If you were to ask me what one of my all-time favorite talks is, the current First Presidency message would be right up there at the top of my list.
This talk has been a foundational talk in our family for years. We have a quote from the talk on our kitchen wall, so I think of it often. There are several points that strike me.
The Lord wants us to be happy and spiritually safe.
The Savior has always been the protector of those who would accept His protection. He has said more than once, How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not ? (3 Nephi 10:5; see also, for example, Matthew 23:37; D&C 29:2).
2. The Lord has given a predictable, consistent, identifiable way to recognize His protection.
There seems to be no end to the Savior ?s desire to lead us to safety, and there is constancy in the way He shows us the path. He calls by more than one means so that it will reach those willing to accept it. Those means always include sending the message by the mouths of His prophets whenever people have qualified to have the prophets of God among them….
The Apostle Paul wrote, In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established ? (2 Corinthians 13:1). One of the ways we may know that the warning is from the Lord is that the law of witnesses, authorized witnesses, has been invoked. When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention…(emphasis added).
We use that phrase often in our home. I love the immediacy and urgency that I feel from that phrase. We don't just casually listen, or say, “Sure, I'll give that some consideration sometime.” We zoom in and focus with our might on what they are saying — and try to live it.
I am of the belief that we should rivet our attention to what the prophets say even if it's the first time we have heard something of the sort, but especially when we hear them repeat counsel, that is a surefire way to know that the counsel comes from God. In my book, you simply don't second-guess the prophets, especially when the law of witnesses has been invoked.
Part of recognizing this pattern is being intimately familiar with the teachings of the prophets. When we have General Conference, the words of our leaders should be our walk and our talk, and should take a prevalent place in our personal and family study. We should review their words often, so that we know what they are saying, and so that we can see the patterns that exist over time. I have been amazed at the power that comes into my life when I do this, and the confidence that I have when I know, without question, that the counsel I am receiving is coming from God.
3. Following prophets takes faith.
Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice.
I can't tell you how many times I have heard people dismiss the previously mentioned law of witnesses process and the counsel thus given over time, by different ordained prophets of God. Of course, there are times when our leaders speak as individuals, not as divine witnesses and mouthpieces for the Savior. (Frankly, I think those times are pretty rare.) But again, one surefire way to recognize when it's not opinion is to watch for repetition.
As a side comment, my feeling is that if we could figure it all out on our own, we wouldn't need prophets. We should expect that some of the things they say may not make sense to us at the outset, or may stretch or challenge us. I have found time and time and time again that popular opinion (sometimes found within the Church), or political correctness, or whatever the flavor of philosophy of the minute may be, will often not match up with prophetic teachings. I have never felt that I lost something by choosing to accept prophetic counsel, even when it's not popular. We shouldn't expect it to be. Faith won't always ‘make sense' to the natural mind.
4. If we don't follow the prophets, we put ourselves in spiritual danger.
What more is there to say than what President Eyring has said?
When we reject the counsel that comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence. We choose another influence. We reject the protection of a perfectly loving, all-powerful, all-knowing Father in Heaven, whose whole purpose, as that of His Beloved Son, is to give us eternal life, to give us all that He has, and to bring us home again in families to the arms of His love. In rejecting His counsel, we choose the influence of another power, whose purpose is to make us miserable and whose motive is hatred. We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose….
[T]he choice not to take prophetic counsel changes the very ground upon which we stand. That ground becomes more dangerous. The failure to take prophetic counsel lessens our power to take inspired counsel in the future. The best time to have decided to help Noah build the ark was the first time he asked. Each time he asked after that, each failure to respond would have lessened sensitivity to the Spirit. And so each time his request would have seemed more foolish, until the rain came. And then it was too late.
[Incidentally, that whole last paragraph (plus more in the paragraph in the article) is what is hanging in my kitchen.]
5. By definition, the prophets have authority and keys to teach, counsel, and correct the whole Church.
With those keys comes the power to give counsel that will show us the way to safety. Those with keys are responsible to warn even when their counsel might not be followed.
If you ever hear someone claiming to have received inspiration that something the prophets have said is wrong (like capital-W Wrong), that should be a warning sign. (Like one of the kind in bright, flashing neon.) No one can receive revelation outside of one's stewardship. It's against the order of heaven.
