I Have a Question


Questions of general gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy.

I’d like to offer some suggestions to one of my leaders, but I’m not sure how to do it without sounding critical. What can I do?

Bruce L. Olsen, assistant to the president, University Relations, Brigham Young University; first counselor, Orem Twenty-seventh Ward bishopric, Orem South Stake Early in my assignment as a bishop I was approached by a ward member who came to make a suggestion. “The ward is too mechanical,” he said. “You have done much to organize and staff the auxiliaries, but you seem too busy to care about individuals.” I was floored. It had never occurred to me that, in our, anxiety to staff the ward auxiliaries, the bishopric was conveying the message that we were too busy to be helpful to our members. The kindly given information was discussed at length during the bishopric meetings that followed, and it proved most useful.

Perhaps the classical case in the scriptures of offering a helpful suggestion to a church leader is the case of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, who observed Moses personally administering the affairs of the children of Israel as they “stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.”

“And when Moses’ father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?

“And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God:

“When they have a matter they come unto me; and I judge between one and another and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.

“And Moses’ father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.

“Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.” (Ex. 18:13–18.)

Jethro then proceeded to give Moses specific suggestions that detailed how Moses could both teach principles and choose leaders to help govern the people.

It is notable that in verse 23 Jethro adds, “If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure.” [Ex. 18:23] (Italics added.) At least one implication here is Jethro’s clear recognition that the decision ultimately lay between Moses and the Lord. Apparently, Moses took the suggestion to the Lord and obtained approval because the next verse tells us, “So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said.”

Offering suggestions to Church leaders from time to time, then, seems to be entirely appropriate, but in doing so we must first make sure that our motives are pure and that the suggestion has merit. Among those questions that we need to ask ourselves are: What is my purpose in wanting to offer my suggestion? Is my idea just a pet peeve of mine, or is it a valid suggestion that could prove helpful? Am I attempting to counsel the Lord or his servants, or am I truly making a suggestion? Have I thought the idea through to see its implications clearly and be sure that it has genuine merit? Can I offer the suggestion without being hostile?

Once we have answered these questions and others that may occur to us, it seems appropriate to take our idea to the Lord in prayer, not to seek confirmation of the idea itself, for that is another’s responsibility, but to seek confirmation that we should indeed present the idea to our leader. If such confirmation is given, we are prepared to approach a leader in humility and with the proper spirit, taking caution not be critical of stewards or programs.

Again, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves, once we have presented our idea, that we allow the leader the opportunity which Moses was accorded by Jethro—to seek the counsel of the Lord. We also must allow for the fact that the leader with the responsibility for his stewardship has the privilege to hear us and to choose not to implement our ideas. It could be easy to be offended if our suggestion is not implemented, but it would be less than wise. Often we can see only a thread or two and the steward or Church leader may see much more of the entire fabric.

I’ve been reading the Journal of Discourses with a great deal of interest and pleasure, but I notice that they are not printed by the Church. Can you tell me how authoritative I should consider them to be?

Gerald E. Jones, director, LDS Institute of Religion, Berkeley, California Many queries come from students concerning these twenty-six volumes first published in England between 1853 and 1886. The original intent of their publication was to provide income for George D. Watt, their stenographer and publisher. Many Church members in England desired to read the sermons delivered by the General Authorities of the Church in Utah, and Brother Watt’s books filled that need. He obtained clearance from the First Presidency 1 June 1853. Addressed to Elder Samuel Richards, missionary printer in England, and to “the Saints abroad” this statement introduced volume one:

“Dear Brethren—It is well known to many of you, that Elder George D. Watt, by our counsel, spent much time in the midst of poverty and hardships to acquire the art of reporting in Phonography [shorthand], which he has faithfully and fully accomplished; and he has been reporting the public Sermons, Discourses, Lectures delivered by the Presidency, the Twelve, and others in this city, for nearly two years, almost without fee or reward. Elder Watt now proposes to publish a Journal of these reports, in England, for the benefit of the Saints at large, and to obtain means to enable him to sustain his highly useful position of Reporter. You will perceive at once that this will be a work of mutual benefit, and we cheerfully and warmly request your cooperation in the purchase and sale of the above named Journal, and wish all the profits arising therefrom to be under the control of Elder Watt.” (Signed by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards.)

