For the past 49 years as an LDS apostle, church President Thomas S. Monson has been responding to spiritual promptings to speak with a needy Mormon leader in Brisbane, Australia, to go to a friend at University Hospital in Salt Lake City, or to visit an elderly widow who would die the next day.
"The opportunity to be a blessing in the life of another often comes unexpectedly," Monson said Sunday on the second day of the 182nd Semiannual LDS General Conference, speaking from the giant Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. "The Lord is in the details of our lives."
Monson, whose speech was broadcast on the Internet and beamed via satellite to millions of Mormons worldwide watching in LDS chapels, reviewed some of the small moments of his decades of service since being sustained as an apostle on Oct. 4, 1963. He assured LDS listeners that God hears and knows them.
"We can communicate with our Heavenly Father through prayer and those prayers will be heard and answered," said the 85-year-old leader, considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" by the 14 million Mormon faithful, "perhaps not how and when we expected they would be answered, but they will be answered."
Other speakers Sunday emphasized the teachings and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and his mandate to love and serve.
"For some, serving or ministering one by one, following the Savior's example, doesn't come easily," said Relief Society President Linda K. Burton, in her first General Conference speech as head of the LDS women's organization. "But with practice, each of us can become more like the Savior as we serve God's children."
In a powerful speech on Christian discipleship, LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland told the assembled believers "the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty."
Addressing the younger generation, Holland said, "You have a monumental work to do, underscored by the marvelous announcement President Monson made yesterday morning [lowering the age of Mormon missionaries to 18 for men and 19 for women]."
LDS believers have "neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do," the apostle said. "In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can't quit and we can't go back."
Holland invited outsiders to join "this great final cause of Christ" and former members to "come back, stay true, love God and lend a hand."
Several speakers during the concluding, afternoon session of the two-day conference also talked about what it means to be a Christian.
"A Christian has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that he is the literal Son of God, sent by his father to suffer for our sins in the supreme act of love we know as the atonement," said LDS apostle Robert D. Hales. "A Christian believes that through the grace of God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ, we can repent, forgive others, keep the commandments, and inherit eternal life."
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe those statements, Hales said, so why would others say Mormons are not Christian?
The real question, the apostle said, is what kind of Christians they are?
Jesus mandated to his followers to "feed my sheep." Mormons do that, Hales said, when they are involved in "lifting, blessing, comforting, encouraging, and building (young and old), especially those who think and believe differently than we do. … And we feed his sheep throughout the world by being Christian neighbors, practicing the pure religion of visiting and serving the widows, the fatherless, the poor, and all who are in need."
Apostle David A. Bednar said faith begins with "a mighty change in our hearts," which leads to "having a disposition to do good continually."
But that, Bednar said, is not enough.
"Knowing that the gospel is true is the essence of belief," he said. "Consistently being true to the gospel is the essence of conversion."
Monson closed the conference with an expression of gratitude to all those who spoke or contributed to the proceedings.
The office of LDS president is a demanding one, he acknowledged, and he thanked his two counselors Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf as well as all Mormons for their continuing support.
"May we ever watch over one another, assisting in times of need," Monson said. "Let us not be critical and judgmental, but let us be tolerant, ever emulating the Savior's example of loving kindness. ... May we pray for the inspiration to know of the needs of those around us, and then may we go forward and provide assistance."