I deem it a great honor and privilege to greet you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are met in his name and we act under his direction because this is his church, and we look to him as the only way—the truth and the light. In the words of a great prophet recorded in the Book of Mormon:
“And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:17.)
Further, he said we must humble ourselves “and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:18.)
We are Christian. We want the whole world to know it. We look to Christ as the author and finisher of our faith, and he has not left us without direction for he has given us a living prophet and many revelations—revealing his will with respect to his church and kingdom on earth today.
In Section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord sets forth the conditions for service in his kingdom. Beginning with verse 11, he says:
“Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.” (D&C 42:11.)
This indicates that the Lord will select those who are to act for him. No one is authorized to take this authority or honor to himself; rather, an authorized servant of the Lord will ordain them or set them apart to a specific assignment, and it will be known that the authorizing agent has such authority because he will have been regularly ordained to his position by the heads of the Church.
The Lord next proceeds to indicate what he expects his authorized ministers to teach:
“And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.” (D&C 42:12.)
Here the Lord specifically spells out what he wants preached and taught—the principles of the gospel—and further what he wants his servants to use as source materials—the standard works of the Church. He did not mention the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, possibly because they were not in existence in February of 1831 when this statement was received from the Lord.
From this it is plain that we are not called to preach the philosophies of men mingled with scripture or our own ideas or the mysteries of the kingdom, nor are we called to bring forth new doctrine. The president of the Church will do that. But we are to stick to the basic fundamental principles of the gospel.
The Prophet Joseph Smith re-emphasized this principle when he said:
“After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 113.)
President Joseph Fielding Smith reiterated this in his opening conference remarks in April of 1972 when he said:
“To those who are called to positions of trust and responsibility in the Church we say: Preach the gospel in plainness and simplicity as it is found in the standard works of the Church. Testify of the truth of the work and the doctrines revealed anew in our day.” (“Counsel to the Saints and to the World,” Ensign, July 1972, p. 28.)
This is a clear signal as to what the Lord would have taught by his servants today.
The Lord next gives some specifics as to the conduct he expects of his authorized ministers:
“And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them. …” (D&C 42:13.)
Once again, these are very plain, clear instructions. He did not say it would be “nice” if we keep the commandments. He says “they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them.” Surely obedience is the first law of heaven. We are given to understand that there will be no disobedience in the celestial kingdom. It is therefore vitally important that we keep the commandments with exactness and not just “almost.”
The account of the Lamanite striplings in the Book of Mormon as mentioned by Elder Monson is an excellent illustration of the blessings that flow from precise obedience. Helaman had formed them into an army of 2,060 young men who fought on the side of the Nephites, and when they were fighting for the Nephites, the Nephites could not lose.
At one time 200 of them were so badly wounded that they fainted from the loss of blood. When they were carried from the battlefield, it was thought they were dead, but they weren’t. They came back to life again—it seemed they could not be killed. What was their secret? It is recorded in Alma 57:21: “Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness. …”
Yes, they gave their mothers credit for teaching them, but they kept the commandments with exactness. This is the great secret. It is so important that we be in condition to serve the Lord, and condition comes only through obedience. To be a great leader, we must first be a great follower.
The revelation continues:
“And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit.” (D&C 42:13.)
Here the Lord stresses the fact that his servants must be led by his Spirit.
Brigham Young’s counsel to missionaries going into the field was to the effect that he would: “rather hear an Elder … speak only five words accompanied by the power of God … than to hear long sermons without the Spirit.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 330.)
It is true that the Spirit giveth direction. It is the Spirit that carries conviction to the hearts of those who are honest.
Our living prophet, President Harold B. Lee, made a significant statement on this subject and clearly illustrated the correct philosophy of a servant of the Lord. He did so shortly after he was ordained to the office.
The new First Presidency held a news conference in the administration building with many members of the press in attendance. One reporter asked President Lee if he would mind explaining what his goals were. He asked:
“What do you expect to accomplish during your administration as president of the Church?”
President Lee answered in his most characteristic way, substantially as follows:
“Well,” he said, “I can only answer that question in the words of a great prophet when he was given an assignment by the Lord to secure an ancient record. He said:
“‘And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.’” (1 Ne. 4:6.)
Being led by the Spirit is vitally important because this is the Lord’s church and he runs it. Those who are called to serve must let the Lord run his church. They must be led by his Spirit because man’s thoughts are not God’s thoughts and man’s ways are not God’s ways; therefore, for man to do God’s work he must have the Spirit of the Lord or he won’t know what to do or how to perform.
