Sustain the Prophet

In both word and deed

August 9, 2015

The Sunday morning session of the October 2014 conference began with three inter-related talks:

  1. Continuing Revelation, by President Henry B. Eyring, First counselor of the First Presidency
  2. Sustaining the Prophet, by Elder Russel M. Nelson (who was recently set apart as President Russel M. Nelson, of the quorum of the 12 apostles).
  3. Live according to the words of the Prophets, by Carol F. McConkie, First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency

Since my topic is "Sustaining the Prophet", it is tempting for me to commence reading each of these talks in turn, verbatim. They are chock-full of interesting stories, instructive scripture, and powerful testimonies that we are indeed led by a living prophet. I'll try to synthesize their teachings with a few other church resources and some of my own experiences along with my testimony.

To begin, I ask the question:

"Why would we even need a prophet to sustain in the first place?"

On my mission I remember vividly the experience of teaching a man who, by the average standard of living in northeast Brazil, was well-off--even wealthy. His indifference to our message was palpable. It felt as if the words I spoke, testifying of the restoration of the church through a boy prophet named Joseph Smith, left my mouth but abruptly halted and fell to the floor, the individual letters seeming to scatter randomly, dissapearing under the furniture. His oppulence falsely numbed his need to follow and sustain a prophet. Hopefully, we are sensitized to that need. President Eyring explained in that conference:

We all know that human judgment and logical thinking will not be enough to get answers to the questions that matter most in life. We need revelation from God. And we will need not just one revelation in a time of stress, but we need a constantly renewed stream. We need not just one flash of light and comfort, but we need the continuing blessing of communication with God.

His talk was about continuing revelation at various levels, from personal inspiration from the Holy Ghost to revealed truth to leaders of organizations and quorums in God's church, but it set the stage rather well for the following two talks.

It may be tempting for us to think at times that things the prophet says must be biased or based on that prophet's personal feelings rather than the Lord's counsel. This may be especially true when a prophet says something that is difficult for us to hear for whatever reason. But listen to how President Nelson describes the prophet's counsel:

Imagine the privilege the Lord has given us of sustaining His prophet, whose counsel will be untainted, unvarnished, unmotivated by any personal aspiration, and utterly true!"

President Nelson recounts his "most unique deed" to sustain a prophet, when he performed open-heart surgery on President Spencer W. Kimball. Elder Nelson did not recommend the operation because he did not have any prior experience performing the required complex procedures on a 77-year old patient currently in heart failure. He took his concern to the first presidency and President Kimball, who was then the President of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles (the position President Nelson now holds). Despite these concerns, voiced by a renowned medical professional, the first presidency wisely confirmed the directive to proceed with the operation. Elder Nelson described his feelings at the time and the outcome: faith, President Kimball chose to have the operation, only because it was advised by the First Presidency. That shows how he sustained his leaders! And his decision made me tremble!

Thanks to the Lord, the operation was a success. When President Kimball’s heart resumed beating, it did so with great power! At that very moment, I had a clear witness of the Spirit that this man would one day become President of the Church!

You know the outcome. Only 20 months later, President Kimball became President of the Church...Since then we have sustained Presidents Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley, and now Thomas S. Monson as Presidents of the Church—prophets in every sense of the word!

President Nelson is a great example of sustaining the prophet in this case. Had he made the choice to operate solely on his own very refined medical opinion President Kimball would not have received that operation, but his faith in God and his willingness to sustain the Prophet caused a dramitic change of events. Notice also that after the trial of his faith he had the great blessing of a striking personal revelation: that through his actions a future prophet was being prepared for a wise purpose.

Preach My Gospel, Chapter 3, Lesson 1

One important way that God shows His love for us is by calling prophets, who are given the priesthood—the power and authority given to man to act in God’s name for the salvation of His children. Prophets learn the gospel of Jesus Christ by revelation. They in turn teach the gospel to others and testify of Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer. The teachings of prophets are found in sacred books called scriptures.

All people have the gift of agency, which includes the freedom to accept or reject the gospel as taught by the prophets and apostles. Those who choose to obey are blessed, but those who ignore, reject, or distort the gospel do not receive God’s promised blessings.

