SALT LAKE CITY — The best days are ahead for the LDS Church though opposition is expected to grow, said the presiding leader present at the faith's international general conference on Sunday morning.
President Thomas S. Monson, 90, the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, watched the session from home, as expected, because of limitations related to age. Speakers prayed for him and for Elder Robert D. Hales, 85, of the Quorum of the Twelve, who is hospitalized.
The 20,000 attending the session stood, as they have all weekend, to honor the other two members of the First Presidency as they entered the Conference Center across from Temple Square on the final day of the 187th Semiannual General Conference.
"The best days are ahead for the kingdom of God on the earth," said President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency. "Opposition will strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ, as it has since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Faith always defeats fear. Standing together produces unity. And your prayers for those in need are heard and answered by a loving God. He neither slumbers nor does He sleep."
Other leaders said Sabbath and temple experiences should be spiritual catalysts that imbue Mormon homes with reminders of Christ, the source of healing and peace.
President Eyring said his optimism was renewed as he followed President Monson's counsel. He has been reading the Book of Mormon daily for 50 years but decided to obey President Monson's call, made during his last talk at a worldwide conference in April, to make a greater effort to ponder, study and apply the Book of Mormon's teachings.
"The happy result for me, and for many of you, has been what the prophet promised," President Eyring said. "Those of us who took his inspired counsel to heart have heard the Spirit more distinctly. We have found a greater power to resist temptation, and have felt greater faith in a resurrected Jesus Christ, in his gospel, and in his living Church. In a season of increasing tumult in the world, those increases in testimony have driven out doubt and fear and have brought us feelings of peace."
But heeding President Monson’s counsel produced two other effects on President Eyring.
"First, the Spirit he promised has produced a sense of optimism about what lies ahead, even as the commotion in the world seems to increas," he said. "And, second, the Lord has given me — and you — an even greater feeling of his love for those in distress. We have felt an increase in the desire to go to the rescue of others. That desire has been at the heart of President Monson’s ministry and teaching."
President Eyring said he'd seen that desire in action as he visited Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and Florida after Hurricane Irma.
When Latter-day Saints have no doubt Christ watches over them, they become fearless, he said.
"They ignore their own trials to go to the relief of others. ... That desire to bless is the fruit of people gaining a testimony of Jesus Christ, his gospel, his restored church, and his prophet.
He said President Monson had provided the church the "the way to optimism as we go forward," which "is to ponder and apply the Book of Mormon and the words of prophets. Pray always. Be believing. Serve the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. ... And above all, we are to be consistent and persistent in following prophetic counsel."
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Heavenly Father's plan of happiness defines his children's eternal identity and the pathway they must follow to learn, change, grow, and ultimately dwell with him eternally.
"Eternal life is the ultimate exceeding great and precious promise," he said.
The Sabbath and the temple are sources of help to rise above life's daily diversions and worldly corruption, Elder Bednar said.
The Sabbath is a sacred time and the temple a sacred space "set apart for worshipping God and for receiving and remembering His great and precious promises," he said, adding that "a temple is literally is the house of the Lord, a sacred space specifically set apart for worshipping God and for receiving and remembering His great and precious promises."
The purpose of the Sabbath and the temple are exactly alike, he said: "to powerfully and repeatedly focus our attention upon our Heavenly Father, his Only Begotten Son, the Holy Ghost and the promises associated with the ordinances and covenants of the Savior’s restored gospel."
Elder Bednar said the Sabbath and temple are insufficient. The spirit and strength derived from Sunday meetings and the temple must be brought home to sustain focus on the plan of happiness.
The homes of believers then can become, he said, "the ultimate combination of time and space wherein individuals and families remember most effectively God’s great and precious promises. ... What we do in our homes with His sacred time and with what we learn in His sacred space is pivotal to becoming partakers of the divine nature."
Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, spoke first on Sunday morning, and delivered a sermon on Jesus Christ as the source of all healing, peace and eternal progress.
She said news of recent disasters that displaced millions and disrupted the lives of tens of millions raised questions about where to find joy an peace.
"Lasting joy is found in focusing on our Savior, Jesus Christ, and living the gospel as demonstrated and taught by him," she taught. "The more we learn about, have faith in and emulate Jesus Christ, the more we come to understand that he is the source of all healing, peace and eternal progress."
Sister Bingham said Christ is the source of both healing and peace and counseled listeners to come to know Christ through study, faith and effort to become more like him.
No matter what challenges arise, she said, "whether they are personal struggles, family troubles or community crises, peace will come as we trust that God’s Only Begotten Son has power to soothe our aching souls."
Sister Bingham encouraged church members to build their testimonies on the bedrock foundation of Christ and his gospel.
"I testify that as you center your life on Jesus Christ, you will find joy in your circumstances, whatever they may be," she said.
The day of miracles has not ceased, said Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Quorum of the Seventy, though he acknowledged that none can understand why divine intervention sometimes appears and other times does not. He suggested there is a lack of understanding about what constitutes a miracle.
"Today, I testify of miracles," he said. "Being a child of God is a miracle. Receiving a body in his image and likeness is a miracle. The gift of a Savior is a miracle. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is a miracle. The potential for eternal life is a miracle.
"While it is good to pray for and work for physical protection and healing during our mortal existence, our supreme focus should be on the spiritual miracles that are available to all of God’s children. No matter our ethnicity, no matter our nationality, no matter what we have done if we repent, no matter what may have been done to us — all of us have equal access to these miracles. We are living a miracle, and further miracles lie ahead."
Bishop W. Christopher Waddell, second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, said scriptural examples show that turning to the Lord, and not from the Lord, provides peace and healing.
No one can control all that happens to them, he said, "but we have absolute control over how we respond to the changes in our lives."
"Hope and peace are always available through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ," Bishop Waddell added. "The atonement of Jesus Christ provides the ultimate corrective and healing measures to every wounded body, damaged spirit and broken heart."
Elder W. Craig Zwick of the Seventy encouraged listeners to follow counsel from the Lion King to "look beyond what you can see." The Lord can widen their view to better understand themselves, others and their spiritual goals.
"To accept and love others does not mean we must embrace their ideas," he said. "Obviously, truth mandates our highest allegiance, though it should never be a barrier to kindness. Truly loving others requires the ongoing practice of accepting the best efforts of people whose life experiences and limitations we may never fully know. Looking beyond what we can see requires conscious focus on the Savior."
Elder Zwick also said the Lord provides spiritual alarms to warn his children when they are looking with mortal eyes away from salvation.
"When we pay attention to spiritual 'alarms' that signal a need for course correction or larger eternal perspective, we are receiving the sacramental promise to have His Spirit to be with us," he said.