To continue with the revelation, now that the Lord has established the necessity for the Spirit, he proceeds to explain how to get the Spirit. The formula is apparently so simple:
“And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.” (D&C 42:14.)
On the surface it appears that all that is necessary to receive the Spirit is to ask for it, but it is not quite so easy a question! What is the difference between just ordinary prayer and a “prayer of faith”?
As we consider that question, the difference is immediately apparent. The difference is faith, and what is faith? Of course, there are many definitions of faith, but one definition is “a strong belief plus action.” It is not perfect knowledge (as Alma explains in Alma 32), but real faith lets a man act as if he knows it is true when he really doesn’t.
Therefore, faith in a real sense is power—power to act and perform without actual knowledge. The Lord’s formula for receiving the Spirit, then, is to get on our knees and communicate with him. Tell him what we are going to do—make commitments with him—outline our program—and then get up off our knees and go and do precisely what we have told him we would do. In the doing, the Spirit comes.
From the record, it is obvious that most home teachers do not really enjoy home teaching. I have been a home teacher for 21 years. I don’t think I have missed a half dozen visits over the whole period. I cannot say that I love to home teach until I get to the first home, and then I do love it because I then get the spirit of a home teacher because I am acting like a home teacher—doing what a home teacher does.
In order for a bishop to get the spirit of a bishop, he must first be called, ordained, and set apart, and that is in accord with the revelation we have just read. Does that give him the spirit of a bishop? Wouldn’t it be grand if it did? But of course it doesn’t. In order to get the spirit of a bishop, he must get on his knees and communicate with the Lord and then get up off his knees and go and do precisely what he has told the Lord he would do. Then he gets the spirit of a bishop as he acts like a bishop, and he is able to act for the Lord and do what the Lord would do if the Lord was the bishop.
Suppose he gets up off his knees after telling the Lord he is going to conduct a priesthood executive committee meeting, and instead of conducting the committee meeting he goes fishing. Do you suppose he will get the spirit of a bishop? No, probably not, but rather he will likely get the spirit of a fisherman instead. And while the spirit of a fisherman is not altogether bad, it is not the spirit that he needs to conduct a priesthood executive committee meeting. If a man never acts like a bishop, even though he is called, ordained, and set apart so to be, he will never get the spirit of a bishop.
If a missionary never acts like a missionary, even though he is called and set apart so to be, he will never get the spirit of a missionary and thus will never really be a missionary, because without the Spirit he shall not teach, and a missionary that cannot teach is not a missionary. Likewise, a stake president who cannot teach is not a stake president. A home teacher who cannot teach is not a home teacher. An MIA president who cannot teach is not an MIA president.
Is it any wonder that the Lord commands:
“Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence.” (D&C 107:99.) Surely in the action, the Spirit comes as the Lord has promised.
There is one additional qualification that must be acquired in order to have success in the Lord’s work. We must love the people we are called to serve. Without this, all else is vain, because they will not accept our offering to them unless they know we love them.
In “The Vision of Sir Launfal,” an interesting story is told of a young knight who rode out into the world in search of the Holy Grail (the cup which the Master supposedly drank from at the Last Supper). He had dedicated his life to the quest. He was young, handsome, and strong, clothed in bright and shining armor, mounted on a gallant white charger. As he crossed the drawbridge riding out into the world, a beggar (who was a leper) put up his hand to him, begging alms. The young knight reached into his pouch, took out a gold coin and flung it to the beggar as he rode on, but he really did not give the beggar very much because no one would accept even a gold coin from a leper.
The young man searched for the cup; of course he didn’t find it, although he spent his life in the quest. He did, however, learn a lot, and at the close of his life he was returning to his castle, no longer young. He is now shrunken with age. His armor is no longer bright; his mount is no longer a charger but just a tired old gray horse. As he was about to cross the drawbridge into the castle, once again a beggar put up his hand begging for alms. This time Sir Launfal stopped, got down from his horse, reached into his knapsack and took out the only thing he had—a crust of bread. He then dipped his cup into the stream and gave the crust of bread and one cup of cold water to the beggar.
The wooden cup from which the beggar drank turned into the Holy Grail for which he had searched, and the beggar turned into a Christ and said a very interesting thing. He said:
“Not what we give, but what we share.
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.”
(“The Vision of Sir Launfal,” James R. Lowell.)
I long ago learned what all real missionaries must learn: “People do not really care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If you love them, they will listen to you; they will let you serve them.
Because the Lord Jesus Christ loved us, he died for us, and we accept his sacrifice in our behalf as the only way back to our Heavenly Father. May we be qualified to bear his name and may we have his spirit as we act in the office in which we are appointed in all diligence, but with love. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. Amen.