I was young and inexperienced when I was first called to be a bishop. I had never attended a Ward Council Meeting or a Priesthood Executive Committee; meetings which I was soon to conduct. My family had only lived in the ward for nine months and it was populated with many capable, seasoned High Priests. I was released from my current calling as Advisor to the Teachers Quorum, and met with them one last time.
“My mom says you are too young to be the bishop!” said one young man of the group.
I couldn’t have agreed more. I felt young, but I also knew that the Lord had called me. I explained to the young men that though I felt inadequate, I planned to do my best and exercise faith that the Lord would help me fulfil my calling.
That same evening I received phone calls from several of the High Priests in the ward who were long-time residents of the area. They knew I was reared in a neighboring community that had often been at odds with theirs. They lovingly set aside any prejudice about my background and expressed their confidence in me as one called by the Lord. They pledged to sustain and support me. More than once I heard, “You can do this. Please know that I am with you!”
Accepting God’s Chosen Leaders
When Elisha was called to succeed the prophet Elijah, some “fifty men...went and stood to view afar off” watching and waiting to see what would happen (2Kings 2:7). Perhaps they didn’t want to sustain the new prophet until he proved himself. Elisha eventually performed many miracles, including parting the waters of the Jordan River. Throngs of people followed him. No doubt, all who eventually followed Elisha were blessed, including those who first waited and watched. But imagine the increased blessings given to those who exercised faith and immediately decided, “We are with you!” and accepted Elisha as God’s chosen leader when he was first called.
In the Book of Mormon, the Lord chose Nephi to rule instead of his elder brothers (1Nephi 3:29). The people were promised that if they would follow Nephi, they would prosper in the land. If they did not, they would be cut off from the presence of the Lord (1Nephi 2:19-21).
Some did not want Nephi as their leader. A few days after Lehi died, Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael became angry with Nephi and actually sought to kill him:”Our younger brother thinks to rule over us...now let us slay him, for behold, we will not have him to be our ruler for it belongs unto us who are the elder brethren to rule...” (2Nephi 4:12-13). Knowing their plans, the Lord instructed Nephi to flee into the wilderness with all those who would go with him (2Nephi 5:2-5).
In essence, Nephi had to approach each of his family members and ask, “Are you with me?” All had to decide whether or not they would follow Nephi as God’s chosen leader. Some people chose to follow Nephi and some did not: “Wherefore, it came to pass that I Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore they did hearken unto my words” (2 Nephi 5:6).
It must have required great faith for the people to follow Nephi and leave family members behind. Many of us face similar challenges today. Both then and now, those who have faith in the warnings and revelations of God choose to hearken unto the words of His ordained leaders. The Lord has said, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C1:38). We must follow our leaders as though God himself were speaking to us.
Subsequently, Nephi and his followers“...did journey in the wilderness for the space of many days... and we did pitch our tents” (2Nephi 5:7). Nephi taught the people divinely-inspired principles from the scriptures, including self-reliance“...I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands” (2 Nephi 5:17). Nephi reports“...we did prosper exceedingly” (2Nephi 5:11).
Nephi said, “Those who were with me...did observe to keep the judgments, and the statues, and the commandments of the Lord in all things...” (2 Nephi 5:9-10). The result: “...we lived after the manner of happiness” (2Nephi 5:27). As a result, Nephi built a temple so the people could receive saving ordinances for themselves and their families (2Nephi 5:16). Their decision to follow Nephi clearly affected their eternal salvation.
What about Laman, Lemuel, the sons of Ishmael, and their families? The non-believers had been warned that “if they would not hearken” unto Nephi’s words they would be “cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence” (2Nephi 5:20). And later, “Because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety” (2Nephi 5:24).
Following God’s Chosen Leaders
In effect, our priesthood leaders ask each of us today, “Are you with me?” when they extend callings, invite us to repent, or challenge us to pay a full tithing. We are “with them” as we respond positively to their encouragement to have personal prayer, family prayer, scripture study, Family Home Evening, and so forth. These leaders speak on behalf of the Lord. Those who follow God’s inspired leaders receive great blessings. Those who reject His leaders or disregard their counsel, reject God.
Many of our units in the Africa Southeast Area are led by young, relatively inexperienced priesthood leaders. Mission presidents and Area presidency members often begin their service with limited prior experience. The Lord chooses who He will work through to accomplish His purposes. However, the effectiveness of all of God’s leaders, old or young, experienced or seasoned, depends upon how we as members support and sustain them.
Joseph Smith received a revelation in 1830 exhorting Church members to follow the Lord’s prophet and “give heed unto all his words and commandments...For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:4-5).
When we follow God’s chosen servants we are promised, “...the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory”(D&C 21:6).
Leaders and followers alike are blessed when we follow God’s ordained leaders. President Thomas S. Monson has said to members of the Church, “We are one with you in moving forward this marvellous work. I testify to you that we are all in this together and that every man, woman, and child has a part to play. May God give us the strength and the ability and the determination to play our part well.” (Thomas S. Monson, “Until We Meet Again,” Ensign, Nov. 2011)
Let each of us demonstrate to the Lord and to our priesthood leaders, by our words and deeds, that we support God’s chosen servants. May they never have to ask, “Are you with me?”