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First five years: Memorable quotes and teachings from President Russell M. Nelson

His ministry has helped the world through a global pandemic, natural disasters and racial unrest by focusing all on Christ

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President Russell M. Nelson tours renovation work at the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 22, 2021.

President Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tours renovation work at the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 22, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

When President Russell M. Nelson spoke on the first Easter morning after he became the 17th prophet-leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2018, he reminded members who they actually believe presides over the church and began what have become repeated efforts to prepare them for the future:

“Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of his mightiest works between now and when he comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this church in majesty and glory. But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”

His firm testimony of Jesus Christ and the power of revelation, and his constant invitation for all to build a foundation upon the Lord has carried through the first five years of President Nelson’s ministry as church president.

The conference that April was dynamic and the effect was electric as changes were announced, but that was just the beginning. The next six months brought additional testimony and meaningful invitations. Then, 10 months into his administration as the church’s 17th president-prophet, he sat down with a few reporters after dedicating the Concepción Chile Temple.

At the end of the interview, he leaned forward knowingly, smiled broadly and said, “If you think the church has been fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come.”

The smile grew a little bigger as he paused at the end of each of the next few sentences.

“Wait till next year,” he said. “And then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It’s going to be exciting.”

That promise, embedded at the end of a video of the interview, spread like wildfire. It perfectly summed up the first year of his presidency and signaled more to come over what now has been another four years.

Five years into his administration — President Nelson was set apart and ordained on Jan. 14, 2018, and spoke to the church for the first time two days later — he has inspired church members to build a foundation on Jesus Christ and directed the faithful through a tumultuous pandemic, among other global challenges.

Here is a sampling of some of his direction during the past five years.

Talking directly to the world

In addition to the semiannual general conferences of the church seen internationally by millions, President Nelson took his messages directly to the world both in person — he literally circumnavigated the world — and digitally.

The travel was purposeful, though he knew he could not visit every country.

“No matter where we would go, we would neglect more than we’d serve,” he told the Deseret News at the start of his first international ministry tour in April 2018, “but we’ll do all we can do in two weeks, and we’ll go home and rest for a while, then tackle another journey.”

He said he felt compelled to minister.

“The Lord’s message is for everyone,” he said. “This is a global work. Whenever I’m comfortably situated in my home, I’m in the wrong place. I need to be where the people are. We need to bring them the message of the Savior.”

Everywhere he went, he spoke of Jesus Christ.

President Russell M. Nelson meets Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome, Italy, on Saturday, March 9, 2019.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and President M. Russell Ballard, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican in Rome, Italy on Saturday, March 9, 2019.

The Vatican

In Quito, Ecuador, in October 2019, he said, “We need to purify our language, elevate our thoughts and live our lives with obedience to God’s commandments. Please teach your children about the Lord Jesus Christ. His Atonement is the most important event in the history of the world and is the foundation of our religion. All other things concerning our religions are secondary to it.”

Preaching peace and optimism

The pandemic halted world travel, but President Nelson used video to speak directly to people two days after the pandemic was declared in March 2020. He said church leaders were praying for the sick and those who had lost loved ones. He also advised that the gospel of Jesus Christ “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,” he said, adding “These unique challenges will pass in time. I remain optimistic for the future.”

Just before Thanksgiving that first year of the pandemic, he again released a video, prescribing gratitude and prayer as a healing remedy for spiritual and societal problems.

“I view the current pandemic as only one of many ills that plague our world, including hate, civil unrest, racism, violence, dishonesty and lack of civility,” President Nelson said, then invited people “to turn social media into your own personal gratitude journal. Post every day about what you are grateful for, whom you are grateful for and why you are grateful. At the end of seven days, see if you feel happier and more at peace. Use the hashtag #GiveThanks. Working together, we can flood social media with a wave of gratitude that reaches the four corners of the earth.”

‘Let God prevail’

In landmark general conference talks, President Nelson focused members on “family centered, church-supported” gospel study, taught about revelation, reorganized home teaching into ministering, asked people to learn how to hear God and announced more than 100 new temples.

One of his most ringing statements was encouraging people to let God prevail in their lives.

“The question for each of us, regardless of race, is the same,” he said. “Are you willing to let God prevail in your life? Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life? Will you allow his words, his commandments and his covenants to influence what you do each day? Will you allow his voice to take priority over any other? Are you willing to let whatever he needs you to do take precedence over every other ambition? Are you willing to have your will swallowed up in his?”

Another was his optimistic call to church members to sharpen their ability to receive revelation as a bulwark against a spiritually suffocating world.

“My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation. Let this Easter Sunday be a defining moment in your life. Choose to do the spiritual work required to enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost and hear the voice of the Spirit more frequently and more clearly.”

Bridges instead of walls

Presiding over the church in an era of division, President Nelson has repeatedly and firmly taught its members to become leaders in abandoning racism and instead embrace building bridges of understanding.

He took to pulpits at general conference and at a national NAACP convention to make pleas for unity.

“Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully to what I am about to say,” he said at the October 2020 general conference. “God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. He invites all to come unto him, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female.’ I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and his commandments, and not the color of your skin.

“I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. Today, I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.”

By that time, he already had linked arms with the NAACP. In May 2018, he and NAACP President Derrick Johnson jointly called for racial harmony and an end to prejudice.

The following year, President Nelson strode across the floor of the Cobo Center in Detroit at the NAACP national convention and spoke for the church about race, saying he wanted the church and NAACP members to become dear friends.

President Russell M. Nelson hugs Dr. Amos Brown at the 110th annual NAACP national convention on July 21, 2019.

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hugs Dr. Amos Brown after his introduction at the 110th annual national convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Simply stated, we strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation,” he said.

It was a phrase he used around the world, at the Vatican, in Tonga and elsewhere.

God’s love and the importance of temples

Another memorable teaching has been his repeated plea with people to understand that God knows them individually and loves them completely.

“In all of eternity, no one will ever know you or care about you more than he does,” he said last year in a broadcast to young adults. “No one will ever be closer to you than he is. You can pour out your heart to him and trust him to send the Holy Ghost and angels to care for you.”

That love comes because of each person’s true identity, he said.

“I believe that if the Lord were speaking to you directly tonight,” President Nelson said, “the first thing he would make sure you understand is your true identity. My dear friends, you are literally spirit children of God.”

Over the past five years, President Nelson has announced the church will build 118 new temples, and he has explained that the temple is a place for Latter-day Saints to feel peace, pleading with them to focus on the temple in ways they haven’t before.

“I promise that increased time in the temple will bless your life in ways nothing else can.”

At the most recent general conference, he said, “My message to you today is that because Jesus Christ overcame this fallen world and because he atoned for each of us, you too can overcome this sin-saturated, self-centered and often exhausting world.”

He also has taught memorably about the ongoing renovation of the Salt Lake Temple, likening it to the need for people to shore up their own spiritual lives.

“We are sparing no effort to give this venerable temple, which had become increasingly vulnerable, a foundation that will withstand the forces of nature into the Millennium,” President Nelson said. “In like manner, it is now time that we each implement extraordinary measures — perhaps measures we have never taken before — to strengthen our personal spiritual foundations.

He said the temple will be the safest place in the Salt Lake Valley when the work is done, similar to the ways the temple binds Latter-day Saints securely to Christ.

“Likewise, whenever any kind of upheaval occurs in your life, the safest place to be spiritually is living inside your temple covenants.”