General Conference Prep, Day 3: Intend to Act

If we teach by the Spirit and you listen by the Spirit, some one of us will touch on your circumstance, sending a personal prophetic epistle just to you.
— Jeffrey R. Holland, An Ensign to the Nations, April 2011

In my last post, I referenced a 2006 conference talk by A. Roger Merrill, who at the time was the General Sunday School President. As a teacher and a student I have returned to this talk many times for its simply stated fundamentals of learning. He taught that effective gospel learners do three things:

  • Seek
  • Feel
  • Intend to act

The third point, “intend to act,” deserves some extra attention in preparation for General Conference. Whatever effort we make to receive the message is ultimately wasted if we fail to change or repent or improve because of what we have heard. I’m not saying that we could suddenly be perfect by next week. The process is more nuanced and fluid than that. But I know we can all relate to saying, “What an awesome conference!” and returning to status-quo by Monday morning.

Three thoughts on the topic:

1. Beware of “Some New Thing” syndrome.

When Paul the Apostle was teaching the Greeks in Athens (see Acts 17:21), the New Testament records that the men of Athens spent their time in "nothing else, but to tell, or to hear some new thing.” In our modern age of social media and up-to-the-second news, to tell or hear "some new thing” is a strong desire. We clamor for new and exciting information. Sometimes I slip into hoping for more “new things” in General Conference, and when there aren’t any, I'm disappointed. The fact is, most of the time there isn’t anything new: we will be taught the same doctrines and principles that were taught from he beginning (what Elder Holland called “the eternal verities") and they will continue to expose the same weaknesses that we’re always encouraged to overcome. In a recent interview, President Russell M. Nelson said:

People wonder if there is going to be anything new, anything exciting in the way of a new announcement or a new direction. The interesting thing is that everything we teach is old. We teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that was taught to Adam and Eve. In every dispensation the Lord has taught the doctrine of deity, which doesn’t change. The world changes.

As a confessed Church-organization geek, I’m excited to see who the new Apostles will be. But that isn’t what really matters. What really matters is what those new Apostles will say and what I do as a result. We have to beware the tendency to brush aside counsel we’ve heard over and over. Beware of “Some New Thing” syndrome.

2. Beware of “Some Great Thing” syndrome

A companion principle is taught in the story of mighty Naaman the leper (2 Kings 5), who pridefully scoffs at the prophet’s invitation to wash seven times in the Jordan to be cleansed. Naaman is humbled by his young servants who say, “if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?” Sometimes we act ready for a command to move to Missouri when all the Savior wants is for us to visit our home teaching families. Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, "Failure to serve the Master in small ways estranges us from Him" (see Mosiah 5:13). Beware the tendency to brush aside “small” commandments (see Moroni 7:16-17). Beware of "Some Great Thing” syndrome.

3. Maintain commitment after the mood of the moment.

One of the most spiritually significant experiences of my life was when Elder L. Whitney Clayton, now of the Presidency of the Seventy, toured the Chicago North Mission in 2002. I was fortunate to hear him and his wife speak in four zone conferences and to interact with him in a number of other smaller meetings. He did and said many things that I have never forgotten. One such statement came at the close of particularly powerful meeting in the basement of the mission home with the zone leaders when he talked about the importance of staying committed after the “mood of the moment.” How real this challenge is! Repeatedly in the months and years since, I have noticed how, in the moment of a spiritual experience, our willingness and commitment to act is firm. But then we get home from Church, or back to work Monday morning, back to crying babies and bills and headaches at work. We don’t feel the same spirit, we question our former impressions, and if we’re not careful our commitment to act dissipates quickly.

Just the other night, after the General Women’s meeting, Lisa came home and said, “It’ crazy how fast it fades. I was so inspired. I felt like I could do anything. And it’s already fading.” In her effort to maintain commitment after the mood of the moment, she sent me this article from President Uchtdorf the next morning: Finish With Your Torch Still Lit. This is one of the great challenges of life. But to obtain the growth the Lord intends, it’s essential that we maintain commitment after the mood of the moment.

In summary, James said it well: 

"Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." -James 1:22