Strive to Have Companionship of the Spirit
Good morning. What a lucky fellow I feel I am, this morning, to be here with you in this beautiful historic building, to be blessed by Jared’s insights about being a friend, and then this exceptional choir and an overly generous introduction by your wonderful president. I can do nothing but fall flat, frankly, after that. But this is good for my soul. You know, I’ve been emeritus now for a year, so I’m sort of like an old fighter coming out of retirement, and George Foreman did that a number of times before he started making grills, but this may be my only time. But I’m grateful they took a chance to ask me, even three months in advance, which is kind of risky when you’re dealing with a 71-year-old man. I am here.
I want to say, I don’t know all of your faculty and administration and staff, but I know some of them, and I know your wonderful president. And I think you’re so blessed, really, to have these people in your lives. Already this morning, President Richards has done some significant things for all of us in his example and in his teachings. So I just commend these people to you and hope you will watch them closely, come to know them as closely as you can, and just see how they have figured out how to live life in a happy and a productive way.
I pray that the Lord will bless me in my time here. I personally have been preoccupied in the last year with sections 15 and 16, which are the only two sections in the Doctrine and Covenants that are identical. And it’s interesting—in both of them the Whitmer brothers are asking, through Joseph Smith, what is the thing of most worth? What would it be? And as I retired from the Church’s active service—my active service in the Church—that was the question that has been most on my mind. What would be the thing of most worth for me to do with the rest of my life? And I, as I’ve thought about that this morning, and each of you, knowing that a talk—a talk probably isn’t going to save or damn you eternally, yet still it’s an important opportunity for me, and I’ve prayed about what would be the thing of most worth.
So I’m going to begin by telling a couple of stories and have you just figure out what I’ve decided to chat with you about this morning. The first story is probably my favorite Church history story—and history really is nothing more than stories. If you want to make history interesting, tell stories. If you want to have an interesting family, tell stories. If you want to be an interesting person, tell stories.
Heber J. Grant, in 1896 right next door, was participating, then as an elder in the Quorum of the Twelve, in general conference. And in those days, when there was no media and no pressure for time and conference today, the general authorities came with the expectation that they would be called on to speak extemporaneously in a conference session. I’m sure that kept them all on the edge of their seats. Now it’s all completely programmed, and you know some months in advance and you know the exact time you can occupy, and so on. But in those days it wasn’t so, and so he was told just before the meeting began that he would speak in that session. And as he sat, as conference began and the first speaker began to speak, he noticed in the audience in the Tabernacle, his brother Fred Grant, who at the time was estranged from the Church and hadn’t been in church for a long time. And the fact that he was there that morning intimidated Heber J. Grant, and he lowered his head in prayer and asked the Lord to bless him that in his speaking that day, he would be able to speak beyond his own natural ability so that his brother would recognize that the Church is divine.
Well, the first speaker concluded and he arose as he had been called on, and he laid on the pulpit a little black book that he kept full of topics and references. He had thought that morning earlier, that if he was called on that day he would say something about work for the dead and the spirit world. But in view of the fact that his brother was there, the Spirit took him in a totally different direction. And he began, he said, “almost without my conscious control of what I was saying,” he began to talk about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the gospel and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. And all of those things can be rather ordinary and mundane, in a way, but on that occasion—actually they can’t; I don’t think you can ever give a bad talk about Joseph Smith, for instance. So if you’re looking for good talks to give, give one about him—but on that occasion, in a very unusual way, Heber J. Grant was so blessed by the Spirit that when he finished his 30-minute address—and there was about 50 minutes left which George Q. Cannon was to have occupied, the counselor in the presidency of the Church—Brother Cannon arose and said, “There are times when a man is so moved on by the Holy Ghost that to speak following him would be sheer folly. Such was the case today with Elder Grant, and I move that this meeting be closed.” Wouldn’t it be great to be in a general conference session like that?
It was closed, and the next day, which was Monday, President Grant was in his office and who should come to visit him but his brother Fred. And as he came in, as a brother might, he said, “Heber, I was in the Tabernacle yesterday and heard you speak. You can’t speak that well.”
