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Todd remembers one cold winter evening when he had ignited their indoor kerosene home heaters onto which his toddler had then fallen and burnt both hands. The first and second-degree burns were appropriately dressed, but the baby screamed for hours. Todd said that he felt so responsible! As his wife comforted the suffering infant and tried to help him sleep, Todd knelt and poured a grieving father’s heart out to another Father he knew understood and cared even more. He pled to have the pain removed and volunteered to suffer in the baby’s place, but the wailing continued.
Todd rose from his knees and searched until he found his consecrated oil and went to join his wife in a desperate effort to call down healing through the powers of priesthood and their faith in He who suffered for the pains of all. In the aftermath of the blessing, Todd found seclusion, fell to his knees, held out his hands as an offering, “Please Father, let my hands take his burning, let me pay the price for my own negligence, please, please….” In spite of their yearning, praying and priesthood blessing, the toddler suffered, wailing through most of the night. Todd understood that God loved his little son, but was left wondering what he had left undone. Was there power in HIS priesthood?
In a day of media super powers, pondering priesthood power evokes thoughts of commanding trees to obey, mountains to move, the dead to rise, and any illness to heal.
Elder Packer once said, “Priesthood is the authority and the power[i] which God has granted to men on earth to act for Him.[ii] When priesthood authority is exercised properly, priesthood bearers do what He would do if He were present.
We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood. We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere. We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide. But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood. The priesthood does not have the strength that it should have and will not have until the power of the priesthood is firmly fixed in the families as it should be.”[iii]
It is clear from this prophetic diagnosis, as well as from the scriptures, that priesthood authority is not the same as priesthood power.
“The power AND authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church” DC 107:18
As we will see, one may hold a priesthood office, or perform a delegated, authorized action, but do so without access to the divine powers, upon which it depends to bless the lives of those for whom it is performed. Most of the time, the recipients can compensate through their own divine connection, but not always, as with children or the unconscious. Even the ancient twelve were unable to deliver a child from the affliction with which he suffered, in spite of their priesthood attempts.[iv]
Todd asked the same question these and all priesthood holders have asked since the beginning of time. What are the variables that give power to this delegated authority? Speaking pointedly about this issue, Elder Oaks, quoting President Kimball said that the major responsibility for healing is the faith of the individual being blessed, not the priesthood holder.[v] But Todd knew that his faith was all that was available to relieve the pain of his little son and it hadn’t worked. What are the elements that give priesthood its power as opposed to just using it simply as a service opportunity or assignment?
There are several powerful scriptures, even whole sections devoted to priesthood. Without any special priority, lets follow Todd’s study and discovery of at least five things that give priesthood authority its power.
1. Personal Righteousness
“the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”[vi] Righteousness is the result of either obedience to Christ or repentance through Christ. Without such, there can be no hope.[vii] The prophet Nephi worked with power as noted by Mormon: “He truly did many miracles in the name of Jesus; and there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity.” 3 Nephi 8:1
President Brigham Young taught: “When I lay hands on the sick, I expect the healing power and influence of God to pass through me to the patient, and the disease to give way. … When we are prepared, when we are holy vessels before the Lord, a stream of power from the Almighty can pass through the tabernacle of the administrator to the system of the patient, and the sick are made whole.” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 252; see also Russell M. Nelson, “Neither Trust in the Arm of Flesh,” Liahona, Mar. 2010, 40; Ensign, Mar. 2010, 24; Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (1997), 474.
Todd could see that he didn’t need to be perfect, he needed to be cleansed…every whit!
2. Light of Christ
“Jesus Christ… ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
As also he is in the moon, the stars, the earth, and you, that which enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.”
We often refer to the light of Christ as our conscience.[x] If this is also the governing power of our universe, emanating from Christ, whose order is called priesthood or the “Holy Order after the Son of God[xi],” then individual priesthood power is initially directed through our conscience. We all must learn to understand the voice of the Lord and spend a lifetime gaining experience in recognizing and understanding this voice. This spirit of revelation begins with listening to our conscience which leads us to do good. All good comes from Christ.[xii] Rather than laboring over decisions we can simply ask, “what does my conscience say?” “Will this lead to something good?” And then take action. Sometimes detailed direction comes only during taking action. This leads us to the next empowering principle.
