Elder David A. Bednar: The Powers of Heaven
Quoting President David O. McKay’s statement that the most distinguishing feature of the Church is the divine authority of the priesthood, Elder David A. Bednar declared, “We make the distinctive declaration that priesthood authority has been conferred by the laying on of hands directly from heavenly messengers to the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in his priesthood session talk, observed, “Ordinary men are given the authority of the priesthood. Worthiness and willingness—not experience, expertise, or education—are the qualifications for priesthood ordination.”
A priesthood holder is expected to exercise this sacred authority in accordance with God’s holy mind, will, and purposes, Elder Bednar said, adding, “Nothing about the priesthood is self-centered. The priesthood always is used to serve, to bless, and to strengthen other people.”
Elder Bednar said the higher priesthood is received by a solemn covenant that includes the obligation to act in the authority and office that have been received. “As bearers of God’s holy authority, we are agents to act and not objects to be acted upon,” he said, alluding to 2 Nephi 2:26. “The priesthood is inherently active rather than passive.”
He warned that for a boy or a man to receive priesthood authority but neglect to do what is necessary to qualify for priesthood power is unacceptable to the Lord. “Priesthood holders young and old need both authority and power—the necessary permission and the spiritual capacity to represent God in the work of salvation,” he said.
Elder Bednar shared a personal experience regarding his father who was not a member of the Church while Elder Bednar was in his youth and who as a young man had desired to become a Catholic priest but instead pursued a career as a tool and dye maker.
Because the father attended LDS Church meetings faithfully, most in the ward had no idea he was not a Church member.
“As a boy I asked my dad many times each week when he was going to be baptized,” Elder Bednar related. “He responded lovingly but firmly each time I pestered him: ‘David, I am not going to join the Church for your mother, for you, or for anyone else. I will join the Church when I know it is the right thing to do.’”
On one occasion, when Elder Bednar asked the question, the father responded with a reference to Church teachings about the priesthood and said, “Each week in priesthood meeting I listen to the bishop and the other priesthood leaders remind, beg, and plead for the men to do their home teaching and to perform their priesthood duties. If your church truly has the restored priesthood of God, why are so many of the men in your church no different about doing their religious duty than the men in my church?”
Elder Bednar said, “I believe my father was wrong to judge the validity of our Church’s claim to divine authority to the shortcomings of the men with whom he associated in our ward. But embedded in his question to me was a correct assumption that men who bear God’s holy priesthood should be different from other men.”
He said he has never forgotten the lessons about priesthood authority he learned from his father, who eventually was baptized. “I did not want to be a poor example and a stumbling block to my father’s progress in learning about the restored gospel,” he said.
Bishop Richard C. Edgley: The Rescue for Real Growth
Bishop Richard C. Edgley noted a recent emphasis in the Church on establishing “real growth,” which, he explained, is “bringing all who will to the receiving and keeping of saving ordinances and covenants.”
“One of the most meaningful and important ways to establish real growth in the Church is to reach out and rescue those who have been baptized yet are wandering in a less-active state, void of the blessings and saving ordinances,” said Bishop Edgley, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, in his priesthood session address Saturday evening.
Regardless of one’s individual calling, all can engage meaningfully in this rescuing effort, he said. “After all, bringing all—our family, non-members, less active, and sinners—to Christ to receive the saving ordinances is the divine calling that we all share.”
Bishop Edgley recounted an experience in which he, as a stake president, visited a university student to call her to be a stake missionary. Pausing for a few moments, she asked if he did not know she was not active in the Church. He did not. After further discussion, both tearfully realized the call was an answer to her and her parents’ prayers that she would find a way back into activity.
“She not only accepted the call, she became a fine missionary,” he said. “And I am certain she brought much joy, not only to herself but to her parents and probably other family members.”
Bishop Edgley said he learned several things from this and similar interviews:
- Many less-active members have loved ones praying to the Lord for help in rescuing them.
- It is not all that easy or comfortable for less-active members to just walk back into the Church; they need help, support, and fellowship.
- There are less-active members willing and trying to find the path back to activity.
- Many less-active members will hold callings if asked.
- A less-active member deserves to be treated as an equal and be viewed as a son or daughter of a loving God.
“Over the years I have wondered how this interview might have gone had I approached her as a less-active Church member,” Bishop Edgley said. “I leave you to be the judge.”
He reflected that the loss of one active Church member could impact tens of thousands of descendants over a few generations. “The charge to rescue is based on one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Church,” he said, citing Doctrine and Covenants 18:10-11, 15, which states that the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.
