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Prophets Can See Around Corners

My dear brothers and sisters, Aloha! I love BYU–Hawaii, and I’m thrilled to be back. I pray that the Spirit of the Lord will teach you today so that you hear what the Lord wants you to hear.

Twenty years ago, I was named the new president and CEO of Deseret Book Company, which was facing stiff challenges. The company had been losing a lot of money and every part of its business was being disrupted. I knew nothing about turning a company around and was in way over my head.

A few months into my job, President Gordon B. Hinckley—who had appointed me to this position—called me to his office to ask how things were going. I described the problems I was uncovering and said, “President, I don’t think I’m smart enough to turn this company around. I wish I were smarter.” To which he instantly responded, “Sheri, I wish you were smarter too.” After he finished laughing, he said, “Are you smart enough to hire smart people?” I thought for a moment and said, “Yes, I can do that.” “Well, then, go hire the brains,” he said. “Hire people you trust who will make you smarter.”

In essence, President Hinckley was saying, “Sheri, you probably aren’t smart enough to turn Deseret Book around by yourself. But if you’ll hire smart people and listen to them, you can do it.”

That conversation with President Hinckley reminds me of something the actor John Wayne used to say: “Life is hard. But it’s harder if you’re stupid.” Seriously, are any of us smart enough to maneuver this confusing world alone? Without help from those who are smarter, the future looks downright scary.

So, in a world filled with billions of conflicting voices, where do we turn for the smartest help?

With permission from President Russell M. Nelson and Elder Brent H. Nielson, I relate an instructive experience.

In 2014, then-Elder Russell M. Nelson chaired the Missionary Executive Council or MEC. One day in the MEC, Elder Nelson held up his smartphone and said, “We need to put these into the hands of every missionary.” You can imagine the discussion that ensued about all the challenges missionaries with smartphones would create. But in time, the MEC began allowing missionaries in a few test missions to carry iPads or smartphones.

Every problem the MEC predicted happened. But Elder Nelson never wavered in his conviction that missionaries could be taught to use the internet righteously and that they should have smartphones. The tests continued and over the next few years, more and more missionaries received phones.

Now fast forward to January of 2020. That month, President Russell M. Nelson, now President of the Church, authorized every missionary worldwide to have a smartphone. Then, just weeks later, the pandemic shut down the world and proselyting as we knew it stopped.

Elder Brent H. Nielson, then executive director of the missionary department, was initially concerned that baptisms might drop to nearly zero. But they didn’t. Inspired missionaries working from their apartments found and baptized 125,000 people in 2020—largely because they had smartphones.

Says Elder Nielson: “I quickly learned that the Lord had prepared us for this day. Prophets can see around corners.” [1]

Ammon explained how prophets see around corners. “[A] seer can know…of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed…and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them….” [2]

Prophets see things we cannot see because the Lord does “nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” [3]

This is why prophets make us smarter than any other leaders or influencers on earth. Prophets help us see dangers we cannot yet see and opportunities we can’t even imagine.

I have experienced this myself. In the October 1998 general conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley admonished members to get out of debt. [4] I felt that I should pay off my home, but my accountant told me I was crazy to even think about it because the interest rate on my mortgage was so low. Nonetheless, I decided to take President Hinckley at his word and just do it. It took some scrimping for several years, but I paid off the loan.

Now skip ahead to the fall of 2008—exactly ten years after President Hinckley’s warning about debt—when the U.S. economy was suddenly plunged into a recession. I was still the CEO of Deseret Book, and our sales plummeted. I was worried sick about saving jobs and frankly about saving the company.

But one evening as I drove home with a pit in my stomach, it dawned on me that despite all the pressure I was under, I wasn’t worried at all about myself. I owned my home and owed no money—all because I had followed a prophet’s counsel ten years earlier. Prophets help us see around corners.

Two years ago, I saw President Russell M. Nelson see something I could not see. On September 17, 2020, I was among those invited to a communications meeting with President Nelson. The pandemic was raging, and we suggested that President Nelson record a message of hope for Church members. He told us to “sprinkle a little fertilizer” on that idea and bring it back to him the following week.

But then, the very next day, President Nelson asked our group to meet with him again. He told us that our idea wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t right. During the night he had received the impression that he should indeed record a message—but a message for the world, not just members. He said his message should be about gratitude and include a prayer for the world. He told us the exact day and time the video should be released and even how long it should be.

I had never heard President Nelson be so specific about communication details; but as he spoke, I knew that I was witnessing a prophet act on revelation.