Todd had taken action, but his oil needed to be discovered due to disuse. Certainly, though, mitigating his little son’s pain was a good thing, intertwined with feelings of carelessness….
3. Holy Ghost
Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the ________________” DC 20:60
It would have been expected that the verse would say, “by the power of the priesthood,” but it doesn’t!! The power by which these priesthood holders are to be ordained is, “the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him.” Joseph Smith said, “we believe that it [the gift of the Holy Ghost] is necessary to make and to organize the Priesthood.[xiii]
One great privilege of the Priesthood is to obtain revelations of the mind and will of God…so far as relates to his particular calling and duty in the Church.[xiv]
How could one holding the priesthood, the power and authority of God, not seek continuously incremental revelation from Him, through the Holy Ghost, so as to know how and when to use that power and authority. It would be as illogical as disconnecting an electrical device from its power source and expecting it to service your needs! Learning the voice of the Spirit, then, is among our greatest priorities! Elder McConkie encourages:
“This doctrine of the priesthood—unknown in the world and but little known even in the Church—cannot be learned out of the scriptures alone. It is not set forth in the sermons and teachings of the prophets and Apostles, except in small measure.
The doctrine of the priesthood is known only by personal revelation. It comes, line upon line and precept upon precept, by the power of the Holy Ghost to those who love and serve God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength. (See D&C 98:12.) Elder Bruce R. McConkie Ens. 4/82
Elder Oaks adds, “It is a very sacred responsibility for a Melchizedek Priesthood holder to speak for the Lord in giving a priesthood blessing. As the Lord has told us in modern revelation, “My word … shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). If a servant of the Lord speaks as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost, his words are “the will of the Lord, … the mind of the Lord, … the word of the Lord, … [and] the voice of the Lord (D&C 68:4).
But if the words of a blessing only represent the priesthood holder’s own desires and opinions, uninspired by the Holy Ghost, then the blessing is conditioned on whether it represents the will of the Lord.”[xv]
“It is your privilege and duty to live so that you know when the word of the Lord is spoken to you and when the mind of the Lord is revealed to you.” Teachings: Brigham Young, 68.
Todd struggled to recognize the voice of the Lord as compared to his own ideas and desires; he even recognized that sometimes compelling thoughts had even come from evil sources. There seems to be a hierarchy of voices that train us to become divine instruments. Cultivating conscience precedes recognizing the voice of the Spirit.
Faith includes trust in God’s governing power, The Priesthood. “For God having sworn…that every one being ordained after this order[xvi] and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course….”[xvii]
Faith and priesthood are more connected than we often think. The faith of the priesthood holder and the faith of the recipient, deeply affect the outcome of priesthood actions taken by the bearer. Even Christ could not perform miracles in faithless environments.[xviii] Priesthood is God’s power by which He created the earth[xix], yet we find that this creative, governing power is also called faith.[xx] Paul describes this process in Hebrews 11:3 KJV
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen….Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”
Since we know that creation is organization, this could be translated as, “disorganized matter was organized by the faith of God through His commanding word.”
Joseph Smith again wrote, “But faith is not only the principle of action, but it is also the principle of power in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth…. The principle of power which existed in the bosom of God, by which he framed the worlds, was faith.[xxi] Faith, then, works by words; and with these its mightiest works have been and will be performed.”[xxii]
Could it be then, that priesthood power works through faith by the spoken word? Elder Oaks combines these three keys to power:
“No elder should ever hesitate to participate in a healing blessing because of fear that he will not know what to say. The words spoken in a healing blessing can edify and energize the faith of those who hear them, but the effect of the blessing is dependent upon faith and the Lord’s will, not upon the words spoken by the elder who officiated…faith and the healing power of the priesthood cannot produce a result contrary to the will of Him whose priesthood it is.
