A distinctive tradition of the Church, and which is anchored in the lives of Latter-day Saints, is the great gathering called general conference where each of the inspired speakers gives a message – a message that touches members individually.
As the concluding speaker in the April 2011 General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “As our conference comes to a close, I ask you to reflect in the days ahead not only on the messages you have heard but also on the unique phenomenon (italics added)that general conference itself is—what we as Latter-day Saints believe such conferences to be and what we invite the world to hear and observe about them.”[i]
Since my baptism 25 years ago, I started the habit of reading general conference talks published in the Liahona magazine. In addition to my reading of the Book of Mormon, reading these general conference inspired messages have helped me to better understand the doctrines of the gospel and have strengthened my testimony of the reality and truthfulness of the messages of the living prophets. It is for me an additional witness of continuous revelation. We were receiving the Liahona a few weeks or even months after the conference had taken place but the messages still had a current impact on me.
For several years, the Africa Southeast Area was recording general conference on compact discs that we would watch two to three weeks after the conference sessions occurred. Today, the Church has made available satellite receivers which allow us to watch some sessions live and others afterward, but within an average interval of one week after general conference. What a blessing!
For us, as members, general conference has a special spirit. When I reflect on it, two main points come to mind, firstly, it is a sacred responsibility for those who are chosen to speak to the members of the Church and to the entire world, and secondly, it is a special responsibility for those of us who listen to the messages that are given.
Those who are assigned to speak have the huge responsibility to find words which will touch the hearts of millions of people and to ensure that the same message given by a single person penetrates the heart of everyone and yet meets individual needs.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “Perhaps you already know (but if you don’t you should) that with rare exception, no man or woman who speaks here is assigned a topic”[ii]
Elder Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “When and how does the inspiration for General Conference talks come? With no topics assigned, we see heaven beautifully coordinating the subjects and themes of eternal truth each and every conference.”
“One of my Brethren told me that his subject for this conference was given to him immediately after his talk last April. Another mentioned three weeks ago that he was still praying and waiting upon the Lord. Another, when asked how long it had taken to compose an especially sensitive talk, responded, ‘Twenty-five years.’”[iii]
Those who listen have the responsibility to prepare their hearts to be taught. My personal experience with general conference is not just listening to the words, but also feeling what the Spirit of the Lord would want me to learn. I listen to general conference messages always with a willingness to learn what is important for me. On one occasion, the speaker was relating a story that I had already heard before and on a topic about which I felt satisfied regarding its application in my life. Immediately I felt and impression and heard something telling me, ‘’Eustache, instead of telling yourself that you know what it is all about and that you are already doing it well, rather ask yourself why the Lord would want you to hear it and learn it again.’’ By listening to the talk, I learned something new that I would never have learned otherwise.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated, “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.’’[iv] It is also important to note that some topics often addressed are the same but their messages are different at every moment – if we listen with the purpose of learning. It is obvious that for the same topic, the Lord teaches us, “line upon line”[v]on each occasion that we hear another message on the same topic.
When we discuss in our families the messages given in general conference, we realize that often we have been touched by the same talks or speakers, but at times we have different understanding and feelings. For the same message heard at the same time, my wife will have a different inspiration from mine. This is proof that the Spirit of the Lord inspires each one of us and speaks to us according to our individual needs.
I have often been touched by the way in which the Spirit of the Lord speaks to us – whether I have had the opportunity to watch the conference live or to do so later from a recording – everytime my mind receives spiritual instruction. Whether it is heard in English, the language in which the speakers speak or when there is translation, the Spirit teaches everyone in their language, what the Lord would want us to learn.
I have often heard members of the Church say that a particular message has touched them, and they have the impression that it was meant for them personally. This is the result of a personal preparation and of a desire to abide by the things of the Spirit. May we continue to view every general conference as a new opportunity to be taught in a unique manner by those who the Lord has chosen to speak to us and guide us on the straight and narrow path.
[i]Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, An Ensign to the Nations, April 2011 General Conference
[ii]Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, An Ensign to the Nations, April 2011 General Conference
[iii]Elder Neil L. Anderson, The Voice of the Lord, November 2017 General Conference
[iv]Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, An Ensign to the Nations, April 2011 General Conference
[v]D&C 98:12; D&C 128:2