Friday, April 1, 2011

General Conference Prep

This post is for anyone who has ever had a negative experience with General Conference-probably mostly for myself.

I generally struggle with Conference primarily because I "trifle with the words" that are spoken. I'm often listening just with my ears. Part of me is concerned with what someone I know might be thinking of a particular talk. Sometimes I'm thinking of who I think needs to hear this talk. Honestly, part of me is usually looking for any fault, anything I can construe as shame based or out of harmony with my own experiences. Sometimes I'm wondering what I would have felt if I had heard this talk three years ago when I was struggling with my testimony. All in all, I haven't really been listening properly. I haven't been listening with my heart. I haven't been listening to the Spirit.

It has been helpful for me in the past to read through part of a talk given by Elder Oaks at a CES fireside in May, 2005.

Last week I was talking with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve about comments we had received on our
April conference talks. My friend said someone told him, “I surely enjoyed your talk.” We agreed that this
isnot the kind of comment we like to receive. As my friend said, “I didn’t give that talk to be enjoyed. What
does he think I am, some kind of entertainer?” Another member of our quorum joined the conversation by
saying, “That reminds me of the story of a good minister. When a parishioner said, ‘I surely enjoyed
your sermon today,’ the minister replied, ‘In that case, you didn’t understand it.’”

You may remember that this April conference I spoke on pornography. No one told me they “enjoyed” that
talk—not one! In fact, there was nothing enjoyable in it even for me.

I speak of these recent conversations to teach the principle that a message given by a General Authority
at a general conference—a message prepared under the influence of the Spirit to further the work of the
Lord—is not given to be enjoyed. It is given to inspire, to edify, to challenge, or to correct. It is given to be
heard under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, with the intended result that the listener learns from
the talk and from the Spirit what he or she should do about it.

King Benjamin understood that principle and explained it. His great sermon that is recorded in the first few
chapters of the book of Mosiah begins with these words:

“My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall
speak unto you this day; . . . I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I
shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that
ye may understand” (Mosiah 2:9).

As this prophet-king taught, when we come to hear a servant of the Lord, we are not “to trifle with the words”
that he speaks. It is our duty to open our ears to hear and our hearts to understand. And what we should seek
to understand is what we should do about the message.

I feel sure that is what King Benjamin meant, because he said later in his great message, “And now, if you believe
all these things see that ye do them” (Mosiah 4:10).

. . . . . .

Now, brothers and sisters, if you are troubled about something we have just said, please listen very carefully to what I will say
now. Perhaps you are a young man feeling pressured by what I have said about the need to start a pattern of
dating that can lead to marriage, or a young woman troubled by what we have said about needing to get on
with your life.

If you feel you are a special case, so that the strong counsel I have given doesn’t apply to you, please don’t
write me a letter. Why would I make this request? I have learned that the kind of direct counsel I have
given results in a large number of letters from members who feel they are an exception, and they want me to
confirm that the things I have said just don’t apply to them in their special circumstance.

I will explain why I can’t offer much comfort in response to that kind of letter by telling you an experience I had
with another person who was troubled by a general rule.

I gave a talk in which I mentioned the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Afterward a man
came up to me in tears saying that what I had said showed there was no hope for him. “What do you
mean?” I asked him. He explained that he had been a machine gunner during
the Korean War. During a frontal assault his machine gun mowed down scores of enemy infantry. Their bodies
were piled so high in front of his gun that he and his men had to push them away in order to maintain their
field of fire. He had killed a hundred, he said, and now he must be going to hell because I had spoken of the
Lord’s commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”

The explanation I gave that man is the same explanation I give to you if you feel you are an exception to what I
have said. As a General Authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to
define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not
violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your
exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must
work that out individually between you and the Lord.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed
such a diverse group of Saints, he said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves” (in
John Taylor, “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, 339). In what I have
just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles
by governing yourself.

Brothers and sisters, it has been a thrill to be with you. I pray that the things that have been said this evening
will be carried into your hearts and understood by the power of the Holy Ghost with the same intent that they
have been uttered, which is to bless your lives, to give comfort to the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.

I know that as I go into this weekend, I need to focus on what the Lord is trying to teach me through the Holy Ghost. I need to focus on what I need to do differently as a result of the things that I will learn through the conference. I need to worry less about what someone else might think about a talk or how I might take offense at what is said. I hope to be able to hear what I need to to progress and improve. Perhaps someone else might benefit from some of the things that I have been thinking.