Elder Perry has said:
There is order in the way the Lord reveals His will to mankind. We all have the right to petition the Lord and receive inspiration through His Spirit within the realm of our own stewardship. Parents can receive revelation for their own family, a bishop for his assigned congregation, and on up to the First Presidency for the entire Church. However, we cannot receive revelation for someone else ?s stewardship. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared:
It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves. ?
Revelations of the mind and will of God to the Church, are to come through the [First] Presidency. This is the order of heaven, and the power and privilege of this Priesthood. It is also the privilege of any officer in this Church to obtain revelations, so far as relates to his particular calling and duty in the Church. ?
See also the following:
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as the principle of stewardship in revelation. ? This means that only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. ? When one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility ? you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord ? ( Revelation, ? New Era, Sept. 1982, 46, quoted in Gerald N. Lund, Is It Revelation?, ? New Era, Jul 2004, 44).
I love how the Lord gives us multiple safeguards to help us recognize what is really from Him and what is not. I love how both the law of witnesses and the principle of “stewardship in revelation” can help us sift through myriad voices and recognize what is and isn't truth. Whenever there is a conflict between repeated prophetic counsel and the study/opinion/experience of others, we can rejoice in the fact that the Lord has ALWAYS protected those who accept His patterns that provide protection.
This can also apply to those who want to suggest that they know the “higher law” for something that the prophets teach. So, if someone claims to know a “better” way to live the Word of Wisdom, or to outline specifics to any law or commandment that the prophets have not, be cautious. If the adversary can't get us to break a commandment, he could get us to overlive it. (See this amazing article by Elder Cook.)
6. The words of prophets are like gold, a treasure to be treated with care and gratitude.
Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don ?t discard the counsel, but hold it close. If someone you trusted handed you what appeared to be nothing more than sand with the promise that it contained gold, you might wisely hold it in your hand awhile, shaking it gently. Every time I have done that with counsel from a prophet, after a time the gold flakes have begun to appear, and I have been grateful.
I, too, have had this experience, numerous times. I have NEVER regretted following the prophets. Never. I have, however, regretted times when I thought I knew better than they did. Thankfully, those times haven't been frequent, but even in the seemingly ‘little things' I have come to know that following them is right and good, and can help me stay closer to my Savior.
My last point is just something of my own reflection, and ties into President Eyring's point about Noah above. (“The best time to have decided to help Noah build the ark was the first time he asked. Each time he asked after that, each failure to respond would have lessened sensitivity to the Spirit. And so each time his request would have seemed more foolish, until the rain came. And then it was too late.”)
I believe that following the prophets is something we can and should practice. Perhaps there is something that seems “little” or insignificant. For example, I hear people sometimes commenting on how modesty or the no-tattoos/no-earrings thing is silly, unnecessary, or even inappropriate, or how entertainment with violence or immorality isn't that big of a deal. I'm sure we could all add to that list of counsel we have heard dismissed in similar ways.
I would like to suggest that even if we don't think things like this are doctrinal (or just cultural), or important, or whatever, we can follow them simply to practice obeying the prophets. I have not forgotten something then-Elder Eyring said a few years ago:
The prophets of God have foreseen the times in which we live. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. ? Anyone with eyes to see the signs of the times and ears to hear the words of prophets knows that the peril is great. The peril comes from the forces of wickedness. Those forces are increasing. And so it will become harder, not easier, to keep the covenants we must make to live the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If it will become harder, not easier, to stay true to our covenants, what better way to prepare for the future challenges than choosing now and always to simply follow the prophets, even on the ‘little things,' to willingly hold their counsel close rather than dismiss it because we don't think it matters much. It is my conviction that in the big scheme of things, there are no little things when it comes to following God's authorized servants who have the keys and responsibility to warn and protect (might I add this can apply to our local leaders as well), because each choice we make can either fortify us and invite the Spirit into our lives (line upon line), or can sow seeds of rebellion, doubt, pride, and sin into our lives (think of the danger of being spiritually poisoned by degrees). Why not just stay on the Lord's side of the line?
I know that by following the prophets, we accept the Savior's desire to lead us to safety. It is my hope that we can all recognize His love in sending us prophets and providing patterns of protection, and do all we can to choose to let Him gather and protect us. I know that this is the way to find peace and the power of God in our lives.