Priesthood Profiles
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“Priesthood Profiles,” New Era, June 1987, 4

The Message:

Priesthood Profiles

Those who bear the priesthood of God truly are a royal priesthood—even a chosen generation, as the Apostle Peter declared (see 1 Pet. 2:9).

The priesthood you hold, counseled President Joseph F. Smith, “is nothing more nor less than the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family, … and act legitimately; not assuming that authority, not borrowing it from generations that are dead and gone, but authority that has been given in this day in which we live by ministering angels and spirits from above, direct from the presence of Almighty God, who have come to the earth in our day and restored the Priesthood to the children of men” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1904, p. 5).

Whether you are the most recently ordained deacon or the eldest high priest, the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith by John the Baptist, and the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood to Joseph and Oliver by Peter, James and John, are sacred and treasured events.

I hope each deacon is given a spiritual awareness of the sacredness of his ordained calling, as I was. This occurred when the bishopric asked that I take the sacrament to a shut-in who lived about a mile from our chapel. That special Sunday morning, as I knocked on the door of Brother Wright and heard his feeble reply, “Come in,” I entered not only his humble cottage but also a room filled with the Spirit of the Lord. I approached his bedside and carefully placed a piece of bread to his lips. I then held the cup of water, that he might drink. As I departed, I saw him smile as he said, “God bless you, my boy.” And God did bless me with an appreciation for the sacred emblems, which continues even today.

No deacon, teacher, or priest in our ward will ever forget the memorable visit at this season of the year to the grave of Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. As we surrounded the granite shaft and had read to us those penetrating words from the testimony of the Three Witnesses, we developed a love for this sacred record. Our objective was to qualify, as did the sons of Mosiah, as “missionaries.” Of them it was said: “They had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:2–3).

As I approached my 18th birthday and prepared to enter military service in World War II, I was recommended to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. Mine was the task to telephone President Paul C. Child, my stake president, for an interview. He was one who loved and understood the holy scriptures. It was his intent that all others should similarly love and understand them. Since I knew from others of his rather detailed and searching interviews, our telephone conversation went something like this:

“Hello, President Child. This is Brother Monson. I have been asked by the bishop to visit with you relative to being ordained an elder.”

“Fine, Brother Monson. When can you see me?”

Knowing that his sacrament meeting was at six o’clock, and desiring minimum exposure of my scriptural knowledge to his review, I suggested, “How would five o’clock be?”

His response: “Oh, Brother Monson, that would not provide us sufficient time to peruse the scriptures. Could you please come at two o’clock, and bring with you your personally marked and referenced set of scriptures.”

Sunday finally arrived, and I visited President Child’s home on Indiana Avenue. I was greeted warmly, and then the interview began. He said, “Brother Monson, you hold the Aaronic Priesthood. Have you ever had angels minister to you?”

My reply was, “No, President Child.”

“Do you know,” said he, “that you are entitled to such?”

Again came my response, “No.”

Then he instructed, “Brother Monson, repeat from memory the 13th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.”

I began, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels …

“Stop,” President Child directed. Then in a calm, kindly tone he counseled, “Brother Monson, never forget that as a holder of the Aaronic Priesthood you are entitled to the ministering of angels.”

It was almost as though an angel were in the room that day. I have never forgotten the interview. I yet feel the spirit of that solemn occasion. I revere the priesthood of Almighty God. I have witnessed its power. I have seen its strength. I have marveled at the miracles it has wrought.

When I departed for active duty with the navy, a member of my ward bishopric was at the train station to bid me farewell. Just before train time, he placed in my hand a book titled Missionary Handbook. I laughed and commented, “I’m not going on a mission.” He answered, “Take it anyway. It may come in handy.”

It did. During basic training our company commander instructed us concerning how we might best pack our clothing in a large sea bag. He advised, “If you have a hard, rectangular object you can place in the bottom of the bag, your clothes will stay more firm.” I suddenly remembered just the right rectangular object—the Missionary Handbook. Thus it served for 12 weeks.

