If there were any perks to 2020, one was that we all spent a little bit more time (virtually) with President Russell M. Nelson than usual. Outside of general conference, the Church released special video messages throughout the year from our prophet. Additionally, President Nelson co-authored a piece with NAACP leaders calling for racial harmony. He reminded us of the need for gratitude to find healing, he invited us to fast with him, he prayed for us, and he reminded us that “we are all children of a loving God.”
His invaluable advice and counsel has brought us closer to Heavenly Father, provided hope, and encouraged unity. Take a look back at some of what President Nelson taught us this year.
"We invite you to be a major part of sharing the message of the ongoing restoration of the Savior's gospel," President Nelson wrote in a Facebook post inviting Church members to read the account of the First Vision and contemplating the impact the Book of Mormon and the First Vision in advance of general conference. "We will share more about this soon, but you can start today by acting on the invitations I extended to you last general conference to immerse yourself in the glorious light of the Restoration."
“When we face challenges and afflictions, we may feel discouraged or perhaps forgotten," President Nelson told Saints in Venezuela in February during what would end up being one of his last trips this year. "I assure you that God has not forgotten you. . . . I testify that the Lord knows you. You are engraved upon the palms of the hands of the Son of God. He will not abandon you.”
Later that month, President Nelson extended an invitation for us to ponder our relationship with the Savior and how we “hear Him” in our own lives.
"In this special year as we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the First Vision, I invite you to think deeply and often about this key question: How do you hear Him? I also invite you to take steps to hear Him better and more often," President Nelson wrote in a Facebook post that included his second invitation in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of the First Vision.
In his first message to Latter-day Saints after the pandemic began to take its toll in the United States, President Nelson addressed the virus and its effects but , "Brothers and sisters, please take good care of yourselves and your loved ones. And look for opportunities to help those around you near and far. We have the great privilege of ministering to our neighbors wherever they live. Temporary changes in our normal routine may allow additional time to experience how precious home-centered gospel study can be. Don't hesitate to use the new Book of Mormon videos and other technology to study the gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . That gospel provides certain hope and help to a troubled world. I love you. I pray for you. And I promise that you will receive comfort and peace as you continue to hear Him."
A few weeks later, President Nelson again addressed Church members, but this time his invitation was more specific as he invited people worldwide to join in a fast.
“As a physician and surgeon, I have great admiration for medical professionals, scientists, and all who are working around the clock to curb the spread of COVID-19,” President Nelson said in a video invitation. “I am also a man of faith, and I know that during these challenging times, we can be strengthened and lifted as we call upon God and His Son, Jesus Christ—the Master Healer."
During the first-ever completely virtual general conference, President Nelson reminded us in April that, though the world may be in commotion, we are living in a choice time. He emphasized the significance of the Restoration of the gospel for each of us:
“We live in the day that ‘our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation.’ We have front-row seats to witness live what the prophet Nephi saw only in vision, that ‘the power of the Lamb of God’ would descend ‘upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.’ You, my brothers and sisters, are among those men, women, and children whom Nephi saw. Think of that! Regardless of where you live or what your circumstances are, the Lord Jesus Christ is your Savior, and God’s prophet Joseph Smith is your prophet. He was foreordained before the foundation of the earth to be the prophet of this last dispensation, when “nothing shall be withheld” from the Saints. Revelation continues to flow from the Lord during this ongoing process of restoration.”
He also led us in a special Hosanna Shout and introduced “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World.”
In a special additional session of conference, he introduced a new symbol to represent the Church to the world and called for a second worldwide fast on Good Friday.
“This is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He stands at its head and directs all that we do. I know that He will respond to the pleadings of His people,” he said.
As a follow-up to his initial messages related to the pandemic, President Nelson released another video message in May as some of the tightest restrictions of the pandemic were being lifted in the United States.
“Thank you for serving and loving one another as the Savior would have us do,” he said. “We are grateful for the helpful direction that government, health, and civic leaders have provided to keep us safe. And we will continue to be prayerful and proceed with an abundance of caution. Your safety and well-being will always be our utmost concern.”
“Any nation can only be as great as its people. That requires citizens to cultivate a moral compass that helps them distinguish between right and wrong,” President Nelson said as civil unrest began to impact the world. “Illegal acts such as looting, defacing, or destroying public or private property cannot be tolerated. Never has one wrong been corrected by a second wrong. Evil has never been resolved by more evil. . . . We need to foster our faith in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. We need to foster a fundamental respect for the human dignity of every human soul, regardless of their color, creed, or cause. And we need to work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation.”
