“Teaching by the Spirit”
Elder W. Grant Bangerter, of the First Quorum of the Seventy
Delivered at General Conference, April 1980
Central to the calling to administer the gospel to all people, living and dead, is the power of the Holy Ghost. My experience tells me that many who labor in the callings of the priesthood lack insight into this great agency and are unable to be as effective as they ought to be. I pray that I may be blessed to give some helpful instructions about this most potent and sacred influence.
Obviously, if I do not have the Holy Spirit, I may as well not speak tonight. Most of our work is done in the form of teaching. This takes place in classes such as priesthood quorums, Sunday School, and seminary; many times in interviews; by missionaries as they present the gospel in their discussions; by home teachers to the families of the Church; and, of course, in sermons such as this one. So I’m speaking to stake presidents, bishops, and quorum leaders, to missionaries, auxiliary leaders, home teachers, and class instructors.
How can we teach by the Spirit? Brethren, try to detect the influence of the Holy Spirit in the following experiences. While I was serving as stake president, my counselors and I invited a certain brother for an interview where we presented to him his calling to be the president of the stake Young Men organization. This man had not been fully active. He liked to spend his weekends, including Sundays, camping and fishing, and it was reported that he and his wife did not always obey the Word of Wisdom. There was some question as to whether we should consider him for such a position, but because of the prayerful discussions we had held in the presidency and the high council we concluded that he should be called. As we advised this brother of his appointment, he responded that he was not interested and that he did not feel worthy or qualified. We then told him how we had come to choose him over all the members of the stake. We explained that we needed a strong and capable leader of youth in our stake and that both the presidency and the high council had offered earnest prayers, asking the Lord to indicate the person who should fill the position. We said: “The answer was clear. You are the man the Lord has chosen. It is for you to decide, of course, but you do have an obligation to go home and discuss the question with your wife. The only request we make of you is that thereafter you kneel down with her and ask the Lord what he wants you to do.” Three days later I received an unhappy telephone call from this same man. He reluctantly informed me that he would accept the position with all its implications. He gave powerful service in his calling, and when that assignment was finished, he became a member of the high council, and he has been happy about the gospel ever since.
We had a similar experience when we called another man to be the president of our stake mission. Through some discouraging experiences in Church service, he thought himself halfway on the road to apostasy and not at all sure of his testimony. He resisted his appointment vigorously, saying that it would deprive him of time to do some of the most enjoyable things in life. We explained to him how once again we had sought the direction from the Lord about who should preside over the mission. We told him that he was not being forced to accept the call, but that he should ask his Heavenly Father whether or not it was right for him to serve. The Lord gave him a powerful assurance that he was called to the work. The following year he, with his missionaries, baptized nearly ten percent of all the nonmembers in our stake. Later on, he was called to be a bishop. On certain occasions I have approached young men of missionary age and informed them that they have been called to serve a mission. Sometimes they explain that they have no desire to go on a mission. I then tell them that it is immaterial to me whether they serve a mission or not. Of course, it isn’t all immaterial; but I say I am only informing them of the calling the Lord has already given them. And I’ll explain how I know that. I was present the day President Kimball made the announcement that all young men should go on a mission. The Holy Spirit told me that the principle was true.
Later on, I was talking with a humble, but inspired, patriarch who is here tonight. He informed me that he was not trained nor educated to give patriarchal blessings and that he could only say the things the Lord told him to say. I thought that sounded about right. He then added: “You would be interested to know how many young men who come for their blessings are told that they will go on missions.” With that statement, I again felt revelation and saw light, and I knew that President Kimball had not called them on a mission. He had merely made the announcement. But the mission had been ordained by the Lord himself, and every young man who belongs to the Church has an obligation to labor to build up the kingdom. There has been no difficulty, therefore, for me in telling young men that I know they have been called on a mission. And when they respond that they are not interested, I merely say: “Don’t tell me; tell the Lord. You go and pray and ask him what he wants you to do.” Almost always they return from that experience saying: “Well, I suppose I had better go on a mission.” For some of them it is then time to say: “Now we both understand that you are not quite prepared, so let us begin to take the steps by which you will be qualified to go.”
Here’s another situation. I have watched missionaries over many years, as they teach the gospel, find that some of their best investigators tell them that they have decided not to join the Church. Most missionaries at this point are discouraged and disappointed. The missionary who understands the Holy Ghost, however, takes that moment as his great opportunity. He even welcomes it, because he knows what to do. And he might say: “Very well, if that is your wish. However, please allow us a moment just to tell you how much the gospel means to us. Do you remember how Joseph Smith knelt one evening in his room and prayed to the Lord to know of his standing before God? As a result, an angel appeared and said: ‘Joseph, I have come to you from the presence of God to tell you that the Lord has a work for you to do, by which your name will be known for good and evil among all men’ [see Joseph Smith History 1:33]. What did Joseph Smith say? Did he say: ‘Oh, no thanks, Mr. Angel. I don’t want to go on a mission. I only wished to know if the Lord loves me!’ Of course, he couldn’t have said that. We want to tell you that we know this work is true just as surely as if we had knelt there by the side of Joseph Smith, because God has revealed it to us. He will reveal it to you, too. We don’t think you should decide not to join his church until you have knelt down and asked the Lord what he wants you to do.” And the investigators, as they pray, respond saying: “Of course, the Lord wants us to join the Church.” The next step, naturally, is to prepare for their baptism.
What has taken place in all of these situations? It is simply that the Holy Ghost has come into the presence of those who are teaching and those who are listening and has given them a witness of the mind and will of God. They have felt something they never understood or knew before. Did you notice? You felt it, too, as I told you these experiences, and I felt it. This is explained in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:22).
We are further told: “The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:14). Prayer is the principal means by which this Spirit is obtained and felt. We must prepare ourselves to work with the Spirit of the Lord. Certain principles must accompany our teaching through the influence of the Spirit: First, we are to be holy men. This does not mean like the Marlboro man or the macho man—holy men. Then we need confidence in the Holy Ghost; believe in it and expect its presence to be with us. And when it comes, we need to recognize its presence and be able to help others to feel the influence that it brings.
One of our great missionaries said: “I bear them my testimony. Then I bear them their testimony. And then I have them bear their testimony back to me.”
That’s the process. Alma did the same thing when he had explained to the people of the city of Gideon about the coming of Christ and the redemption that would be provided for those who would accept Him and be baptized, he said: “And now my beloved brethren, do you believe these things? Behold, I say unto you, yea, I know that ye believe them; and the way that I know ye believe them is by the manifestation of the Spirit which is in me” (Alma 7:17). To this I bear testimony, after many wonderful experiences of the influence of the Holy Ghost, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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