get half of them. If this was a school, we might even fail the class. But you know what? That’s perfectly fine. This church was built especially for failures. So you’re in the right place. I’m a failure. I’m a sinner. I fall short every single day. But because of the mercy and grace and power which comes from the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I can repent and try over and over and over again. So don’t be discouraged if you get a low score today. That just means you get more chances to feel the amazing love that comes from God as we make improvements in our lives.
So please remember that I’m not here today in the capacity of a guilt-trip travel agent. The last thing I want to do is have you walk away from this meeting feeling like you’re not up to snuff. The mere fact that you’re at this meeting at all tells me your heart is in the right place.
President Nelson has been the president of the church for just over three years now. So much has happened to us as a church during that time, hasn’t it? And so much more will happen in the future. But a lot of it depends on how well we follow his prophetic counsel.
I’m now going to give you a list of 25 things that President Nelson has asked us to do since becoming the current leader of the Savior’s church. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, this is just a list of things that jumped out to me.
After I read each item, make a little tick mark on a piece of paper if you think you followed or are currently following that invitation.
Ready? Let us begin the assessment.
The Follow the Prophet Assessment
- Turn social media into your own personal gratitude journal. For seven days, post every day about what you are grateful for, who you are grateful for and why you are grateful. (Nov 2020)
- Express gratitude to God in daily prayer before petitioning Him for the things we need. Prayer brings forth miracles. (Nov 2020)
- “Embrace a new normal” by turning your heart, mind and soul to Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ and repenting daily. (Oct 2020)
- Seek to be increasingly pure in thought, word and deed by minister to others, keeping an eternal perspective, and magnifying your callings. (Oct 2020)
- And whatever your challenges, live each day so that you are more prepared to meet your Maker. (Oct 2020)
- Keep on the covenant path by making and keeping sacred covenants. (Jan 2018)
- Doing and being a little better each day (Apr 2019).
- I plead with you who have distanced yourselves from the Church and with you who have not yet really sought to know that the Savior’s Church has been restored. Do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please do it now. Time is running out. (Apr 2019)
- Increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation. “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” (Apr 2018)
- Prayerfully study Doctrine and Covenants 25 and “all the truths you can find about priesthood power” to increase your spiritual capacity.
- Remodel your home into “a sanctuary of faith” and a “center of gospel learning.” (Oct 2018)
- Prepare temporally, emotionally and spiritually, and embrace the future with faith. “I promise that as we create places of security, prepare our minds to be faithful to God, and never stop preparing, God will bless us.” (Oct 2020)
- Ask yourselves these two questions: “How would my life be different if my knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon were suddenly taken away?” “How have the events that followed the First Vision made a difference for me and my loved ones?” Then immerse yourself in the glorious light of the Restoration.
- Think deeply and often about this key question: How do you hear Him? When we seek to hear — truly hear — His Son, we will be guided to know what to do in any circumstance. (Feb 2020)
- Study the new proclamation to the world called, “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Study it privately and with your family members and friends. (Apr 2020)
- Help to gather Israel by doing something that helps someone — on either side of the veil — to make and keep their covenants with God. (Oct 2020)
- Let God prevail in your life. Let him be the most important influence in your life. (Oct 2020)
- Make a list of all that the Lord has promised He will do for covenant Israel. Then ponder these promises. Talk about them with your family and friends. Then live and watch for these promises to be fulfilled in your own life. (Oct 2020)
- Read daily from the Book of Mormon to learn more about the gathering. (Jun 2018)
- Fast from social media for seven days if you are a youth, and ten days if you are an adult. (Jun & Oct 2018)
- Make a weekly sacrifice of time to the Lord. (Jun 2018)
- Pray daily that all of God’s children might receive gospel blessings. (Jun 2018)
- Stand out and be a light to the world. (Jun 2018)
- Participate fully in your church meetings as your health permits. (Oct 2020)
- Use the time when temples are closed to continue to live a temple-worthy life or to become temple worthy. (Apr 2020)
So how well are you doing at following the current prophet? Add up all of your tick marks. As I mentioned earlier, there are 25 possible points but if you’re anything like me, you’re a little short.
Sometimes I ask myself, if I were arrested on charges of following a prophet, would there be enough evidence to convict me? While there is some, I think I have room for improvement. I’m not sure there is a preponderance of evidence. But fortunately, there is still time to repent and make up any missed assignments. Today would be a good day to start.
In 1992, while the president of the church, President Benson, was suffering from serious health problems, his counselor, Gordon Hinckley said this:
I plead for loyalty to him whom the Lord has called and anointed. I plead for steadfastness in upholding him and giving attention to his teachings. I have said on another occasion at this pulpit that if we have a prophet, we have everything. If we do not have a prophet, we have nothing. We do have a prophet. We have had prophets since the founding of this Church. We shall never be without a prophet if we live worthy of a prophet.
The Lord is watching over this work. This is His kingdom. We are not as sheep without a shepherd. We are not as an army without a leader. God help us to be true and faithful, to hear with listening ears that counsel which has come from Him who is our Father and our God, and from Him who is our Savior and our Redeemer as they have spoken to us through those whom we sustain as prophets.
—“Believe His Prophets,” Priesthood Session, April 1992 General Conference.
Sisters and brothers, general conference will occur in two weeks. We have yet another chance to hear from the Lord’s prophet. We call him our prophet, but he really belongs entirely to the Lord.
President Nelson may not wear a tunic or carry a shepherd’s staff like the prophets of old. Compared to Abraham, who lived to be 176 years old, President Nelson is relatively youthful at 96 years old. Even though he is quite remarkable professionally, prophets do not come from any special social or economic class. They may or may not have advanced educational degrees or possess outstanding oratory skills. So what qualifies a man to be a prophet? It is the fact that God chose him, and only him, to be his current spokesman.
As we listen to the prophet, as well as the other prophets, seers, revelators, and leaders, don’t just listen to their voices; but open your heart so you can hear the voice of God. He not only speaks to these leaders, but he is also trying to speak directly to you by the power of the Holy Ghost. All you need to do is listen with an open heart and mind.
May you be blessed as you prepare to hear his voice and the voice of his servants. May your soul rejoice with joy. May light and truth from heaven distill upon your family. May love triumph over hate, may anger and fear evaporate. May hope, and peace, and true happiness fill your hearts and empower you to endure to your end.
In the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.