Did we just experience the biggest cliffhanger in the history of the Church?
Well, no. It was big, don’t get me wrong. But remember that one time when Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and said “Hey, you have a very important work to do. None of the churches were right. So, you’ll learn about what I need you to do later.”
Yeah, that one may have been slightly bigger. Just slightly though…
What a glorious thing to celebrate. I know I have no idea what to expect 5 months from now when we get to witness a very special General Conference. What is it going to be like? What’s going to happen? I have so many questions!
One thing I know for sure though, is that I will not let President Nelson’s invitation to prepare slip by. If there’s going to be a special General Conference, I’m going to be sure that I am participating 100%. This is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity and I will not miss it!
There. Are you pumped now? I had to get up on my soapbox for just a minute. Don’t you now also want to scream “let’s get ready for this Conference!!!”
Probably not. I’m not Elder Holland.
Regardless of how good I am at motivational speaking, the fact remains; President Nelson asked us to immerse ourselves in the Restoration and prepare for this special Conference.
That could mean a lot. But here are 5 things I think every one of us should focus on as we prepare, in order to receive the most we possibly can in April 2020.
1. Christ-centered language
Let’s play a game. We love games, don’t we? This one is easy, it’s called Spot the Difference. What’s different in the following 4 statements?
Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith restored the truth and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith.
The Savior restored the truth and the ordinances of His Gospel through His prophet, Joseph Smith.
Ok. How’d you do? While they are essentially the same message, the biggest difference between the two sets of questions is *insert drum roll* . . . THE FOCUS!
Yes, I know. This seems simple. And obvious. And probably even well-known.
Yet, most times I hear about the Restoration of the Gospel, it comes with words that are focused on Joseph Smith. It was Joseph who restored the Gospel, and Joseph who had the First Vision, and Joseph who brought about the Book of Mormon. This is all true . . . sorta.
Think for just a second about the implications if we used Christ-centered language when we talked about the Restoration. All of a sudden, all of the commandments, changes, doctrine, and policies are seen in a more connected, greater context. Joseph Smith was merely a tool in the Lord’s hand to bring about His great work.
Christ is at the center of everything. It was His, not Joseph’s, message that was restored to the world.
I am not taking anything away from Joseph Smith. He was a man of great faith and obedience. He tried his very best to do everything the Lord asked him.
Just as in our days, as Elder Holland so eloquently pointed out this past General Conference, everything that took place in the 1800s was connected to the work of the Savior.
Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He deserves all the focus.
2. The fallibility of prophets
Yes. Another rather obvious topic. Well, for the record, I did say “relearn” in the title.
It’s hard to believe whole-heartedly in living prophets and apostles, and in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, while at the same time that the brethren guiding the Church sometimes just make mistakes. It’s almost contradictory. At least it feels that way.
I think we do a great job at “admitting” that our leaders are not perfect. Where a lot of us struggle is believing it.
At least I know I did. I found myself defending the brethren at all costs, up until literally a week ago. Then I heard Elder Soares speak at a devotional, and I finally saw a real person, just doing the best he can.
At one point he pleaded with the audience to “have patience for the brethren.” They were doing the best they could and they needed all the prayers and faith from the members they could get.
I was so moved. Here was an apostle of the Lord, and he was pleading for patience. Finally, for the first time in my life, it actually clicked. These men truly are not perfect. They have their own vices. They have their own opinions. They have their own trials.
But doesn’t that make their dedication to the Gospel so much more impressive? Because despite all these things, they do their best to serve the Lord.
And so did Joseph Smith.
Not everything he said or did was right. There were plenty of moments he veered away from the commandments of God. When Joseph was most attuned to Christ’s instruction though, that’s when Christ was able to even better further His work here on the earth.
See what I did there? Christ-centered language. It makes a difference.
3. Exact Obedience
Have you ever heard the quote that “It is easier to be obedient 100% of the time than it is to be obedient 98% of the time.” No, I have no idea who said it. It’s true though. Think about it.