And then he said, in almost the same words that Heber had used in his prayer, “You spoke beyond your own natural abilities.”
And Heber, as a brother would, said to his brother Fred, “Fred, what does it take? Do we have to hit you over the head with a stick?” He said, “When a man like me is helped by the Spirit of the Lord to speak beyond his own natural abilities, what does that tell you about our church?”
And Fred had to concede that it was true. And the following Sunday, Fred Grant was rebaptized into the Church by his brother Heber.
Now another little story: In 1839, after the Missouri persecutions and after the Saints had fled back east to Illinois and were in Quincy and the beginnings of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith and a few others collected up all the grievances from that Missouri period and took them to Washington and gained an audience from President Martin Van Buren, and laid these grievances at his feet and asked for him, as the chief federal officer in our country, to do something about it. And you remember, that’s the famous interview in which Martin Van Buren concludes—actually, rightfully so, from a Constitutional law point of view—that, though the cause was just, he could do nothing for them.
But the more interesting part of that interview to me is recorded by Joseph Smith in his history, and that is that, during a lull in the conversation between the president of our country and the president of our Church, they were just two men—great men, to be sure, but men, nonetheless—Martin Van Buren, out of curiosity probably, said to Joseph Smith, “Mr. Smith, what’s so different about your church anyway?” He actually said, “How does your church differentiate itself from all other churches?”
What would you say? You’ve maybe even been in a discussion like this with someone who is not of our faith, and they’ve asked you, you know, put your finger on the greatest difference between your church and mine. I think probably, as this has happened to me in my life, I’ve often said something about our church having authority. But it’s interesting; Joseph Smith answered, “We differ in the mode of baptism, and in the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying of hands.” And then, in a footnote actually in his history, Joseph Smith says that he deemed all other considerations, all other differences, included in that of the Holy Ghost. So for our first prophet, the most distinguishing feature of our church was its mode of baptism, but even more, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. [See History of the Church, 4:42]
In 3 Nephi, the 19th chapter, the apostles are taught by the Savior. And then He leaves, and they’re instructed to pray. And they kneel down in unison and pray, and I’ve always been struck by what it says about this prayer in 3 Nephi 19:9. “And they did pray for that which they most desired.” What would be of most worth? What would we want to desire the most? What did these initial Nephite Twelve desire? They desired “that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.”
Think back, if you would, just on your own prayer this morning. I hope you have offered one. If you have, honestly it’s a lot more important than anything I can say today. And if you haven’t, that’s also a lot more important than anything I can say today. But did you in your prayer today mention the Holy Ghost, and tell God how much you desire to have that Spirit with you today?
Where our prayers are, there will our thoughts be also, really. And I just hope that—if nothing else comes out of our little visit here this morning—your level of consciousness about the need for, the desire for, the worth of having the Holy Ghost with you would substantially increase.
In my time as a Seventy—almost 24 years—which I really seriously miss, and I miss most the people. In that period of time I visited over 400 stake conferences. That’s a lot of sleepovers, believe me. And in all those conferences—almost all of them, as a part of my approach to those, I asked for the chance to visit with the patriarch of each stake. And I did that, not because I had something valuable to teach them, but because I found, over time, that they and their wives were among—if not the, but among the very most spiritual and Christlike people on earth. And I just enjoyed having the patriarch come and sit with him and the stake president and talking about his role in the stake and his experience with giving blessings and the process that he would go through. And typically, in those interviews or meetings, I would ask the patriarch a question. And the question was, “What changed about your life when you received the call to be the patriarch?”
And invariably the answer came that there had been some significant change, even though these men, obviously, to be called as patriarchs, to have the Lord inspire their stake president now in this day and age to call them as a patriarch—they must have been living awfully good lives. But invariably they would say that they made major changes—changes in the way they approached their spouse, their neighbors, their gospel study, their temple attendance, their choice of entertainment, their relationships with family members, the fences they felt a need to mend. You know, I think every one of us—most of us here would have had a patriarchal blessing. How many of you feel that the blessing you received was inspired, that it came from God and was given to that patriarch for you? Would most of us not feel that way? Aren’t we grateful our patriarch wasn’t having a bad day when it was our turn to be blessed? Can a patriarch ever have a bad day?
