“Let me get this straight,” I said as I stared incredulously at my missionary district leader.
You want us all to bring investigators to a chapel in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, where we served as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Then you want me, with my Dollar Tree Spanish, to stand up and preach to them.
And then challenge them to be baptized THAT NIGHT?
I looked at him, looking for any sign that this was a joke.
He looked at me and just smiled.
“Sounds about right.”
That was nearly 30 years ago when I finally agreed to do this. I remember the nonstop prayers pleading for help from above, the fasting, the sleepless nights and the fear that made it impossible to concentrate on anything else.
I still remember standing outside the church that night, looking for any means of escape. A wise district leader wouldn’t let me. He talked to me and encouraged me until I walked inside the chapel.
Two hours later, as the six of us relived the event over sundaes, I couldn’t deny how good I felt. Confidence and peace had replaced extreme fear.
In an almost apologetic way, I begged forgiveness for not directly challenging investigators in attendance to be baptized.
Elder Johnson looked at me and smiled. It didn’t matter that he had almost perfect looks with perfect blond hair from California, he had the biggest heart.
Elder Henneke, you glowed up there when you were speaking. You were on fire, so full of the Spirit, he told me. Other elders nodded.
Fast forward 30 years.
Can you believe they want me to give another talk? Talks assigned to us three weeks earlier are prepared on Saturday night. More emphasis is placed on the right joke instead of the right Spirit. It is so much easier to find a conference talk to read.
Next time, it would be more truthful to end your talk, “and we read these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
Before you blow off your next speaking assignment or convince yourself that you aren’t good enough, stop and consider a couple of observations.
1. Elder Dallin H. Oaks referred to sacrament meeting as the most important meeting of the church. Next to the ordinance of the sacrament, the Lord has trusted you to help change lives. When you were baptized, you promised to stand up for the Lord at all times and at all places. Loving Heavenly Father with all your heart, might, mind and strength doesn’t come with an escape clause when you get the call from the executive secretary.
2. Speaking in church can be incredibly scary. So was walking on water for Peter
You’re right. My stomach still knots up each time I am asked to speak. Maybe it’s physically impossible to get up and speak right now, for your brain will turn to mush. Remember when Peter started to walk on water before becoming afraid.
Every one of us will have “walk-on-water” moments, and giving a talk could be one of yours. If the Lord can help part the Red Sea, he can help you with a talk.
3. Since I’m not really a good public speaker, how do I know what jokes to use?
Oh for the love of John Bytheway, the Lord has not asked you to do stand-up comedy. He has trusted you to teach his flock through the power of the Holy Ghost. Live so you can qualify for the Holy Ghost and be willing to pay the price to receive its promptings. In an April 2011 General Conference address, Elder Jeffrey R, Holland described the process that each general authority goes through before they speak. That could be a lesson for us.
Each is to fast and pray, study and seek, start and stop and start again until he or she is confident that for this conference, at this time, his or hers is the topic the Lord wishes that speaker to present regardless of personal wishes or private preferences. Every man and woman you have heard during he past 10 hours of general conference has tried to be true to that prompting. Each has wept, worried, and earnestly sought the Lord’s direction to guide his or her thoughts and expression.
Don’t compare yourself to others, schedule sufficient time for preparation and don’t settle for reading another talk. Just do the very best you can.
Then the Spirit can work through you, even calling an audible (changing the play) when you least expect it.
It happened to me as I was sitting on the stand ready to speak one Sunday. I had studied, prayed and sought the help of the Holy Ghost.
Right before I stood up, I heard a voice as if it were speaking right next to me.
“Put away your notes.”
I looked around and I heard it again.
“Put away your notes.”
I shuffled through my papers and saved out a quote.
Everything else came from memory.
Years later, I still wonder what would have happened I had more faith, to trust completely in the Spirit to say all the words that come through me. Or to have the faith to testify and invite people to drink from the living waters.
Even if it means I have the courage to walk on water myself.