Some years ago, as our youngest son, Clark, was approaching his twelfth birthday, he and I were leaving the Church Administration Building when President Harold B. Lee approached and greeted us. I mentioned to President Lee that Clark would soon be twelve, whereupon President Lee turned to him and asked, “What happens to you when you turn twelve?”
Clark, without hesitation, said to President Lee, “I will be ordained a deacon!”
That was the answer President Lee had sought. He then counseled our son, “Remember, it is a great blessing to hold the priesthood.”
I hope with all my heart and soul that Clark and every young man who receives the priesthood will honor that priesthood and be true to the trust which is conveyed when it is conferred.
President David O. McKay spoke to a group of Church officers on one occasion and provided counsel related to the power of the priesthood. He declared that while he was traveling on board a ship, another passenger approached him and asked if he were a leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When President McKay said that he was, the visitor asked what specific belief set apart the teachings of the Church from those of any other faith. President McKay told us that at first he thought to say that divine authority was the belief that made the Church different. Then he realized that there were others who believed in divine authority, such as the Catholics, the Coptics, and members of the Greek Orthodox Church. Divine authority by itself simply was not the complete answer to the question.
President McKay said that he then felt inspired to say: “That which differentiates the beliefs of my church from those of others is divine authority by direct revelation.”
Brethren, our very souls are filled with gratitude when we remember the events of that “beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty,” when the boy Joseph Smith withdrew to the woods to pray. His words describing that moment in history are overpowering: “I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:14, 17). What a magnificent example of divine authority by direct revelation!
Our thoughts turn to the visit of another heavenly messenger, John the Baptist, on 15 May 1829. There on the bank of the Susquehanna River, near Harmony, Pennsylvania, John laid his hands upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and ordained them, saying, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (D&C 13:1). The messenger announced that he acted under the direction of Peter, James, and John, who held the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Ordination and baptism followed. Yet another example of divine authority by direct revelation.
In due time, Peter, James, and John were sent to bestow the blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood. These Apostles sent by the Lord ordained and confirmed Joseph and Oliver to be Apostles and special witnesses of His name. Divine authority by direct revelation characterized this sacred visitation.
As a result of these experiences, all of us carry the requirement—even the blessed opportunity and solemn duty—to be true to the trust we have received.
The oath and covenant of the priesthood pertains to all of us. To those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, it is a declaration of our requirement to be faithful and obedient to the laws of God and to magnify the callings which come to us. To those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood, it is a pronouncement concerning future duty and responsibility, so that they may prepare themselves here and now.
This oath and covenant is set forth by the Lord in these words:
“For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.
“They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
“And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;
“For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
“And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
“And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:33–38).
The Prophet Joseph Smith was once asked, “Brother Joseph, you frequently urge that we magnify our callings. What does this mean?” He is said to have replied, “To magnify a calling is to hold it up in dignity and importance, so that the light of heaven may shine through one’s performance to the gaze of other men. An elder magnifies his calling when he learns what his duties as an elder are and then performs them.”
The privilege and opportunity to magnify our callings may come in unexpected ways. When I was a deacon, I remember sitting on the front row of benches in the chapel, along with the other deacons, as the priests prepared to bless the sacrament. One of the priests, whose name was Leland, had a “golden” voice. When he offered the prayer at the sacrament table, the words were clearly pronounced and beautifully spoken. Many would compliment him as the meeting concluded. I think he became a bit proud.
Another priest, named John, sat with Leland one day. John had a hearing impairment and an accompanying speech problem. His words were somewhat difficult to understand. Often we deacons would quietly laugh among ourselves when John prayed.
The bread was broken, the hymn was sung. All bowed their heads as Leland prepared to pray. We heard no words spoken. The silence seemed eternal. I opened my eyes and saw Leland looking frantically for the small card on which the words of the prayer were printed. It was nowhere to be found. Others began to open their eyes and raise their heads questioningly.
Just then, John, who had the hearing and speaking problems, reached forth, gently guided Leland to one side, knelt down and, from memory, spoke the words of that familiar prayer: “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it …” (Moro. 4:3). He never missed a word.
