Prophets, Leadership, and Divine Law

An Evening with President Russell M. Nelson

Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults • January 8, 2017 • Brigham Young University


My beloved brothers and sisters, I bring greetings and love to you from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We thank you for being with us tonight and for preparing your hearts and minds to be taught spiritually.1

Since January 2016, when I spoke to you in this worldwide devotional gathering, I have been with many of you as I have traveled to Japan, the Philippines, China, Canada, England, Wales, Germany, Italy, Spain, and locations throughout the United States.

Last September, I had an unforgettable experience with Elder M. Russell Ballard and other Church leaders when we went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to meet with people there after a disastrous flood. On Sunday, each of us held four large sacrament meetings—one for victims and three for volunteers who had come from many states to help with the cleanup. These photos give an idea of those Sabbath day congregations composed of hundreds wearing our trademark Mormon Helping Hands T-shirts.

Note the happy faces of young men and women who left their homes to help neighbors they did not know, amidst Louisiana’s sweltering summer heat, and who paused on the Sabbath to worship the Lord. As I looked at those marvelous congregations of willing workers, the majority of whom were your age, I had the overwhelming impression that I was looking at men and women who would very soon be the leaders of this Church.

So tonight, as I picture you assembled throughout the world, I would like to underscore and speak to that impression. You are the future leaders of the Lord’s Church! Are you ready to take the reins of leadership?

When I spoke to you a year ago, I challenged you to rise up as the true millennials you were born to be. You are to help prepare the world for the millennial reign of the Savior by helping to gather the elect from the four quarters of the earth, so that all who choose to do so may receive the gospel of Jesus Christ and all of its blessings. Tonight I want to speak to you about how you can prepare.

First, focus on your marriage and family. Implement the impressions you had as you heard “Aunt Wendy’s” four truths about love and marriage.

Your responsibility to the Lord to help gather the elect out of the moral chaos and the swirling preponderance of sin in our day is no small undertaking. Lucifer and his minions are using every form of technology and communication to spread lies about life and about the true source of happiness. Thus, to do what you came to earth to do will require the finest leadership skills your generation can muster.

Thankfully, we have superb models to follow. While the world may look to the considerable leadership abilities of men and women such as Napoleon, Joan of Arc, George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and others, I believe that the finest leaders to have walked the earth are the prophets of God.

To date, 16 men have been chosen by the Lord to be Presidents of His Church, restored in this dispensation—this culminating dispensation in the history of the earth. I have personally known 10 of those 16 men. (That says more about my age than anything else. Let’s just put it this way: I no longer buy green bananas.)

Now, if you are serious about rising up as a true millennial, I urge you to study the lives and teachings of these 16 prophets of God.2 That study will change your life. May I share a few leadership principles I have learned from them?

President Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of the Church, lived just a few houses away from my childhood home. His two youngest sons were my boyhood friends. They often invited me into their home.

President Smith was President of the Church in 1971, when I was called to be the General President of the Sunday School. When my late wife, Dantzel, and I accompanied him later that year to the first area conference, held in Manchester, England, I observed a powerful lesson in effective leadership as President Smith asked for reports from General Authorities who were gathered in a small room prior to the conference.

After all had spoken, rather than offering dictatorial direction, President Smith stood with presidential dignity, inviting them to draw upon the wisdom of his 94 years, while he expressed his love and sincere desire to help them. I marveled at the power of this leader in expressing love for and confidence in his people. After the area conference, when we complimented President Smith on his excellent message, he simply replied, “I did not come here to fail.”3

He had faith that the Lord would guide those proceedings as President Smith did everything in his power to further the work. Faith, prayer, study, and hard work make a winning combination. Just as President Smith didn’t go to England to fail, so our Father sent you to earth in this final dispensation not to fail but to succeed—and to find joy while doing so.

