Once in Canada I stood before a group of missionaries impressed with how strong and clean missionaries are. Then I noticed an elder on the back row, worried and immature, hesitant and insecure in his calling. I had interviewed him earlier and had not helped him.
There came an inspiration, and I called him to my side and said, “Look at the missionaries and tell me what you see.” He looked intently for a few moments, and I could feel that something was happening. Then I asked, “Did you ever know that before?” He shook his head; he had not known that before. “Will you be alright now?” I asked. He nodded his head yes, he would be alright. I then said, “Tell us what you see.” He answered in one word—“power!”
That is what I see and what I feel as I envision the brethren assembled across the nation. I have great regard for the priesthood, and deep reverence for the ordinances we are authorized to perform. I feel an intense sense of obligation because, in addition to the opportunities which attend the priesthood, there are covenants connected with the ordinations we have received.
We who hold the priesthood of God are joined together by a sacred bond. We often speak of “holding” the priesthood. The word hold is most often used in connection with things that we can pick up and set down and then pick up again. We may, if we are not properly taught, come to think of the priesthood in that way. The priesthood is not like that. It is an authority and a power that is a part of us.
We did not possess it when we came into mortality. But, if we honor it, we will keep it when we leave. We can hold it and at once share it with our wives. We can use the power of it to bless and nourish and protect our children. It is our duty to bless all of mankind.
I want to speak to you young men about your priesthood duty. But first, I have a brief message for you of the higher priesthood.
With the Melchizedek Priesthood, you are prepared, if you are worthy, to officiate in the ordinances of the gospel. Some ordinances are performed only in the holy temple. Those who receive them enter into covenants which carry the promise of supernal blessings.
If you have in any way broken your covenants, hasten to repent. If you have dishonored your priesthood through transgression, confess your sins and turn from them. The scriptures warn that no unclean thing can enter the presence of God.
The sacred ordinances of the temple are now held up to open ridicule by enemies of the Church. Some foolish members take license from this and in an effort to defend the Church have been led to say more than is wise. Some, out of curiosity or claiming their interest is only academic or intellectual, presume to speak or to write about sacred ordinances.
In their speaking and writing they sometimes wade the muddy paths of opposition and apostasy. Then without changing their boots, they seek to push open the doors of the temple and stride into those hallowed precincts to discuss the sacred ordinances.
In doing so they assume an authority that is not theirs. Do not be drawn to them. They say that they love the Church and that, in their own way, they are protecting it. They would do well to heed the voice of the Almighty as He commanded Moses: “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Ex. 3:5.)
How should we react when the sacred ordinances of the priesthood, of the temple, are held up to open public ridicule? What should we do in the face of the opposition that now confronts us? There is an answer in the Old Testament.
When the Israelites returned from captivity, they found Jerusalem destroyed. The prophet Nehemiah rallied the people to rebuild the wall about the city. Their enemies were amused. Sanballat mocked them and said, “Will they revive stones out of the heaps of rubbish?” Tobiah the Ammonite said, “Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.” (Neh. 4:2–3.)
But the wall went up, for “the people had a mind to work.” (Neh. 4:6.)
When the enemies saw that the wall was nearly up and that it was strong, they became worried. Sanballat and Geshem invited Nehemiah to meet with them in one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But Nehemiah said, “They thought to do me mischief. And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Neh. 6:2–3.) Their defense was simple and effective: “We made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them” and then went about the work.
And that is what we should do—go about our work, strengthen the wards and the stakes, the quorums and the families and the individual members. We have a work to do. Why should it cease while we do battle with our enemies? Brethren, set a watch and make a prayer and go about the work of the Lord. Do not be drawn away to respond to enemies. In a word, ignore them.
And now, for the message for the young men, we go back to the missionaries of whom I spoke in the beginning. There is a work for you to do as well, and it is your duty to do it.
That duty is proclaimed in the stirring anthem:
Come, all ye sons of God, who have received the priesthood;
Go spread the gospel wide, and gather in his people;
The latter day work has begun, to gather scattered Israel in,
And bring them home to Zion to praise the Lamb.
(Hymns, no. 302.)
The message is repeated in the equally stirring lines:
Ye elders of Israel, come join now with me
And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be:
In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea,
And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.
(Hymns, no. 344.)
Missionary service is the work of the Lord. We who hold the priesthood are the only ones on earth with authority to perform the ordinances connected with it. It is the duty of the young men holding the priesthood to serve in the mission field. In preparation for that service you need to do three things.
First, you should decide now, in spite of temptation or opposition, that you will serve a mission. It is your duty! Let me tell you of two young men who struggled with that decision.
The first was in premedical school. He had earned the attention of the faculty, who saw unusual potential in him. They fostered his medical career. But there was something in his way—a mission.
When finally he got the courage to speak about leaving school to serve a mission, his advisors became angry. They could not understand it. Why did he want to do that? He had a medical ministry to perform. Let others preach. They would not let him do it. “If you do,” he was told, “we will personally see that you are never admitted to this medical school, or to any other.”
He went home to counsel with his father, who was a close friend of mine. What should he do? His father simply said, “Son, for twenty years your mother and I have tried to teach you your duty. If you have not learned in all of those years, how can I tell you in one weekend what you should do? This is a decision you must make yourself.”
It was a terrible trial for him to decide, for in his mind he was choosing between becoming a doctor for his entire life or becoming a missionary for two years.