As we left the chapel that day, Leland said to John, “I thank you very sincerely for helping me today.”
John responded, “We are both priests in the same quorum doing our duty.”
This priest, who magnified his calling, had changed lives, altered perspectives, and taught an everlasting lesson: Whom God calls, God qualifies.
The priesthood is not really so much a gift as it is a commission to serve, a privilege to lift others, and an opportunity to bless the lives of others.
Most of the young men I have known have yearned for membership in adult society. Let us who have responsibility with the Aaronic Priesthood young men provide them opportunities to learn but also set before them examples worthy of emulation.
For those of us who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, our privilege to magnify our callings is ever present. We are shepherds watching over Israel. The hungry sheep do look up, ready to be fed the bread of life. Are we prepared to feed the flock of God? It is imperative that we recognize the worth of a human soul, that we never give up on one of His precious sons.
Miracles are everywhere to be found when priesthood callings are magnified. When faith replaces doubt, when selfless service eliminates selfish striving, the power of God brings to pass His purposes.
About eight years ago, in far-off Dresden, a city in the German Democratic Republic, I visited, with a few members, a small cemetery. The night was dark, and a cold rain had been falling throughout the day.
We had come to visit the grave of a missionary who many years before had died while in the service of the Lord. A hushed silence shrouded the scene as we gathered about the grave. With a flashlight illuminating the headstone, I read the inscription:
Joseph A. Ott
Born: 12 December 1870—Virgin, Utah
Died: 10 January 1896—Dresden, Germany
(See “In the Lord’s Time,” by C. Eric Ott, Tambuli, May 1989, page 7.)
Then the light revealed that this grave was unlike any other in the cemetery. The headstone had been polished, weeds such as those which covered other graves had been carefully removed, and in their place was an immaculately edged bit of lawn and some beautiful flowers that told of tender and loving care. I asked, “Who has made this grave so attractive?” My query was met by silence.
Finally, a twelve-year-old deacon acknowledged that he had wanted to take on this responsibility and, without prompting from parents or leaders, had done so. He said that he just wanted to do something for a missionary who gave his life while in the service of the Lord. He said, “I’ll never be able to serve a mission, as did my father. I feel close to missionary work when I care for this grave where the body of a missionary rests.”
I wept out of respect for his faith. I sorrowed at his inability to fulfill his greatest desire—to serve as a missionary. But God did hear his prayer. He noted his faith. He honored one who magnified the calling of a deacon.
Several years have gone by since that special night in Dresden. Many significant changes have taken place in the German Democratic Republic. A temple of God adorns the land, chapels accommodate wards and stakes, and the full program of the Church blesses the lives of our members. On Thursday, 30 March 1989, the first Church missionaries in fifty years crossed the border into the German Democratic Republic. Already investigators are being taught and the first baptisms have taken place.
But what about the boy who so tenderly tended the grave of Joseph Ott? Well, Tobias Burkhardt, a deacon then, is an elder now. On 28 May 1989 he and nine other companions entered the Missionary Training Center, the first ever from their country to serve abroad as missionaries. Asked about his feelings at this special time, he responded, “I am anxious to serve my mission. I’ll strive to work so diligently, that Joseph Ott can, through me, yet perform an earthly mission.”
Brethren, the spirit of Joseph Ott has long since gone home to that God who gave it life. His body rests in the peaceful, well-kept grave in far away Dresden. But his missionary spirit lives on in the service to be rendered by a faithful elder—even the deacon who so long ago trimmed the lawn, tidied the flowers, polished the headstone of Joseph Ott, and dreamed of missionary service once denied but now bestowed.
It is my prayer that our Heavenly Father may ever bless, ever inspire, and ever lead all who hold His precious priesthood.
What specific belief sets apart the teachings of the Church from those of any other faith?
President Monson says of those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, “our privilege to magnify our callings is ever present. We are shepherds watching over Israel.”
How did Joseph Smith explain the meaning of “magnifying” priesthood callings?
What great promises of the Lord are described in the oath and covenant of the priesthood?