I used to wonder that about a seventy. I even said to my wife one morning when I had a talk to give and I wasn’t feeling particularly in the Spirit, I said, “Can’t I just have a bad day?”
She said, “Yes, but not today.”
And I suppose every time a patriarch lays his hands on someone’s head, he wants to be in the greatest spiritual shape he can be in, for his sake as well as for that person. I do remember once a patriarch I met in Europe in a serviceman’s stake, who had been in office for almost a year and who had not yet given a blessing, and who was later released having never given a blessing—not for unworthiness, but just honestly for a lack of faith that he could lay his hands on someone’s head and speak the words that God would speak. So it’s a very sacred function. And I think, aside from what our prophet and the apostles say and write, I don’t think there’s a greater evidence in the Church that revelation is continuous than we find in our individual patriarchal blessings.
Mine now is largely history; yours probably largely prospective and future. But when Henry Taylor laid his hands upon my head as an 18-year-old, he was 92. He had no idea who I was or anything about me, except what the Lord made known—and yet he sketched out a path for my life that was very surprising to me at the time, and remains very surprising to me still. I remember him saying, “I say unto you, Brother Jensen, you will become spiritually minded.” At 18, the Lord had told him I wasn’t very spiritually minded in that moment, but I would become that, which has always been my hope that I would.
I’m saying all of this to say that all of us have every reason to live our lives like a patriarch. Why would we want to be less spiritual? Why would we want to have less claim on the help of the Holy Ghost in our lives than he does in carrying out the office that he has been called to? And the price that every patriarch pays to be in tune with God and to speak for Him when our turn for a blessing comes is the price that every one of us has to pay if we want to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in our lives.
Now talking about spiritual things in many ways is—I don’t want to say “tricky”—it’s delicate. It’s delicate because the Spirit, I think, manifests itself in different ways and in different frequencies. And it’s a different experience for each of us. I think that may be what the scripture means when it says that “the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof but canst not tell whither it cometh and whither it goeth. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit.”
It’s a difficult thing to talk about our spiritual life. It’s ephemeral. It’s hard to crystallize; it’s hard to articulate. And on top of that, we’re actually told “that that which cometh from above is sacred, and should be spoken of with care.” So I don’t think it’s wise for us to be touting our spiritual experiences all the time. And I do think that it is different for different people. There are a lot of people I know that seem to be getting a lot more inspiration about a lot of things than I’ve ever gotten. And I don’t judge them good or bad for them; I just think it’s a wonderful thing for them. I only have my own spiritual experience to go by.
And I wanted, out of that experience, just to share with you four or five ways that the Spirit has been helpful to me in my life, in very practical ways, in hopes that maybe it will be helpful to you. And one of those ways—all of these ways, I think, are expressed in the scriptures. I begin in the 11th section. It’s interesting how many of the early sections in the Doctrine and Covenants do deal with the Spirit, because it had largely been absent from the world for a long time—thousands of years, generally speaking. And so the early Saints struggled as they got into the Spirit. And there were excesses that had to be corrected, and the Lord had to teach them—and so us—how all of this works.
And in the 11th section, verse 12, there’s a beautiful description, I think, of how the Spirit has helped me in my life. It says: “And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.” This is the Lord saying when you have these feelings to do good—in this meeting today, it would be wonderful if all of us had some prompting to do good. It is Thanksgiving week. There are a lot of things we could do that would be good this week. If you just thanked your mom and dad, that would be very good. You can’t imagine what it means to a parent to have a child express appreciation. You don’t know yet, most of you, how tough it is to be a parent, how much it takes in terms of love and patience and teaching and money—that good green stuff—to produce a family. But to have a son or daughter in their adulthood come back and say, “Dad, Mom, thanks”—that’s a prompting that could come out of this.”