The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and faith means trust. April 2010 | Healing the Sick; Elder Dallin H. Oaks
So, faith, words, and divine will are all inter-related. Isn’t it interesting that the Jehovah told Moroni that in our day when we exercise faith as the Brother of Jared, then great things would be revealed.[xxiii] The sequence of his exercising faith required Jared’s brother to ask for that which Jehovah had already promised him. When questioned about what he believed his answer was “Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.” This was not a general statement but a very specific allusion to a previous promise given him by Jehovah.
“For he had said unto him in times before, that if he would believe in him that he could show unto him all things—it should be shown unto him; therefore the Lord could not withhold anything from him, for he knew that the Lord could show him all things.” Ether 3:26
Counseling a struggling member facing a certain crisis, I said, “Either find a previous promise given to you by the Lord or turn your efforts to obtaining one, then you can exercise the faith necessary, including receiving a priesthood blessing, and then the crises will be averted. If you do not have such a promise nor can obtain one, then buckle your belt and prepare to weather the crisis, learning from it all that you can!” In working with people as a physician and a priesthood holder, I have come to recognize that Father cherishes our learning faith and to “prize the good”[xxiv], more than getting well or averting other challenges.
Priesthood power comes through words uttered in faith by one knowing God’s will, revealed either in the moment or at prior time.
“Power or influence can be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only bypersuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness (towards them) is stronger than the cords of death.” See DC 121:41-44
This should not be a surprise since “God is Love”[xxv] and that love is the only thing that “never fails” compared to other gifts of the Spirit.[xxvi] The “Power of Godliness” is manifest through priesthood ordinances[xxvii], divine channels[xxviii] that place us into our proper order in eternity.[xxix] This power that makes God, God[xxx], is the power that He alone possesses; the power to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”[xxxi] He has this exclusive power to exalt whatever He creates and loves.
How devotedly focused on our exaltation is our Father? Just how much does this motivate Him to use His omnipotence in our behalf? He tried to help us understand through the prophet Isaiah. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”[xxxii]
I stood in the hall one evening as my little precious two-year-old daughter asked me if I could touch the sky. I guess from her perspective, looking up from her height to mine, that the sky seemed within range of her very own daddy. As much as I wanted to be that hero giant, I wanted her anchored in reality and so answered, “No, daddies can’t touch the sky!” She refused to be distracted from her discovery and said, “Yes you can daddy, try!” I reached up as high as I could to show her that daddies couldn’t reach the sky. She put her little hands on her hips and said, “Yes you can, Daddy, you aren’t even trying…come on jump, Daddy, jump!” I did as commanded so that my fingers brushed the ceiling causing white sprinkles to rain down from an old acoustic ceiling. She stomped her little foot and said, “See Daddy, you did it, you can touch the sky!” Sometimes I think that we, like a two-year-old limit God’s capability by our experience with our tiny reality.
But, we use these verses to show how far above us are His thoughts and ways, which is true, but we may miss the context of what His elevated thoughts and ways are focused on. The previous verse reveals this important divine motive and power:
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”[xxxiii]
The word for “mercy” is the Hebrew word racham which means to love deeply as originating from the word “womb.” This is the kind of deep love a mother has for her child. His thoughts and ways are ALL about exalting us through the dangerous furnace of affliction[xxxiv]. This is the canopy of His power; love; Kaphar; at-one-ment.