President Ezra Taft Benson had been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for only two years when, in December 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, President George Albert Smith called then-Elder Benson to preside over the European Mission. Conditions there were severe. In a 10-month mission of love to members whose lives had been upended by war, Elder Benson traveled throughout Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Scandinavia, distributing food, clothing, and bedding to suffering Saints.4 He repeatedly faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds. Yet he repeatedly demonstrated “undaunted faith in the power of the Lord to overcome obstacles.”5

Forty years later, in November 1985, President Benson, then newly ordained as President of the Church, assigned me as a junior member of the Twelve to open the doors of countries of Eastern Europe then under the yoke of communism.

I felt unprepared for such a challenging assignment, but President Benson had blazed into this wilderness before me. How could I not do as he had done? His example propelled me to pray and work as hard as I could and then watch the miraculous helping hand of the Lord.6

When any of us feel overwhelmed, we can learn much from President Benson. For eight years he served concurrently as an Apostle and as the secretary of agriculture in U. S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cabinet.

How did he manage? These are his words: “I work as hard as I can and do everything within my power. And I try to keep the commandments. Then I let the Lord make up the difference.”7 Those are words to live by.

President Gordon B. Hinckley was a dynamic leader whose tutoring in Church governance was unique. Prior to his serving as the 15th President of the Church, he had been a counselor to three previous Presidents. Upon returning from his mission as a young man to England, he worked for the Church in various capacities, always under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Repeatedly he was asked to solve significant challenges. For example, President David O. McKay assigned Brother Hinckley to determine how to commit the endowment ordinance to film so that translation needs could be met for the expanding Church.

President Hinckley was a communicator par excellence. He spoke confidently about the gospel with everyone from seasoned journalists to world leaders. I witnessed how he softened the heart of Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, who initially resisted an invitation to meet with President Hinckley in his office. Instead, Mr. Gorbachev wanted President Hinckley to come to Gorbachev’s hotel room. But when they met at Church headquarters, President Hinckley pointed out the beautiful Circassian walnut paneling in the First Presidency’s council room. When President Hinckley told Mr. Gorbachev where that wood was from, Mr. Gorbachev was amazed! That wood had come from the very region of his birthplace in Russia!8 His mood warmed immediately.

President Hinckley was unfailingly optimistic, an outgrowth of his complete faith in the Lord. During nearly 13 years as President, he led the Church through a remarkable period of innovation, including the design of smaller temples, the building of the Conference Center, the announcement of 79 new temples, and the dedication or rededication of 95 of the 124 temples then in operation. President Hinckley’s vision, and what he required of himself because of that vision, knew no bounds.

President Hinckley was an authority on Church history. He was also a seer. As such, he was fearless in proclaiming the future. Listen to his words: “This cause [of Christ] will roll on in majesty and power to fill the earth. Doors now closed to the preaching of the gospel will be opened. The Almighty, if necessary, may have to shake the nations to humble them and cause them to listen to the servants of the living God. Whatever is needed will come to pass.”9

Now President Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s living prophet on the earth. How we love him, sustain him, and pray for him! And how we have learned from him! Think of it. He was called to be a bishop at age 22. His ward included some 80 widows. He was called to be an Apostle at the tender age of 36. President Monson has lived his life according to the motto “If the Lord needs something done, I want Him to know that He can count on Tom Monson to do it.”10

He has shown us how to reach out and rescue the one. He has taught us by example that taking care of people is always more important than management of time, or meetings, or schedules.

Throughout his life, President Monson has often taken random routes home at the end of a long day’s work. Sometimes he stopped at a hospital to comfort those in distress. Other days he would be led to specific homes to visit. Often his unexpected knock on a door has been met with a tearful person saying things such as, “How did you know it was the anniversary of our daughter’s death?” or “How did you know it was my birthday today?”

Throughout his life, President Monson has consistently demonstrated two fundamental qualities that make prophets of God extraordinary leaders: First, he has exemplified the first and second great commandments—to love God with all our whole souls and to love our neighbors, God’s children, as we love ourselves. And second, each prophet knows how to receive revelation and respond to it quickly when it comes. President Thomas S. Monson is the embodiment of righteous leadership.

