President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) taught a principle that is fundamental to this course: “The living prophet has the power of TNT. By that I mean ‘Today’s News Today.’ … Therefore, the most important reading we can do is any of the words of the prophet … contained each month in our Church magazines. Our marching orders for each six months are found in the general conference addresses, which are printed in the Ensign [or Liahona] magazine” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” in 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year , 27).
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) also encouraged Church members to obtain a copy of the conference issue of the Church magazines and to make it a part of their gospel library: “I hope you will get your copy of the [Ensign or Liahona] and underline the pertinent thoughts and keep it with you for continual reference. No text or volume outside the standard works of the Church should have such a prominent place on your personal library shelves—not for their rhetorical excellence or eloquence of delivery, but for the concepts which point the way to eternal life” (In the World but Not of It, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [May 14, 1968], 2–3).
This chapter provides ideas and skills to help you study the general conference issues of the Ensign or Liahona and other talks and writings of the General Authorities more effectively. Most of this course is dedicated to studying and learning from the most recent general conference addresses. As you thoughtfully listen to and study addresses by living prophets, you can learn the will of the Lord for you at this time. Prayerfully determine how you can use these skills to increase your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the messages He inspires His appointed leaders to give us.
Prepare Your Mind and Your Heart
Preparation is essential in receiving and understanding the will of the Lord. The Lord has promised, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (D&C 8:2). The word of the Lord will come to you more readily as you prepare your mind and your heart. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught the importance of preparing and being an active learner:
“Nephi teaches us, ‘When a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth [the message] unto the hearts of the children of men’ (2 Nephi 33:10). Please notice how the power of the Spirit carries the message unto but not necessarily into the heart. A teacher can explain, demonstrate, persuade, and testify, and do so with great spiritual power and effectiveness. Ultimately, however, the content of a message and the witness of the Holy Ghost penetrate into the heart only if a receiver allows them to enter.
“Brothers and sisters, learning by faith opens the pathway into the heart. …
“A learner exercising agency by acting in accordance with correct principles opens his or her heart to the Holy Ghost—and invites His teaching, testifying power, and confirming witness. Learning by faith requires spiritual, mental, and physical exertion and not just passive reception. It is in the sincerity and consistency of our faith-inspired action that we indicate to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, our willingness to learn and receive instruction from the Holy Ghost. …
“… Experience has enabled me to understand that an answer given by another person usually is not remembered for very long, if remembered at all. But an answer we discover or obtain through the exercise of faith, typically, is retained for a lifetime. The most important learnings of life are caught—not taught” (“Seek Learning by Faith” [address to CES religious educators, Feb. 3, 2006], 1, 3, 5).
Consider the following ways to prepare yourself before a general conference:
Set aside time to listen to the conference addresses without distractions. Create an environment in which you can receive promptings from the Holy Ghost.
Seek the guidance of the Spirit through thoughtful prayer, fasting, and scripture study.
List personal questions or concerns for which you are seeking answers. Then record the answers and impressions that you receive during the conference.
Review your notes from the previous general conference.
Practice Good Study Skills When Studying General Conference Addresses
When you study general conference addresses, you can use many of the same skills you use when studying the scriptures. The rest of this chapter describes some of those skills. Implementing the study suggestions in this chapter will not only influence your study of the living prophets, it will influence your power to make correct choices.
Identify Doctrines and Principles
As you study the general conference addresses, look for clear statements of gospel doctrines and principles. Identify and mark them in a way that allows you to review and remember them. Reviewing and pondering statements of the doctrines and principles can strengthen your understanding of gospel truths and your commitment to live by them. The following are a few examples of doctrines and principles taught during general conferences:
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Seldom will you receive a complete response [to a prayer] all at once. It will come a piece at a time, in packets, so that you will grow in capacity. As each piece is followed in faith, you will be led to other portions until you have the whole answer. That pattern requires you to exercise faith in our Father’s capacity to respond. While sometimes it’s very hard, it results in significant personal growth” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2007, 6; or Ensign, May 2007, 9).
President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency: “We know from prophecy that not only will the true and living Church not be taken from the earth again, but it will become better. … The scriptures contain promises that when the Lord comes again to His Church, He will find it spiritually prepared for Him. That should make us both determined and optimistic. We must do better. We can. And we will” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2008, 20; or Ensign, May 2008, 21).
Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “We prepare to receive personal revelation as the prophets do, by studying the scriptures, fasting, praying, and building faith. Faith is the key” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2007, 94; or Ensign, Nov. 2007, 88).
Identify Scriptural Interpretations or Clarifications
Prophets play a key role in interpreting and clarifying scripture. The following are some examples:
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught how the scriptures show the separate nature of the three members of the Godhead (see Conference Report, Oct. 2007, 40–43; or Ensign, Nov. 2007, 40–42).
President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency discussed the application of several scriptures as he taught about the principle of forgiving others (see Conference Report, Apr. 2007, 65–68; or Ensign, May 2007, 67–69).
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on “the tender mercies of the Lord,” mentioned in 1 Nephi 1:20 (see Conference Report, Apr. 2005, 104–8; or Ensign, May 2005, 99–102).
“We prepare to receive personal revelation as the prophets do, by studying the scriptures, fasting, praying, and building faith. Faith is the key.”
Elder Robert D. Hales
Make Cross-References between the Talks and the Scriptures
As you identify scriptural interpretations or clarifications, it can be helpful to write the reference of the conference address in the margin next to the scripture that is taught or clarified. Following are some examples:
Next to Revelation 22:18 you could write the citation: Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Ensign, May 2008, 91–94. In this talk, Elder Holland referred to Revelation 22:18 and discussed the importance of continuing revelation.
Next to Psalm 24:3–4 you could write: Elder David A. Bednar, Ensign, Nov. 2007, 80–83. Elder Bednar discussed what it means to have clean hands and a pure heart.
Next to Nehemiah 6 you could write: President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign, May 2009, 59–62. President Uchtdorf discussed Nehemiah rebuilding the walls surrounding Jerusalem and the idea that “we are doing a great work and cannot come down.”
You could also use the space in the margins in your copy of the Ensign or Liahona to write scripture references that support the ideas taught in the talk.
Identify Encouragements, Invitations, or Commandments
As you look for encouragements, invitations, and commandments, you will learn specific things you should do to be in harmony with the Lord’s will. It may be helpful to underline these statements in your copy of the Ensign or Liahona to help you find them later. The following are examples of such statements:
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “We issue the call again for all spiritually, physically, and emotionally qualified young men to come forth prepared to become missionaries in the Church of Jesus Christ. Be certain that you easily clear the minimum standards for service as a missionary and that you are continually raising the bar. Prepare yourself to be more effective in this great calling” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2007, 51–52; or Ensign, Nov. 2007, 49).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. …
“Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth that portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2007, 111; or Ensign, Nov. 2007, 104–5).
President Thomas S. Monson: “To you who are able to attend the temple, I would counsel you to go often” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2008, 113; or Ensign, May 2008, 112).
Look for Promised Blessings and What We Must Do to Claim Them
The prophets often make promises to those who follow the principles they teach. Seeking promised blessings can help inspire us to live righteously. The following are two examples of such promises:
President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency: “If you ponder the scriptures and begin to do what you covenanted with God to do, I can promise you that you will feel more love for God and more of His love for you. And with that, your prayers will come from the heart, full of thanks and of pleading. You will feel a greater dependence on God. You will find the courage and the determination to act in His service, without fear and with peace in your heart. You will pray always. And you will not forget Him, no matter what the future brings” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2001, 18; or Ensign, Nov. 2001, 17).
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “I promise great blessings—social, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual blessings—to every young man who pays for a significant part of his mission” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2007, 51; or Ensign, Nov. 2007, 49).
Identify Repeated Words and Phrases
Repeated words and phrases can draw attention to the central message of the speaker. For example, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency repeatedly used the phrase “a few degrees” throughout one conference address to emphasize that “the difference between happiness and misery in individuals, in marriages, and families often comes down to an error of only a few degrees” (see Conference Report, Apr. 2008, 57–61; or Ensign, May 2008, 57–60). President Uchtdorf similarly repeated the phrase “faith of our fathers” in an address later that same general conference as he counseled us to remember the faith of those who prepared the way before us (see Conference Report, Apr. 2008, 69–73; or Ensign, May 2008, 68–70, 75).
