I love reading and learning about the Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their lives are inspiring and their teachings powerful. I also love reading about and studying the lives of the scriptural prophets - Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, Nephi, and Alma. I try to picture what the prophets looked and sounded like. What were their personal characteristics? How was their sense of humor? What did they like to eat or do for fun? But most importantly I focus on what they taught and how they lived. All the prophets testified of Jesus Christ. He has always been the central theme of their messages, in fact one cannot be a prophet without testifying of Jesus "for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10). A prophet is one who testifies of Jesus so anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ is a prophet. However, in a more specific sense, prophet is a calling given to only a few men who, in our day, are set apart and ordained and given priesthood keys to administer the Lord's kingdom here on earth, namely The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Recently I have been listening to the podcast of devotional and Church Education System (CES) addresses given at Brigham Young University. I listen to the talks as I ride to and from school on the bus or as I am walking across campus. Devotionals are one thing I miss about BYU. When I attended there as a student I did not always attend the devotionals, I know I missed many great talks, but I attended often. Every Tuesday at 11 AM we could go and listen to a talk given by a BYU faculty member, a General Authority, the prophet, or someone else. All these speeches are available online at BYU's Speeches website as MP3s or PDFs or other formats. Recently I started downloading the PDFs of the talks I most enjoyed so that I'll have them ready to use in talks or essays or simply to re-read for enjoyment and knowledge and spiritual uplift.
One talk I particularly enjoyed was Pres. Thomas S. Monson's address given on Sep 15, 2009. It is called Principles from Prophets. Text and audio are available here. In his talk, Pres. Monson shares experiences and lessons from the various prophets with whom he had personal experiences. Pres. Monson is witty, poignant, and humorous as he shares stories and lessons from the prophets' lives. Pres. Monson has known every prophet from Pres. Heber J. Grant, President of The Church from 1918 to 1945, to Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, who was President of The Church from 1995 to 2008.
I'll share a couple of the stories Pres. Monson shared. The first is about Pres. George Albert Smith.
"I believe one of President Smith’s most noble accomplishments was after World War II. Starvation was rampant in Germany and in other nations of Europe. President Smith met with United States President Harry S. Truman and said, 'We'd like to send welfare supplies to the starving people of Europe, but the bureaucracy and the red tape in postwar Europe are keeping us from doing so.'
"President Truman heard his plea and opened the way. He asked, 'How many months will it take for you to assemble your supplies?' President Smith replied, 'President Truman, they’re already assembled. All you need do is say go, and they’ll be rolling within twenty- four hours.'
"President Truman was taken aback by this slender man who spoke rather softly—but oh, could he move things along. The supplies were sent, and Elder Ezra Taft Benson was also sent to oversee their distribution. Lives were saved as a result."
Pres. George A. Smith was a compassionate man.
The other experience I would like to share is about Pres. Howard W. Hunter. He was President of The Church for only 9 months but over the course of his 35 years as a general authority he had a large influence on many people. He was a soft and gentle man who was concerned with the needs of others.
"One of President Hunter’s hallmarks was that of courtesy. Whether in a moment of pleasant conversation or in times of constant pain, he was ever courteous. On one occasion a man who had been painting in President Hunter’s home said to me, 'President Hunter is so remarkable. He graciously thanked me and my crew for painting a room. He commented on the color match, the absence of brush or roller marks, and repeated a hearty thank-you as he shook my hand when we finished our work and departed his presence.'"
There are many more stories and teachings in this talk. The talk is based on the principle that knowing the prophets better as people is inspiring. They lived what they taught; they taught what they lived. While knowing the character and personalities of the prophets is not as important as knowing and living the doctrine of The Church, getting to know the prophets can help us see how the Lord was able to take ordinary men and help them do extraordinary things.