Whenever people choose to disregard, disobey, or distort any gospel principle or ordinance, whenever they reject the Lord’s prophets, or whenever they fail to endure in faith, they distance themselves from God and begin to live in spiritual darkness. Eventually this leads to a condition called apostasy. When widespread apostasy occurs, God withdraws His priesthood authority to teach and administer the ordinances of the gospel.

God revealed the gospel of Jesus Christ to Adam and gave him priesthood authority. Adam was the first prophet on the earth...Adam was followed by other prophets, but over time the posterity of Adam rejected the gospel and fell into apostasy, choosing to be unrighteous.

Thus began the pattern of prophetic dispensations that makes up much of the recorded history of the Old Testament. Heavenly Father revealed His gospel through direct communication to prophets such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Each prophet was called by God to begin a new dispensation of the gospel. To each of these prophets God granted priesthood authority and revealed eternal truths. Unfortunately, in each dispensation people eventually used their agency to choose to reject the gospel and then fell into apostasy.

A few hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, people again fell into apostasy. But when the Savior began His mortal ministry He established His Church again on the earth.

Before the Savior’s death and Resurrection, He gave His Apostles authority to teach His gospel, perform the ordinances of salvation, and establish His Church in the world.

After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and Church members and killed many of them. With the death of the Apostles, priesthood keys and the presiding priesthood authority were taken from the earth...The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on the earth. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.

When the circumstances were right, Heavenly Father once again reached out to His children in love. He called a young man named Joseph Smith as a prophet. Through him the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth.

The time in which we live is referred to by Bible prophets as the last days, the latter days, or the dispensation of the fulness of times. It is the period of time just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is the final dispensation. This is why the Church is named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

What is special about this last dispensation, our dispensation, is that the current line of apostolic succession will continue unbroken until the second coming of Christ! There will be no more global apostasies. So, it is completely up to us to stay with the church, which is led by the Savior through prophets, seers and revelators, with President Monsen as the presiding Apostle and president of the church.

So what does it mean to really sustain the prophet?

President Nelson quotes George Albert Smith many years before he became President of the Church, who clarifies what it means to really sustain the prophet:

The obligation that we make when we raise our hands … is a most sacred one. It does not mean that we will go quietly on our way and be willing that the prophet of the Lord shall direct this work, but it means … that we will stand behind him; we will pray for him; we will defend his good name, and we will strive to carry out his instructions as the Lord shall direct.”

Nephi was a wonderful example of sustaining the prophet. The primary children will recognize this verse:

The Lord commanded Nephi to go and get the plates
From the wicked Laban inside the city gates.
Laman and Lemuel were both afraid to try.
Nephi was courageous. This was his reply...

Even though it was Lehi that told Nephi to get the plates, Nephi recognized that it was really the Lord who was commanding him.

D&C 1:38

38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

But what about when the prophet's health deteriorates? What then?

More from Elder Nelson's talk:

The Church today has been organized by the Lord Himself. He has put in place a remarkable system of governance that provides redundancy and backup. That system provides for prophetic leadership even when the inevitable illnesses and incapacities may come with advancing age.17 Counterbalances and safeguards abound so that no one can ever lead the Church astray. Senior leaders are constantly being tutored such that one day they are ready to sit in the highest councils. They learn how to hear the voice of the Lord through the whisperings of the Spirit.

While serving as First Counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson, who was then nearing the end of his mortal life, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained:

“The principles and procedures which the Lord has put in place for the governance of His church make provision for any … circumstance. It is important … that there be no doubts or concerns about the governance of the Church and the exercise of the prophetic gifts, including the right to inspiration and revelation in administering the affairs and programs of the Church, when the President may be ill or is not able to function fully.

“The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, called and ordained to hold the keys of the priesthood, have the authority and responsibility to govern the Church, to administer its ordinances, to expound its doctrine, and to establish and maintain its practices.”

President Hinckley continued:

“When the President is ill or not able to function fully in all of the duties of his office, his two Counselors together comprise a Quorum of the First Presidency. They carry on with the day-to-day work of the Presidency. …

“… But any major questions of policy, procedures, programs, or doctrine are considered deliberately and prayerfully by the First Presidency and the Twelve together.”

