When President Russell M. Nelson was introduced to the media as prophet and President of the Church in January 2018, a colleague of mine at the time, who was not a member of the church, spoke to me about the age of our new president. “Don’t worry,” I told her. After all, she couldn’t have known that he was still attending to his ecclesiastical duties every day, travelled all over the world as part of his calling, was learning Chinese at an advanced age and, at a youthful 93, was still eagerly whipping down Utah’s ski slopes.
However, her words also contained subtle criticism, which we tend to hear from a variety of worldly voices: How can you, in a “modern society”, “blindly” follow one person? Such a statement demonstrates that the world does not yet understand the role of a prophet. Elder Neil L. Anderson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared: “The most important role of the Lord’s prophet is to teach us of the Savior and lead us to Him. … A prophet does not stand between [us] and the Savior. Rather, he stands beside [us] and points the way to the Savior.”1
Thus, a prophet has always the responsibility to direct our eyes and our whole heart towards the Lord Jesus Christ—the sole source of our redemption and salvation. Unsurprisingly, one of President Nelson’s first invitations after his setting apart was this: “What wisdom do you lack? What do you feel an urgent need to know or understand? Follow the example of the Prophet Joseph. Find a quiet place where you can regularly go. Humble yourself before God. Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father. Turn to Him for answers and for comfort. Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yea, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. … You don’t have to wonder about what is true. You do not have to wonder whom you can safely trust. Through personal revelation, you can receive your own witness.”2
I love this eternal principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ that we can and should receive revelation for ourselves and obtain a witness for ourselves. It has nothing to do with blind obedience. Quite the opposite: Blind obedience would contradict this principle.
Actually, it was precisely for this urge to receive personal answers that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored. When the young Joseph Smith returned after his miraculous First Vision and was asked by his concerned mother how he felt, he could have told her many things. But in that moment one realization stood out and he wanted to share it with her: “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off. … I have learned for myself.”3 He had previously spoken with numerous teachers of religion, studied the words of the prophets in the Bible, listened to the counsel of family and friends. But in that moment when he received the answers directly from the Lord, he was ready for his great, dedicated, and marvelous ministry.
The example from the life of Joseph Smith as well as President Nelson’s call are a loving invitation to us to strive for personal revelation each day. As paradoxical as it may sound at first glance: Following the prophet means finding out for ourselves, obtaining our own witness, and seeking God’s direction for our own lives and our various duties.
Let us all listen to and ponder the counsel of our prophet and find out for ourselves again and again what the Lord invites us personally to do—and then put this invitation into action with determination and with all our hearts.
- “The Prophet of God,” April 2018 General Conference.
- “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” April 2018 General Conference; emphasis added.
- Joseph Smith—History 1:20; emphasis added.