Prophets of God have many attributes in common. One is that each prophet understands the importance of divine law. The knowledge of divine law and effective, righteous leadership go hand in hand. The more of God’s laws you may know—and more importantly, the way you live them—the more effective your righteous leadership will be.

When I was a young medical student, my rigorous study of the human body convinced me that God lived. And as I came to know that the body was God’s creation, I became increasingly intrigued with the laws of God that govern the function of the body. Through extensive laboratory research, I later learned the law that governs the beating of the heart. Further, I learned that the beating heart could safely be stopped temporarily to facilitate delicate surgical repairs. This could be done by changing the sodium/potassium ratio in the blood supplied to the heart. Later, when the heart was nourished by blood with a normal sodium/potassium ratio, the heart would again beat normally. These findings proved to be predictable, dependable, and repeatable.

I recently had the opportunity to explain this to a medical school class. A learned professor who was present asked me, “But what if it doesn’t work?” I replied, “It always works! It works according to divine law.”

Divine law is incontrovertible and irrefutable. Divine law cannot be denied or disputed. And when God’s laws are obeyed, relevant blessings always result! Blessings are always predicated upon obedience to applicable law.11

Existentialists can expound; relativists can rationalize with their constricted views of reality—that truth is only a subjective experience—laws are laws! God’s truth is really true! What God says is right is right! And what He says is wrong is wrong!

That is why it is imperative that you know God’s laws. They control this universe and multitudes of others. When divine laws are broken, consequences follow. Even though our hearts ache for those who break God’s laws, penalties must be paid. Divine law must be obeyed.

I learned this as President Spencer W. Kimball’s surgeon. When the implanted pacemaker for his heart suddenly failed, President Kimball came back to me for help. But first he asked me to give him a priesthood blessing. After the blessing, which promised correction of his failed pacemaker, he then said to me, “Now you may do whatever you need to do to make that blessing a reality.”

I proceeded with the operation. On the wire that carried electricity from the pacemaker to his heart, I found a break in the insulation. When I replaced that faulty wire, the pacemaker immediately worked again, allowing President Kimball’s heart to beat normally. Not even for God’s prophet could the law relating to the transmission of electricity be ignored.

Indeed, President Kimball was God’s prophet. As I watched him closely through various illnesses and observed his intense and penetrating study as he sought revelation, he was my mentor. My love for him is boundless!

While the world is filled with uncertainty, there need not be uncertainty in your heart and mind about what is true and what is not. Uncertainty is born of imperfect or unknown information. As an Apostle, I plead with you to learn God’s irrevocable laws. Learn them by study and by faith. That means, among other things, “[living] by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.”12

Pray to discern between God’s laws and the philosophies of men, including those cunning counterfeits of the adversary. Through eons of time, Lucifer has honed his craft. He is skilled at distraction, distortion, deception, and misdirection. I plead with you to avoid his cunning snares as you would avoid a plague!

Entrapments designed by Satan can only bring to you misery, spiritual captivity, and death.13 This is true every time. The sad consequences of yielding to Lucifer’s lures are predictable, dependable, repeatable, and regrettable.

Conversely, I promise that as you keep God’s commandments, as you live by His laws, you will become increasingly free. This freedom will unveil to you your divine nature and allow you to prosper personally. You will be free from the bondage of sin. You will be free to be you—an effective, righteous leader. You will be prepared to lead by precept and by example wherever you are needed. Happily, the blessings of keeping God’s commandments are also predictable, dependable, and repeatable.

As members of His restored Church, we know that Jesus Christ, our Master, is our ultimate Mentor. As a true millennial, you were born to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. In fact, the only way to be a true millennial is to be one of His true disciples!