That young man is now a heart surgeon and a stake president. He is not old enough, really, to be either, but he is wise enough and inspired enough to succeed at both. The German language he learned on his mission helped him in school, the self-discipline he learned serves in his practice and in his life.
Another testimony came to him. When he returned to medical school, here and there the course was altered. But he received his specialist degree on the same schedule his advisors had planned before his mission. Oh, what a temptation! How near he came to making the mistake of his life. He is indebted to the Lord more than ever he was before.
The second young man faced a similar decision. He was a college athlete, the anchor man on his team. What about a mission? Should he drop out and risk losing that? Was not the fame of athletics a kind of mission in itself? He too went to his father, worried that perhaps a mission would be the end of his career in athletics. He had known of cases like that.
He too made the difficult decision—he would respond to his priesthood duty. During his mission he did not shoot one basket. When he returned, he started out as highpoint man. Whether he wins honors in sports or not, he is already designated as a most valuable player on the Lord’s team of priesthood bearers.
Now, it is possible that first young man might not have been admitted back into medical school, or the second would not have made the team. If that had happened, the Lord would surely have blessed them in other ways. But that is not the reason they served their mission—not for blessings! Not for the language, not to travel, not for the self-discipline. Each served a mission because it was his duty. It was not his mission, it was the Lord’s mission.
Having made the decision, the second thing you must do is to remain worthy. In our society that will not be easy. But then why should it be easy? The physical strength of youth needs to be surpassed by the moral strength of your young manhood.
And you have the help of your teachers and leaders in the Church—and most of all your parents.
When Brother Tuttle was growing up, he became too interested at too early an age in a girlfriend. One morning after a late date, his mother sat with him on the porch swing and asked what time he had come in the night before. “Between nine and ten,” he replied. He had marked a 9 on one side of the front door and a 10 on the other. He always came in between 9 and 10.
His mother then talked very seriously of duty, of a mission, and of priesthood responsibility. She counseled him wisely and firmly. One can only imagine where he would be if his mother had not intruded that much into his affairs at that moment—or if he had resented it.
Now I want to talk to that young man who has already stumbled, who has already made the type of mistake that can disqualify one from serving a mission. I challenge you, I especially challenge you, to prepare for your mission. Pick yourself up and dust yourself off. It will be harder than you know. But it will be possible. Where is your young manhood? Use the cleansing power of your priesthood. Go to your bishop. It is your duty to go—your duty! He will help you erase a sad episode from your life. We need you! We have the world to teach and warn. We have the world to convert. The Lord really needs you.
Finally, you need to prepare financially. Every one of you should have a savings account specifically reserved for your mission. I speak to that young man who doesn’t have any idea how he can finance a mission. I do not know either. But I do know this: if you have faith and determine that you will go, there will be a way. Opportunities will come to you as manna from heaven. Do not let that deter you from your duty.
Young brethren, a mission is a duty—it is your duty. It will cost you something—certainly money, and certainly years of your life, possibly much, much more.
I once held the hand of a tall, handsome college basketball star as he drew his last breath, dead from a disease he had contracted while serving the Lord in a foreign land. A casualty? Perhaps. A winner? Wait and you will see. He answered the call. He will not, in the eternal scheme of things, be granted less than he might have earned had he lived a very long life. For he answered the call to duty, priesthood duty.
Some young men are—now I must choose the right word—forced? persuaded? encouraged? compelled? to serve a mission by a sweet girl. She flashes her pretty eyelashes and says with some determination that she will one day marry one who has served an honorable mission.
It is interesting indeed what inspires spiritual patriotism. How quickly a young hero will line up to enlist with that kind of encouragement. God bless the sisters who have such power to recruit missionaries.
Some elders find themselves in the mission field and do not quite know how they got there, and wonder, are they really qualified or are they there in some measure under false pretenses? Was it only to please his parents? That is all right. For while they may go on a mission for a superficial reason, they stay on their mission for the right reason. They may go out of duty, but they stay out of devotion. For, on the mission, there comes an individual testimony of the gospel.
If you have been handicapped by some accident of nature or by disease or disability, perhaps you may want to go on a mission. But you cannot serve a regular mission because of a wheelchair, or a brace, or a tongue or eyes or ears that will not respond properly.
You can serve a different type of a mission, one which in your case is equally approved by the Lord. Perhaps a stake mission, perhaps not that—but the Lord loves you and will bless you for your desire and compensate you in other ways. You can at least be an example of wanting to go. You can inspire, or perhaps even shame, some indecisive youth who has the physical capacity to serve a mission but who does not want to go.
I am sure there are listening those who did not serve a mission. Perhaps you did not really understand. Perhaps your decision for one reason or another was that you could not go. Perhaps you were not in the Church at that age. Some missed their mission because of military service.
Whatever the reason, there is no time to brood over that now. Every member is a missionary. Devote attention to encouraging and financing and preparing your children and others to serve on missions. Many dreams are realized through our children. The time may come when you may go as a missionary couple.
Look forward, not backward. Magnify your priesthood.
Missionary work is a priesthood duty. Go ye therefore and preach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, and the Lord will bless you and build you up, for the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. The message that we preach is true. I bear witness of this, that we are presided over by a prophet, that Jesus is the Christ, that God is our Father, and as we serve Him, we do our priesthood duty.