Adrián Ochoa: Aaronic Priesthood: Arise and Use the Power of God
Brother Adrian Ochoa said that perhaps the greatest joy he experiences as second counselor in the Young Men general presidency is seeing young men around the world exercise the power of the Aaronic Priesthood. “But sometimes I also witness, with a sad heart, so many young men who do not understand how much good they can do with the power they hold,” he said.
Speaking Saturday evening in the priesthood session, Brother Ochoa exclaimed: “Oh, if only every young man, every Aaronic Priesthood holder, could fully comprehend that their priesthood possesses the keys of ministering of angels. If only they could understand that they have the sacred duty to help their friends find the pathway that leads to the Savior. If they only knew that Heavenly Father will give them the power to explain the truths of the restored gospel with such clarity and sincerity that others will feel the undeniable truthfulness of the words of Christ.”
Like any other power, the priesthood needs to be exercised to accomplish any good, Brother Ochoa said.
“Young men, know that you are at your best when you are in the service of God,” he assured his listeners. “You know that you are happiest when you are anxiously engaged in a good work. Magnify the power of your priesthood by being clean and worthy.”
The best way to battle evil is to promote righteousness, he said. “You cannot listen to foul words and pretend you don’t hear. You cannot watch, alone or with others, images you know are filthy and pretend you don’t see. You cannot touch any unclean thing and pretend it’s no big deal.”
Using Book of Mormon imagery, he called upon young men to stand up boldly for what they know is true, “to once gain raise the title of liberty and organize and lead your battalions.”
Brother Ochoa read from a letter written by a young man, Daniel Olate, from Santiago, Chile, who taught the gospel to his friend and, at the age of 16, baptized her.
“Daniel is just one of many young men around the world who are living up to the power God has entrusted to them,” Brother Ochoa remarked.
“Dear young men, when you exercise the Aaronic Priesthood in the way I have described, you are preparing yourself for responsibilities in your future. But you are doing much more than that. Like John the Baptist, that exemplary Aaronic Priesthood holder, you are also preparing the way of the Lord and making His paths straight.”
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf: The Why of Priesthood Service
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf reflected during his priesthood session address on two priesthood callings he has received that illustrate his topic, “the why of priesthood service.”
One was his calling in his youth as deacons quorum president in Frankfurt, Germany. His branch president was careful in extending the call to carefully explain what the Lord would expect of him and how he could receive help.
“A sacred, divine spirit filled my heart as he spoke,” reflected President Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency.
“I realize now that the branch president could have merely gone through the motions when he called me to this position. … Instead, he spent time with me and helped me understand not only the what of my assignment but, more importantly, the why.”
President Uchtdorf reflected, “We need to be constantly reminded of the eternal reasons behind the things we are commanded to do. The basic gospel principles need to be part of our life’s fabric, even if it means learning them over and over and over again. That doesn’t mean that this process should be rote or boring. Rather, when we teach the foundational principles in our homes or in Church, let the flame of enthusiasm for the gospel and the fire of testimony bring light, warmth, and joy to the hearts of those we teach.”
He explained that it is important to learn and attend to what one must do in priesthood callings, “but it is in the why of priesthood service that we discover the fire, passion, and power of the priesthood.”
“The what of priesthood service teaches us what to do,” he said. “The why inspires our soul. The what informs, but the why transforms.”
The other priesthood calling President Uchtdorf recalled came years later, also in Frankfurt, after he had just received a promotion at work that would require much of his time and attention. The calling was to serve as stake president.
During the call from Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Uchtdorf wondered fleetingly if he would be able to accept it, but quickly realized the call was from God.
“There are times when we have to step into the darkness in faith, confident that God will place solid ground beneath our feet once we do,” he said. “And so I accepted gladly, knowing that God would provide.”
He spoke of being trained by some of the greatest teachers and leaders in the Church, such as Elder Russell M. Nelson and President Thomas S. Monson. “Their teaching was like the dew from heaven and an inspiration for us,” he said. “I still have the notes I took during those training sessions. These Brethren gave us the vision of what it means to establish the kingdom of God by building personal testimonies and strengthening families. They helped us see how to apply gospel truth and principles to our specific circumstances, and for our specific time. To put it another way, inspired leaders helped us see the why of the gospel, and then we had to roll up our sleeves and go to work.”
President Uchtdorf said he and his counselors in the stake presidency learned an important lesson, that the fact that something is good is not always reason to expend time and resources on it.
“Our activities, initiatives, and plans should be inspired by and grounded upon the why of our priesthood service and not by any flashy trend or interest of the moment,” he said. “Otherwise, they can distract our efforts, dilute our energy, and get us caught up in our own hobbies, spiritual or temporal, that are not at the center of discipleship.”