“Put your trust in that spirit which leadeth to do good.” Whenever I’m in a meeting or a conversation or in a scriptural passage or just thinking or praying and I have thoughts come to me about good I could do—visits I could make, a letter I could write, an apology I could issue—I know that I’m in the Spirit. I may not be even totally worthy, I don’t know. But I know that when those feelings come, that’s the Spirit of the Lord. “To do justly”—think of what a world we would have. We wouldn’t need lawyers, if we all did justly. “To walk humbly, to judge righteously . . . this is my Spirit.”
Doctrine and Covenants 6 contains another working of the Spirit that I have found to be really valuable in my life, and it comes out of that experience where Oliver Cowdery had been a school teacher boarding with the Smith family during the winter of 1829. And when he finished that experience he went down to Harmony to help Joseph Smith translate the Book of Mormon, in April 1829. And when he got there, he met the Prophet for the first time. He’d only known about him through the representations of his family, and while he was with that family in that winter, Oliver must have had a spiritual witness that the gospel was true. But when he got to Harmony and met Joseph, and I don’t know if Joseph was a disappointment to him or if the spirit of the manifestation, the conviction that he’d had, had grown cold, but he was seeking a greater witness, another witness. And in response to that the Lord said, in verse 22[and 23]: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart”—some night in the Smith home, he must have done that—“that ye might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?”
Just that—the speaking of peace to our minds—is a wonderful blessing that the Spirit can confer on us. And in our day and age, and during the last year or two that I served as the Church’s Historian, it became obvious to me that there were many people—and I don’t know how to measure that—but many people who were becoming disturbed in their convictions of the truths of the gospel, based on historical questions that were being raised and are being raised and can be found in the Internet and other places. And in talking with many of these people, I often just made the plea to them, “Think back on all those night in your life—on your mission, as you taught a Sunday School class, in the home evenings that your mom and dad conducted—think about all those times that peace was spoken to you. That was to give you a settled faith, settled convictions, so that you wouldn’t be tossed about by every wind of doctrine and every un-peer-reviewed piece of data that somebody can put up on a blog somewhere.” And I want to thank the Lord that, in my own case at least, I have a settled faith. I have, I hope, an unshaken faith. And it’s enabled me to stake, really, the course of my adult life on the truthfulness of the gospel and on the truthfulness of the history of our Church. There is nothing in that history, as far as I know it, that would cause me to leave the feelings of peace that I’ve received through the years and continue to receive. What greater witness can I have, can you have, can we have, than that from God? (See D&C 6:23)
Jacob 4:13 has long been a favorite of mine as well because in that passage there’s an interesting use of the word “really.” “Behold, my brethren,” Jacob says, “he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it [the spirit] speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be.”
Now, why would the prophet use that word “really” as a modifier here? Aren’t—to be or not to be? Aren’t things either or not? Why do you modify the verb “to be” with the word “really,” you grammarians? I think it’s because Jacob would like us to know that when we are under the Spirit, and that spirit is telling us things about our life, about our future, about the truthfulness of the Church, they really are the way we are perceiving them to be. That this is ultimate reality. We don’t have to worry about it being conditional or situational. It is the way things really are and really will be.
And this sense of things as they really are and really will be I think, for me at least, is greatest when I attend funerals. I always say in my mind [that] funerals are the best meetings we have in the Church, and it’s just too bad that someone has to die before we can have one. But it really is the truth. We just had one of these funerals in our own community this last week where a wonderful, absolutely angelic 49-year-old mother of four was taken way too soon by cancer. That service was so close to heaven that anyone there with half an inch of spirituality in them would have had to have said, “This woman lived her life according to a wonderful plan,” and the fruits of that life and of that plan were so obvious. And even as I sat in that meeting and all of that burning within me—things as they really are and really will be—I thought, “This can fade.” And it can and it does, and that’s why renewal of this in different ways is such a vital part of our spiritual progression. But we can cling to those moments, and we can know that those feelings that we had are real, much more real than many other things that we’re experiencing in this life.
