Lesson 37: Spencer W. Kimball: Raised in a Refiner’s Fire

, "Lesson 37: Spencer W. Kimball: Raised in a Refiner’s Fire," The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual1996


Class members will learn that adversity often brings out the sweetest and purest qualities in men and women, allowing them to give great service to others.


  1. 1.

    Prepare to show the picture of Spencer W. Kimball in the color section.

  2. 2.

    You may want to read selections from Spencer W. Kimball by Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball, Jr. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1977).

  3. 3.

    If the videocassette Testimonies of the Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (53242) is available, show the section “Spencer W. Kimball.”

Suggested Lesson Development


Throughout a life that presented him with many problems, Spencer W. Kimball refused to allow his personal problems to stand in the way of his service to God and his fellowmen.

Read the following segment from Elder Wm. Grant Bangerter’s conference address of October 1977:

“My dear brethren and sisters, … I have in mind a special moment in Church history which has a great bearing on our testimonies and on the progress of the gospel. I hope that it has been duly recorded by those who keep the history. I refer to what happened on the 4th of April, 1974.

“The story really begins on the 26th of December, 1973. President Harold B. Lee passed away suddenly on that day. His death was completely unexpected. … We knew, of course, that [President Spencer W. Kimball] would manage somehow, but it would not be easy for him, and things would not be the same. …

“… The moment came when President Kimball arose to address the assembled leadership. He noted that he also had never expected to occupy this position [as prophet] and that he missed President Lee equally with the rest of us. Then he reviewed much of the instruction which President Lee had given over the past years, and our prayers in behalf of President Kimball continued.

“As he proceeded with his address, however, he had not spoken very long when a new awareness seemed to fall on the congregation. We became alert to an astonishing spiritual presence, and we realized that we were listening to something unusual, powerful, different from any of our previous meetings. It was as if, spiritually speaking, our hair began to stand on end. Our minds were suddenly vibrant and marveling at the transcendent message that was coming to our ears. With a new perceptiveness we realized President Kimball was opening spiritual windows and beckoning to us to come and gaze with him on the plans of eternity. It was as if he were drawing back the curtains which covered the purpose of the Almighty and inviting us to view with him the destiny of the gospel and the vision of its ministry.

“I doubt that any person present that day will ever forget the occasion. … The Spirit of the Lord was upon President Kimball and it proceeded from him to us as a tangible presence, which was at once both moving and shocking. He unrolled to our view a glorious vision. He told us of the ministry performed by the apostles in the day of the Savior, and how the same mission was conferred on the apostles under Joseph Smith. He demonstrated how these men had gone forth in faith and devotion and were clothed with great power, by which they had carried the gospel to the ends of the earth, reaching further, in some ways, than we with the strength of this modern church are doing at the present time. He showed us how the Church was not fully living in the faithfulness that the Lord expects of His people, and that, to a certain degree we had settled into a spirit of complacency and satisfaction with things as they were. It was at that moment that he sounded the now famous slogan, ‘We must lengthen our stride.’ …

“President Kimball bespoke other messages: ‘We must go to all the world.’ ‘Every boy should go on a mission.’ ‘Open the door to new nations.’ ‘Send missionaries from Mexico, South America, Japan, Great Britain and Europe.’ … This was a new vision, disturbing and exciting, added to the old. …

“President Kimball spoke under this special influence for an hour and ten minutes. It was a message totally unlike any other in my experience. I realized that it was similar to the occasion of the 8th of August, 1844, when Brigham Young spoke to the Saints in Nauvoo following the death of the Prophet Joseph. Sidney Rigdon had returned from Pittsburgh, where he had apostatized, to try to capture the Church. Many people testified, however, that as Brigham Young arose, the power of the Lord rested upon him to the extent that he was transfigured before them, with the appearance and the voice of Joseph Smith. That moment was decisive in the history of the Church, and the occasion of April 4, 1974 is parallel.

“When President Kimball concluded, President Ezra Taft Benson arose and with a voice filled with emotion, echoing the feeling of all present, said, in substance: ‘President Kimball, through all the years that these meetings have been held, we have never heard such an address as you have just given. Truly, there is a prophet in Israel’” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1977, pp. 37–39; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, pp. 26–27).

Adversity Can Be a Good Teacher


  • What has been one of the most difficult things you have had to undergo during your lifetime? What are some difficulties people of the world might have had to undergo? (Responses will vary. They may include: emotional distress, family members not living the gospel, economic disaster, illness, death, etc.)