We assembled a team of videographers and others to fulfill President Nelson’s instructions. If this group had relied on their own expertise, they would never have recommended a video as long as the one President Nelson specified. Nor would they have suggested releasing it on a Friday.

But a prophet had spoken, and we went to work. The result was the #GiveThanks video released on November 20, 2020. And the results? Unprecedented. That video’s reach dwarfed anything the Church had ever released, especially to those not of our faith. Never in the history of the earth had so many people heard a prophet’s voice. Prophets see around corners.

The sobering reality, however, is that throughout history, most of the people, most of the time, have rejected prophets. The Jaredites illustrate this perfectly. Here is just one scripture from dozens that could be cited: “And there came prophets in the land again, crying repentance….But the people believed not the words of the prophets, but they cast them out." [5]

Today is no different. Most of the world—and even some of our own members—reject the fifteen prophets, seers, and revelators ordained as Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not long ago a young woman your age told me that she was upset by something an Apostle had said. “Sheri, some of my friends think prophets make mistakes. I don’t know what to believe. Do you think prophets are infallible?”

Some of you may have this same question. If infallible means perfect, then no, I don’t think prophets are perfect. Only one perfect Being walked this earth, and He was a God. [6] Prophets are mortal and are being tested just as we are. Being ordained as special witnesses of Jesus Christ gives them unique spiritual privileges, but it does not magically absolve them of human weakness.

Further, I’ve never heard a prophet claim perfection. Have you? Can you think of any scriptural prophet who didn’t demonstrate some weakness? [7] Moroni even acknowledged “imperfections” in the Book of Mormon. [8]

President George Q. Cannon said that when it comes to the senior Apostle, or Prophet, “it is [the Lord’s] privilege to choose whom He pleases. The man He wants preserved is preserved….and if men whom He chooses are fallible, that is His business. He requires on our part obedience to His will as it is made manifest through the man whom He has chosen.” [9]

The Lord governs His Church through a very unique pattern of presidencies, councils, and quorums so that no one person acts alone. President explained that “the calling of 15 men to the holy apostleship provides great protection for us as members of the Church. Why? Because decisions of these leaders must be unanimous. Can you imagine how the Spirit needs to move upon 15 men to bring about unanimity?” [10]

Brothers and sisters, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, acting unitedly, will never send the Church in the wrong direction. And here is why: Because even THE prophet is not the head of this Church. Jesus Christ is, and He is perfect. Prophets take their instructions from Him who knows all, sees all, and understands all things. [11]

More than once I’ve heard President Nelson deflect praise for the adjustments that have occurred during his administration. “Well, I can take instructions,” he always says. Meaning he is always on the Lord’s errand. [12]

In this Church, we are never dependent solely upon mortal men, as inspired as they may be. When we follow the prophet, we are actually following and placing our trust in Jesus Christ. For He has promised that His words will all be fulfilled, “whether by [His] own voice or by the voice of [His] servants, it is the same.” [13]

Therefore, the question of fallibility leads us down a side road that misses the point of who prophets really are. May I pose four different questions that seem more relevant, followed by five important truths?

First question: Who exactly are prophets, seers, and revelators?

Answer: They are ordained Apostles, who are “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world.” [14] They hold all restored priesthood keys that the Lord allows to be exercised on this earth, which means that they authorize how, where, and by whom the Lord’s power may be used. They have spiritual privileges distinct from anyone else on earth. The senior Apostle is the only person alive who can speak for the Lord in everything. [15] But even he does not act alone. He has two counselors and twelve Apostles to assist him--each ordained as a prophet, seer, and revelator.

Second question: Is there anyone you trust to give you more inspired advice unaffected by personal agenda than the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles?

Answer: Can you think of any journalist, talk-show host, celebrity, athlete, or politician you trust more than our prophet? How about any entrepreneur, billionaire, or scholar? Any YouTube celeb or star of stage, screen, or Netflix?

I can’t. Each of these want something from us: our vote, money, or support. They all have personal agendas. Prophets of God do not. Their agenda is the Lord’s. And yet, too often we listen to them last.

Samuel the Lamanite delivered a stinging rebuke to the Nephites because they followed flawed leaders. He said: “O ye wicked and ye perverse generation, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides?” [16]

My dear friends, to whom do you listen? Where does the living prophet rank in the list of those you turn to for advice? How many blind guides, whose myopic vision of life is no better than yours, are you following on podcasts and TikTok? Don’t let blind guides obscure your vision of seers, who see around corners.