When we strive to be obedient 100% of the time, there are no reservations about the choices we are making. There is no second-guessing. There is just going and doing like Nephi of old.
Exact obedience is something that I believe is gradually falling in the Church.
It seems that more and more people are falling for the subtle traps of slight justification or reasoning. It’s certainly no new tactic, but it has become widespread especially with the creation of the internet and social media.
It’s easy to justify an inappropriate movie when other member friends are watching it. Breaking the law of chastity doesn’t include meeting up with someone just to make out if everyone else is doing it. Right?
The truth is, that there is a way to be EXACTLY obedient to God’s commandments while being full of love, hope, brotherly (and sisterly) kindness and keeping up with modern times.
When Christ called Joseph to be a prophet, He didn’t expect him to be perfect. He did expect his best though. And He did expect EXACT obedience where it was possible for him.
Likewise, He expects exact obedience from us. We will fail, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
4. Accountability before God
Boy. This is a heavy topic. But also one that isn’t just about being wrong and imperfect.
One of the first times I ever remember receiving a direct answer from God was when I asked Him if I had been forgiven of my sins.
I cannot even begin to express to you the love that I felt in the exact moment that I asked Him. I knew from that moment that I had been forgiven. It was an experience that stays with me, especially when I feel like I have made a mistake.
As we go to church, study the scriptures and interact with those who strive to follow Christ, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with “all that we have to do” in order to be disciples. The list seems endless, doesn’t it?
We need never rely on just our own wisdom to figure out how to progress.
Our Heavenly Father invites us to “counsel with Him in all [our] doings” (Alma 37:37).
He won’t give us a list of all the things we need to do. He will just help us with the next step, and constantly remind us what we are already doing well.
Tell Him what’s going on. Ask Him questions. Recount your day and your choices. Being accountable to God does not mean coming before Him and telling Him everything that we are not. It’s telling Him about everything we are and then becoming even better.
Imagine going into April 2020, with 6 months (well, now 5 months) of an open dialogue with our Heavenly Father. Imagine what we can gain if we have already progressed and moved past things that may have been holding us back.
What will God tell us then? There’s only one way to find out…
Probably the most impressive attribute of Joseph Smith, at least in my book, was his ability to love and serve others despite everything he went through. Church critics so often point to his mistakes, but fail to realize the difference he made in so many lives even amid all of his trials.
Love is the crowning attribute of the Gospel. It is what connects us most deeply with each other. And with our Heavenly Father and His Son.
Satan is attacking love. He wants it to become every man for himself. He wants love out of the picture. He wants sacrifice to no longer be noble. He wants effort (for others) to no longer be admired. Satan is doing all he can to strip the world of this celestial attribute.
And yet, this attribute laid the foundation of the Gospel.
It started as the Perfect Man gave His life for all mankind. It continued as one humble man devoted his life to serving this Savior.
The Restoration of the Gospel is all about providing salvation and exaltation for the human family. What lies at the heart of families? Well, what lies in the heart of anything? Yes, love.
In a world that is turning inward, we need to be capable of constantly turning outward.
It is my humble opinion that nothing will prepare us more for this special General Conference, and as an extension, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, more than the ability to love and serve our neighbor. As we strive to serve, and teach, and uplift everyone around us, we will automatically draw closer to the Savior. Our faith will be strengthened. We will be more resolved to bear up our own crosses and follow Him, who made eternal happiness possible.
Seek to love and you will find a renewed devotion to the Savior and His Gospel.
Start preparing now
I was serious when I said that I will not be letting this opportunity pass me by. April is going to be spectacular. Marvelous. Insert any other superlative word that comes to mind.
The power of this next General Conference will mostly come from all of us who renew our testimonies of the restoration of Christ’s Gospel. Picture a world full of those who beam with knowledge and appreciation of the Restoration. We can be unified. We can be uplifted together in a way that perhaps we haven’t been in a long time.
But it’s got to start now. And it has to be consistent.
There I go again. On my soapbox.
I can’t help it. So I’m staying up here. Always shouting, and telling everyone to prepare.
Prepare now. And be edified in April.