Last year, when President Monson reached the milestone of 5 years of service as President of the Church, he reflected on his 50 years of apostolic service and made this statement: “Age eventually takes its toll on all of us. However, we join our voices with King Benjamin, who said, … ‘I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen … and consecrated by my father, … and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me’ (Mosiah 2:11).”

President Monson continued: “Despite any health challenges that may come to us, despite any weakness in body or mind, we serve to the best of our ability. I assure you that the Church is in good hands. The system set up for the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve [Apostles] assures [us] that it will always be in good hands and that, come what may, there is no need to worry or to fear. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we follow, whom we worship, and whom we serve, is ever at the helm.”19

So, what direction have we received lately from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the 12 apostles? What direction might come soon?

Consider the recent letter from church headquarters regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage in our country. Hopefully, we have sought to understand the church's position on this matter and have aligned ourselves accordingly. This doesn't mean we will be disrespectful to people to believe differently, and it doesn't mean we won't continue to preach the sanctity of marriage between a man and a women, nor will the church cease to assert its perogative to maintain its standard of worthiness and good standing for members. Nor will ecclesiastical leaders emply their authority to solemnize same-gender unions.

Consider that the church is re-evaluating the scouting program in response to the Boy Scouts of America loosening its admission policy for adult leaders. We will be receiving additional guidance and clarification on this matter in the coming weeks and months. Being a controversial subject, we will need to exercise faith to obey whatever is decided.

Finally, there is currently an ongoing training and teaching effort in the church for members to Strengthen Faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ through more meaningful Sabbath Day Observance 1) at church and 2) in the home. We have already had the opportuninty to receive guidance at the ward level for the first part of this endeavor. The second part will come shortly.

Are we doing our best to follow this counsel? As a reminder, this is what Elder Ballard had to say when he introduced the topic:

The first presidency and quorum of the twelve have spent many hours during the past several months reviewing the research that's available regarding church doctrine and principles that increase faith in our Heavenly Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ and his atonement.

As you are aware, we continue to be concerned about lasting conversion, covenant-keeping multi-generational families, and spiritually strengthened members of the church.

Of all the organizational or policy changes or doctrinal training that could hasten the work of salvation at this time, we've determined that elevating the spirit and power of the sabbath day would be most influential in drawing members and families closer to the Lord Jesus Christ.

We've all been blessed by the words of living prophets in general conference and other settings. Sometimes those settings are personal, or even rare as they don't happen before the general membership of the church like general conference. These are sacred occasions. When I was a missionary at the Brazil MTC Elder Scott came and taught the american missionaries in english for 3 hours. He shook each missionaries hand. Then, for another 3 hours he addressed the brazilian missionaries, in their native portugues. Handshakes all around.

As a part-time employee at the provo MTC I was honored to be able to hold a door open for Elder Holland after hearing him speak to a small group of missionaries.

Just a few months ago I had the unique opportunity, along with Bishop Fales, Brother Day, and Bro. Sanders to attend a multi-stake training with Elder Ballard, Elder Rasband (senior president of the Presidency of the Seventy), Elder Worthen (of the Seventy), Bishop Causse (of the presiding Bishopric), President Ashton, of the Provo temple presidency, and President Farnsworth (of the Provo Utah Mission Presidency).

Their messages were powerful and meaningful. I learned meaningful things, lessons I will cherish, from each of the speakers. They hosted a question and answer session. One of the local leaders asked a question of what to do when counsel from a previous prophet is contradicted by a living prophet. I can't think of when that might have happened, but Elder Rasband's answer covers all such cases: "That's so simple. Obey the living prophet."

Amos 3:5-7

5 Can a bird fall in a snare upon the earth, where no lure is for him? shall one take up a snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all?

6 Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not known it?

7 Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.

This is enough to convince the believer that prophets are necessary and that he or she should become aligned with them. Sister Carol F. McConkie stated it this way:

To be in harmony with heaven’s divine purposes, we sustain the prophet and choose to live according to his words... The Lord honors and favors those who will heed prophetic direction. The Lord “will feed those who trust Him.”

That too is my testimony. Let's sustain the President Thomas S. Monsen in word and deed. He is a prophet.

-Michael Whatcott