Lastly, if someone were to ask me, “How does the Spirit work for you?” I would cite this passage, probably as descriptive of how I have gotten most of the inspiration that I have had in my life. It’s section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where Joseph is in seclusion, hiding from people trying to serve extradition warrants on him to take him back to Missouri. And in the midst of all that turmoil, he pens this 128th section, which is one of the most beautiful, spiritual writings that we have in the Church. And it is, of course, about the work for the dead.
And he says, “As I stated to you in my letter before I left my place, that I would write to you from time to time and give you information in relation to many subjects, I now resume the subject of the baptism for the dead.” And then he says this: “As that subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest.” (verse 1) This is typically how what, I’m sure, modest amount of inspiration I receive comes to me. I have a thought. I have a thought about what to say today, and then it comes to me that I should maybe say something about the Holy Ghost, which I’ve not talked about very often in my life, honestly, for the reasons I explained earlier. But then that thought works in me, and it presses itself upon my feelings the strongest. And then I can proceed.
I know my wife, who probably—I’m sure she’s aware of this verse, but I’ve never heard her speak about it—but I’ve seen it work in her life, because she often awakens me about 3:00 a.m. She did last night, actually. She said, “How can you sleep when there’s so much to worry about?”
And I said, “Count your blessings. I’ll see you in the morning.”
But when she is in these “middle of the night” moments of hers, I always listen. Because typically she’ll have something come to her. It will have occupied her mind, and she’ll say, almost in question form, “Have you noticed this about one of our children, or one of our grandchildren?” And then she’ll suggest something that I ought to do, probably, as the defaulting father and grandfather. But when I follow her inspiration, which I think comes about in this same way, it has invariable proved to be the right thing to do, and I just hope, now that you’re more conscious of this process, that maybe you’ll see it at work in your own spiritual life.
In conclusion, I want to say this much more. I interviewed, during my 24 years, hundreds of missionaries. When we were presiding over a mission, we had 210 missionaries and I interviewed them all every month for two years. It was about 4,316 interviews. I swore I’d never interview anybody again; trying to make those meaningful to the missionaries was a big challenge for me.
But more than once, as I said to missionaries, “Do you have any questions for me?” More than once a missionary asked a question like this: “Do I have the Spirit? As you talk with me, do you feel the Spirit? Am I in the Spirit?” And in almost all of those situations, I could honestly say to the missionaries, “You do. I feel it. I feel your goodness, your love. The Spirit of the Lord is with you. Be at ease.”
And I want to say that to all of us today. Yes, we do need to be more pure. Yes, we do need to be less distracted and to have more quiet. I’m reading a book called Distractions that is opening my eyes to just how nomadic we are, how multi-tasking, interrupted, miserable we are, and how desirable it would be for us to not just turn off our cell phones here, but a lot more, and have some time of uninterrupted thought and focus. We lack the ability to pay attention, and it’s only in that way that we’ll ever have the Spirit of the Lord with us. It does require quiet and focus and attention and uninterrupted time. But it is possible for all of us—again, with some purity about us—it’s interesting in the 46th section, where it speaks of spiritual gifts. It says that they’re given to all those who love [God] and keep his commandments—keep “all” his commandments, actually it says. (verse 9) And you would think that’s a standard that none of us could meet in order to have spiritual gifts.
But then in a very merciful way, the scripture says that spiritual gifts are also given—not just to those who keep all of the commandments—but to “him that seeketh so to do.” Seeking to keep God’s commandments is something we can all do, and if we do, and if it is the thing we desire the most, I know that we can have the Holy Ghost in our lives. I know that He will bring to our remembrance all things. I know that He’ll tell us whatsoever we should do. I know that He’ll bear witness of the truth of all things. And I know that, if we’re really blessed, when it’s really necessary, He’ll take us beyond our own natural ability as He did Heber J. Grant.
I testify of this and express my love and my appreciation to you for the good life that you are living and for this opportunity to be with you in this wonderful Thanksgiving week. And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.