With America and much of the world still reeling from terrorist attacks that left thousands dead and many more wounded in heart as well as body, we are gathering this weekend to listen to inspired words spoken by the Lord's servants.
Mention likely will be made of the tragedy of Sept. 11. But at this gathering, the 171st Semiannual General Conference, there will be no political speeches. There will be no call from Church leaders to organize marches for political or social causes. There will be no counsel employing the jargon of popular psychology or rhetoric of man-made philosophy. None of the addresses will be delivered by those who hold degrees from divinity schools, or who are professional orators. But in every message will be found a masterpiece of wisdom, for those who address us will speak by the power and inspiration of the Holy Ghost rather than the frail domain of mere intellect.
Just six months ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of the reason conferences are convened. On April 1, 2001, at the conclusion of the 171st Annual General Conference, he said: "We've all been edified in this great conference. We should all be standing a little taller as we adjourn today than we were when we came together yesterday morning.
"I constantly marvel at these great semiannual gatherings. We have heard 26 speakers during these two days. That's a very large number. Each is told how much time he or she will have. But none is told what to speak about. And yet all the talks seem to harmonize, one with another, each a thread in the tapestry of a grand and beautiful pattern. I think nearly everyone in this vast worldwide audience can now say of one or more of the talks, 'That was intended just for me. That is just what I needed to hear.'
"This is the reason, I may say, why these conferences are held to strengthen our testimonies of this work, to fortify us against temptation and sin, to lift our sights, to receive instruction concerning the programs of the Church and the pattern of our lives."
If we listen to conference addresses with the Spirit, we hear true messages from the Lord. Otherwise, we hear only words.
The Spirit enables us to understand the meaning and significance of those words and their application to our own lives. We might sit in the Conference Center with thousands or in a small chapel with only a few others. The words go out to everyone, but the messages are received one by one.
In the days since Sept. 11, we have seen evidence of millions turning to God for peace, comfort, healing and answers. We have seen sincere men and women attempt to be instruments, to try to speak for the Lord in this tragic time. We have the assurance that the apostles and prophets who speak to us in general conferences of the Church truly are instruments in His hands, and that their messages are inspired.
General conference this weekend will have something for those who seek answers; try to fit together life's puzzles; desire to leave darkness and walk in light; yearn for peace in a troubled world; need guidance in personal, family or professional life; strive to learn and do what is right; search for ways to be a better person, parent, neighbor, friend. In short, general conference will have something for each of us, even if we don't recognize at the moment what our needs really are. When we hear the message intended for us, we will recognize it if we listen with the Spirit.
Come, listen to a prophet's voice. Come, let us learn the ways of the Lord.