Later, he joined with leaders of the NAACP in co-authoring an article that included the following:
“Unitedly we declare that the answers to racism, prejudice, discrimination, and hate will not come from government or law enforcement alone. Solutions will come as we open our hearts to those whose lives are different than our own, as we work to build bonds of genuine friendship, and as we see each other as the brothers and sisters we are—for we are all children of a loving God. . . . Oneness is not sameness in America. We must all learn to value the differences.”
Speaking to mission leaders virtually on June 26, President Nelson spoke of the many heavenly visitors Joseph Smith had as he restored the gospel. In addition to the angel Moroni, who President Nelson said visited the Prophet Joseph at least 20 times in the 1820s, he was also visited by 60 angels, including John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Moses, Elias, and Elijah.
“Although we know little about the details and purposes of many of the other angelic visits, their cumulative impact provided Joseph with an extraordinary perspective of past dispensations and the ability to restore and renew plain and precious things,” President Nelson taught.
“How difficult was it to make the decision to close the temples? That was painful; it was wracked with worry,” President Nelson said in a message about the temple closures due to the pandemic. “I found myself asking, ‘What would I say to the Prophet Joseph Smith? What would I say to Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and the other presidents on up to President Thomas S. Monson? I’m going to meet them soon.’ To close the temples would deny all for which all those Brethren gave everything, but we really had no other alternative.”
In the end of the message, President Nelson reminded us, “I’ve learned that even through clouds of sorrow, there can be silver linings found.”
In August, President Nelson offered a message of hope, saying, “Dear friends, the road ahead may be bumpy, but our destination is serene and secure. So, fasten your seatbelt, hang on through the bumps, and do what's right. Your reward will be eternal.”
Later in the month, he highlighted the many acts of service that had been offered since the beginning of the pandemic. “Where does all that relief come from? Mostly from our members. Voluntary fast offerings from our members have actually increased, as well as voluntary contributions to our humanitarian funds. Further, many members of the Church have labored to render assistance to COVID-19 victims. They have prepared and provided personal protective gear for caregivers. Thousands of Relief Society sisters in many countries have made millions of masks. And this while our members continue to feed the hungry, assist refugees, and labor to relieve damage caused by natural disasters, wherever they occur throughout the world. So, my dear friends, I thank you for your efforts and your contributions. Together we will overcome this difficult time. The Lord will bless you as you continue to bless others.”
President Nelson celebrated his 96th birthday in September in true 2020 form with a virtual party that included 276 total participants in 61 locations, all of whom wanted to wish their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather a happy birthday. During the celebration, President Nelson shared with his family the “ABCs for spiritual growth—A: be attractive, B: be bright, C: build character.” He encouraged his family members and all of us to reflect love and encouragement in their spiritual appearance, brighten the room when they enter it, and to build their character with faith, virtue, patience, obedience, and more.
During the October 2020 general conference, President Nelson taught us a Hebraic definition of Israel: “Let God prevail.”
“The Lord is gathering those who are willing to let God prevail in their lives. The Lord is gathering those who will choose to let God be the most important influence in their lives,” President Nelson taught.
He concluded with an invitation to make a list of all the Lord has promised He will do for covenant Israel. “I think you will be astounded! Ponder these promises. Talk about them with your family and friends. Then live and watch for these promises to be fulfilled in your own life,” he said.
In the women’s session, he spoke of the example of Captain Moroni and how Moroni prepared his people in three ways: “First, he helped them create areas where they would be safe—'places of security’ he called them. Second, he prepared ‘the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord.’ And third, he never stopped preparing his people—physically or spiritually.”
President Nelson surprised Church members again in November with another video message, which hundreds of thousands of people worldwide tuned in to watch live. He offered a message about the importance of gratitude before inviting all those watching to join him in prayer.
“Over my nine and a half decades of life, I have concluded that counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems,” he said prior to the prayer, later adding, “No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription. Does gratitude spare us from sorrow, sadness, grief, and pain? No, but it does soothe our feelings. It provides us with a greater perspective on the very purpose and joy of life.”
In November he also released a special video exclusively seen by areas affected by wildfires, once again offering hope for a bright future.
“Look forward to the future with hope,” President Nelson said. “Embrace it with the assurance that the Holy Ghost will strengthen and direct you. Help your children understand that now is the time to manifest their complete faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ.”
Finally, President Nelson helped us welcome in the Christmas season with his message at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. During his concluding remarks, President Nelson reminded us of the tremendous significance of the symbolism surrounding the Savior’s birth. For example, he taught that Jesus Christ was “both The Lamb and The Shepherd.”
“At the birth of Him who is called the ‘Good Shepherd,’ shepherds were the first to receive the announcement of His holy birth. At the birth of Him who is called the ‘Bright and Morning Star,’ a new star appeared in the heavens. At the birth of Him who called Himself the ‘Light of the World,’ darkness was banished worldwide as a sign of His holy birth.”