Self-critical members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may hinder their progress by judging themselves unworthy of many blessings and opportunities in the church, Elder Marvin J. Ashton said in the Saturday afternoon session of the church's 159th General Conference.
He warned church members not to block their own progress by summarily declaring themselves unworthy of certain privileges. Those who believe they may have problems with worthiness should seek the counsel of their bishops and stake presidents in making that determination and work with their leaders to begin the process of becoming worthy, he said."We are not being fair when we judge ourselves," he told the congregation in the crowded Tabernacle on Temple Square. "A second and third opinion will always be helpful and proper."
People have a natural tendency to compare themselves with others, Elder Ashton said. Unfortunately when we make these comparisons, we tend to compare our weakest attributes with someone else's strongest.
"Perhaps we all live under some misconceptions when we look at each other on Sundays as we attend our meetings," Elder Ashton said. "Everyone is neatly dressed and greets each other with a smile. It is natural to assume that everyone else has his life under control and doesn't have to deal with dark little weaknesses and imperfections."
Comparing our weaknesses to others' strengths is destructive, reinforcing the fear that somehow we don't measure up and, therefore, are not as worthy as the next person, Elder Ashton warned.
"I feel that one of the great myths we would do well to dispel is that we've come to Earth to perfect ourselves and nothing short of that will do. If I understand the teachings of the prophets of this dispensation correctly, we will not become perfect in this life, though we can make significant strides toward that goal."
Elder Ashton quoted late LDS Church President Joseph Fielding Smith as saying it will take us ages to achieve perfection.
"I am also convinced of the fact that the speed with which we head along the straight and narrow path isn't as important as the direction in which we are traveling," Elder Ashton said.
He reminded church members that each person has great worth in the eyes of God. He quoted George Q. Cannon, a counselor to Brigham Young: "There is not one of us but what God's love has been expended upon. There is not one of us that he has not cared for and caressed. There is not one of us that he has not desired to save and that he has not devised means to save. There is not one of us he has not given angels charge concerning. We may be insignificant and contemptible in our own eyes and in the eyes of others. But the truth remains that we are children of God. And that he has actually given his angels . . . charge concerning us. And they watch over us and have us in their keeping."
"If we are in the keeping of angels, God is certainly telling us that we are worthy to be watched over, helped and directed by him," Elder Ashton said.
Church members must strive for worthiness. Going to a bishop or stake president for help in determining our worthiness is a wonderful strength and a needful process, Elder Ashton said. He admonished church leaders to conduct proper interviews, always remembering that their main purpose is to save souls.
"Sometimes there is a great need for us to be chastised, disciplined and corrected in a spirit of love, help and hope," he said. All privileges have requirements. The church is no exception, he said.
"But in every case, there is help to meet those requirements. . . . It is not wise or proper for us to judge ourselves as being unworthy and thus stop our forward progress."
He encouraged each member to learn the process of becoming worthy and no longer put limitations on himself in determining his worthiness.
-LDS Church members need the influence of the Holy Ghost in their lives today more than ever before, Elder James E. Faust said.
"We need a sure compass because many of the standards, values, vows and obligations which have helped us preserve our spirituality, our honor, our integrity, worth and decency have little by little been assaulted and discarded," he said. The standards of chastity, parental respect, the vows of marriage and the obligations to God are among several values that have been weakened and destroyed by modern society, he said.
Elder Faust said he particularly wanted to alert young people of the special, transcendent gift of the Holy Ghost, which is available to all.
"The comforting Spirit of the Holy Ghost can abide with us 24 hours a day: when we work, when we play, when we rest. Its strengthening influence can be with us year in and year out. That sustaining influence can be with us in joy and sorrow, when we rejoice as well as when we grieve."
It is the greatest guarantor of inward peace in an unstable world. "It will calm nerves; it will breathe peace to our souls. . . . It can function as a source of revelation to warn us of impending danger and also help keep us from making mistakes. . . . It is a way of maximizing our happiness."
True saints are temples of the Holy Ghost, Elder Faust said, quoting the Apostle Paul. The Holy Ghost helps us solve crises of faith, serving as a confirming witness that testifies of heavenly things.
"Through that Spirit, a strong knowledge distills in one's mind and one feels all doubt or questions disappear."