The first four volumes were reported by Elder Watt, but after that other reporters are included—one a sister, Julia Young. Brother Watt reported through volume twelve, when David W. Evans became the prime reporter. He was followed by George W. Gibbs, a secretary to the First Presidency.

In considering the reliability of the Journal of Discourses, we should remember certain circumstances.

Though the First Presidency endorsed the publication of the Journal, there was no endorsement as to the accuracy or reliability of the contents. There were occasions when the accuracy was questionable. The accounts were not always cleared by the speakers because of problems of time and distance. This was especially true during the persecution of the 1880s which finally forced the cessation of publication.

We should remember that the times were different then. A major concern of the early Saints was physical survival. Sermons often dealt with the practical problems of the time and so may seem quaint in our day, even if much of the advice is still valid.

Doctrinally, members of the Church were growing and learning. Most adults were converts who had to unlearn and relearn many doctrines. They were learning things which our children learn in Primary and Sunday School. Remarks were frequently impromptu. Close, friendly audiences frequently invited informal discussion of varied topics. There was occasional speculation about doctrines which have since been determined unimportant or even misleading.

The general membership of the Church has progressed in knowledge of gospel principles, which is as it should be. In our organizations, we have been taught the gospel for more than one hundred years now. Because of modern revelation and because of “line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept” progression, we have answers that were not yet given when the Journal of Discourses was published.

We also should be aware of priorities in our studies. It seems to me that we should first become very familiar with the four books of Scripture accepted as standard works. The words of our current living prophet are also most valuable for us in our time. The official statements of the First Presidency are standards for doctrine and practice in the Church. We should be familiar with the manuals and courses of study provided for us in our day. For further inspiration and instruction by the General Authorities, we can study general conference addresses, beginning with the most current and moving back in time.

Even after digesting these materials, some persons may still have time and inclination to peruse the Journal of Discourses. We can be grateful that records of the early sermons were kept to help us understand the growth of the Church and the testimonies of our early leaders. If we find the time to read them, however, we should avoid getting caught up in their uniqueness and should concentrate on the inspiring thoughts and experiences related to us by choice men.

Having taught seminary and institute classes for more than twenty years, I have tried to follow my own advice. Because I also love to read, I have read the scriptures many times, all of the general conference reports, and finally, all volumes of the Journal of Discourses.

Frankly, one of the main reasons I read the Journal of Discourses was so I could answer students’ questions about them with some knowledge of what they were about. Though I enjoyed reading them, gained some new insights, and was inspired by the spirit of the early brethren, except for the needs of students, there was no practical benefit that I could not have obtained from current conference talks with less effort, much greater clarity and more economy.

For me, the most pertinent discussion of gospel doctrines and answers to life’s problems and source of spiritual inspiration in today’s world comes from the standard works and our living prophets.

How can I know when I have the Spirit of the Lord with me? I’m a college student having a lot of new experiences, and sometimes I can’t tell if I’m just feeling “good” or if my feelings are genuinely righteous.

Don Norton, English Department, Brigham Young University I’ve heard this question from dozens of young adults who are making all sorts of discoveries about themselves. Indeed it is a very important question. Since in this life “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11; italics added), it must needs be that we learn to discern good from evil.

As I’ve discussed this question at firesides, in Sunday School and priesthood classes, and in religion courses, I find that students themselves are able to tell me how they feel when the Spirit of the Lord is with them. I don’t have to answer the question. They answer it for themselves.

Here’s the list of the kinds of things young people say they feel when the Spirit is with them, and what they feel when Satan tries to take over—making them unhappy, or tricking them with counterfeits. Do these feelings match your experience?

