Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ describe general conference as a peak experience. While mountaintop moments matter, the ultimate test is not found at the pinnacle, it is discovered in the practical application that occurs in the low-lying valleys of real life. The value of any meeting or conference is realized in what changes occur and what improvements take place after the sessions are over.
Anyone who has stood at the top of a mountain at sunrise knows that the view from the summit provides vital perspective, clear vision and sustaining inspiration. Over the past year and during the semi-annual conference, President Russell M. Nelson has continued to inspire members of the Church to keep pace with the rush of revelation resulting in changes, corrections, improvements and adjustments designed to foster a home-centered, Church-supported approach to Christlike living.
The view from the just-summited April conference was seen, not in an avalanche of announcements, but in the urgent pleadings of prophets, seers, revelators and general officers for simplicity and action.
These General Authorities and officers were not tour guides pointing out all of the topography and tourist stops from the top of the mountain — these were inspired servants showing only the essence of what matters, what is needful and where we should strive to go next on our journey to discipleship. Doctrine and Covenants 123:12-17 could be used as a proper framing of the view that was shared throughout the conference.
The vital perspective from this conference was centered in the urgency to act. President Nelson, in his role as prophet, powerfully, yet tenderly implored us to, “Do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please do it now. Time is running out."
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke to the urgent work to be done before the Second Coming of the Savior. "We can prepare ourselves as a people; we can gather the Lord’s covenant people; and we can help redeem the promise of salvation made to the fathers, our ancestors. All of this must occur in some substantial measure before the Lord comes again."
Last year President Nelson suggested the members of the Church “take their vitamin pills” in preparation for what was yet to come. His prophetic perspective from conference was that the time for vitamins is past — the clock is ticking, the game is on and we have much to do.
Many of the speakers spoke with an urgency that promotes action rather that distress or guilt. “These should then be attended to with great earnestness” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:14) could have been the concluding line of the majority of the talks.
The clear vision from the conference was found in the essence of simplicity.
President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught that in simplicity everyone could find the joy and peace of the gospel. The changes and improvements during the past year are all designed to simplify while creating a better perspective from which to extract the essence of the gospel from the complexity of programs, meetings, manuals and activities.
Sister Sharon Eubank of the Relief Society general presidency stressed that part of life is learning what not to do. Deciding what not to do will give us a vision of what we can do and enable us to see what we should do — even in the midst of dark days or trying times. She encouraged the weary and discouraged to, “Take a few more steps on the covenant path, even if it’s too dark to see very far. The lights will come back on.”
The essence of simplicity was fitly framed by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who taught that we are responsible for our own spiritual strength and that the best missionary training center, temple preparation and lessons in discipleship were found in our homes and families.
The changes, improvements and adjustments have not been given to make our gospel living easier, they are to make gospel living better and more sustainable.
“Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things” (Doctrine and Covenants 123:15).
The prophet clearly has more for members in the future — but it is dependent on our ability to fully live the essence of the gospel. We discover that essence in the power of the small and simple — the results of our obedience will be an expanded vision of the gospel and revelation for us and those we love.
The sustaining inspiration from the conference was found in principles and covenants. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed to the sustaining inspiration that can be accessed weekly through partaking of the sacrament. He noted that one reason for reducing complexity in programs is to reenthrone the sacrament as a paramount peak experience for every member.
The music of the conference likewise served as proximate and sustaining inspiration. The opening song by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square “Press Forward Saints,” perfectly captured the view from the spiritual summit that was about to be revealed. In fact, you could just listen to this hymn, read Doctrine and Covenants 123 and be reminded of most of the magnificent views and moments of general conference.
Countless inspiring examples were shared by our leaders of faithful members around the world. Those who overcame adversity, cheerfully endured, valiantly served, found their faith, lifted the outcast and stood up — as President Nelson challenged us to do — as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The test of the valley
With such vision, perspective and inspiration it would seem easy to stay on top of that spiritual summit we can experience during general conference. As stated above, while mountaintop moments matter, the ultimate test is not found at the pinnacle. It is discovered in the practical application that occurs in the low-lying valleys of real life. Conference has to end.
It was good for Peter, James and John to join the Savior on the mountain and hear the voice of God. The test — and the purpose for the mountaintop experience — was to instruct and strengthen and empower them with all they would eventually need to fulfill the charge to go and teach all nations. Many have gone to the heights of the mountains, physically or spiritually, to be instructed or taught. Temples have often been in or described as going to the mountain of the Lord.
President Thomas S. Monson often described our ability to apply and do what we learn at the summit this way, “True character is the ability to carry out a goal, long after the mood in which it was created has passed.” It is easy to get excited about resolutions for improvement we make during the pinnacle moments of general conference. But again the test will happen after the mood has passed and we find ourselves in the rough and tumble valleys of daily life.
I learned this little quote from Raul Daumal as a young missionary in Japan and was reminded of it years later after a sunrise climb of a mountaintop in Malaysia.
“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
General conference provides such a view and such a sustaining memory. So when we find ourselves in the lower regions of life, we can remember the gospel view from higher up. We can draw from our memory of the vital perspective of the urgency to act, the clear vision of the essence of simplicity and the sustaining inspiration of principles and covenants.
Or, as Doctrine and Covenants 123:17 declares, “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed."
As we return to our homes in the valley, President Nelson and his associates in this work will call us to climb another peak. We must be ready as our journey to discipleship continues.