Comer: The necessity of following the prophet
Not long after he became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder David A. Bednar spoke at a Brigham Young University devotional about the way a relationship between a returned missionary he and his wife knew and a young woman had ended.
According to Bednar, the relationship took place around the time that former church president Gordon B. Hinckley had counseled the women in the church to only wear one earring in each ear. The boy waited for the girl to heed the counsel of the prophet and remove her extra earrings, but she did not. Because of that, as well as other reasons, the boy ceased dating the young woman.
Bednar seemingly knew how bold it was to share this story when he told it.
“I presume that some of you might have difficulty with my last example,” he said. “You may believe the young man was too judgmental or that basing an eternally important decision, even in part, upon such a supposedly minor issue is silly or fanatical. Perhaps you are bothered because the example focuses upon a young woman who failed to respond to prophetic counsel instead of upon a young man. I simply invite you to consider and ponder the power of being quick to observe and what was actually observed in the case I just described. The issue was not earrings!”
I’ve been reminded of this story a number of times over the years because it brings up an important question: What is our reaction to the counsel prophets give? Do we simply follow it, or do we determine whether it aligns with our personal viewpoints and then act accordingly?
The question of whether or not to follow the prophet recently arose in my study of the Book of Mormon. The Jaredites, whom I spoke of in my last column, had reached the promised land. Jared and his brother had become old and desired to know what the people needed from them before they died. The people wanted one of their sons to be a king. The brother of Jared didn’t like the idea, saying that it would eventually result in them being brought into captivity, but Jared wanted to do as the people wished. Of all the sons of Jared and his brother, only one agreed. Initially, everything appeared to be fine. The king, named Orihah, was righteous. But after Orihah’s son Kib replaced him as king, Kib’s son, Corihor, rebelled, eventually putting together an army that went to where Kib lived and taking him captive. Kib was forced to live in captivity with his people under his son. The brother of Jared’s prophecy had come true.
As I think about that situation, I imagine the people might have thought the brother of Jared’s concerns weren’t justified. Perhaps, they thought he was overreacting. They may have thought he just wasn’t thinking clearly, that he didn’t understand them or that maybe he was too old and his ideas were too outdated. Watching Orihah reign in righteousness might have caused them to feel even less concerned. But the prophecy came true nonetheless.
The Apostle Paul gave important instruction on the purpose of prophets when he told the Corinthians that to prophesy is to “speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” (1 Corinthians 14:3) Consider the definitions of those words according to Oxford Languages.
1. Edification: The instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually.
2. Exhortation: An address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something.
3. Comfort: Ease the grief or distress of; console.
When prophets speak to us, those are among their objectives, and they know what is necessary for us to hear.
During a BYU-Hawaii devotional last November, Sheri Dew spoke of how prophets guide us according to what will happen before we know what will happen as she related a story about the current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson.
“In 2014, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson chaired the Missionary Executive Council or MEC. One day in the MEC, Elder Nelson held up his smartphone and said, ‘We need to put these into the hands of every missionary.’ You can imagine the discussion that ensued about all the challenges missionaries with smartphones would create. But in time, the MEC began allowing missionaries in a few test missions to carry iPads or smartphones.
“Every problem the MEC predicted happened. But Elder Nelson never wavered in his conviction that missionaries could be taught to use the internet righteously and that they should have smartphones. The tests continued and over the next few years, more and more missionaries received phones.
“Now fast forward to January of 2020. That month, President Russell M. Nelson, now President of the Church, authorized every missionary worldwide to have a smartphone. Then, just weeks later, the pandemic shut down the world and proselyting as we knew it stopped.
“Elder Brent H. Nielson, then executive director of the missionary department, was initially concerned that baptisms might drop to nearly zero. But they didn’t. Inspired missionaries working from their apartments found and baptized 125,000 people in 2020 — largely because they had smartphones.
“Says Elder Nielson: ‘I quickly learned that the Lord had prepared us for this day. Prophets can see around corners.'”
A difficult aspect of the plan of salvation — God’s plan for his children’s happiness — is that we have no memory of our time in the spirit world prior to coming to earth. We have no memory of choosing to side with Jesus Christ and coming to earth as part of an eternal progression. I imagine there were perhaps many in the spirit world who were uneasy about the notion of coming to earth knowing that they wouldn’t remember all that happened before. But I imagine it would have been encouraging to know that we wouldn’t be left completely on our own. We would be provided with prophets to help us. Those prophets would teach us about where we came from and what we needed to do in order to return to Heavenly Father.
As I have listened to and heeded the counsel of the prophets over the years, I have had it confirmed to me that they are in fact called by God to be his representative on earth. I eagerly look forward to every general conference because I know that whatever the prophet is going to counsel us to do is what the Lord would counsel us to do.
To sum it all up, the words of Carol F. McConkie express the importance of following the prophet well.
“In a world threatened by a famine of righteousness and spiritual starvation, we have been commanded to sustain the prophet. As we give heed to, uphold and affirm prophetic word, we witness that we have the faith to humbly submit to the will, the wisdom and the timing of the Lord,” she said during the October 2014 general conference of the church.
“We heed prophetic word even when it may seem unreasonable, inconvenient and uncomfortable. According to the world’s standards, following the prophet may be unpopular, politically incorrect or socially unacceptable. But following the prophet is always right. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.'”
Contact Ryan Comer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @rbcomer8388 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/