The night preceding our Christmas leave our thoughts were, as always, on home. The barracks were quiet. Suddenly I became aware that my buddy in the adjoining bunk—a Mormon boy, Leland Merrill—was moaning with pain. I asked, “What’s the matter, Merrill?”

He replied, “I’m sick. I’m really sick.”

I advised him to go to the base dispensary, but he answered knowingly that such a course would prevent him from being home for Christmas.

The hours lengthened; his groans grew louder. Then, in desperation, he whispered, “Monson, Monson, aren’t you an elder?” I acknowledged this to be so, whereupon he said, “Give me a blessing.”

I became very much aware that I had never given a blessing. I had never received such a blessing, and I had never witnessed a blessing being given. My prayer to God was a plea for help. The answer came: “Look in the bottom of the sea bag.” Thus, at 2:00 A.M. I emptied on the deck the contents of the bag. I then took to the night light that hard, rectangular object, the Missionary Handbook, and read how one blesses the sick. With about 120 curious sailors looking on, I proceeded with the blessing. Before I could stow my gear, Leland Merrill was sleeping like a child.

The next morning Merrill smilingly turned to me and said, “Monson, I’m glad you hold the priesthood.” His gladness was only surpassed by my gratitude.

The priesthood represents a mighty army of righteousness—even a royal army. We are led by a prophet of God. In supreme command is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our marching orders are clear. They are concise. Matthew describes our challenge in these words from the Master: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19–20). Did those early disciples listen to this divine command? Mark records, “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them” (Mark 16:20).

The command to go has not been rescinded. Rather, it has been reemphasized. What a thrilling and challenging time in which to live!

You who hold the Aaronic Priesthood and honor it have been reserved for this special period in history. The harvest truly is great. Let there be no mistake about it; the missionary opportunity of a lifetime is theirs. The blessings of eternity await them. How might they best respond? May I suggest a formula that will insure their success as missionaries:

1. Prepare with purpose!

2. Teach with testimony!

3. Labor with love!

Let us consider each of the three parts of this formula.

1. Prepare with Purpose

Remember the qualifying statement of the Master: “Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:34). A Latter-day minister advised: “Until willingness overflows obligation, men fight as conscripts rather than following the flag as patriots. Duty is never worthily performed until it is performed by one who would gladly do more if only he could” (Harry Emerson Fosdick).

Preparation for a mission is not a spur-of-the-moment matter. It began before we can remember. Every class in Primary, Sunday School, seminary—each priesthood assignment—has had a larger application. Silently, almost imperceptibly, a life is molded, a career commences, a man is made.

Missionary work is difficult. It taxes one’s energies. It strains one’s capacity. It demands one’s best effort—frequently a second effort. At best it necessitates drastic adjustments to one’s pattern of living. No other labor requires longer hours or greater devotion, nor such sacrifice and fervent prayer. As a result, dedicated missionary service returns a dividend of eternal joy that extends throughout life and into eternity. Remember, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong” (Eccl. 9:11), but to him who endures to the end.

Are you willing to work? Are you prepared to serve? Mediocrity is not in fashion. Excellence is the order of the day.

President John Taylor summed up the requirements: “The kind of men we want as bearers of this Gospel message are men who have faith in God; men who have faith in their religion; men who honor their Priesthood; men in whom the people who know them have faith and in whom God has confidence. … we want men full of the Holy Ghost and the power of God. … Men who bear the words of life among the nations, ought to be men of honor, integrity, virtue and purity; and this being the command of God to us, we shall try and carry it out” (Journal of Discourses, 21:375).

2. Teach with Testimony

I shall ever remember the bewilderment of one boy from down on the farm when he first gazed at the skyscrapers in Toronto. He inquired of me: “President, how many people in this here town?” I answered: “Oh, about a million and a half,” to which he responded, “Goll-ee! There are only 80 in my home town.”