President Uchtdorf posed the question: “So how do we know what to select?” Answering it, he said, “We each have the responsibility to determine this for ourselves. However, we are commanded to diligently study the scriptures, heed the words of the prophets, and make it a matter of faith-filled, serious, dedicated prayer.”
He assured his listeners that they will not be left alone if their hearts are pure and they seek the glory of God.
“My dear brethren, divine blessings for priesthood service are activated by our diligent efforts, our willingness to sacrifice, and our desire to do what is right,” President Uchtdorf said. “Let us be the ones to act and not be acted upon. Preaching is fine, but sermons that do not lead to action are like fires without heat or water that cannot quench thirst.”
He added, “It is in the application of doctrine that the purifying flame of the gospel grows and the power of the priesthood ignites our souls.”
He invited priesthood holders to consider the words spoken by the servants of God at the conference, then pray to God for guidance and not to delay in following the promptings of the Spirit.
“Guided by the Holy Spirit, we will learn from our mistakes,” he said. “If we stumble, we will rise. If we falter, we will go on. We will never waver; we will never give up.”
President Henry B. Eyring: Families under Covenant
President Henry B. Eyring spoke of a father in the priesthood session congregation “who has come from inactivity because he wants the assurance of that gift [of priesthood ordinances] with all his heart.”
President Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, added, “That father listening with us tonight knows the path to that glorious destination. It is not easy. It took faith in Jesus Christ, deep repentance, and a change of heart that came with a kind bishop helping him feel the Lord’s loving forgiveness.”
He said, “For my recently activated friend, and for all the priesthood, a great work ahead is to lead in saving the part of Israel for which you are, or will be, responsible, your family. My friend and his wife knew that requires being sealed by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood in a holy temple of God.”
The man asked that President Eyring perform the sealing. President Eyring said he left the couple and their bishop to work with his secretary in setting the time.
“Imagine my surprise and delight when the father told me … the sealing is set for April 3. That was the day in 1836 when Elijah, the translated prophet, was sent to the Kirtland Temple to give the sealing power to Joseph Smith and to Oliver Cowdery. Those keys reside in the Church today and will continue to the end of time.”
President Eyring spoke of the keys held by the apostle Peter and said that at the coming of the prophet Elijah in this dispensation, power was given to the priesthood and hearts were to be turned.
“That feeling of his heart turning has already come to my friend and to his family,” President Eyring said. “It may have come to you in this meeting. You may have seen in your mind, as I have, the face of your father or your mother. It may have been a sister or a brother. It may have been a daughter or a son.
“They may be in the spirit world or continents away from you. But joy came from a feeling that connections with them are sure because you are or can be bound to them by priesthood ordinances that God will honor.”
President Eyring said there is nothing that comes to a family as important as sealing blessings. “There is nothing more important than honoring the marriage and family covenants you have made or will make in the temples of God.”
He said that as a new married couple, he and his wife decided to invite the Holy Ghost into their lives and family as much as they could.
He described his first meeting with President Joseph Fielding Smith. On that occasion, in the First Presidency Council Room, President Harold B. Lee indicated President Smith to him and asked, “Do you believe that this man could be the prophet of God?”
“I am eternally grateful that I was able to answer because of what came down into my heart, ‘I know he is,’ and I knew it as surely as I knew the sun was shining that he held the priesthood sealing power for all the earth,” President Eyring recounted.
The experience gave President Smith’s words great power for President Eyring and his wife when they heard him counsel the Church in general conference on April 6, 1972, to strengthen and preserve the family unit and plead with fathers to take their rightful place at the head of the house and mothers to sustain and support their husbands and be lights to their children.
President Eyring suggested four things priesthood fathers could do to lift and lead their families home again to be with Heavenly Father and the Savior:
- “Gain and keep a sure witness that the keys of the priesthood are with us and held by the president of the Church.”
- “The second imperative is to love your wife. It will take faith and humility to put her interests above your own in the struggles of life. You have the responsibility to provide and to nurture the family with her while serving others.”
- “Enlist the entire family to love each other. … Consistent care of brothers and sisters for each other will come only with persistent effort by parents and the help of God. You know that is true from experience in your own families. … Give children opportunities to pray when they can pray for others in the circle who need blessings. Discern quickly the beginnings of discord, and recognize acts of unselfish service, especially to each other.”
- “The fourth opportunity … [comes] when discipline is needed. We can meet our obligation to correct in the Lord’s way and to lead them toward eternal life.” President Eyring cited Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-44 and commented, “That is a high standard for us, but when we with faith control our tempers and subdue our pride, the Holy Ghost gives His approval, and sacred promises and covenants become sure.”
