A couple weeks ago, like many of you, I received an email from the church, a special invitation to listen to a live message from President Russell M. Nelson, which took place a couple days later. There were no details about the topic of the message. All I knew for certain was that he had something he wanted to convey. My wife, Elisabeth, and I strongly suspected that he would announce the reorganization of the first presidency of the church, but we did not let that stop our imaginations from running wild. Did we acquire the Independence temple lot? The sealed portion of the Book of Mormon? A date for the second coming?
Independent of what the president of the quorum of the twelve had to say, I had a choice to make: would I make myself available to hear it? I decided that I would listen on the planned Tuesday morning and ensured my work schedule was clear.
On the morning of, we sat together as a family and listened. Our initial suspicions were confirmed as we heard the new first presidency announced. Though I might have been disappointed that none of my extraordinary imaginations came to fruition, I reflected on how truly remarkable the ordinary pattern of apostolic succession is—that anytime the children of God will suffer it, the Lord’s kingdom is ordered and continuous upon the earth. While I might have longed as the Athenians did “to hear some new thing,” “but one thing [was] needful” for me in that moment (Acts 17:21, Luke 10:42). I needed a spiritual confirmation that President Russell M. Nelson was now the Lord’s spokesman upon the earth.
I listened as he spoke to me of “keeping on the covenant path” and of the need for “righteous, intentional parenting.” I marveled at the humble dissolution of an old presidency and reconstitution of a new as he stated plainly that “each [apostle] is willing to serve now where he is needed most.”
As he expressed his conviction to “continue to seek to know [the Lord’s] will and follow it,” I recognized that President Nelson is like those who have gone before him. He is a seasoned practitioner of discerning and following the will of the Lord. While I knew logically that he should be the next prophet, I began to give place in my heart that he could be. That place was quickly occupied by an undeniable spiritual confirmation as President Nelson concluded his remarks, “I declare my devotion to God, our eternal Father, and to His Son, Jesus Christ. I know them, love them, and pledge to serve them—and you—with every remaining breath of my life.” I am grateful for a personal confirmation that President Nelson is sustained by God. I encourage all of you to receive it. Once obtained, it is up to us to sustain President Nelson.
What does it mean for one person to sustain another? Literally, it means to hold up from below. There is no better scriptural example of this than the events surrounding the battle of Israel and Amalek. While Joshua led the Israelites to battle, Moses, Aaron, and Hur took to a nearby hill, Moses with the rod of God in his hand. “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy…[so] Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people” (Exodus 17:11-13). Aaron and Hur literally sustained Moses by holding up his hands. From hence originates the often quoted “lift up the hands which hang down” (Hebrews 12:12).
The burden of Moses was more than he alone could bear. Millenia later, the burden of the prophet and president of the church is not any lighter. Speaking of the first presidency, the Lord declared, “on them have I laid the burden of all the churches” (D&C 112:18). How would you cope with such a burden?
When President George Albert Smith became president of the church, he understood the only way to carry such a burden. He said, “I will need the help of every man and every woman and every child, not for my blessing, but for your blessing, and for the blessing of the children of men wherever they may be. That is not my responsibility, that is our responsibility” (George Albert Smith - General Conference Oct. 1945). The load must be distributed, and organization is the mechanism.
Before Moses learned this lesson, he wasted away daily sitting in judgement from dawn until dusk. Ultimately, it was his father-in-law, Jethro—no-doubt prompted by his daughter—who intervened. Said Jethro to Moses, “why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?...Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee...”
“I will give thee counsel...Be thou for the people to God-ward...And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws...and the work that they must do...provide...rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people...and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge...and they shall bear the burden with thee.”
“If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace” (Exodus 18:14-23).
When Jethro saw Moses surrounded by plenty of capable people idly waiting on him to do what they could be doing themselves, he saw a recipe for disaster. Not only would Moses drown in their dependence, but the entire nation would flounder in incompetence.
Moses needed to be free to commune with God on issues that could only be resolved at the church-wide scope and likewise for each tier of Jethro’s proposed hierarchy. In Moses’s time or any other, at each level of the organization, each individual needs to sustain him or herself, exerting as much independence as is lawful and right, master of his or her sphere of influence. As all have the right to revelation and the fruits of industry within their respective domains, none need continually impose upon another. Indeed, before we can hold up another’s hands, we need to stop weighing them down. It’s simple to observe that literal sustaining only works from the bottom up.
Now, the literal definition in no way precludes succor from flowing any direction that is needful. On the contrary, when all in the church are properly sustained and burdens properly distributed, individuals at all levels are less stressed, have more free time, are more available to promptings of the spirit, and willing to follow in whatever direction is needed.
I learned many of these principles as I served as an overburdened elders quorum president. That may be redundant. I don’t think there are any under-burdened elders quorum presidents. Some of the responsibilities of elders quorum presidencies include directing the home teaching effort and interviewing the quorum members. I inherited a home teaching structure that had over half of the households assigned to the previous elders quorum president, and as I was relatively new to the ward, I still did not know many quorum members.
Naively, like Moses at first, I attempted to take on too much myself. I thought a good elders quorum president would be able to meet all the quorum members for an interview—at least the first one. I also thought I’d take on and meet the unknown households assigned to the previous elders quorum president before I redistributed them to the quorum. As you might expect, this approach did not work. I did not have the time for my unrealistic expectations. I was constantly frustrated and felt like a failure. My hands were weary.
I had counselors that would serve when asked, but I rarely asked, and I don’t think they felt like it was their place to offer. You see, not everyone is as bold as Jethro to offer counsel to Moses and suggest he take that counsel to the Lord for confirmation. Eventually, though, I had had enough of my lackluster progress and decided to ask for help, not just from my counselors, but from the whole quorum. I put my soul into redistributing home teaching among the whole quorum and interviews among my counselors. The task before us was daunting: 8-10 households assigned per companionship with over half unknown. I knew that not all companionships would respond well to the increased burden, but it was all of ours to bear.
A few of the companionships followed through on identifying their share of the households. Within a year, each of those companionships found one previously unknown member who invited them in and eventually came to church. My weary hands couldn’t do it all alone, but with the sustaining hands of others, we collectively did some, and it was worth it.
Brethren and sisters, sustain yourselves. Sustain each other. Sustain your leaders. No organization is perfect. When we compare the church organization of individuals to a body, it is yet a mortal body, complete with frailties and imperfections. Grafting in new individuals, or organs, is difficult, and can be complicated with feelings of incompatibility and rejection (1 Corinthians 12:27). Keep trying. Keep counseling. Keep sustaining. Remember that ultimately, Christ is at the head, yet at the same time in all, through all, and even below all, sustaining us all (Ephesians 4:6, D&C 122:8). Of these things I testify.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.