When you have the Spirit:

1. You feel happy, calm, and clear-minded.

2. You feel generous.

3. Nobody can offend you.

4. You wouldn’t mind everybody seeing what you’re doing.

5. You are eager to be with people and want to make them happy.

6. You are glad when others succeed.

7. You are glad to attend your meetings and participate in church activities.

8. You feel like praying.

9. You wish you could keep all the Lord’s commandments.

10. You feel in control—you don’t overeat or sleep too much; you don’t feel uncontrollably drawn to sensational entertainment, lose your temper, or feel uncontrollable passions or desires.

11. You think about the Savior often and lovingly; you want to know him better.

12. You feel confident and are glad to be alive.

When you don’t have the Spirit:

1. You feel unhappy, depressed, confused, and frustrated.

2. You feel possessive, self-centered, or resentful of demands made on you.

3. You are easily offended.

4. You become secretive and evasive.

5. You avoid people, especially members of your family; and you are critical of family members and Church authorities.

6. You envy or resent the successes of others.

7. You don’t want to go to church, go home teaching, or take the sacrament. You wish you had another church job or no job at all.

8. You don’t want to pray.

9. You find the commandments bothersome, restricting, or senseless.

10. You feel emotions and appetites so strongly that you fear you cannot control them—hate, jealousy, anger, lust, hunger, fatigue.

11. You hardly ever think of the Savior; he seems irrelevant to your life, or worse, part of a confusing system that seems to work against you.

12. You get discouraged easily and wonder if life is really worth it.

The mere fact that young people easily put this list together is a powerful reassurance that they do have the key to discernment. As Moroni put it: “The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge that it is of God.

“But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one.” (Moro. 7:16–17.)

Let me add one word of caution. Feeling the power of Satan does not make you evil. Basically, a temptation is a struggle against his influence—which is both real and powerful. But the fact that you’re struggling does not mean that you are in his power or that the Spirit of God is not also striving with you. Evil consists, not of recognizing temptation, but of yielding to it. We must recognize temptation in this life. But we don’t need to invite it, linger with it, or savor it.

Satan is particularly good at counterfeiting holy things; for instance, in place of sacred love between a man and a woman, he offers popularity, physical attraction, or the social thrill of playing romantic games. You might try these tests of discernment on your feelings about love. Many young adults who think they are in love isolate themselves from their families, friends, and Church leaders. But real love, the kind that leads to eternal happiness, makes you glad to be around other people you love, because they share what you feel. Such love is godly love, not Satan’s counterfeit.

If you find Satan’s influence too much with you, then get help. Counsel with your parents or a Church leader; ask for a priesthood blessing; go to the Lord in fervent prayer for the clearness of mind and conscience that are signs of the Lord’s Spirit.

What is the present status of the teacher development program? Are we still encouraged to participate?

Wayne B. Lynn, director of Instructional Development The teacher development program is very much alive; it continues to fill a critical need in the Church. The three main elements continue to be (1) the Basic Course, (2) in-service lessons, and (3) teacher supervision. Some modifications were made in the program in September 1977. Supervision and in-service are now the responsibility of the various teaching organizations.

The Teacher Development Basic Course is just that—an intensive, eleven-week training program supervised by the Sunday School and held during Sunday School hours. It can greatly benefit not only prospective teachers—including prospective missionaries—but also experienced teachers not previously enrolled in the program.

In addition, each organization or auxiliary with teaching responsibilities provides in-service training and supervision for its own teachers. This means that each organization can tailor its programs and procedures to help meet both the general and specific needs peculiar to individual teaching assignments.

Instead of an annual series of in-service lessons, a new teaching resource manual has been produced. Entitled Teaching—No Greater Call, it is available from the Salt Lake Distribution Center (PXIC064A, $1.50). Treating over one hundred topics, this publication is designed to help teachers improve both the spiritual and technical aspects of their teaching.

Beginning this September, the manual can be used by an individual or in-service leader in all Church organizations. How it will be used is prescribed by the respective organizations or departments.

We can have few joys greater than the joy of rendering righteous influence on the lives of others. Those who desire to teach and those already teaching should seek the skills that can help them affect others for good. Those skills can be gained through the Teacher Development Basic Course and the organization’s in-service training program.