Repeated words and phrases can also link together the messages of more than one speaker. For example, you may notice phrases such as “tender mercies” and “raising the bar” being used in several addresses in the same general conference or in more than one conference. Connecting the teachings from multiple addresses can give you a broader understanding of the important gospel principles they teach.
Make Note of Memorable Phrases
Look for phrases and sentences that, though short and easy to remember, carry a depth of meaning. When pondered, they can enlarge your understanding of important principles. The following are some examples:
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “When we love the Lord, obedience ceases to be a burden” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2007, 30; or Ensign, Nov. 2007, 30).
President Thomas S. Monson: “There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2008, 66; or Ensign, May 2008, 65).
Speakers may use lists to describe a process, such as repentance, or parts of a principle. For example, President Thomas S. Monson listed “marks of a true holder of the priesthood of God.” His list included “the mark of vision,” “the mark of effort,” “the mark of faith,” “the mark of virtue,” and “the mark of prayer” (see Conference Report, Oct. 2007, 63–66; or Ensign, Nov. 2007, 59–61). Identifying lists as you study conference addresses can help you outline and organize the information in them. This will help you understand and remember the teachings and apply them in your life.
Look for Cause-and-Effect and “If-Then” Statements
Look for statements that clarify the effects of specific actions. They identify consequences and blessings. The following are some examples:
President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency: “If we become casual in our study of the scriptures, we will become casual in our prayers. We may not cease to pray, but our prayers will become more repetitive, more mechanical, lacking real intent” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2001, 18; or Ensign, Nov. 2001, 17).
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008): “If you will do this [control your temper], your lives will be without regret. Your marriages and family relationships will be preserved. You will be much happier. You will do greater good. You will feel a sense of peace that will be wonderful” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2007, 68; or Ensign, Nov. 2007, 66).
President Thomas S. Monson: “If we are on the Lord’s errand, … we are entitled to the Lord’s help” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2008, 65; or Ensign, May 2008, 65).
Pay Attention to Words and Phrases That Introduce a Specific Point or Conclusion
Words such as “therefore,” “finally,” “remember,” and “thus” and phrases such as “in conclusion” and “in summary” introduce main points or conclusions. The following are some examples:
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles quoted Ephesians 2:19–20 and 4:11–13 and then said, “Thus the ministry of the Apostles—the First Presidency and the Twelve—is to bring about that unity of the faith and to proclaim our knowledge of the Master” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2008, 5; or Ensign, May 2008, 7).
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized the unity that should exist in marriage when he concluded speaking about the father being the head of the family: “Remember, brethren, that in your role as leader in the family, your wife is your companion. … Since the beginning, God has instructed mankind that marriage should unite husband and wife together in unity. Therefore, there is not a president or a vice president in a family. The couple works together eternally for the good of the family. They are united together in word, in deed, and in action as they lead, guide, and direct their family unit. They are on equal footing. They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2004, 72; or Ensign, May 2004, 71).
Asking good questions promotes learning and allows the Holy Ghost to teach you beyond the spoken word. As you study conference addresses, learn to ask questions such as the following:
Why did the speaker use this word or this phrase?
What is the message for me, for my family, or for the Church?
How can I apply this in my life?
What does this teach me about Jesus Christ or the plan of salvation?
Is there a major theme in this conference?
Write Down Spiritual Promptings
As you ponder the counsel given in general conference, you can receive insights and promptings from the Holy Ghost tailored to your needs and your level of spiritual maturity. Writing down insights in a journal or notebook can help to cement them into your mind and heart. You may also want to write down some goals for personal improvement. Periodically review your notes and goals and evaluate your progress.
Elder Richard G. Scott explained an added blessing of recording our thoughts: “It is through the repeated process of feeling impressions, recording them, and obeying them that one learns to depend on the direction of the Spirit more than on communication through the five senses” (“Helping Others to Be Spiritually Led” [address to CES religious educators, Aug. 11, 1998], 3).
President Gordon B. Hinckley also encouraged us to do this: “Perhaps out of all we have heard, there may be a phrase or a paragraph that will stand out and possess our attention. If this occurs, I hope we will write it down and reflect on it until we savor the depth of its meaning and have made it a part of our own lives” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2000, 114; or Ensign, Nov. 2000, 88).
