You talk with people every day who say that God does not exist or is far, far away. A woman sat next to me on a plane. I spoke to her. She strained to understand me. When she spoke, her accent almost overpowered her English. In answer to my question, she told me that she was returning to the place of her birth. She said that the occasion which drew her was a religious observance of the death of her father, who died many years ago. She had made the flight on the third, the seventh, the thirteenth, and the seventeenth anniversaries of his death. And now she was going again.
I told her that I admired her devotion to her father. She said, quietly, that she believed in the veneration of her ancestors. I asked her if her family had attended church. She smiled and said, “No, only go to church when someone dies.” I asked her if she believed in a god. She said, “Yes.” I asked her if she thought he was close by. She said, “No. If we should need him we would say, ‘come here,’” and she made a beckoning sign with her hand. I asked her who she believed God was. Her soft, tentative answer was: “Well, he is like one of our distant ancestors.”
She needed to hear the words you have heard spoken here: Jesus Christ, the fall of Adam, the Atonement, the Resurrection, repentance, eternal life, and the pure love of God. But I realized those words would not touch her. I remembered and understood the power of what Elder Spencer W. Kimball wrote in the beginning of his book The Miracle of Forgiveness. You may recall this warning:
“This book presupposes a belief in God and in life’s high purpose. Without God, repentance would have little meaning, and forgiveness would be both unnecessary and unreal. If there were no God, life would indeed be meaningless; … we might find justification in an urge to live only for today, to ‘eat, drink and be merry,’ to dissipate, to satisfy every worldly desire. If there were no God there would be no redemption, no resurrection, no eternities to anticipate, and consequently no hope.” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, pp. 3–4.)
President Kimball’s words made me think not how different that woman was from me, but how much we were alike. God is our ancestor, not distant but close. He is the Father of our spirits; we are his children. But like that woman, we all at times feel far removed from him. Like her, if we are to have the words of the gospel of Jesus Christ touch us, then we must believe in God. We must want to be with him. And we must sense our need to be purified to be with him again.
The day will come when we will see him again. President Benson described it this way: “Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar his face is to us.” (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” in Speeches of the Year, 1974, Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1975, p. 313.)
While what President Benson said will be true in the future, we need to feel now that God knows us and loves us as individuals. There are times you have felt the closeness of God, your Father, and that you are his child. Those times can come more often. There is a simple way to think about it.
If you want to stay close to someone who has been dear to you, but from whom you are separated, you know how to do it. You would find a way to speak to them, you would listen to them, and you would discover ways to do things for each other. The more often that happened, the longer it went on, the deeper would be the bond of affection. If much time passed without the speaking, the listening, and the doing, the bond would weaken.
God is perfect and omnipotent, and you and I are mortal. But he is our Father, he loves us, and he offers the same opportunity to draw closer to him as would a loving friend. And you will do it in much the same way: speaking, listening, and doing.
Our Heavenly Father has not only invited us to speak to him, he has commanded it. And, as he has always done, when he commands, he promises, too.
In the nineteenth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord says to you and me:
“Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof.
“Behold, canst thou read this without rejoicing and lifting up thy heart for gladness?
“Or canst thou run about longer as a blind guide?
“Or canst thou be humble and meek, and conduct thyself wisely before me? Yea, come unto me thy Savior. Amen.” (D&C 19:38–41.)
In that scripture, and in others, it is clear how often we should speak to God: regularly in words, continually in feelings. When the Savior appeared among the people on this continent, after his resurrection, he taught them how to pray. He used the words, “Pray always.” That doesn’t mean now and then. It doesn’t mean to pray only when you feel like it. Listen to what he said to them:
“Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall keep my commandments, which the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him.
“And as I have prayed among you even so shall ye pray in my church, among my people who do repent and are baptized in my name. Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you.” (3 Ne. 18:14–16.)
Now, you and I need to listen with great care. When you heard the scripture I just recited, you heard the words of Christ. I testify that is true. Jesus Christ speaks the words of the Father. You can read the scriptures, listen, and then hear God’s answers to you.
There is another way to listen to God. Many of you will have heard answers to your prayers today. I bear testimony that you have in this conference heard the voices of Apostles and prophets of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord said this of them, as they speak by his direction:
“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.
“For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever. Amen.” (D&C 1:38–39.)
It is the Spirit which will bear record to your heart as you read the scriptures, as you hear the Lord’s authorized servants, and as God speaks directly to your heart. You can listen and hear if you believe that the scriptures are accurate when they describe the Holy Ghost this way:
“Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest.” (D&C 85:6.)
Now, I testify it is a small voice. It whispers, not shouts. And so you must be very quiet inside. That is why you may wisely fast when you want to listen. And that is why you will listen best when you feel, “Father, thy will, not mine, be done.” You will have a feeling of “I want what you want.” Then, the still small voice will seem as if it pierces you. It may make your bones to quake. More often it will make your heart burn within you, again softly, but with a burning which will lift and reassure.
You will act after you have listened because when you hear his voice by the Spirit you will always feel that you are impelled to do something. You mustn’t be surprised if the instruction seems accompanied with what you feel as a rebuke.
You might prefer that God simply tell you how well you are doing. But he loves you, wants you to be with him, and knows you must have a mighty change in your heart, through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, humble repentance, and the making and keeping of sacred covenants. That’s why the Proverbs record this:
“My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:
“For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” (Prov. 3:11–12.)
As you have listened to God’s servants here, you have felt pricked in your heart to do something. You could react with a hard heart: “Why is an imperfect man telling me to repent?” Or you could hear instead the loving invitation of your Heavenly Father, who delighted in you when you were with him, and delights in the prospect that you will accept his loving correction.
You will find something else in the pattern of correction you have felt. Do you notice how much of it is an urging to do something for someone else? That is no surprise. God loves his children. They have great needs. Everything belongs to God, so there is not much you can give him, after you have given him a repentant heart. But you can give kindness to his children. If you were my earthly friend, you would win my heart by being kind to my children. God loves his children more than any earthly parent, so think what your kindness to his children means to him.
With all you will do for your Heavenly Father—if you pray, and listen, and then obey him all your days—you will still find him more generous than you can ever be. Here is how King Benjamin described your problem of exchanging acts of kindness with God:
“And … he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?” (Mosiah 2:24.)
Now, even the Savior of the world, when he was on the cross, felt his Father far from him. You will have moments, perhaps long moments, of feelings of separation. But you know the way to draw closer to God. King Benjamin taught us the way:
“I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you.
“For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:12–13.)
Now, you will still be startled, as President Benson said you would be, to realize how familiar the face of our Heavenly Father is. But when you see him, you will know his voice, because you will have prayed, listened, obeyed, and come to share the thoughts and intents of his heart. You will have drawn nearer to him.
I pray that we will. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.