  • Why must people undergo these tragedies? Does God want to punish us? Can we gain any positive character traits by being tested in such a fashion? (Allow discussion, stressing that we are here to be tested and that it is through our trials that we are able to make the decisions that will bring us closer to our Father in Heaven. God does not want to punish us. Note: the growth and positive results that can come from being tested will be discussed after the next two scriptures.)

Scripture discussion

Read and discuss the following scriptures with the class: John 9:2–3 and Doctrine and Covenants 122:7.

  • What positive character traits and good can come from the trials men and women must undergo in this life? (Possible responses: strength to endure, experience, patience, loving attitude toward those who serve us, closeness to the Lord, humility, reliance on the Lord.)

Pain and Sorrow Seemed to Temper and Mold President Kimball


  • How could each of the following events in the life of Spencer W. Kimball have affected him?

  1. 1.

    He nearly drowned at age ten.

  2. 2.

    He lost his mother at age eleven.

  3. 3.

    He hovered near death from typhoid at age thirteen.

  4. 4.

    He lost his father at age twenty-nine.

  5. 5.

    Five years after his call to the Council of the Twelve Apostles, he suffered a serious heart ailment that forced him into months of inactivity. (This was especially difficult for a man who had been a physical dynamo, a star athlete, a forceful businessman, a stake president, and then an Apostle.)

  6. 6.

    Some years later he was afflicted with cancer in his throat. The doctors said he would lose his voice, the very focal point of his life and service as an Apostle. (With a special blessing from Elder Harold B. Lee, Elder Kimball submitted to surgery. Part of a vocal cord was saved. When he was ready to try to speak again, he went home to the valley of his youth. There he told about having fallen among “cutthroats” in the East. With this priceless bit of humor, he said good-bye to the past and a new voice began to be heard—no singing, but a beloved, familiar voice with a gravity of sound to match the gravity of his message.)

  7. 7.

    Later his heart condition resurfaced and required open-heart surgery to save his life. (Again President Lee pronounced blessings: life for the patient and divine guidance for the surgeon. Both blessings were fulfilled. A speedy recovery occurred; a prophet was saved.)

Only two years after his open-heart surgery, Spencer W. Kimball became President of the Lord’s Church, demonstrating remarkably vigorous health until the very last few years, when his dynamic schedule had to be lessened due to increasing health problems. He died at age ninety.


President Kimball was prepared for many of his trials by the severe conditions of a frontier-style life. His father, then stake president, spoke at his graduation from the LDS Academy [high school], and announced from the pulpit, unbeknown to his son, that Spencer would not go on to college that fall but go on a mission. President Kimball, a very obedient son, accepted this call without question.

Spencer had been working for two summers at a dairy in another part of Arizona to earn enough money for college. He now worked in the same capacity, but now it was to make it possible for him to serve the Lord.

“It was tough work. The scalding water he and the other boys used to wash the milk cans made their fingers tender. As soon as he would start to milk his two dozen cows, morning or night, the pressure on his tender fingers would split the flesh. They swelled and cracked until the blood would ooze out. ‘I could have cried many a time,’ he remembered. Some of the boys’ fingers got so sore their fingernails fell off and their forearms swelled. Some of the cows’ udders seemed so hard, Spencer remembered, that ‘it was almost like getting milk out of iron bars.’ When he would walk into town for Sunday School with some of the other boys, their fingers would throb so badly they would hold them over their heads to help the blood drain out” (Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball, Jr., Spencer W. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1977], p. 70).

The experience at the dairy gave Spencer a first major exposure to the world outside a Mormon influence, the world of nonmembers. Week after week Spencer and a young friend, Ben Blake, were about the only young men available to administer and pass the sacrament.

“Spencer’s non-Mormon boss [at the dairy] always had a cigar in his mouth. One of his buddies at work, [a member], smoked and stayed away from church. [But Spencer found a good friend in a returned missionary named George.] Two tough boys also worked there. One of them cracked George over the head with a metal nut slung in a handkerchief. Later Spencer found George bleeding badly. The other boys were fired, remembered Spencer with satisfaction, and ‘We then had total peace.’

“Occasionally Spencer went along with George to help him deliver milk. Globe [Arizona, where they worked,] was a wide-open mining town. [The rough section of town], one of the dairy’s best areas, made Spencer uneasy; he followed George there no oftener than he had to. …

“[Spencer’s father missed him very much, especially since Spencer was about to go on a mission.] He wrote: ‘Well, dear boy, I am lonesome without you and to think of being without my boy for a long time yet makes me feel very peculiar at times. Our letting Alice [his sister] go to Utah and you away is too much at one time in the face of unfavorable conditions that exist at times, as you know. But I work it off. All I can do is just keep pitching in and drowning my feelings. Work, work, is the greatest thing in the world’” (Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball, Jr., Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 70–71).


