Doctrine taught. Invitations to act. Promised blessings.
Identifying and applying the pattern of those three connected elements can bless individuals as they prepare for, listen to and study messages from Apostles and Prophets given during general conference, said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“The basic pattern is to identify the fundamental doctrine or principle that is being taught, find invitations to act related to that doctrine or principle, and then also recognize the promised blessings that will come as we act in accordance with that invitation,” he said.
In an interview leading up to the 191st Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Bednar recalled earlier Church presidents — including President Harold B. Lee and President Spencer W. Kimball — teaching that conference messages should serve as an important guide in our lives until the next general conference.
As a young man, Elder Bednar was impressed that the Church presidents admonished Church members to earnestly study general conference talks. As Elder Bednar worked to follow that counsel, he found that almost every message included doctrine and principles and an invitation to act, followed by a promised blessing. He began marking out three columns on a sheet of paper with the column headings of (1) doctrine or principle taught, (2) invitation to act, and (3) promised blessings — and then used the template as a learning tool as he studied conference messages.
“The invitation to act is important because faith in the Savior is a principle of action and of power. As a servant of the Lord, my role is not to just disseminate information. If people are to increase in faith in Jesus Christ, then they need to act in accordance with the teachings of the Savior. And as His representative, I want to extend those invitations to act so faith in Him can grow deeper and stronger.”
Mindful that Latter-day Saints often use the word “challenge,” Elder Bednar said the word “invitation” was specifically chosen and emphasized. You will find invitations to act everywhere in the ministry of the Savior, he explained. And the Brethren follow that Christlike pattern of inviting and enticing.
An impactful moment for him was when President Dallin H. Oaks — then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — instructed Aaronic Priesthood holders how to effectively carry out their responsibilities in preparing, administering and passing the sacrament. President Oaks used as an example of the principle of non-distraction. President Oaks explained that someone officiating in any priesthood ordinance should never be a distraction in appearance or actions to the person who is receiving the ordinance and associated covenant. Elder Bednar remembered that Elder Oaks said he was not going to give members a list of rules to follow.
“To me, that was an invitation to study how this principle of non-distraction takes the place of Mosaic-like rules about what you should do and should not do,” he remarked.
President Russell M. Nelson used a similar pattern when talking about the Sabbath as delight, Elder Bednar noted. President Nelson learned from the scriptures that his conduct and attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between him and his Heavenly Father. He no longer needed a list of dos and don’ts, but simply asked himself, “What sign do I want to give to God?”
In the questions and principles taught by President Nelson and President Oaks, “we find invitations for us to act. And as we act in accordance with gospel principles and are submissive to the Lord’s will and timing, there are magnificent blessings that follow,” stated Elder Bednar.
Elder Bednar constantly reminds members that the Holy Ghost is the teacher who testifies of truth. And he highlighted simple ways Latter-day Saints can prepare to learn truth through the Spirit from general conference messages and instruction from Church leaders.
One way is exercising faith in the Savior by “asking, seeking and knocking,” such as having a question or questions in mind while listening to the messages and being ready to act.
“Listeners should not just passively listen, hoping inspiration will come without any effort,” said Elder Bednar. “We should be agents who act and not objects that are acted upon.”
Another element of preparation is specifically inviting the Holy Ghost to “assist us and enlighten our minds” through prayer and studying the scriptures, commented Elder Bednar. “Those expressions of faith in the Savior invite the Holy Ghost to be our companion, and I believe He comes more readily when we invite.”
In his 16 years as an Apostle, Elder Bednar has seen specific topics and assignments given to general conference speakers “only on the rarest of occasions.” Yet general conference sessions often seem to have a common theme, as if they had been planned and coordinated by advance assignment. “It was planned, it was orchestrated — but by Heaven, not by those who are participating in the conference,” Elder Bednar said.
“There have been instances where I was seated on the stand in general conference, knowing I am the next [speaker], or was two or three speakers away from my designated time slot,” he said. “And as I listened to the connected themes and noted the continuity that developed across the various messages, I thought as I arose and walked to the pulpit, ‘I Stand All Amazed.’ If we had planned, organized and orchestrated the messages, it could not have been done nearly as well as it was done by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
Elder Bednar often describes the principle of patterns — in the gospel, in the temple, in the scriptures — noting the Lord revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 52 that He will give a pattern in all things. The Savior, he explained, is the perfect example of the pattern of “one by one.” For example, when the resurrected Christ appeared to the 2,500 at the temple in the land of Bountiful, He invited not just two or three to feel the wounds in His hands, feet and side but gave that opportunity to all, one by one. Elder Bednar said: “I believe that ‘one by one’ is a pattern of the Savior’s ministry that greatly benefits us in our own service at home and in the Church.”
Elder Bednar concluded by emphasizing once again that the pattern of identifying doctrine and principles and accepting invitations to act is a way for Latter-day Saints to be tutored by the Holy Ghost “one by one” and receive promised blessings. And, he added, those blessings always come — according to God’s will and timing.