How can you increase in your discipleship? I have an invitation for you that will help—it’s an assignment, actually—if you choose to accept it. Commence tonight to consecrate a portion of your time each week to studying everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the Old Testament, for He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Study His laws as recorded in the New Testament, for He is its Christ. Study His doctrine as recorded in the Book of Mormon, for there is no book of scripture in which His mission and His ministry are more clearly revealed. And study His words as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, for He continues to teach His people in this dispensation.

This may seem like a large assignment, but I encourage you to accept it. If you proceed to learn all you can about Jesus Christ, I promise you that your love for Him, and for God’s laws, will grow beyond what you currently imagine. I promise you also that your ability to turn away from sin will increase. Your desire to keep the commandments will soar. You will find yourself better able to walk away from the entertainment and entanglements of those who mock the followers of Jesus Christ. To assist you, refer to the Topical Guide for references under the topic “Jesus Christ.”14

Study everything Jesus Christ is by prayerfully and vigorously seeking to understand what each of His various titles and names means personally for you. For example, He really is your Advocate with the Father. He will take your side. He will stand up for you. He will speak on your behalf, every time, as you choose to be more like Him.15

Get to know Him by studying all He continues to teach through His living prophets and apostles. Study “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Study “The Living Christ” document. These were both received by revelation. Post them online and where you can see them daily.

Those revealed words are what every true Latter-day Saint believes. Pray for a witness that those truths represent divine law. Learn to articulate those truths in your own words. Practice! Then pray and look for opportunities to speak about what you believe. Your ability to lead and to have righteous influence will increase as you do so.

In a coming day, you will present yourself before the Savior. You will be overwhelmed to the point of tears to be in His holy presence. You will struggle to find words to thank Him for paying for your sins, for forgiving you of any unkindness toward others, for healing you from the injuries and injustices of this life.

You will thank Him for strengthening you to do the impossible, for turning your weaknesses into strengths, and for making it possible for you to live with Him and your family forever. His identity, His Atonement, and His attributes will become personal and real to you.

But you don’t have to wait until then. Choose to be one of His true disciples now. Be one who truly loves Him, who truly wants to serve and lead as He did.16

We are His people! We are under covenant to carry the message of the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. As we work intentionally to become righteous leaders, we may sing with one heart, “Let us all press on in the work of the Lord.”17

Now, as one of His Apostles, I invoke those keys to leave a blessing upon each of you. I bless you to learn God’s laws and live by them. I bless you to be a good example, in word and deed, of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I bless you to be free from sin, to radiate goodness and light in a way that will attract others to want to know and feel the source of your light. I bless you with success in your educational and occupational endeavors. I bless you to seek for and care for your virtuous companion. And I bless you each to be a righteous leader in your family, community, country, and in the Church.

I so bless you, and declare that God lives! Jesus is the Christ! This is His Church! I so testify in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

© 2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 10/16. “Prophets, Leadership, and Divine Law.” English. PD60002798 000

Show References



    1. See Acts 17:11; Alma 32:6.


    2. See The Gospel Library app also has a multitude of resources to help you in your study.


    3. See Spencer J. Condie, Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle (2003), 165.


    4. See Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (1987), 197–227.


    5. Harold B. Lee letter to Ezra Taft Benson, in Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 224.


    6. See 2 Nephi 27:20–21.


    7. Ezra Taft Benson, in Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, viii.


    8. See Condie, Russell M. Nelson, 279.


    9. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Look to the Future,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 68.


    10. Personal conversation with President Thomas S. Monson.


    11. See Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21.


    12. Doctrine and Covenants 84:44.


    13. See 2 Nephi 2:27.


    14. See the Topical Guide, “Jesus Christ.” In addition to the text under that major heading, there are 57 subtitles about Him. For non-English language editions of the scriptures, use the Guide to the Scriptures. Let this resource become your personal core curriculum.


    15. See 3 Nephi 27:27.


    16. Abinadi warned his unrighteous captors: “Ye have not applied your hearts to understanding” (Mosiah 12:27). You may observe that same trait among dissidents of your generation.


    17. “Let Us All Press On,” Hymns, no. 243.