Boyd Matheson: The exclamation point of the final ‘amen’ is a single word — onward

As President Russell M. Nelson said “amen,” in his concluding testimony at the close of October 2020 general conference, it instantly felt to me that the crescendo of inspired and prophetic messages had culminated with a mighty exclamation point.

President Nelson declared, “Now, my dear brothers and sisters, I bless you to be filled with the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ. His peace is beyond all mortal understanding. I bless you with an increased desire and ability to obey the laws of God. I promise that as you do, you will be showered with blessings, including greater courage, increased personal revelation, sweeter harmony in your homes, and joy, even amid uncertainty.”

He concluded with an invitation and exhortation to every member of the Church. “May we go forward together to fulfill our divine mandate — that of preparing ourselves and the world for the Second Coming of the Lord. I so pray, with my expression of love for you, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

During the closing prayer, something shifted in my mind’s eye. My visual image of an exclamation point suddenly appeared to lean forward, upward and onward. I recognized that the “amen” was not an indication that we had reached the emphatic finish of a most extraordinary conference. The “amen” was a clarion and united declaration, that each of us was ready to enlist in pressing forward, reaching heavenward and linking arms to journey onward along the covenant path.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “Faithfulness is not foolishness or fanaticism. Rather, it is trusting and placing our confidence in Jesus Christ as our Savior, on His name, and in His promises. As we ‘press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men,’ we are blessed with an eternal perspective and vision that stretches far beyond our limited mortal capacity.”

Spiritually seeing is central to pressing forward, moving onward and actually begins by looking heavenward. Sister Michelle Craig of the Young Women general presidency taught, “I witness that Jesus Christ loves us and can give us eyes to see — even when it’s hard, even when we’re tired, even when we’re lonely, and even when the outcomes are not as we hoped. Through His grace, He will bless us and increase our capacity. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, Christ will enable us to see ourselves and see others as He does. With His help, we can discern what is most needful. We can begin to see the hand of the Lord working in and through the ordinary details of our lives — we will see deeply.”

In the midst of great challenges and uncertainty sometimes we are tempted to just hunker down and wait it out. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how we can move forward and onward during difficult days and trying times when he said, “We face the facts and return to the fundamentals, to the basic gospel principles, to what matters most. You strengthen your private religious behavior — like prayer and scripture study, and keeping God’s commandments. You make the decisions based on best proven practices. Focus on the things you can do, and not on the things you cannot do. You muster your faith. And you listen for the guiding word of the Lord and His prophet lead you to safety.”

Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the positive power that comes to those who are willing to press forward when he declared, “As I close, please listen to the encouraging, enthusiastic, uplifting words of the Prophet Joseph Smith. One would never guess he penned them in affliction and isolation, constrained and restricted at a home in Nauvoo, … ‘Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy.’”

I was reminded recently that Sister Wendy Nelson is known to often end her emails, texts and messages with a single word — “onward.” I gained a new appreciation for that ending signature throughout October’s general conference sessions. Sister Nelson is forever subtly teaching, lifting and encouraging. That one-word sign-off — onward — is both inspiring and incredibly instructive.

The Prophet implored each of us personally to continue our journey to discipleship when he said, “My dear brothers and sisters, as you choose to let God prevail in your lives, you will experience for yourselves that our God is ‘a God of miracles.’ As a people, we are His covenant children, and we will be called by His name.”

General conference has come to a close. The exclamation point of the final “amen” is leaning forward, pointing heavenward and exhorting us onward. The words of our Savior Jesus Christ and the testimonies of Apostles, Prophets and inspired leaders mark the path, lead the way and, truly, every point define.

“Let the amen, sum all our praises again, now as we worship before Him” (“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” Hymns, No. 72). Onward!

— Boyd Matheson is the opinion editor and head of strategic reach at the Deseret News.