Look for the Testimonies of the Lord’s Special Witnesses
Powerful, faith-building testimonies are great sources of strength to our own testimonies. Seldom is the Spirit so strong as when testimonies are shared. Following are two examples of this:
President Gordon B. Hinckley bore this testimony of the Savior: “Be strong in your testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the chief cornerstone of this great work. Of His divinity and reality I bear solemn witness. He is the Lamb without blemish, who was offered for the sins of the world. Through His pain and because of His suffering I find reconciliation and eternal life. He is my Teacher, my Exemplar, my Friend, and my Savior whom I love and worship as the Redeemer of the world” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1992, 75; or Ensign, Nov. 1992, 52).
“Perhaps out of all we have heard, there may be a phrase or a paragraph that will stand out and possess our attention. If this occurs, I hope we will write it down and reflect on it until we savor the depth of its meaning and have made it a part of our own lives.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley
In his final general conference address before his death, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified:
“And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
“I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.
“But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.
“God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1985, 12; or Ensign, May 1985, 11).
Memorize Meaningful Statements
The Lord said that what His servants say “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture” (D&C 68:4). In this light, counsel that Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave for accurately quoting and memorizing scriptures might also be applied to the words of the living prophets:
“There is a power that can change lives in the specific words recorded in the standard works. That power is weakened when we paraphrase or alter the actual wording. I therefore suggest that you encourage students to cite scripture content with precision. All you do to encourage students to memorize selected scriptures accurately will bring to bear in their lives the power of their content” (“Four Fundamentals for Those Who Teach and Inspire Youth,” in Old Testament Symposium Speeches, 1987 , 5).
“I suggest that you memorize scriptures that touch your heart and fill your soul with understanding. When scriptures are used as the Lord has caused them to be recorded, they have intrinsic power that is not communicated when paraphrased. Sometimes when there is a significant need in my life, I review mentally scriptures that have given me strength. There is great solace, direction, and power that flow from the scriptures, especially the words of the Lord” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1999, 112; or Ensign, Nov. 1999, 87–88).
Memorizing meaningful statements from messages of the living prophets will provide us with a reserve of inspiration and guidance we can call on when we need it.
Study Talks Given on the Same Topic
Studying more than one talk given on the same topic will often highlight areas of emphasis and provide additional insights. For example, in the October 2007 general conference Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on personal revelation, and Elder Richard G. Scott, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, spoke about using revelation to guide our choices (see “Personal Revelation: The Teachings and Examples of the Prophets” and “Truth: The Foundation of Correct Decisions,” Ensign, Nov. 2007, 86–92). In the April 2006 general conference Elders M. Russell Ballard and Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on sharing the gospel. Elder Ballard spoke on inviting friends and neighbors into our homes as a way to share the gospel with them, and after that address Elder Scott discussed the preparation of missionaries in the home and in the Church (see “Creating a Gospel-Sharing Home” and “Now Is the Time to Serve a Mission!” Ensign, May 2006, 84–90).
Make a Library of Your Notes and the Ensign or Liahona Conference Issues
Keep the conference issues of the Church magazines, along with the notes you took while listening to or studying the addresses, so you can refer back to them later. This will enable you to compare those past messages and thoughts with those received later. You will also be able to see how certain principles and doctrines are repeated in many conferences and begin to cross-reference them. And it will improve your ability to draw upon the words of the prophets during teaching opportunities, such as on a mission, in a sacrament meeting talk, in Church classes, or in family home evening.
Apply What You Learn
The goal of your gospel study should be to live the gospel better. It is not just what you know but what you do with what you know that brings the greatest happiness in your life. We are to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). As you apply what you learn, you will develop greater understanding of the plan of salvation and a stronger desire to share it with others. Happiness is assured when we accept and live according to the counsel of the Lord and His prophets.
Contemplating the following questions as you study general conference can help you apply what you learn:
How would the Lord have me apply this in my life?
How can I use this to strengthen my faith?
When have I experienced something like what is being taught?
What difference would it make in my life to follow this teaching?
How can I use this to teach others about a gospel principle?