The subject we have been asked to speak on this month comes from a talk given by Elder M. Russell Ballard from the October, 2014 General Conference entitled, “Stay in the Boat and Hold On!” The title of his talk conjures visions of danger and peril, which is precisely what his point is in giving this talk. In order for us to stay safe individually, and as a people, we need to both recognize the dangers in our lives, and also how to keep ourselves safe from harm. I strongly suggest you go to the Conference issue of the Liahona (Ensign) magazine or to churchofjesuschrist.org and carefully read his talk. Again, the title is “Stay in the Boat and Hold On!”
Note: This was the High Council talk delivered in the Hauula 4th Ward of the Laie, Hawaii Stake in March of 2015.
Elder Ballard begins his talk with a story about a river rafting trip down a particularly dangerous portion of rapids in the Colorado River. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what rapids are, perhaps an explanation is in order. When water flowing over rocks is deep enough, you never even know the rocks are down there. But if the rocks are close enough to the surface, the water must flow around and over them. This causes the water to be extremely turbulent, and falling out of the boat can mean getting crushed and battered on the rocks as the water rages downstream.
It is small wonder then that the river guides gave the participants three main safety rules, “Rule number one: stay in the boat! Rule number two: always wear a life jacket! Rule number three: always hold on with both hands!” He then said again, with even more emphasis, “Above all, remember rule number one: stay in the boat!”
Here in Hawaii we don’t have river rapids. Instead we have riptides, undertows, coral reefs, and deep oceans to deal with. Brigham Young used to refer to the Lord’s Church as “the Old Ship Zion.” The river guides’ rules of safety apply to all of us who sail through this life on the Old Ship Zion.
We, as a people, have sailed through many years of relative peace and prosperity. This has given rise to several generations who have only known reasonable popularity and comfort as a member of the Church. But there are storms coming on the horizon, and it is time to revisit the reason we are on this ship. It is time for us to remind ourselves why we are part of Zion, and what will be required of us in the future.
The danger of calm
During times of peace and plenty in the Church some have chosen to jump out and go for a swim in what appear to be calm waters. They figure that as long as they stay within sight of the Church, Zion, they can always swim back and get back onboard. What they discount are the predators swimming beneath them, the heat of the noon-day sun, and the currents that gently draw them away from the Church as they are enjoying the seeming delights of mortality. Some are able to make it back to the ship when they see themselves being swept farther out to sea. Others get turned around and lose their way, never to find their way back. Still others surprisingly find themselves victims of the predators from beneath. They did not heed rule number one: Stay in the boat! Some, unfortunately, also took off their life vests, and tiring from trying to swim the oceans of life on their own, lose their lives by drinking in too much of the world.
The coming storms
The seas of life are becoming choppier. Staying in the boat is more important now than at any other time in the history of the world. What are some of these dangers that approach and are upon us? Elder Ballard said in a mission presidents’ seminar:
Keep the eyes of the mission on the leaders of the Church. … We will not and … cannot lead [you] astray.
“And as you teach your missionaries to focus their eyes on us, teach them to never follow those who think they know more about how to administer the affairs of the Church than … Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ do” through the priesthood leaders who have the keys to preside.
I have discovered in my ministry that those who have become lost [and] confused are typically those who have most often … forgotten that when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve speak with a united voice, it is the voice of the Lord for that time.
There are two points I would like to emphasize from this quote. The first point is that our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ are at the head of this voyage. They are at the helm of the ship. Their crew is made up of inspired leaders who hold priesthood keys. They “will not and … cannot lead” us astray. The master of this vessel will not allow it, for He steers the ship. They are merely giving us His directions for our safe journey home. The second point is that comment Elder Ballard made at the end of the quote that “it is the voice of the Lord for that time.” Remember that sometimes instructions and procedures change, based on the wisdom of the Lord. Those who wish the Church to change course or change procedures cannot do so by pressuring the Prophet and the Brethren, because it is not up to them. The Lord is at the head of this Church, and He does not answer to splinter groups. He knows what is best for us, and what will bring us safely on our way.
How to stay safely on board
I have made a list of four things Elder Ballard gives in his talk that will help us stay safely on board the Old Ship Zion. These are the things that will help us stay afloat (i.e. the life jacket) and will assist us in hanging on with both hands when things get rough in life.
1. “We can become men and women “of a sound understanding.”” This requires that we take seriously our personal appointment with the scriptures each day. There is great power in the word of God. There is direction, revelation, and salvation in those sacred books. But those directions, the revelations, and the salvation they contain will forever remain locked away from us unless we are willing to open their covers and search through their pages every single day.
2. “We need to be like the sons of Mosiah and give ourselves “to much prayer, and fasting.”” We need that time spent talking to the captain of Zion, our Father in Heaven. We need to learn to listen to His answers and comments back to us. Fasting is almost always coupled with prayer in the scriptures. If we are not physically able to fast, we can still create the spirit of a fast by humbling ourselves before the Lord and supplicating Him in prayer on a regular basis.
3. Remember the fundamental principles of the gospel.
Joseph Smith taught this central truth: “The fundamental principles of our religion [are] the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, … ‘that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended up into heaven;’ and all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.”
Did you know that our whole religion can be summed up in that one sentence? Anything outside that statement of the resurrection of Christ is an appendage – it is not the core of what we believe. Our core belief is that Jesus lives today, that he lives with God, our Father, and that He continues to love us and work for our salvation.
4. Doubts and questions are normal. If we are not questioning something then we are not learning anything. But remember who gives us our answers. We get our answers only from the Lord, through prayer, the scriptures, and from His appointed servants. If we seek for answers to spiritual things outside the ship of Zion then we are no longer holding on with both hands. All answers must be compared to what the Brethren and the scriptures, and the Spirit tells us. Anything outside of these sources may be interesting, but cannot be lifesaving.
Whatever we seek. Whatever knowledge we hope to find in this life “should lead us to become kind, gentle, loving, forgiving, patient, and dedicated disciples. We must be willing, as Paul taught, to “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”” If we will do these things, we will be safe in the coming storms.