President Thomas S. Monson: Willing and Worthy to Serve
Speaking to the priesthood session congregation, President Thomas S. Monson shared teachings “from some of the most noble of God’s leaders who have spoken in the general priesthood meetings of the Church.”
“Many have passed to their eternal reward, and yet from the brilliance of their minds, from the depths of their souls, and from the warmth of their hearts, they have given us inspired direction,” he said.
From the Prophet Joseph Smith, he quoted this statement: “Priesthood is an everlasting principle and existed with God from eternity and will to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years.”
From President Wilford Woodruff: “The Holy Priesthood is the channel through which God communicates and deals with man upon the earth; and the heavenly messengers that have visited the earth to communicate with man are men who held and honored the priesthood while in the flesh; and everything that God has caused to be done for the salvation of man, from the coming of man upon the earth to the redemption of the world, has been and will be by virtue of the everlasting priesthood.”
From President Joseph F. Smith: “The priesthood is … the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, and act legitimately; not assuming that authority, not borrowing it from generations that are dead and gone, but authority that has been given in this day in which we live by ministering angels and spirits from above, direct from the presence of Almighty God.”
From President John Taylor: “What is the priesthood? It is the government of God, whether on earth or in the heavens, for it is by that power, agency or principle that all things are governed on earth or in the heavens, and by that power all things are upheld and sustained. It directs all things, it sustains all things and has to do with all things that God and truth are associated with.”
President Monson exclaimed: “How blessed we are to be here in these last days, when the priesthood of God is upon the earth. How privileged we are to bear that priesthood. The priesthood is not so much a gift as it is a commission to serve, a privilege to lift, and an opportunity to bless the lives of others.”
He noted that he has been attending priesthood meetings, in one capacity or another, for the past 72 years, since he was ordained a deacon.
“Time certainly marches on,” he said. “Duty keeps cadence with that march. Duty does not dim nor diminish. Catastrophic conflicts come and go, but the war waged for the souls of men continues without abatement.”
He said the clarion call of duty comes to priesthood holders everywhere, as it came to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and each of his successors.
“When that same call comes to you and to me, what will be our response?” he asked.
“At times the wisdom of God appears as being foolish or just too difficult, but one of the greatest and most valuable lessons we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.”
President Monson noted that Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood holders have been taught their specific duties. “I urge you to contemplate those duties and then do all within your power to fulfill them,” he said. “In order to do so, each must be worthy. Let us have ready hands, clean hands, and willing hands, that we may participate in providing what our Heavenly Father would have others receive from Him. If we are not worthy, it is possible to lose the power of the priesthood, and if we lose it, we have lost the essence of exaltation. Let us be worthy to serve.”
President Monson related a World War II incident that was reported by a war correspondent. It took place as U.S. Marines were taking Kwajalein Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
The reporter and other correspondents noticed a Marine lying face down in the water, badly wounded. Another Marine, also wounded, with his left arm hanging helplessly by his side, moved toward his wounded comrade and lifted his head to keep him from drowning. The rescuer called for help, but the correspondents called back that there was nothing the marine could do for the wounded man.
The correspondent reported that the rescuer, badly wounded himself, made his way to the shore with the seemingly lifeless body of his fellow Marine. The correspondent wrote: “And the one boy bowed his head over the other and said, ‘I command you, in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the priesthood, to remain alive until I can get medical help.’”
“The correspondent concluded his article, ‘The three of us [the two Marines and I] are here in the hospital. The doctors don’t know ... [how they made it alive], but I know.’”
President Monson declared, “Miracles are everywhere to be found when the priesthood is understood, its power is honored and used properly, and faith is exerted.”
He told of the duty he assumed as a young bishop in 1950 to provide each serviceman in his ward a subscription to the Church News and the Improvement Era, the Church’s magazine at that time. In addition, as a bishop he was to write a letter to each of the servicemen. He responded to the assignment by writing 23 personal letters each month.
“After all these years, I still have copies of many of my letters and the responses received,” he said. “Tears come easily when these letters are re-read."
One man received 17 letters from Bishop Monson before responding. But when he did, he thanked the bishop for the personal letters and said he had turned over a new leaf and had been ordained a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood. “My heart is full. I am a happy man,” he wrote.
Years later, President Monson spoke of that correspondence at the South Cottonwood Stake in Salt Lake City when President James E. Faust was presiding. After the meeting a man who had been in the congregation came forward and identified himself as the man in the story. He said he was serving in the elders quorum presidency.
“Let us learn and contemplate our duty,” President Monson concluded.