On Friday morning, President Hinckley called me to serve as a counselor to Bishop Hales in the Presiding Bishopric. I am grateful for the call and for the knowledge that it is the Savior who makes such calls through his servants in his Church. And I am grateful for your sustaining vote, which surely must stem from your conviction that God issued that call.
During the meetings yesterday, I was overwhelmed in two ways by the reaction of the General Authorities. First, they expressed love and confidence, which I deeply appreciate. But second, I felt, in addition to that same love from Bishops Brown, Peterson, and Clarke, an added expression of almost solicitude. I realized they knew what was ahead of me, and I sensed they might know the growing feeling in my heart that I was overwhelmed by the task ahead. As that feeling increased, I began to think more and more of me. But then I remembered that, in the past few weeks, a deacon has come home with the rolls to announce he was the new quorum secretary; a teacher has been called to preside in his quorum; a mother has been called to be a counselor in a Relief Society presidency; and a nineteen-year-old boy has been called to go to a new city with a new missionary companion. To each of them, and to each of you, fear of failure might try to poke its head in, as it has with me.
Something happened to me yesterday afternoon that I found of great help to me, and it may be of help to you. Since that moment, the fear has gone. It was when Bishop Hales was speaking in conference. He mentioned that we had known each other since boyhood, and as he did a memory was replayed in my mind. It was of a hotel ballroom in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Bishop Hales was likely not there, since he lived in what seemed to us the well-established stake in New York. We were in the New Jersey District, a single district that covered the whole state. The Princeton Branch met in my parents’ dining room. Dad was the branch president. Mother was both the pianist and chorister (which is hard to do if you think about it). There was not another family in the branch with children, so my brother Ted was the Aaronic Priesthood, and my brother, Harden, and I were all there were of Primary and junior Sunday School. The congregations were young students who happened to be there, like Jim Fletcher and Neil Zundle, and a few older converts—none with spouses that were members.
There was no building, no gym, no stake center, and so we traveled to a hotel ballroom for what must have been a district conference. I was sitting on a folding chair somewhere near the back, next to my mother. I must have been very young because I can remember putting my legs through the back of the chair and sitting aft instead of forward. But then I remember hearing something—a man’s voice from the pulpit. I turned around and looked. I still remember that the speaker was at a rostrum set on wooden risers. There was a tall window behind him. He was the priesthood visitor. I don’t know who he was, but he was tall and bald, and he seemed very old to me.
He must have been talking about the Savior or the Prophet Joseph, or both, because that was all that I remember much of hearing in those days. But as he spoke, I knew that what he said came from God and that it was true, and it burned in my heart. That was before scholars told me how hard it was to know. I just knew of certainty—I knew it was true. And when I listened to Bishop Hales yesterday, I knew that what he was saying was from God and that it was true, and then the fear left.
You can have that same confidence, not of yourself, but from God. He lives, and he communicates with his children. This is the Church of Jesus Christ, and he leads it. No assignment in it need ever overwhelm you if you know that and listen for the Master’s voice.
Now I can hear the young deacons saying, “Well, now, that may be fine for you, but surely you don’t think that’s going to help me in my assignment down here in this deacons quorum.” Oh yes, I do. Between being a high councilor and a member of the General Board of the Sunday School, I was a deacons quorum adviser. A boy, the president, presided in the meetings, and I taught the lessons out of the scriptures and out of the manual. I stayed very close to the lessons as they were outlined.
I remember one boy in the quorum had to miss a few meetings, and so he sent his brother to the class with a tape recorder. His brother recorded our meeting and took it home. It happened more than once. When the deacon came back, I asked him why. I don’t remember his words, but I remember that it was clear he knew what I knew. God was trying to speak to that deacons quorum. The boy wasn’t anxious to have a tape recording to hear me; he was trying to hear God. He knew where to listen and how to hear.
He’d read the scriptures for us in class, and I knew he knew them and loved them. And so, even when I wasn’t teaching very well, by the power of the Holy Ghost and from knowing the Master’s voice in the scriptures, he could hear what he needed to hear. The memory of that black recorder with its tape turning will always remind me of the scripture which says, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matt. 11:15.)
I spoke at his funeral just a few years later. He lived about as many years as the Prophet Joseph had lived when he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in the grove. My deacon hadn’t seen a vision, but he had heard the voice of God through his servants in a deacons quorum. He wanted to hear, he knew how, and he had the faith he could. Like the boy prophet Joseph, he knew the heavens were open.
You and I can take confidence in that assurance. If you and I will study the scriptures and pray and tune our hearts and ears, we will hear the voice of God in the voice of the people that he has sent to teach and guide us and direct us. I heard it yesterday as I listened to Bishop Hales, and I heard it last evening in the priesthood session as I listened to the recorded voice of President Kimball, a prophet of God. You and I can take confidence in that assurance for the Church itself. However large the kingdom will grow (and it will fill the earth), you will not ever feel lost or forgotten, and you need never feel overwhelmed. God will call people to care about you and to teach you. And if you will listen and hear the voice of God, the kingdom will roll forth to its appointed place, ready for the coming of the Master.
None of us can see now all the wonders of technology and organization and buildings that God may give us; but you, just you, hearing the voice of God through your teacher and leader, will always be at its heart.
I’m grateful for the gift given to me of ears to hear. One of my great-grandfathers, John Bennion, walked or rode his horse from over Jordan to this place to hear his name called out to go on a mission to Dixie. His journal doesn’t say much, except just that the next day he prepared to go, and he went. His assignment was to be a sheepherder. In his journal there is a record of an evening in which he met with Erastus Snow. He said another man was in the room; his name was Henry Eyring. And somewhere in St. George that night was Bishop Miles Romney. They talked about sheep. And you might have thought they were talking about something temporal. But not to those men, because they knew they were God’s sheep, and they knew they were for God’s people. And they knew how to listen, and they knew how to do what they heard.
John Bennion went on another mission to Wales and back again to this valley. Henry Eyring went on to Colonia Juarez, as Miles Romney did. And they left for me a tradition which I deeply appreciate. They were the yeomen of the Church, the soldiers of the Church, and my great-grandfathers. You can’t find in their journals records of the positions they held, just of the instructions they heard, and knew were from God, and followed. I’m grateful to my parents who handed me that heritage undiminished. I’m grateful to my wife, who more than once has heard when I did not and gently said, “Would you pray about it?” If my sons and daughters will listen to her, and hear through her what God has in mind for them, we will pass the heritage on again.
God lives, Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith in fact saw God and His Son and received all the keys of the priesthood. And President Kimball holds them today. I testify that God loves his children and can tell us what is true. I pray that we all may have ears to hear, that he may guide us. I pray that I may serve you and him, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.