Ask the class to consider President Kimball’s life and the difficulties he encountered to answer the following questions. Allow varied answers.

  • What experiences in President Kimball’s early years helped him to successfully overcome the adversities that came later? (See list on page 186.)

  • How was he prepared to meet the world by these experiences? (These experiences allowed him to maintain the sweetness and honesty of his character in spite of the trials offered by the world.)

  • What help did his father give him? (His father was an example of honesty, integrity, and faithfulness.)

  • What help could he now give the people of the Church, as he served them as prophet? (He could teach them to work diligently, to be faithful in service to others, to deal honestly.)

President Kimball Was Able to Give Marvelous Service by Not Allowing Adversity to Overcome Him


List the following accomplishments on the board as you present them to the class:

Callings in the Church

  1. 1.


  2. 2.

    Stake clerk

  3. 3.

    Stake president

  4. 4.


  5. 5.

    President of the Church

Programs and Policies Effected

  1. 1.

    Authorized stake presidents to ordain missionaries.

  2. 2.

    Authorized stake presidents to set apart bishops.

  3. 3.

    Added three revelations to the Doctrine and Covenants (sections 137 and 138 and Official Declaration—2, which allows all worthy male members to hold the priesthood).

  4. 4.

    Made powerful statements against homosexuality, abortion, and the Equal Rights Amendment.

  5. 5.

    Organized the First Quorum of the Seventy, eliminating Assistants to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

  6. 6.

    Instituted the consolidated Sunday meeting schedule.

  7. 7.

    Authorized the publication of the new LDS edition of the scriptures.

  8. 8.

    Expanded temple construction (21 temples dedicated during his presidency).

  9. 9.

    Increased missionary work dramatically (doubled size of missionary force while President).

President Kimball’s Call to the Apostleship

President Kimball had doubts about his ability to be an Apostle of the Lord. He told of spending many sleepless nights worrying about this calling.

Just before the announcement of his calling was made, he went into the mountains to receive confirmation from the Lord. He said, “‘My weakness overcame me. … Hot tears came flooding down my cheeks as I made no effort to mop them up. I was accusing myself, and condemning myself and upbraiding myself. I was praying aloud for special blessings from the Lord. I was telling him that I had not asked for this position, that I was incapable of doing the work, that I was imperfect and weak and human, that I was unworthy of so noble a calling, though I had tried hard and my heart had been right. I knew that I must have been at least partly responsible for offenses and misunderstandings which a few people fancied they had suffered at my hands. I realized that I had been petty and small many times. I did not spare myself. …

“‘If I could only have the assurance that my call had been inspired most of my other worries would be dissipated. … I stumbled up the hill and onto the mountain, as the way became rough. I faltered some as the way became steep. No paths were there to follow. … Never had I prayed before as I now prayed. What I wanted and felt I must have was an assurance that I was acceptable to the Lord. …

“‘I broke off one end [of a piece of oak stick] for a cane … and it helped me climb. … I thought of my Father and Mother and my Grandfather, Heber C. Kimball [who had] passed from the earth. … There was one great desire, to get a testimony of my calling. …

“‘Was it a dream which came to me? I was weary and I think I went to sleep for a little. It seemed that in a dream I saw my grandfather and became conscious of the great work he had done. I cannot say that it was a vision, but I do know that with this new experience came a calm like the dying wind. … I got up, walked to the rocky point and sat on [a] ledge. My tears were dry, my soul was at peace. A calm feeling of assurance came over me, doubt and questionings subdued. It was as though a great burden had been lifted. I sat in tranquil silence surveying the beautiful valley, thanking the Lord for the satisfaction and reassuring answer to my prayers. Long I meditated here in peaceful quietude, apart, and I felt nearer my Lord than ever at any time in my life. … I felt I knew my way, now, physically and spiritually and knew where I was going’” (see Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball, Jr., Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 193–95).

Videocassette testimony

If it is available, show the videocassette, part 8 (1 minute, 16 seconds), of Spencer W. Kimball’s testimony.

Testimony and Challenge

Bear your testimony to the class that Spencer W. Kimball was a prophet of God.

Challenge the class to remember what they know of President Kimball and his experiences. Ask them to evaluate the times of crisis and trial that have come into their own lives. How can these trials sweeten and purify their souls?