What is General Conference?
By Kathy Penrod
Imagine for a moment that you have the opportunity to listen to Jesus Christ speak to you. Perhaps it would be in a setting much like when Jesus Christ gave the Sermon on the Mount (video here). Perhaps you imagine that the Savior is in a small room with a small number of followers – much like when He visited the apostles after His resurrection. Or, maybe you imagine the Prince of Peace is speaking directly to you – saying exactly what you need to hear.
The scriptures teach us that the Lord God will do nothing save it be through the voice of His servants (Amos 3:7). Modern day scripture also teaches that whether by my voice or the voice of my prophets, it is the same (D&C 1:38). We know from the scriptures that God works miracles through His prophets (Exodus 14:21 – just one example)
So, it is safe to say that Jesus Christ, with our Heavenly Father’s direction, guides His church through prophets on earth today. They speak for Him!
One of the most distinguishing traits of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we have living prophets and apostles today, much like in the days of old. They speak to us – conveying the messages the Savior would give us if He were here in person. And, because they are on His errand, if often feels as though they are speaking directly to a single person’s heart.
In the Old Testament there was a king called Naaman. He was stricken with leprosy and, being driven by hope and faith, went to see Elisha. (Story found in 2 Kings 5) He believed Elisha could heal him. Personally, I imagine it must have taken a lot of humility for the King to seek out Elisha. After Naaman had made the journey to visit Elisha the prophet, instead of seeing Naaman himself, Elisha sent his servant to deliver the message to the sick king. To be healed, Naaman must cleanse in the River Jordon seven times. Naaman was a little put out, even offended. Why didn’t Elisha come visit him himself? How could such a simple task help him? Surely, a king of Naaman’s stature deserved more than a simple message from a servant! As the story goes, one of Naaman’s servants approached the frustrated king and said, in effect, ”My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? ” (2 Kings 5:13) So Naaman, with the encouragement of his servant, did as Elisha commanded and was healed.
There are two important lessons we can take away from this story.
First, is that of the prophet sending his servant to deliver the message. I believe we can use this as a type – a symbol – of what prophets do today. They are servants of God, delivering His message just as Elisha’s servant delivered his master’s message. We have the opportunity to choose if we will follow the counsel given to God’s servants. We have the opportunity to choose to believe that the message came directly from God Himself.
Second, Naaman was hesitant to do what Elisha had suggested because it wasn’t what he imagined the answer to be. It was too small and too simple. He insisted there were better rivers than Jordon. Like Naaman, we may have a different idea of the way things should go. We may think we know of a better option.
Often, we are asked, by God’s prophets to do things that we may consider too simple. Sometimes, because of the simplicity, we may dismiss prophetic counsel because we think we have a better plan. Yet, we have been taught that by small and simple things, great things come to pass (Alma 37:6). So, again we are presented with an opportunity. We get to choose whether or not we will follow the guidance given by a prophet of God. If we follow, like Naaman, we will be blessed and we can grow spiritually.
In the LDS church, we have something called General Conference twice a year. This is a time where the general body of the church gathers together. And, anybody of any religion is invited to participate. When the church was young in its modern-day organization and there were only a few thousand members, people would travel to the Salt Lake Tabernacle to hear the word of God. Seating capacity in that tabernacle was approximately 6,000. With the growth of LDS membership the new Conference Center was constructed, now being able to hold up to 21,000. (The image above, found at LDS.org, shows the Conference filled to capacity for General Conference) Additionally, with the help of modern technology, we are able to tune our TV’s, radios or computers to one particular channel and watch from the comfort of our homes as modern-day prophets speak to us via satellite. For two days, we listen the prophet and apostles speak to us. They tell us what God wants us to hear. And more often than not, through the power of the Spirit, they speak the words the Savior would speak, directly to aching and broken hearts.
For me, General Conference is a time of spiritual renewal. It is a time where I am inspired to be better that I have been. It is a time for instruction and hope. I know, that the words spoken are messages from our Heavenly Father.
When General conference comes along, our family gathers in the living room. We usually have cinnamon rolls (the two times a year I let my family have those for breakfast) Usually we are in PJs and cuddled in blankets. Sometimes, the teenagers stagger in half asleep. We spend 8-10 hours over that Saturday and Sunday listening to the talks that have been prepared by the servants of the Lord. It is absolutely my favorite time of year.
God loves us. If He was willing to allow His Son to redeem us with His blood, He wouldn’t disregard that sacrifice by leaving us without direction back to Him. It makes perfect sense that our loving Heavenly Father would give us modern-day prophets to guide us through this mortal journey.
I am so grateful to be able to listen to General Conference. All, of any faith, are invited to tune in to listen to the Prophet and Apostles of God. If you would like to tune in to listen, you can find out how, here.