SALT LAKE CITY — Daily discipleship provides real fortification against contemporary challenges, LDS leaders said throughout Sunday's final sessions of the church's international general conference.
Everyone can use simple acts of faith, they said, to find solutions to complicated problems, enjoy peace amid heartache and inoculate themselves and their children in a world where integrity is vanishing.
President Thomas S. Monson began the last day of the 187th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by announcing five new temples on four continents. (See accompanying story.) Then the church's president said he could not overstate the importance of daily scripture study in a world where great trouble, wickedness, sin and evil are prevalent.
"I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day," President Monson said during the morning session. "As we do so, we will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit, to resist temptation, to overcome doubt and fear and to receive heaven's help in our lives."
President Monson did not attend the final session in the afternoon. A spokesman said the 89-year-old leader was weary but well. His theme of the power of daily devotion persisted, resurfacing in a number of messages.
Some may find it hard to connect basic daily acts of obedience to solutions to their big, complicated problems, but they are related, said Elder Whitney L. Clayton, senior president in the Presidency of the Seventy.
"In my experience, getting the little daily habits of faith right is the single best way to fortify ourselves against the troubles of life, whatever they may be," he added. "Small acts of faith, even when they seem insignificant or entirely disconnected from the specific problems that vex us, bless us in all we do."
Foundations of faith
In fact, repetition and consistent effort is critical to develop spiritual capacity, said the conference's concluding speaker.
The way to build a personal foundation of faith is layer by layer — one experience, challenge, setback and success at a time, said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He referred to the 10,000-hour rule popularized by author Malcolm Gladwell.
"For enduring faith and to have the constant companionship of the Spirit, there is no substitute for the individual religious observance that is comparable to physical and mental development," Elder Cook said. "We should build on these experiences which sometimes resemble initial baby steps."
Mormon parents, grandparents, family members, teachers and leaders should help children build personal foundations of faith to inoculate them and help them to become "sin-resistant," said Sister Joy D. Jones, general president of the Primary, the organization for the church's 1.1 million children.
She encouraged adults not to underestimate the ability of children to grasp the concept of daily discipleship and to begin early to infuse basic gospel doctrines from scriptures, the Articles of Faith, Primary songs, hymns, testimonies and the "For the Strength of Youth" booklet.
"In today's world, where integrity has all but disappeared, our children deserve to understand what true integrity is and why it is important," Sister Jones said, "especially as we prepare to make and keep sacred covenants at baptism and in the temple."
Integrity is built on a succession of small, successfully kept promises, she said. "Out of the well of integrity springs an empowered, sin-resistant generation."
Adults and children need to understand the doctrine of repentance.
"Being sin-resistant doesn't mean being sinless," Sister Jones said, "but it does imply being continually repentant, vigilant and valiant. Perhaps being sin-resistant comes as a blessing from repeatedly resisting sin."
Adults should teach children that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ seek their happiness and plead with all to repent, said Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve, who pointed out that for parents, their closest "neighbors are their children.
"A crucial element of the parental duty to warn is not only to paint the demoralizing consequences of sin but also the joy of walking obedience to the commandments," he said.
Elder Christofferson defended the uncompromising gospel of Jesus Christ.
"Sometimes those who raise a warning voice are dismissed as judgmental," he said. "Paradoxically, however, those who claim truth is relative and moral standards are a matter of personal preference are often the same ones who most harshly criticize people that don't accept the current norm of 'correct thinking.'"
He quoted New York Times columnist David Brooks, who a year ago described the development of a "shame culture" in the United States. In that culture, Brooks wrote, "You know you are good or bad by what your community says about you. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd."
Elder Christofferson contrasted that culture to "the rock of our Redeemer, a stable and permanent foundation of justice and virtue."
Mormons need not fear, said President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency. In fact, despite the turmoil he said is evident today, "I wouldn't trade living in this time with any other time in the history of the world."
"Fear rarely has the power to change our hearts," he added, "and it will never transform us into the people who love what is right and who want to obey Heavenly Father."
Latter-day Saints understand the gospel of Jesus Christ shows the way to avoid the world's dangers or deal with them and should guard against fear, he continued.
"Rather than dwelling on the immensity of our challenges, would it not be better to focus on the infinite greatness, goodness, absolute power of God, trusting him and preparing with a joyful heart for the return of Jesus Christ?"
Rely on Godhead
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught the LDS doctrine of the Godhead, three separate and distinct personages. Understanding that God is the father of all, that he sent his Son to save his children from death by resurrection and from sin by his Atonement directly helps believers with contemporary challenges.
Their responsibility is to do more than believe, he said.
"We must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the plan of salvation and the gospel of Jesus Christ challenge us to become something."
"Our Father in heaven knew that in mortality we would face challenges, tribulation and turmoil," Elder Rasband said. "He knew we would wrestle with questions, disappointments, temptations and weaknesses. To give us mortal strength and divine guidance, he provided the Holy Spirit, another name for the Holy Ghost."
The Holy Ghost's assignment is to inspire, testify, teach, warn, comfort and prompt, the two apostles said. Latter-day Saints can receive more Spirit-driven insight and direction if they take the responsibility to live worthy, recognize his influence and respond to the first prompting. Elder Rasband called on Mormons to be first responders.
"If we let the Lord know in our morning prayers that we are ready, he will call on us to respond. If we respond, he will call on us time and time again and we will find ourselves on what President Monson calls 'the Lord's errand.' We will be spiritual first responders bringing help from on high."
Mormons enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost bestowed after baptism. "It is vital to our physical and spiritual safety that we keep the gift of the Holy Ghost," Elder Stevenson said. "Stay close to the Spirit, and the Spirit will stay close to you."
Daily devotion is again the key — striving to keep the commandments, individual and family prayer, scripture reading, church and temple attendance, and seeking loving and forgiving relationships with family and loved ones.
When faithful people live in harmony with the Spirit, God can fill them with joy, including an eternal perspective in contrast to day-to-day living. "That joy comes as peace amidst hardship or heartache," Elder Rasband said.
But, he warned, "If we are casual or complacent in our worship, drawn off and desensitized by worldly pursuits, we find ourselves diminished in our ability to feel."
A total of 36 speakers delivered messages to 120,000 people in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City during the six sessions of conference over two weekends. Millions more watched and listened to broadcasts. Viewers noticed that English subtitles no longer appeared for hymns. The change was made because the conference is viewed live in 90 languages over the same video feed.
The conference began March 25 with four talks at the general women's session. It resumed Saturday, when church leaders urged Mormons to develop charity, to be inclusive and to guard against hate and bigotry.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang multiple songs for both sessions Sunday. All musical numbers are available for free download on lds.org. Sister Neill F. Marriott, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, gave the opening prayer in the first session. Other prayers were spoken by Elder Richard J. Maynes of the Presidency of the Seventy and two general authority Seventies, Elder Eduardo Gavarret and Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis.
Visit the Deseret News LDS General Conference page for more conference coverage, including summaries of each talk.