Faust also talked about the Holy Spirit of Promise, which is the sealing power of the Holy Ghost. When a temple marriage is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, great blessings can flow to the sealed couple, he said.
"Such marriages become rich, whole and sacred. Though each party to the marriage can maintain his or her separate identity, yet together in their covenants they can be like two vines, wound inseparably around each other."
-Elder Dallin H. Oaks counseled church members to use the spirit of the Holy Ghost and counsel from church leaders in deciding to which voices of the world to listen.
Elder Oaks cautioned church members about "alternate voices," voices that speak of God, his commandments and the ordinances and practices of his church without the calling or authority to do so.
Some of these voices are unselfish and wholesome, desiring only to further the cause of Zion. But others pursue selfish interests, such as property, pride, prominence and power.
"Some alternate voices are of those whose avowed or secret object is to deceive and devour the flock," he said.
Alternate voices are heard in magazines, journals, newspapers, lectures, symposiums and conferences.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not attempt to isolate its members from alternate voices," Elder Oaks said. But members of the church should be on guard against being misled by such voices.
Local church leaders should review the content of classes and worship services. While members are free to participate or listen to any alternate voices they choose, church leaders should avoid official involvement with such voices.
Elder Oaks encouraged members to let the Holy Ghost influence them as they seek learning and decide which voices they listen to. "A seeker of truth about God must rely on revelation," he said.
He urged members to avoid debate or adversative discussion in their search for gospel knowledge. Such methods are not effective in the gospel arena.
"Gospel truths and testimony are received from the Holy Ghost through reverent personal study and quiet contemplation. . . . In the acquisition of sacred knowledge, scholarship and reason are not alternatives to revelation. They are means to an end, and the end is revelation from God."
Adversity is part of the plan of salvation and mortal experience we each accepted in our premortal state, Elder Ronald E. Poelman said.
It is part of life designed to expose us to opposites, choices and consequences and prepare us to return to the presence of God.
"Experiencing adversity is an essential part of the process. Knowing this, we elected to come into mortality," he said.
Elder Poelman outlined the blessings that can come from adversity, directing his remarks particularly to those who are suffering adversity through no fault of their own.
"The Savior, himself, `learned . . . obedience by the things which he suffered.' Prophets and apostles, ancient and modern, have struggled with adversity in their own lives as well as with trials associated with their divine callings. No one is exempt," he said.
Adversity can be a source of blessings. The Lord has promised his people that all things will work together for their good if they love God, Elder Poelman said. He reminded members that Lehi assured his son Jacob that the Lord would consecrate all of Jacob's sorrows and afflictions for his gain.
Those suffering adversity should look to the Savior for assistance. Elder Poelman recommended frequent, earnest prayer accompanied by daily scripture study. He also counseled people suffering adversity to develop patience and seek to serve others.
Adversity brings us closer to God. "Spiritual refinement may be realized in the furnace of affliction. Thereby we may be prepared to experience personal and direct contact with God."
-Bishop Glenn L. Pace, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, cautioned church members against "inappropriate intellectualism" that can damage their testimonies and cause them to criticize church leaders.
The most lethal criticism of the LDS Church comes not from non-members or former members but from those within the church, he said. Inappropriate intellectualism - seeking to nail down every intellectual loose end rather than relying on the witness of the Spirit - can lead to criticism of the church.
"Inappropriate intellectualism sometimes leads one to testify that he knows the gospel is true but the brethren are just a little out of touch," he said. "Out of touch with what? Don't confuse a decision to abstain from participating in a trend as lack of awareness of its existence. These brethren `prove all things' and `hold fast that which is good.' To accomplish this, they are in constant touch with he who created this Earth and knows the world from beginning to end."
Elder Pace noted that some church members practice selective obedience. "A prophet is not one who displays a smorgasbord of truth from which we are free to pick and choose," he said. "However, some members become critical and suggest the prophet should change the menu. A prophet doesn't take a poll to see which way the wind of public opinion is blowing. He reveals the will of the Lord to us."
Church members "need to accept the full truth, even all of it, `put on the whole armor of God' and get to work building up the kingdom," Bishop Pace said.
We should follow our present prophet as closely as we followed past prophets. "We might ask ourselves, `What am I doing for President Ezra Taft Benson?' " he said.