When my family and I lived in Rhode Island, a minister of a local Methodist church invited me to join with the pastors, priests, and rabbis in our area to help fight a number of problems in the state, such as the prospect of casino gambling. I was happy to help.
One day after our meeting, these ministers were talking about the sense of calling they had, a great inner feeling, that led them to become ministers, pastors, rabbis, and priests. They discussed how, during the course of their career, they had the feeling they should leave one congregation and “seek another pulpit,” as they call it.
I was most interested in this conversation. Then this good friend of mine, the Methodist minister, said, “Well, there may be some here that have a different idea of what a calling is.”
I said, “There’s only one person here who has a different understanding, and that’s me, so let me tell you a little about my own experience.
“When I was 12 years old, the bishop called me to be the music leader for the young men and the young women. I knew nothing about music and couldn’t sing well. But the bishop called me, so I did it.
“A Young Women president told me, ‘Okay, Robert. We’re going to make a conductor out of you.’ And she began to wave her arm one, two, three, four. And within 20 minutes I felt ready to conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!”
Then I told these ministers, “Later I was called to other positions in the Young Men and in Scouting. I didn’t want to do those any more than I wanted to be a music leader, but the bishop called me and so I did it.
“And then one day I got a call to serve as bishop. I had observed what bishops do, and I really didn’t want to be called to be a bishop. But I was called, so I accepted. Later when I was called to be a stake president, I didn’t want to be a stake president, but I was called by an Apostle of the Lord, so I did it.
“Why is it that I accepted all these calls, even though I didn’t really want to do them? It was because I believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy—which is by revelation—and by the laying on of hands by one having authority to preach the gospel and administer the ordinances” (see A of F 1:5).
I continued, “I do not believe that a call comes from within. It is not a feeling that you have within you. It is a call that comes from God, through the servants who have also been called and set apart to that very purpose.”
In the course of that conversation I perceived what an unusual understanding of callings that was to them. No one saw a call that way, even though that is the biblical understanding of a call (see John 15:16).
As bishop, stake president, and now as a General Authority, I have participated in calling people. I have had remarkably inspiring experiences of joining with another, generally a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or an Area Seventy, to interview men we did not know. Yet the Lord revealed whom to call. Through these experiences, I began to get an even more powerful witness that the Lord does inspire and reveal who should serve.
When I was in Brazil serving as a counselor to the Area President, I was sent to reorganize a stake that was having problems. The president of the stake and his first counselor were not worthy to serve. So the second counselor had been carrying the whole burden of that stake for six to eight weeks.
When I got there I found that this second counselor was a young medical student. He had been married not too long ago, and his wife was a nurse. He was very busy, yet he was carrying this terrific responsibility, made even greater by the terrible circumstances of the stake presidency. As I talked to him, I thought that this worthy young man, because he was a busy medical student, should not be called as stake president. It would be too much of a burden for him.
So that evening when I knelt by my bed I prayed, “Heavenly Father, bless Elder Milder and me that we will be inspired to know whom we should call as stake president and resolve the difficulties of this stake.”
A strong feeling came over me that said, “I’ve already shown you the new stake president.”
And I said to the Lord, “Oh, no you haven’t!”
All night long I wrestled with the Lord. I kept waking up with the impression that that young medical student should be the stake president, but I thought, “No, no, no. He should not.”
The next day when we started interviewing, Elder César Milder, an Area Seventy, and I agreed that the second counselor should not be the stake president, even though he was worthy, because it would be too much to give him. We had interviewed a bishop who would do well. Then we interviewed a man who had just moved into the stake. He had served in a stake presidency. He had been a bishop twice. He was financially secure.
When we finished the interviewing, I told Elder Milder, “Give me the three names of those whom you think we ought to consider.”
He gave me the name of the bishop and this man who had just moved into the stake. Then he said, “I still feel we cannot ignore this second counselor.”
And I said, “Well, those are the three names that we should consider, but I agree that we should not, however, call the second counselor to be the new stake president.”
So, in prayer, we presented the name of the man who had just moved into the stake, and I understood at that moment what a stupor of thought was (see D&C 9:9). We did not get a confirmation at all. We prayed about the bishop and did not get a confirmation.
I said, “Well, I guess we’d better present this second counselor’s name before the Lord and see what He thinks.”
A powerful witness overwhelmed us. Our bosoms really did burn within us. Tears flowed down our faces as we received that confirmation.
So we met with him and his wife. I told him the reasons he shouldn’t be the stake president, then I said, “But apparently the Lord doesn’t care about any of those reasons. Therefore, on His behalf I extend the call to serve as stake president.” He accepted.
Later, while in Salt Lake City for general conference, I met with Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. After the meeting he said, “I’m being assigned to visit a stake conference in Brazil, but not to reorganize the stake. I’m not sure why I’m being sent. Do you know anything about this stake?”
It was the same stake where I had called the second counselor to be the stake president, so I told Elder Nelson the circumstances of the stake president being called.
He said, “You know, Elder Wood, we do not usually call medical students to serve as stake presidents.”
I said, “I didn’t know that, but I believe it, and I would not have done this on my own.”
After the stake conference, Elder Nelson came to Recife, Brazil, where I was living. When he got off the plane, he said, “Elder Wood, you did the right thing. That man was indeed called of God, and he has made a great difference in the stake.”
That’s what the fifth article of faith means—that every calling comes by prophecy, which is revelation. Those who accept the callings are set apart “by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority,” which refers to the priesthood and its keys. Everybody, whether he or she serves in the nursery or in a stake presidency, has the right to a spiritual confirmation that he or she was called of God.
“Some of you may be shy by nature or consider yourselves inadequate to respond affirmatively to a calling. Remember that this work is not yours and mine alone. It is the Lord’s work, and when we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help. Remember that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.”
—President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, “Duty Calls,” Ensign, May 1996, 44; emphasis added.
To learn more about callings, you can read these scriptures:
These articles in the Gospel Library at www.lds.org can also help you with your calling: “Called to Serve” (Ensign, Sept. 2004), by Coleen K. Menlove; and “Rise to Your Call” (Ensign, Nov. 2002), by Elder Henry B. Eyring.
Next month in this series, a crossword puzzle will test your knowledge of the sixth article of faith.