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The day was Sunday, March 28, 1954. I had turned 12 earlier in the month, and on this day I would receive the Aaronic Priesthood. I remember laying on the floor in the living room next to the heat vent early in the morning, relishing the warm air flowing up from the old coal furnace in the basement.
My father came into the room and sat on the floor near me. He handed me an envelope and suggested that I read it before we departed for church meetings.
I no longer have that letter. I do not know what happened to it. But I remember some of the content still, even after 59 years. Among other things, my Father wanted me to know that receiving the priesthood that day would give me more power than even President Eisenhower.
Even though the sentiments of that letter have stayed with me for nearly six decades, I am pretty sure that on that frigid March morning, I did not understand much of what my father was trying to teach me.
But since that day, my understanding has increased, and I would like to share some feelings about the power of the Aaronic Priesthood.
On the 21st of June of 2007, my wife and I took a tour group to Harmony, Pennsylvania to visit the location of some significant events in church history. At that time, the railroad right-of-way and a high chain-link fence made it impossible to walk from the monument to the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood to the banks of the Susquehanna, a short distance south of us. But our bus driver, once he understood our longing to get to the water, drove a half a mile east, crossed the railroad tracks, and then backed down a dirt road until we were able to leave the bus and walk to the river.
We made our way through the grass and trees and found ourselves at the banks of the Susquehanna. There were some people there: the Branch President of the Branch of the Great Bend of the Susquehanna River and a few of his Aaronic Priesthood holders, clearing the water and cleaning the banks in preparation for a baptism to be held there in the near future.
The Branch President told us of the visit of President Spencer W. Kimball to that spot, and of President Kimball’s testimony that an angel had in fact been in that very place. As I walked along the bank and through the grass and trees there, the reality of that angelic visitation burned its way into my heart.
As a twelve-year old about to receive the Aaronic Priesthood, I did not think much about the keys of that priesthood, nor of the ministering of angels, but I thought of them on that bright day on the banks of the Susquehanna. What Aaronic Priesthood holders now do, they were empowered and commissioned to do by the visit of John the Baptist from the eternal worlds.
That single reality, independent of a multitude of additional evidences, ought to alert us that being a bearer of that Priesthood is a matter of great significance. The scope and meaning of that power could not be any greater if John himself had ordained us. I am fearful that many of us do not understand what the Lord has given to us.
President Brigham Young said, “I am satisfied . . . that . . . we live far beneath our privileges” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. and arr. by John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973, p. 32; emphasis added).
I am also satisfied that some of us, perhaps many of us, live beneath our privileges. We could accomplish amazing things if we realized and employed the power available to us. A close friend traveled with me to the Manti Temple, and, when we left, invited me to drive his new Corvette home to Orem. As we drove between Mt. Pleasant and Fairview, I pulled out to pass a slower car in front of me, but seeing a car some distance away approaching from the other direction I prepared to pull back into my lane without passing. My friend said, “Just step on the gas.” I did, and found myself passing the slower car with plenty of room to spare.
The power is ours if we are worthy. But I suspect that sometimes we do not step on the gas and achieve our full potential.
Speaking of the privileges that belong to the Aaronic Priesthood, Wilford Woodruff said, “I traveled thousands of miles and preached the Gospel as a Priest, and, as I have said to congregations before, the Lord sustained me and made manifest His power in the defense of my life as much while I held that office as He has done while I have held the office of an Apostle. The Lord sustains any man that holds a portion of the Priesthood, whether he is a Priest, an Elder, a Seventy, or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling and does his duty” (Millennial Star, 28 Sept. 1905, p. 610).
Can we reflect for a few minutes about what it means to magnify our callings in the Aaronic Priesthood, and to do our duty?
First I would like to focus attention on two men, Stephen and Philip, who held the Lesser Priesthood, but who certainly magnified their calling and did their duties.
In Acts 6, there was a murmuring among certain members because of an inequality in the daily distribution of food. The Twelve learned of it, but correctly perceived that it would not make sense for them to leave the work of the ministry to serve tables (Acts 6:2). It is worth noting that the verb from which the phrase “serve tables” comes is the source from which the noun “deacon” comes.
The Twelve instructed the brethren, “look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3). Among those called were Stephen and Philip. That these men held the Aaronic Priesthood is evident from the fact that when the Twelve in Jerusalem heard that many in Samaria had received the word and been baptized by Philip, they sent Peter and John to confer the Holy Ghost (see Acts 8:12,14,15).
Here are the things the scriptures tell us about these two who held what we often call the Preparatory or Lesser Priesthood.
- They were full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom (Acts 6:3).
- Stephen did great miracles and wonders among the people (Acts 6:8).
