I would like to talk to you about what I think is the most thrilling thing to contemplate in your lives—the Church as I believe it will be ten years from now. Project your vision from 1978, and take a look at what the Church will be in 1988. Please remember this: What the Church will be in 1988 will largely depend on how you are prepared to assume your rightful role in this glorious gospel of Jesus Christ as it has been restored to the earth.
It took the Church ninety-eight years, from 1830 to 1928, to organize its first hundred stakes and twenty-four years (1928–1952) to bring into being the second hundred stakes. By 1960, the three hundredth stake of the Church was organized; by 1964 the four hundredth stake was organized; by 1970 five hundred stakes had been organized. We had organized six hundred stakes by 1973; seven hundred stakes by 1975. The eight hundredth stake was created during 1977 and the nine hundredth stake was organized 19 March 1978. (The one thousandth stake was organized on 18 February 1979.)
Suppose the Church creates one hundred stakes a year. I think it will accelerate at a faster rate than that, as indicated in the figures I have already given to you. But for the sake of my example, I shall estimate that in 1988 we will be a Church of approximately 2,500 stakes. I would like you to think in terms of this: Where are the 2,500 stake presidents of 1988? Where are their first and second counselors, executive secretaries, clerks? Where are the 30,000 high councilors? And suppose that every stake has an average of ten units—about the average in the stakes today—where are the 25,000 bishops, first counselors, second counselors, executive secretaries, clerks, elders’ quorum presidents and their counselors, seventies’ presidents, high priest group leaders and their counselors, and on and on? Where are they? I would like to suggest to you that you are they. And now, the next question that I think you should be asked is this: Are you ready to assume the role that the Lord, I am sure, has in mind for you in 1988?
Many of you are between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five. Do you brethren realize how many of our stake presidents are in their early thirties? Do you have any idea how many bishops now presiding in the Church are in their twenties? Far more, perhaps, than you ever dreamed possible.
I believe that your birthright has been a very special thing as it relates to Heavenly Father and his eternal plan. I think your birthright, the privilege and right you have of being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a very sacred privilege. And I do not think that it came by accident. I believe that you made some very important commitments and promises to Heavenly Father before you were ever born.
I believe that we each ought to have a very in-depth, soul-searching evaluation of our lives. Are we living according to the promises and the blessings that Heavenly Father has in store for us? Is there anything in our lives that could be better? Is there any transgression dragging behind us that needs to be cleared up? Are we preparing in every way to fulfill the callings that Heavenly Father has in store for us?
Just three weeks ago I was sent alone to reorganize a stake presidency—just me and the Lord and a Regional Representative. It is an awesome assignment to find yourself interviewing all the priesthood leaders in the stake, recognizing that ultimately the man that the Lord wants has to be called. I fasted, I prayed, I sought the guidance of the Lord—and then a very interesting thing happened to me. As we were interviewing all of these priesthood leaders, a man came in. He was as familiar to me as anybody that I have ever known. I stood up, shook his hand, and said, “I know you. Where do I know you from?” And he said, “Brother Ballard I’ve only met you once, and that was only for two or three minutes eleven months ago.” But as he walked through the door, I want to testify to you that the Lord made it manifest to me that he was to be the stake president.
After he had been called and sustained in the Sunday morning session, we called on him to bear his testimony and this is what he said to the Saints: His father was a patriarch and his mother was president of the stake Relief Society in the neighboring stake. He called his mother and father to talk to them—I had given him permission to do that.
She said, “Son, you don’t need to tell me. You’ve been called to be the stake president.”
“How did you know?” he asked.
“At 12:30,” she said, “I was in the kitchen and it simply became known to me by the power of the spirit that my son had just been called to be a stake president. Your father had gone to the store, and when he came home he walked into the kitchen and said, “You know, mama, I have a very strong feeling that our son has been called to be a stake president.’”
How does a stake president know who the bishop should be? How does a General Authority know who the stake president will be? How does the President of the Church know who a General Authority should be? I shall tell you how I think it is. I believe in revelation—and so do you—and I believe that the Lord is getting acquainted with you right now. You missionaries that are preparing to go on your mission, do not let one day go by on your mission when you do not demonstrate to the Lord that you are reliable, that you are trustworthy, that you are dedicated, that you are committed, that you are on his side, for he is getting acquainted with the young men and the young women of this Church today. Every day of your life he gets acquainted. Then, after he has watched you and after you have demonstrated your faithfulness by your service and by your ability to keep your priorities straight in your life, there comes a need for a high councilor, a Primary president, a Relief Society president, a bishop, or a stake president; and the Lord makes it known to the responsible priesthood leader that you are ready because you have lived according to the commitments and promises that you made before you were ever born.
I would like to encourage you with all the strength of my soul to learn to build a real relationship with the Savior of the world. I do not know of anything that is more important than to know that you are in tune with him. I do not think that it is an easy thing; I think that it takes a great deal of living. It takes fasting, it takes mighty prayer, it takes diligent and committed service, it takes a happy heart in one who is anxiously engaged in a good work. (See D&C 58:27.)