That evening at our traditional get-acquainted testimony meeting, some of the veteran missionaries expressed themselves regarding the difficulty of the work. “Doors will slam in your face, abusive language will be hurled toward you, you’ll get discouraged and downhearted, but when it’s all over you will say, ‘These have been the happiest two years of my life.’” My missionary from the small town was more hesitant than ever as he spoke falteringly: “I’ll be glad when the happiest two years of my life are over.”

This young missionary was short in stature but tall in testimony. Together with his companion, he soon called at the home of Elmer Pollard in Oshawa, Canada. Feeling sorry for the young men who, during a blinding blizzard were going house to house, Mr. Pollard invited the missionaries into his home. They presented to him their message. He did not catch the Spirit. In due time he asked that they leave and not return. His last words to the elders as they departed his front porch were spoken in derision: “You can’t tell me you actually believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God!”

The door was shut. The elders walked down the path. Our country boy spoke to his companion: “Elder, we didn’t answer Mr. Pollard’s question. He said we didn’t believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet. Let’s return and bear our testimonies to him.”

At first the more experienced missionary hesitated, but finally he agreed to accompany his “green” companion. Fear struck their hearts as they approached the door from which they had been turned away. A knock, the confrontation with Mr. Pollard, an agonizing moment, then with power, a testimony born by the Spirit: “Mr. Pollard, you said we didn’t really believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Mr. Pollard, I testify that Joseph was a prophet; he did translate the Book of Mormon; he saw God the Father and Jesus the Son. I know it.”

Mr. Pollard, now Brother Pollard, stood in a priesthood meeting some time later and declared: “That night I could not sleep. Resounding in my ears I heard the words: ‘Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know it. I know it.’ The next day I telephoned the missionaries. Their message, coupled with their testimonies, changed my life and the lives of my family.”

3. Labor with Love

There is no substitute for love. Successful missionaries love their companions, their mission leaders, and the precious persons whom they teach. Often this love is kindled in youth by a mother, expanded by a father, and kept vibrant through service to God.

In the fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord established the qualifications for the labors of the ministry. Let us consider a few verses:

“O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. …

“And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work” (D&C 4:2, 5).

Well might each of us ask himself: Today, have I increased in faith, in hope, in charity, in love?

When our lives comply with God’s own standard, those within our sphere of influence will never speak the lament: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (Jer. 8:20).

Through our dedicated devotion at home and abroad, those souls whom we help to save may well be those whom we love the most.

Several years ago, while touring the California Mission, I interviewed a missionary who appeared rather dejected and downcast. I asked him if he had been sending a letter home to his parents each week. He replied: “Yes, Brother Monson, each week for the last five months.”

I responded: “And do you enjoy the letters you receive from home?”

Came his unexpected answer: “I haven’t had a letter from home since I came on my mission. You see, my dad is inactive and mother is a nonmember. She didn’t favor my accepting a mission call and said that if I went into the mission field she would never write nor send a dime.” With a half smile which didn’t really disguise the heartache, he said, “And she kept her word. What can I do, Brother Monson?”

I prayed for inspiration. The answer came. “Keep writing, son, every week. Bear your testimony to mother and to dad. Let them know you love them. Tell them how much the gospel means to you. And serve the Lord with all your heart.”

Six months later when I attended a stake conference in that area, this same elder came up to me and asked: “Do you remember me? I’m the missionary whose parents didn’t write.” I remembered only too well and cautiously asked if he had received a letter from home. He reached into his pocket and held out to my view a large handful of envelopes. With tears streaming down his cheeks he declared proudly, “Not one letter, Brother Monson, but a letter every week. Listen to the latest one: ‘Son, we so much appreciate the work you are doing. Since you left for your mission our lives have changed. Dad attends priesthood meeting and will soon be an elder. I have been meeting with the missionaries and next month will be baptized by your father. Let’s make an appointment to all be together in the Los Angeles Temple one year from now as you conclude your mission. Sincerely, Mother.’”

Love had won its victory.

Future missionaries, may our Heavenly Father help you to prepare with purpose, teach with testimony, and labor with love, that you and all who comprise this royal army of the Lord may merit His promise: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88).

Photography by Steve Bunderson