- Enemies of the word were not able to resist the wisdom and spirit by which Stephen spoke (Acts 6:10).
- Stephen’s face appeared to his enemies as though it “had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).
- Philip preached Christ in Samaria and the people “with one accord gave heed” to him (Acts 8:6).
- Philip cast out evil spirits and healed the sick (Acts 8:7).
- Philip performed miracles and signs (Acts 8:13).
- Philip was led by the Spirit to the Ethiopian Eunuch whom he taught and baptized, and then was carried away by that same Spirit (Acts 8:26-39).
It would be a terrible misconception for holders of the Aaronic Priesthood to suppose that their opportunities were somehow limited because their priesthood was a preparation for, or of lesser significance than the Melchizedek. Stephen and Philip were called to serve tables, and they did their duties, but they also magnified their callings and undertook to build the Kingdom whenever there was an opportunity.
Wilford Woodruff served part of his mission in Arkansas while he was a Priest. His companion was an Elder. They knew there was a member of the Church in their area and undertook to locate him. The night before they found his home, Wilford had a dream.
“I dreamed that an angel appeared to us and pointed out a certain path that we must follow, and that the blessings of God would attend us in following that path. As we went along this path we came to a log cabin with a wall on each side ten or fifteen feet high. This road led right through that building. When I went to the door and opened it, it was full of large serpents. My companion said he was not going into that room. Says I, “I am, or I’ll die trying. The Lord told us to follow that path, and I am going to walk in it, unless I am stopped by some power that I know not of.” I stepped into the door…” (Deseret Evening News, Vol. 55, #21, 7 Nov. 1896, from a sermon at Weber Stake Conference in Ogden, 19 Oct. 1896).
Part of doing our duty must be to follow the path the Lord points out to us, regardless of the hazards involved.
Later, during this same mission, Wilford and his companion journeyed toward Memphis. As they waded through what he called alligator swamps and wetlands, his companion, an elder, became discouraged, left him lame sitting on a log, and returned to his home in Kirtland. Wilford prayed and was healed, and continued on his way. He reported that when he arrived in Memphis he had waded “through one hundred and seventy miles of mud to save the people” (Matthias Cowley, Wilford Woodruff).
He stopped at the best tavern and asked for a meal and a bed. The owner, seeing his condition and learning that he claimed to be a preacher, decided to have some fun with him, and offered to take care of him if he would preach. After a fine dinner that evening, he preached what he would later call, “One of the best sermons of my life.”
Part of magnifying our calling and doing our duty must be a willingness to slog through many miles of mud to save the people.
Another example of the way we ought to feel about the Aaronic Priesthood comes from Malieatoa Fitisimanu. He was a high chief in the islands and was in line to be the next royal king of Samoa. He was 6’ 4” tall, weighed about 500 pounds, and was very athletic. Malieatoa was informed that he could be king if he would renounce Mormonism and be a member of the dominant religion of the islands. Upon hearing the demand, he replied, “I would rather be a deacon in the Mormon Church than king of all Samoa” (Church News, 5 January 1991, p. 11).
I feel certain that the attitude this great man had about the priesthood is the attitude my father hoped I would develop when he handed me that letter fifty-nine years ago.
We do not usually have the same opportunities that Stephen and Philip and Wilford and Malietoa had to magnify our callings. But we all have priesthood duties, and we can determine to do them extremely well.
My fourteen year-old son, Stephen, named after the man in Acts 6, asked me for permission to roller-blade his way up Provo Canyon to Bridal Veil Falls. This I strictly forbade, because with the inherent intelligence that all fathers possess, I knew that this was far too dangerous an activity. So instead of taking a leisurely ride up the canyon on the well-marked and level bike path, he and his friends went roller-blading at the Orem Recreation Center. Outside. On the steps. After his second leap over a short flight of stairs, his feet went forward at a higher rate of speed than the rest of him. As he fell over backward, he threw his arm out behind him to break his fall. What he broke was his arm.
We got him patched up at the emergency room (it was Saturday), but the next day at Church he was in a lot of pain, so when the deacons were assigned to make call-backs to the families that were not home last week for fast-offering collections, I thought he would use his arm and his pain as excuses to go home instead. But he accepted an assignment. When I asked him why, he replied, “Jesus said we should do our duty. He didn’t say we should do our duty unless our arm is broken.”
Here are some principles that will assist you as you seek for the power of the Aaronic Priesthood in your life, or assist those around you as they seek that power.
- Magnify your calling like Stephen and Philip.
- Walk the path the Lord has assigned to you, even through a house full of serpents.
- Be willing to slog through the mud for a lot of miles to save the people.
- Treasure the priesthood. It matters more than any earthly recognition.
- Do your duty even if your arm is broken.