When I was six or seven years old, I lived for the weekend. I’d like to say it was because of the opportunity to attend sacrament meeting on Sunday, but that would be a lie. I loved Saturday, every part of it. I loved being able to wake up when I wanted and not having to attend school. It seemed you could do almost anything on Saturday and each activity was an adventure. But whatever you did on Saturday, it was always preceded by the most important Saturday morning activity of all – watching cartoons on television. All of the best cartoons were shown on Saturday morning. I would always sit close to the television because the television remote had not yet been invented so I could flip the channels back and forth and watch two cartoons at once.
Seeing a Living Prophet
I remember one Saturday morning in particular when I was happily watching cartoons after having just finished three or four bowls of high sugar content cold cereal with whole milk, because nobody drank 2% or non-fat milk back then. To my chagrin, I found that my favorite cartoon on one of the television channels was supplanted by a broadcast of the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At my young age, I was less than happy about that even though I was a member of the Church. I remember looking at the television and seeing a white-haired man sitting in a nice chair. There was something about him that was different. I asked my older brother, “Which one is that guy,” and pointed at the television. My brother said, that’s President David O. McKay, he’s the prophet.”
I remember looking a little bit more carefully at the white-haired man and thinking, “Yup, he’s a prophet.” Something inside told me that he really was. Then I changed the channel and continued watching another cartoon. That is my earliest memory of a prophet. And I have never doubted what I came to know then, that there is a living prophet of God on the earth today.
I reflected on that memory when I came across a story about President David O. McKay that Harold B. Lee once shared in a talk. He was speaking to some young men and said the following:
“Boys, President McKay was over in Scotland and a brash young reporter bustled up to him and said, ‘Dr. David O. McKay, are you a prophet of God?’ And President McKay looked at him for a moment and said, ‘Young man, you look into my face and you’ll get your own answer.’ A missionary who stood nearby said, ‘I looked into President McKay’s face and I got my answer’” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 537).
With prophets, sometimes a look is all it takes to know.
The Need for Living Prophets
In Section 101 of the Doctrine and Covenants, there is a latter-day parable that the Lord declares as His “will concerning the redemption of Zion” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:43). In the parable, a nobleman directs his servants to plant twelve olive trees and build a tower. After completing the tower, they were instructed to set a watchman on the tower, who symbolically represents prophets, seers, and revelators, to “overlook the land round about . . . that mine olive trees may not be broken down when the enemy shall come to spoil and take upon themselves the fruit of my vineyard” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:45).
The servants neglected their responsibilities and questioned the importance of building the tower and setting a watchman on the tower. As foretold by the nobleman, “the enemy came by night, and . . . destroyed their works, and broke down the olive trees.” The nobleman mourned the loss of his olive trees and told his servants that they should have done as he commanded them because, “the watchman upon the tower would have seen the enemy while he was yet afar off; and then ye could have made ready . . . and saved my vineyard from the hands of the destroyer” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:51, 54).
According to the parable, the only way the vineyard could have been saved was if the servants had responded to the warnings of the watchman in the tower. Perhaps more than at any other time in the history of the world, we need prophets and we need to listen to them. If we follow the living prophets, seers, and revelators, we will never find ourselves in the plight of the individual who called out in Old Testament times, “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” (Isaiah 21:11).
Follow the Living Prophet
The Lord strongly endorsed the words of His prophets when he declared, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38). Too often we enjoy the added sight that results from prophetic counsel and then as blessings are poured out upon us, we begin to think we are wise and neglect that which we relied on previously to find our way. We may enjoy a modest success for a season, which only augments our arrogance, but the day will come when the adversary will take advantage of our self-imposed blindness and lead us “away into broad roads” where we “perish and are lost” (1 Nephi 12:17).
Unlike many people in the world, we do not need to chase after this or that to navigate through the troubled times in which we live. The doctrines we need to follow to survive spiritually and physically are found in the words of living prophets. President Spencer W. Kimball once observed that “in the Church many are prone to garnish the sepulchres of yesterday’s prophets and mentally stone the living ones” (The Instructor, 95:257). Unlike certain beverages and antiques, prophetic utterances do not become more valuable with age. The most recent prophetic utterances should always be valued most.
And we should remember, always remember “the most important role of the Lord’s prophet is to teach us of the Savior and lead us to Him” (Elder Neil L. Andersen, “The Prophet of God,” Ensign, May 2018). That is why “when we choose to live according to the words of the prophets, we are on the covenant path that leads to eternal perfection” (Carol F. McConkie, “Live according to the Words of the Prophets,” Ensign, Nov. 2014).
As the October 2019 General Conference has recently concluded, we should “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3) as taught by His living prophets and with the help of the Holy Ghost determine the things we should change in our lives. If we do, we can then confidently claim the blessing promised by the Old Testament religious reformer Jehoshaphat when he testified, “Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20).