As you pray, may I encourage you to think in terms of who you are talking to. I have heard missionaries, my own children, and others pray; and sometimes I get the feeling that we really do not realize whom we are addressing.
May I tell you of a special experience. Shortly after I was called to the First Quorum of Seventy I went back to my mission in Canada. The next month, we held a solemn assembly in eastern Canada for all of the priesthood leaders. The First Presidency, the members of the Twelve, and one of the assistants to the Twelve came. It was a glorious experience. I was placed as the chairman because I was the presiding priesthood authority in the area.
At the end of the solemn assembly I drove the First Presidency back to the hotel where they were staying. The Brethren bade me good night and went to their rooms. President Kimball’s secretary was detained at the counter of the hotel so I went over and asked him if I could take the key up to President Kimball so that he might get into his room. He handed me the key. I took the elevator to the ninth floor and went down the hall. There I saw President Tanner and President Kimball. I said, “President, here is your key.”
He thanked me in his loving way and then President Tanner took my arm and said, “Russ, how would you like to come in and have prayer with us?” Can you imagine closing the day with the First Presidency of the Church? I had never had that experience, and I went into President Tanner’s room with President Kimball. It was but a moment before President Romney and the other Brethren came in. I was overwhelmed. Tears welled up in my eyes as we knelt down around that bed.
I was kneeling next to President Tanner and I think he sensed what was happening to me, for he said, “President, we would like you to pray.” And then I heard a prophet pray. I learned a great lesson in that prayer. I felt the Spirit as I had never felt it before—you can understand it—for when a prophet talks to God, it is close friends speaking.
In a very short prayer, he said this, among other things: “And, Heavenly Father, we pray above everything else that the labors of this day have been acceptable unto thee.” That penetrated my heart like nothing else ever has on the principle of prayer. Oh, that every one of us might always be found closing the day pleading with the Lord that the efforts of that day had been acceptable unto him! There is great power in that. There is great strength in understanding that he is our Father, that we are his sons and daughters, that we are on his errand. May our labors always be acceptable.
I have been overwhelmed in the last eleven months at the power and the magnitude of this great Church. I have been in Korea, in the Philippines, in Guam, in Hong Kong, in England, and all over the United States and parts of Canada, and my testimony to you is that the Lord is moving very rapidly in the saving of those who are honest in heart. The Church moves forward, as I observe it, in almost direct proportion to the dedication, and commitment of priesthood leaders who prayerfully seek and receive guidance from the Lord.
I have had the opportunity to interview many people. Recently I interviewed a young man for a mission. I asked him a very penetrating question that I would like to ask each one of you and especially you missionaries. “Have you read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover? Have you pondered and prayed about it, and do you know it to be true?”
As you get out in your mission field and out into life, you will experience much opposition. You will continue to be tested. That is the reason we have been sent here, to determine just how committed and dedicated we really are. So the test will come. Some of you who have returned from your missions are still being tested—have you noticed that? It is not all easy, is it? But if you have a foundation built under you, an anchoring testimony of your own that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that he looked up through that grove of trees as God the Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ appeared to him, if you have a testimony of your own that he translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, you have nothing to fear. You will be prepared. If you have not done that homework, then I would say to you, “Get busy, and do it.”
Will you take the challenge from me to read that Book of Mormon, to study and ponder about it, and to build your own solid testimony based on the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the divine nature of the Book of Mormon, and the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ? If you do those three things, I say to you that you will be ready in 1988, or sooner, when the Lord reaches out and says, through a priesthood leader that presides over you. “We need an elders’ quorum president; come fulfill that calling.”
If we have a Church as vibrant and growing and expanding as I think we will have in 1988, I would not be a bit surprised if many of you who are sitting here would be sitting in stake presidencies, in bishoprics, in stake leadership assignments, on high councils, and yes, there may even be one or more of you sitting in the general councils of the Church. You will only receive the call if you are ready.
I now understand abundantly why the prophets have said that the Lord reserved for this last day some of his very choice spiritual sons and daughters. I understand why you have been reserved to come forth now; because he needs you. He needs you desperately in the building of his kingdom. And the kingdom in 1978 will expand and move to new horizons by 1988 in direct proportion to how well you are prepared to assume your assignment in leading the kingdom of God. We must prepare for that long-awaited day, the day when the Savior of the world will say, “It is enough,” and will come and rule and reign as the king of kings over his own kingdom here upon the earth.
May God bless each one of you. You are so precious to us. We, the Brethren, are overwhelmed with the goodness of the youth of the Church. Everywhere I go, in every stake, I see faces like yours; what a reassurance that is to me, for I think that we are in good hands. But I ask you in all sincerity, with all the power of my soul, that if there is anything that needs correcting in your life, go to your bishop today. If there are any commitments that you need to make more strongly, write them down in your journal tonight. Resolve what you have to do to be better and make this commitment: “Heavenly Father, I will be ready in every way—spiritually, physically, emotionally—for whatever it is that thou wouldst have me do in the building of thy Kingdom on the earth.”
May you have peace in your own heart, knowing that all is well. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Amen.