I am grateful for the honor of being asked by President Thomas S. Monson to take the same part in this broadcast that he took in a similar event in November of 2010. After carefully pondering and praying over his remarks on that occasion, I have chosen to begin with his conclusion. He said as he ended:
“My brothers and sisters, whatever your current leadership calling is, the new handbooks will be a treasure to you. They will be a blessing to you and to those you serve as you read them, understand them, and follow them. Such is my testimony to you.”
He promised that the handbooks would become to you a treasure as you do certain things. The word treasure has been used in scripture to describe something a person loves which has enduring value and which enlightens.
You will remember these words of the Savior about such treasures:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matthew 6:20–22).
The handbook will become a treasure to you as you use it to help you lead others to choose the way to eternal life. That is its purpose. When you see the joy which the gospel brings to those you serve and feel the loving appreciation from the Savior, you will come to love the handbook for what it helped you feel and do. And you will find yourself drawn back to it for the light you feel as you read, understand, and follow what you learn from it.
That is what President Monson taught about how to use a Church leadership handbook—read, understand, and follow. Most of you have already tried to do those things. You have read some of it, perhaps all of it, and many of you multiple times. You have tried to understand it. You have attempted to follow it in your Church and family leadership in assignments from the Lord to help people you love move toward eternal life.
Most of us in our thoughtful moments would like to do better. For example, it is not easy for a bishop to lead a ward council where all participate freely, listen to each other with love and respect, and then feel that they received inspired direction. Or you may have tried delegating an important task and later found the assignment was not understood, accepted, or carried out. Because of such experiences, most of us are eager for this second opportunity to discover how to use the handbook more effectively.
My simple suggestion is this: listen today for ideas about how you and those you lead could improve in their capacity to receive and recognize revelation. Only with the help of the Spirit will you read with an understanding of what the Lord intends. Only by the Spirit will you know how to apply what you read in the handbook. Only with the help of the Spirit will those to whom you delegate understand their assignments and know how to accomplish them. Only through the Spirit will those in a ward council come to unity on what the Lord would have done.
President Monson sets an example of what “reading” means in his service to others and in his leadership. Even in what seems to me the tremendous time pressures on us in the First Presidency, he will ask that a document we are reviewing be read aloud in our meeting. We may have read it earlier. It may seem routine. He will want to know the history of the matter. Usually, he will cite a previous case of the same or a similar nature. When he said that we must read the handbook to use it well, his example says to me that what he meant was to “study it out.” In the sessions today, you should welcome those who go over again passages in the handbook which seem so familiar that you may not listen carefully. With the help of the Spirit you may get new understanding that will bless you and others.
Some of you will have the opposite problem. Rather than your tuning out because you think you already understand, the flood of ideas and words from the handbooks may overwhelm you. You may well worry that you won’t be able to remember something important that you will need in some vital moment. The Lord made you a promise of revelation that can reassure and guide your listening. Here are His words about retaining important ideas you will need later:
“Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man” (D&C 84:85).
The words treasure up in that passage refer to scripture, yet they apply equally to the words of living prophets and those in the handbooks. Few of us have the mental capacity to recall, from tens or even hundreds of thousands of words we have read or heard, exactly what we need when we need it. Yet all of us have had meted out to us what we needed just in time.
You may have noticed, as have I, that with the words that you recall came feelings, as if they were retrieved from your heart as much as from your mind. You may have had a similar experience in trying to memorize a scripture or a poem or the words of a song. If the words touched your heart when you heard them, they are easier to memorize and to recall.
You can more easily treasure up what you hear or read today if it touches your heart. That could guide you as you listen or whenever you seek to learn from the handbooks or train others to use them well. You might read and listen with this question in your mind: “How might these words or that idea bless someone I love?” When you feel an answer to that question, you have added to the treasury from which the Lord will draw in the very hour when you need it to serve and to lead for Him.
That happened for me as I read again a line in chapter 17 of book 2, the chapter on “Uniformity and Adaptation.” It says, “Leaders should always seek the guidance of the Spirit in making adaptations” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church , 17.2). Those words come after a line which grants flexibility in the staffing of auxiliaries.
Those words may not seem memorable to you, but they are to me because they tugged at my heart. I saw in my mind a little lady in the tiny branch of my childhood where the branch president was my father. He called her as the branch Relief Society president. She was a convert with almost no experience. She lived far from our house, where the branch met with never more than 20 attending. She had no car and didn’t know how to drive. No other member of the branch lived within 20 miles of her. There was no one to call as her counselor.
Dad must have discerned the burning fire of faith in that sister. Every Sunday after the sacrament meeting in our small home, she spoke with the few sisters who were there as their visiting teacher. Alone in the city where she lived, she offered clothing to the poor and the needy. Her son drove her to church each Sunday and parked outside. After a year he accepted my father’s invitation to come inside. He gained a testimony. My father baptized him and called him as the leader of the only youth in the branch, my brother and me. He took us on the one activity I can remember: chopping wood for the poor.
Because a branch president had the gifts of the Spirit, I experienced the fulness of the gospel in that tiny unit. And the Lord made the necessary adaptations. He made them temporary, just as the handbook says they should be, because He built two wards in that small town. A temple will soon stand within 30 miles of the home where the little convert lady and her son lived. The Lord revealed to a branch president not only the depth of her faith but how to guide a tiny band of Saints toward the glorious future He was creating.
It may seem impractical to expect or even hope for the stream of revelation you need in your daily service. It will not come without faith and hard work, but it is possible. I offer you this true story as evidence. It helps me when I wonder if I can improve my use of the scriptures, the words of living prophets, and the handbooks provided to help us serve. This account, that the Spirit tells me is true and is possible for you and for me, comes from the fourth chapter of Jacob in the Book of Mormon:
“Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
“Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things” (Jacob 4:6–7).
The Lord will help you give service and leadership for Him beyond your own powers. He will do it as you work and pray to understand and follow the words of life He gives you for those He loves and you love. Councils where you serve will become places of revelation and unity. Those you assign will know by the Spirit what to do and what to avoid doing and will find joy in even difficult service. That and all that you are taught today will become possible for you. It is beyond your personal powers but not beyond the Lord you serve, who will inspire and lead you.
I leave you my blessing that the words of life will become an even greater treasure to you and that you will be granted the ability you seek to bless the lives of others. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.