Hearing the words of counsel and acting upon them are two very different things, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency declared during the Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting broadcast Feb. 11.
"The Savior spoke of the difference when He said that those who hear and obey are like those who build their houses upon a rock. And those who hear but don't follow — well, they could just end up being ex-homeowners."
The Church leader said members are often strong in their desire to be obedient and follow the Lord. "But sometimes, in spite of our good intentions, we delay doing what we should do or we misunderstand what we were taught. As a result, inspired words of counsel might not have the promised effect."
President Uchtdorf related a story about a woman who told her husband she had dreamed that he gave her a beautiful necklace she had always wanted. When she asked what he thought the dream meant, he smiled and said, "You'll find out tonight!" That evening, he came home and handed his wife a beautifully wrapped present, which she opened with deep appreciation for her sensitive husband, only to find a book titled, A Guide to Understanding Your Dreams.
President Uchtdorf quoted President Harold B. Lee, who said to the teachers of the Church that it is not only important to understand but also not to be misunderstood.
"So the first thing we must do is understand. The second is to put our understanding into action," President Uchtdorf said. "This is the 'Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel' part." President Uchtdorf warned of the tendency to complicate simple things. "Too often, we complicate the beauty and simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ with endless lists of meticulous expectations. However, when we focus on the 'why' of the gospel, much of the confusion fades away. Why are we here? Why are we asked to obey the commandments? Why is the Atonement of Jesus Christ of such value to us?"
Issues such as scheduling and rearranging the ward calendar, discussing staff problems or scheduling the cleaning of the building might be urgent or necessary in a council meeting, he said and then asked, "But are they the most important? There are many ways to enhance our precious council time, like always coming well prepared. We could handle scheduling or other organizational matters by memo, phone or email or text. When we allow organizational matters to dominate our efforts and time in our councils, we run the risk of missing the mark of why the Lord has called us to minister in His Church.
"We meet in councils to seek the inspiration of the Spirit in building the kingdom of God. We meet to seek the answers to two basic questions:
"1. How can we help members better love the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind?
"2. How can we help members better love their neighbors as themselves?"
"Every other thing we discuss in our councils within our Church organizations should derive from these great commandments, for everything else hangs upon them," President Uchtdorf said.
By simplifying and strengthening the council process and by inviting the Spirit, councils will find the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit, he added.
The new handbooks do not specify in great detail every action one must take in his or her calling. "These handbooks were provided for the right amount of structure without regimenting every detail. It might be wise to look at the handbooks and even the scriptures not as checklists or detailed scripts, but rather as opportunities to prepare our minds and hearts to receive divine inspiration for our responsibilities," President Uchtdorf counseled.
"Unfortunately, we sometimes don't seek revelation or answers from the scriptures or the handbooks because we think we know the answers already. Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit.
"Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn't get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?"
President Uchtdorf spoke of the difference between "growth" and "real growth." "Growth can be defined as new members. New members come through children baptized at age eight as well as convert baptisms. Real growth, however, is defined as growth in the number of active members."
Real growth can also be measured by daily prayer, scripture study, family home evening, love at home and for neighbors and for personal experiences with Christ's Atonement. "These are recorded not by a clerk in Church records but in our hearts and in heaven.
"Our missionary efforts are compromised if we baptize God's children but do not maintain love and friendship with these precious new members who are excited to find fellowship with the Saints and a place of belonging in the household of God.
"Here again, our work as a council is to help our members grow in their love for Heavenly Father and their fellowman," he added. "If we focus our efforts here, one-on-one, many more members will feel that they have found a home in the Church — and they have found the 'why' of the gospel."
Councils are not perfect, so it's important not to over-idealize expectations, President Uchtdorf said, advising leaders to "take comfort in knowing the Lord will support and enhance your efforts, sanctify your decisions and actions, perfect them through the tender mercies of Christ and 'consecrate [your] performance..., that [it] may be for the welfare of [your] soul' (2 Nephi 32:9) and the souls of those you serve."
President Uchtdorf then concluded his message with three steps of counsel.
"First, individually and as councils, prayerfully consider the instruction you have received. Think of priesthood power in the home, honoring divine covenants, rescuing others, focusing on the one, strengthening our youth, and building eternal marriages and families by applying gospel principles in our daily lives.... Please open your hearts and minds to the will of heaven, and I promise that the Spirit will reveal the things that matter most — for you, your family and your responsibilities in the Church.
"Second, as a result of pondering and discussion, determine a few specific actions you will commit to implement. Please keep in mind that the actions of each organization, ward, stake, family and individual may be different. They should fit your circumstances and needs. The unity we seek is not necessarily that we all do exactly the same things at the same time but that we each listen to and always follow the direction of the same Holy Spirit.
"Third, once you have made these commitments, follow up on them within the scope of your responsibilities and callings at each of your council meetings. Please do this. We ask you also to bring your decisions and efforts before the Lord in your daily prayers and ask for further light and direction. Trust Him. He knows you, and He loves you."