As a young man of 27, Wilford Woodruff was ordained a priest on November 5, 1834. Eight days later he began a two-year mission in the southern states.1 One night he and his companion found lodging with a family who provided them with a bare floor for a bed, which he described as “pretty hard after walking sixty miles without anything to eat.”2
The next day they walked 12 miles through the rain until they came to the house of a man who happened to be a member of the Missouri mob. Brother Woodruff said: “The family were about to sit down to breakfast as we came in. In those days it was the custom of the Missourians to ask you to eat even though they were hostile to you; so he asked us to take breakfast, and we were very glad of the invitation. He knew we were Mormons; and as soon as we began to eat, he began to swear about the Mormons. He had a large platter of bacon and eggs, and plenty of bread on the table, and his swearing did not hinder our eating, for the harder he swore the harder we ate, until we got our stomachs full; then we arose from the table, took our hats, and thanked him for our breakfast. The last we heard of him he was still swearing. I trust the Lord will reward him for our breakfast.”3
At the end of the first year of that mission he recounted that he had “traveled three thousand two hundred and forty-eight miles, held one hundred and seventy meetings, [and] baptized forty-three persons.”4
His first mission to the southern states was followed by two brief missions to the Fox Islands off the coast of Maine,5 and then subsequently two missions to England.6 During his latter mission in England, in 1840, he acknowledged that, “through the blessings of God,” he had been an instrument in bringing over 1,800 souls into the Church within a period of eight months.7
Wilford Woodruff claimed the Book of Mormon promise that “God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.”8 My young brethren of the Aaronic Priesthood, I would remind you that our Father in Heaven not only wants you to be good, but to be good for something, to serve and bless the lives of others, and to become a benefit to your fellow beings.
We read in the Gospel of Luke that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”9 Inasmuch as our earthly quest for perfection involves becoming more like the Savior, then we, too, should increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Priesthood quorum activities and Mutual activities with the young women, when carefully and prayerfully planned and discussed in the bishopric youth committee,10 will help every young man and young woman to grow in wisdom as they gain a greater appreciation for the scriptures and the words of the living prophets and as they participate in Mutual activities involving “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.”11
Counseling together in the bishopric youth committee also provides valuable training for an entire generation of future leaders who learn to work effectively together in councils.
You young men will grow in stature and physical strength as you engage in folk dancing, sports, and wholesome, friendly athletic competition characterized by good sportsmanship. You will grow in favor with God as you engage in family history research, perform baptisms in the temple for deceased ancestors, become a faithful home teacher, frequently clean the chapel, visit nursing homes, and help beautify your communities. As you do so, you will exemplify King Benjamin’s counsel that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”12 A wise youth leader will place less emphasis on fund-raising activities and a much greater emphasis upon rendering selfless service to others.
You young men will increase in favor with man and become better prepared for missions, marriage, and future employment as you learn more about various careers and develop greater self-confidence through giving speeches, participating in original one-act plays, and talent shows.
Our youth activities should reflect our belief that “men are, that they might have joy,”13 and we should be willing to share that joy with others. Not long ago I met a woman from the East who is now living in the Salt Lake Valley. She is a devout member of another Christian church, and I asked her how she enjoyed living among the Latter-day Saints. She said: “My husband and I get along fine, but I worry about our teenage daughter. Each Wednesday evening about seven o’clock, several girls in our neighborhood walk right past our home headed somewhere together, and not once have they stopped to invite our 14-year-old daughter to go with them.”
I said, “My dear, this is your lucky day; I am in a position to get that problem fixed.” She readily gave me her daughter’s name and address, and we made contact with both the stake president and the seminary principal.
Our friends and neighbors are children of a loving Father in Heaven who desires that all of us return to Him. Can we be content when not all the members of our quorum are in attendance Sunday morning? Surely we can extend ourselves to the less active and those of other faiths and warmly invite them to our Young Men and Young Women Mutual activities, seminary, Sunday School classes, and sacrament meetings.
When Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood under the hands of the resurrected John the Baptist, they received “the keys of the ministering of angels,”14 and so did you when you were ordained. I pray that you wonderful young men will not only be worthy to receive ministering angels, but that you, like young Wilford Woodruff, will become a ministering angel in the lives of others as you exercise your faith in working “mighty miracles,” thereby becoming a “great benefit” to your fellow beings.
Satan would diminish your faith and dilute your priesthood power to work mighty miracles, but a loving Heavenly Father has provided you with providential protection—the gift of the Holy Ghost. In the first chapter of the Book of Mormon we learn that as Lehi read the scriptures “he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.”15 Nephi later promises us that as we “feast upon the words of Christ … the words of Christ will tell [us] all things what [we] should do.”16
You may be facing decisions regarding a mission, your future career, and, eventually, marriage. As you read the scriptures and pray for direction, you may not actually see the answer in the form of printed words on the page, but as you read you will receive distinct impressions, and promptings, and, as promised, the Holy Ghost “will show unto you all things what ye should do.”17
Satan would have you surrender your moral agency to various forms of addictive behavior, but a loving Heavenly Father has promised you through His prophet Isaiah that through sincere fasting, as you subdue your physical appetites, He will help you “loose the bands of wickedness” and “break every yoke.”18 Claim that promise through fasting. Our emptiness will provide more room for the fulness of the gospel. The hollowing precedes the hallowing.
Scripture study and fasting, preceded and followed by prayer, really can “change the night to day.”19 The entire life of the Prophet Joseph Smith demonstrates the power of prayer and the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise that “if thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation.”20 One important revelation you will receive will be insight into how you can best touch the lives of others who have lost their way. In so doing, it is well to remember President Hinckley’s wise counsel: “The Holy Ghost is the Testifier of Truth, who can teach men things they cannot teach one another.”21
President Gordon B. Hinckley considers good friends to be one of the key ingredients in retaining new converts and in reclaiming the less active, and Robert Browning eloquently described how this is so:
… Were I elect like you,
I would encircle me with love, and raise
A rampart of my fellows; it should seem
Impossible for me to fail, so watched
By gentle friends who made my cause their own.22
Late in life, as President of the Church, Wilford Woodruff declared: “It does not make any difference whether a man is a Priest or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling. A Priest holds the keys of the ministering of angels. Never in my life, as an Apostle, as a Seventy, or as an Elder, have I ever had more of the protection of the Lord than while holding the office of a Priest. The Lord revealed to me by visions, by revelations, and by the Holy Spirit, many things that lay before me.”23
My young beloved brethren, I pray that each of us, through our faith, will use our priesthood power to work mighty miracles through sharing the gospel and serving others, thereby becoming a great benefit to our fellow beings, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.