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The most important change that has to happen for the Church's 'unprecedented future'

Editor’s note: The following is an essay published in the Church News in preparation for the Church’s 189th Annual General Conference.

What’s changing next?

That question, or variations of it, seems to come up a lot following a whirlwind year of changes in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From adjustments to the Sunday worship schedule and an emphasis on home-centered gospel learning, to changes in age requirements for youth to participate in temple and priesthood ordinances, to how missionaries can communicate with their families and last week’s announcement regarding changes to seminary — it has been a whirlwind year. Those changes don’t even address half of what we’ve seen since January 2018.

It’s clear God has a vision for His Church at this time. His prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, shared a glimpse when he said, “If you think the Church has been fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come.”

At the Rome Italy Temple dedication, where Latter-day Saints witnessed even more historic firsts, President Nelson added, “This is a hinge point in the history of the Church. Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace. … The Church is going to have an unprecedented future, unparalleled. We’re just building up to what’s ahead now.”

Read more highlights from the Rome Italy Temple dedication.

Unprecedented. Unparalleled. What does that mean for us as members of the Church today?

It’s easy to think of “the Church” as a big, global institution. But, really, “the Church” is you and me. It’s the people and their individual acts of love, service and devotion to God that make all the difference. It’s individuals over institution. When you think of it that way, the responsibility is clear. Our future, as disciples of Jesus Christ, is unprecedented and unparalleled. This is a hinge point in history when, as individuals, we need to build up the Savior’s Church for what’s ahead — when He returns again.

A personal responsibility

I don’t think it was coincidence President Nelson’s first talk in general conference as prophet was entitled “Revelation for the Church, revelation for our lives.” Only three months into his calling, he talked about how the Spirit had repeatedly impressed upon him “how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will.” Not just to him, God’s prophet, but to each of us as God’s children. President Nelson called receiving revelation a privilege and one of God’s greatest gifts to His children.

I couldn’t agree more. God doesn’t ask us to follow Him or His prophet blindly. He invites us to follow Him in faith and a big part of that is asking questions so that we come to know truth for ourselves.

Conferencegoers listen to a speaker during the Sunday afternoon session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018.
Conferencegoers listen to a speaker during the Sunday afternoon session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

With each change announced for the Church, we can personally pray to God to know what it means for ourselves, our families, and our congregations. Every change announced by Church leaders won’t be spelled out exactly and I think that’s on purpose so that we can learn to “stretch beyond (our) current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation.”

God wants to speak to us. He is willing to reveal His mysteries to us. All we have to do is ask and learn how to listen for His answers. Change starts with desire and that desire can only come individually — not because someone told us to do it. It’s our personal responsibility to seek truth and act by the Spirit when we receive our answers.

A change of heart

We know change is going to happen in life. President Nelson said more changes are coming to the Church. He said it’s going to be exciting. I’d add, it’ll probably be exhausting. Uncomfortable. And, perhaps downright difficult. Change, by its very definition, means “to make or become different.” While it can be hard to stretch and even break in the process to become something different, as followers of Jesus Christ we believe this life is all about becoming more like God. It’s choosing to grow into our best selves through the Atonement of Jesus Christ as our “hearts are changed through faith on his name” (Mosiah 5:7).

Joey O'Loughlin and his son Joseph Michael O'Loughlin wait outside the Conference Center following the Saturday morning session of the Church's 188th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2018.
Joey O'Loughlin and his son Joseph Michael O'Loughlin wait outside the Conference Center following the Saturday morning session of the Church's 188th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2018. Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News

Change grows from our hearts.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, said, “The changes we have experienced in our Church meetings and policies should help us, but by themselves they won’t get our members to where our Heavenly Father wants us to be. The changes that make a difference to our position on the covenant path are not changes in Church policies or practices, but the changes we make in our own desires and actions.”

What are our desires? What is our “why” and where is our focus?

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled that “only as we gather together in one all things in Christ, with firm focus upon Him, can gospel truths synergistically enable us to become what God desires us to become and endure valiantly to the end” (October 2018 general conference, “Gather Together in One All Things in Christ”).

A change of culture

Firm focus on Him. That is what is needed. That is what is required. To me that means digging into the scriptures and praying for understanding to teach His doctrine to my children and the youth in my ward. It means letting go of “Church culture” that clouds what’s really important. It means making Him the center of my faith and trusting in His power to transform me. It means changing the question from “What’s changing next?” to “Who’s changing next?” and praying that person is me.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Gandhi taught. We have the opportunity to be that change as we literally restore Christ’s ways in His Church in our day.

When Jesus Christ lived on the earth, He was all about change. He was changing culture. Many people didn’t like it. His gospel brought hope. But it also brought disruption. He offered a new vision. But for those strict to observe what they already knew and had received from God, Jesus’ vision was one they just could not see.

Do we sometimes suffer that same lack of vision today? I love how Elder Bednar put it:

“Sometimes as members of the Church we segment, separate, and apply the gospel in our lives by creating lengthy checklists of individual topics to study and tasks to accomplish. But such an approach potentially can constrain our understanding and vision. We must be careful because pharisaical focus upon checklists can divert us from drawing closer to the Lord.”

Young conferencegoers raise their hands to sustain church leadership during the Saturday afternoon session of the 188th Annual General Conference of the Church at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on March 31, 2018.
Young conferencegoers raise their hands to sustain church leadership during the Saturday afternoon session of the 188th Annual General Conference of the Church at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on March 31, 2018. Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Anything that diverts us from drawing closer to the Lord, we should change. If we are going to be “the Church” that moves forward at an accelerated pace, we need to be ready for the race. We need to do our spiritual exercise to know how to be a part of “building up what’s ahead.”

While talking about restoring the correct name of the Church, President Nelson promised that as we do, “He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen. … We will have the knowledge and power of God to help us take the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.”

Knowledge and power, the likes of which we have never seen. It’s almost incomprehensible. But a prophet says those magnificent blessings are ours as we restore Jesus Christ’s name in His Church, and I’d add as the central focus of our lives. We can be “the Church” with an unprecedented future. It all starts with the most important change of all — changing ourselves.

Irinna Danielson, a wife and a mother, is a product manager for the Church.

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