Third question: Do you know fifteen smarter men who care about you more and who have purer motives?

Answer: Have you ever asked yourself what’s in all of this for Apostles? Clearly, it’s not money or popularity. Well beyond retirement age, they board planes and fly around the world for one reason: They have “none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of [our] souls.” [17] And yet, all too often they are mocked for teaching truth.

I’ll never forget hearing the wife of an Apostle admit that some passages of scripture were hard for her to read. “I see what happens to prophets,” she said. “And when my husband gets shredded on social media for preaching truth, it feels like stoning.”

Apostles are under divine mandate to teach truth, even when truth is unpopular. They are pressured to change the Lord’s doctrine to make it more palatable, but the doctrine doesn’t belong to them and is not theirs to change. They’re accused of being out of touch, but I know of no group who is more in touch with the realities and complexities of life.

I promise you that no leaders on earth are more honest with you than prophets are. And no leaders care more about you and your future.

Fourth question: Are there any other leaders of whom the Holy Ghost unfailingly bears witness?

Answer: I have been in the presence of prophets hundreds of times—including with Presidents of the Church around the world. I was in Manila’s Araneta Coliseum in May 1996 when 35,000 Filipino Saints crammed themselves into 25,000 seats and sat for eight hours awaiting the arrival of President Gordon B. Hinckley. Three years ago, I watched thousands of Tongan Saints sit patiently in the rain for several hours until President Nelson arrived. In Ho Chi Minh City, I saw a few hundred Saints—the first members in their families—come from far and wide to hear the prophet. The setting and size of audience doesn’t matter. The same thing always happens. When the President of the Church enters the room, a profound spiritual presence sweeps across the congregation. Tears flow. And the Spirit testifies of the reality of a prophet. Every time.

Even those not of our faith can feel it. I was outside the Government Palace in Lima when President Nelson arrived to meet with Peru’s President. As President Nelson stepped out of the car, a tour guide standing nearby noticed him. “Who is that man?” the guide asked us. Before we could respond, she called out to President Nelson, “Will you please bless Peru?” President Nelson could have been any dignitary. How did she know that he actually could bless Peru? She felt something.

The Holy Ghost is eager to bear witness of prophets, seers, and revelators and the priesthood keys they hold. It is the presence of the keys we feel so profoundly when a prophet enters the room. But you don’t have to be in the presence of a prophet to gain a spiritual witness of his divine mantle.

If you want to know if fifteen prophets walk the earth today, pray to know. Ask humbly and sincerely, and the Holy Ghost will bear witness to you. I promise you that.

Prophets, seers, and revelators are, very simply, one of God’s greatest gifts to His children.

Now, let’s review five crucial truths about prophets.

Truth #1: Because this is the Lord’s Church and Jesus Christ is the one who chooses His prophets, the Savior will never let the prophet lead the Church astray. Period.

Truth #2: The living prophet is the most important prophet for us. God did not tell Joseph Smith how to lead the Lord’s Church across the plains. He told Brigham Young because that is when that information was needed.

So, what has the Lord told President Russell M. Nelson to counsel us to do today? To increase our capacity to receive revelation, spend more time in the temple, and become a major force in gathering Israel. To understand who we are as children of God, children of the covenant, and disciples of Christ, and to never allow other identifiers to replace those three primary designations. And to let God prevail in our lives.

I know of nothing you can do right now that will pay greater dividends in your life than embracing and following President Nelson’s counsel.

Truth #3: Prophets hold priesthood keys that set them apart from any other leaders on earth. That is why living prophets are more important than any other prophets. Whatever the cost, do not separate yourself from those who hold all priesthood keys.

I’ll admit that it’s not always easy to hear what a prophet has to say. While serving in the Relief Society General Presidency, I attended a General Authority Training session held prior to general conference. During that meeting, the Apostle conducting the training did something unusual. Whenever someone used the words woman or man, he corrected them and told them to use the words mother or father instead.

At first, I didn’t think much about it, but as the meeting wore on and he repeatedly emphasized that women were mothers and men were fathers, I became painfully aware that I was the only non-parent in the room. By the end of the morning, I felt condemned.

When the training ended, I bolted out of the room so no one would see my tears. At first, I was just hurt; but then I began to seethe: “How could an Apostle disenfranchise an entire segment of members?”