Power is used synonymously with influence[xxxv]; in harmony with agency. He does this by involving us in the exaltation process, by delegating access to His creative, exalting and edifying power; endowing us through “grace for grace.”[xxxvi] He manifests this power/influence as He works through us by giving all of us, of both genders, access to that power through priesthood callings.[xxxvii]
[i] DC 107:18 “The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church”
[ii] See Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (1998), 141
[iii] President Boyd K. Packer; Conference April 2010 | The Power of the Priesthood
[iv] Luke 9:37-42 “And I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not.” See also Matthew 17:14-21
The Lord “worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men” (Moroni 10:7)
[v] President Spencer W. Kimball said: “The need of faith is often underestimated. The ill one and the family often seem to depend wholly on the power of the priesthood and the gift of healing that they hope the administering brethren may have, whereas the greater responsibility is with him who is blessed. … The major element is the faith of the individual when that person is conscious and accountable. ‘Thy faith hath made thee whole’ [Matthew 9:22] was repeated so often by the Master that it almost became a chorus.” “President Kimball Speaks Out on Administration to the Sick,” Tambuli, Aug. 1982, 36–37; New Era, Oct. 1981, 47. Ensign May 2010 | Healing the Sick; Elder Dallin H. Oaks
[vi] DC 121:36
[vii] Moroni 10:21-22 “And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope. And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.”
[viii] Gospel Topics: “Priesthood: Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass ‘the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).
[ix] We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? April 2014 | The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood; Elder Dallin H. Oaks
[x] “Conscience is the inner sense of right and wrong, coming from the Light of Christ in all men (Moro. 7:16). We are born with a natural capacity to distinguish between right and wrong because of the Light of Christ that is given to every person (D&C 84:46). This faculty is called conscience. The possession of it makes us responsible beings. Like other faculties, our consciences may be deadened through sin or misuse.” Guide to the Scriptures. See also Bible Dictionary
[xi] DC 107:3
[xii] Moroni 7:16 “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God”.
[xiii] Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p243
[xiv] IBID p111
[xv] Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign May 1987 | Priesthood Blessing
[xvi] priesthood – see JST Genesis 14:27-28
[xvii] JST Genesis 14:30
[xviii] “If there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them” (Ether 12:12)( 1 Nephi 7:12; DC 35:9.)
[xix] It is the power by which the earth was created.” Boyd K. Packer, “Priesthood Power in the Home” (worldwide leadership training meeting, Feb. 2012); lds.org/broadcasts; see also James E. Faust, “Power of the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 1997, 41–43.
[xx] “By the priesthood power, the earth was created.” Elder Russell M. Nelson, Ens, 10/87,p86
“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God… Heb 11:3 By this we understand that the principle of power which existed in the bosom of God, by which the worlds were framed, was faith” Joseph Smith Lectures on Faith 1:15
“It is the power of faith, by which the Father creates and governs.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p.594
[xxi] Lectures on Faith 1:13, 15
[xxii] Lectures on Faith 7:3
[xxiii] Ether 4:7 “And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations”
[xxiv] Moses 6:55 “Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin (born with a fallen nature), even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts (enticed by natural appetites), and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.”
[xxv] 1 John 4:16 “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
[xxvi] 1 Corinthians 13:8 “Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
[xxvii] DC 84:19-20 “And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.”
[xxviii] “The Priesthood…is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation, and every important matter is revealed from heaven.” History of the Church, 4:207
“Knowledge of our condition and true relation to God … can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose.” Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p324
[xxix] Elder Boyd K. Packer; Holy Temple; BYU Speeches 2/3/80; “Ordinance—The ceremony by which things are put in proper order.”
[xxx] DC 132:19-20 “…which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end…”
[xxxi] Moses 1:39
[xxxii] Isaiah 55:8-9
[xxxiii] Isaiah 55:7
[xxxiv] 1 Nephi 20:10 “For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
1 Nephi 21:15 “can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee”
[xxxv] DC 121:41
[xxxvi] DC 93:12-13, 19-20; see https://ldsmag.com/understanding-the-heavenly-method-for-finding-truth/ for the author’s discussion on the difference between “grace for grace” and “grace to grace.”
[xxxvii] Women have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by the men who hold the Priesthood.”
Joseph Fielding Smith, “Relief Society—an Aid to the Priesthood,” Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, 4.
As Elder M. Russell Ballard has explained, “Those who have priesthood keys … literally make it possible for all who serve faithfully under their direction to exercise priesthood authority and have access to priesthood power.” M. Russell Ballard, “Men and Women in the Work of the Lord,” New Era, Apr. 2014, 4; Liahona, Apr. 2014, 48; see also Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society (2011), 138.