I stewed about this for months—until I began to work on my upcoming talk for the General Relief Society Meeting. I pleaded for inspiration, but I got nothing! I had no ideas. Finally, I received a clear impression: that I should speak about motherhood. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I thought. But the impression was clear. So, I began to search the scriptures and teachings of prophets. I went to the temple again and again and pleaded for understanding. And guess what I learned? That the Apostle who had offended me was right. His approach was insensitive. But he had taught an eternal truth—that every woman has a divine endowment as a mother. That truth led me to prepare an address entitled “Are We Not all Mothers?” which is still quoted every Mother’s Day because it is filled with truth—truth I had to humble myself to learn.

Learn from my experience. Don’t make life harder by being stupid. Don’t be deceived by activists who believe their passion for a cause gives them permission to censure prophets. Don’t turn your back on those who have all priesthood keys and who can help you see around corners.

Truth #4: Prophets won’t be popular. So, when the social media mob pounces on them, don’t let that threaten your testimony. When prophets refuse to embrace the disintegration of morals championed by a rabidly secular society, that does not mean prophets are wrong. Sustaining prophets in today’s world takes faith—but not faith in them, faith in Jesus Christ, who called them.

Truth #5: Your greatest spiritual safety will come by following the prophet. My dear friends, there may be times when you find yourself wrestling with teachings from prophets. But this isn’t rocket science. I can promise you two things: First, you will question your testimony all your life if you do two things: break your covenants and turn your back on prophets. But the reverse is also true: You will enjoy a growing testimony all of your life if you keep your covenants and follow the prophet. That is a promise.

Let prophets of God be your spiritual anchor. Listen to them. Study their words. Follow their counsel. It will protect you from deception and keep you from making major mistakes. Prophets will make you smarter. They will help you see things you cannot see. [18]

I conclude with two recent experiences. First, this summer I attended a religious liberty summit in Rome where President Dallin H. Oaks gave the keynote address. The summit was filled with inspiring speakers. But when President Oaks rose to speak, I experienced something distinctly different—that beautiful witness of the Spirit that reaffirmed, “Sheri, this is a prophet.” What a priceless truth that is!

Second, I recently accompanied my boss to a meeting with the First Presidency where we sought counsel about a complex issue affecting one of the Church’s media companies. What then unfolded was remarkable to behold. As these three presiding high priests counseled with each other, it was clear that they each initially saw this issue differently. But as they deliberated, the Spirit flooded the room until they were of one mind and one heart. Their counsel to us was inspiring. As we walked out of the room, I thought to myself, “We just witnessed the First Presidency receive revelation together.”

I can only imagine how many thousands of times that exact scene has played out over the decades—where prophets, seers, and revelators have counseled together, relying on a rare combination of wisdom and revelation, magnified by the keys they hold. We are the most blessed of all people to be led by prophets. There are no other leaders like them in all the world.

I know that President Russell M. Nelson is the Lord’s senior Apostle and that fourteen other prophets, seers, and revelators also walk the earth. I don’t just believe this. I know it. I am an eyewitness to it.

I know that following them makes us smarter because seers see things we cannot see. Prophets help us see around corners.

You can know this too. I plead with you to gain your own witness of prophets of God and then follow them for the rest of your life. It will be the smartest thing you ever do. Because prophets will be the last safe voices on earth. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Elder Brent H. Nielson, California Member Devotional, February 27, 2022; excerpt from address used with permission of Elder Nielson.
[2] Mosiah 8:16-18
[3] Amos 3:7
[4] Gordon B. Hinckley, “To the Boys and to the Men,” Ensign, November 1998.
[5] Ether 9:28, 29
[6] Mosiah 3:5; 7:27; 15:1-2; Alma 7:9
[7] Mormon 9:31
[8] Mormon 8:12
[9]Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of George Q. Cannon, comp. Jerreld L. Newquist, Deseret Book, 1957, 276.
[10] Russell M. Nelson, “Sustaining the Prophets,” Ensign, November 2014. See also Doctrine and Covenants 107:27
[11] Mosiah 4:9; 3 Nephi 12:48; Jacob 4:8; Isaiah 55: 8-9
[12] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Come and Partake,” Ensign 1986, 46-47
[13] Doctrine and Covenants 1:38; also Doctrine and Covenants 84:36 and John 13:20
[14] Doctrine and Covenants 107:23 and Mark 16:15
[15] Ezra Taft Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” BYU Devotional, February 26, 1980.
[16] Helaman 13: 25-29, with an emphasis on verse 29
[17] 2 Nephi 2:30
[18] Doctrine and Covenants 21:5-6