Latter-day Saints are covenant-keeping people because they seek access to the power of Jesus Christ to swallow up the pain and suffering of a fallen world and lead them back home to God, speakers said Sunday morning during the faith’s 194th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City.

“The Church of Jesus Christ is known as a church which emphasizes making covenants with God,” said President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency.

He described covenants as commitments to fulfill certain responsibilities, and are common in societies. The covenants Latter-day Saints make signal a way the church differs from others.

“Covenants are inherent in each of the ordinances of salvation and exaltation this restored church administers,” President Oaks said. “The ordinance of baptism and its associated covenants are the essential requirements for entrance into the celestial kingdom. The ordinances and associated covenants of the temple are the essential requirements for exaltation in the celestial kingdom, which is eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God. That is the focus of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Other speakers shared powerful testimonies and stories of how Jesus Christ can provide joy and relief even in the most difficult, heartbreaking circumstances.

President Russell M. Nelson, who attended the Saturday afternoon session at the Conference Center, watched the Sunday morning session from home. President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the session, which was attended by 17,555 people and viewed by millions via broadcast and online.

President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency

President Oaks noted that when he was born in 1932, the church had about 700,000 members and seven temples. Today, the church has 17.25 million members, with 189 dedicated temples and 146 more in planning and construction.

He said the purpose of those temples is to allow Latter-day Saints to make commitments to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. He described baptism, the sacrament and the temple endowment as covenants in which church members commit to follow Christ. Joseph Smith introduced the endowment covenants in Nauvoo, Illinois.

“There, persons who were endowed — what the temple ceremony was called — were to be taught God’s plan of salvation and invited to make sacred covenants,” President Oaks said. “Those who lived faithful to those covenants were promised eternal life, wherein ‘all things are theirs’ and they ‘shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.’”

  • “We have many testimonies from those pioneers that the power they received from being bound to Christ in their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple gave them the strength to make their epic journey and establish themselves in the West.”
  • “Persons who have been endowed in a holy temple are responsible to wear a temple garment, an article of clothing not visible because it is worn beneath outer clothing. It reminds endowed members of the sacred covenants they have made and the blessings they have been promised in the holy temple.”
  • “Because covenants do not take a day off, to remove one’s garments can be understood as a disclaimer of the responsibilities and blessings to which they relate. In contrast, persons who wear their garments faithfully and keep their temple covenants affirm their role as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Words matter, Elder Rasband said. They set a tone, and they can hurt or help, bring people together or drive a wedge between them. First and foremost, the Lord’s words matter because Christ himself is the Word, he said.

  • “We ‘hear him’ in the words of scripture, but do we let them just sit on the page or do we recognize he is speaking to us? Do we change?” Elder Rasband said. “We ‘hear him’ in personal revelation and promptings from the Holy Ghost, in answers to prayer and those moments when only Jesus Christ, through the power of his Atonement, can lift our burdens, grant us forgiveness and peace and embrace us ‘in the arms of his love.’”
  • “Second. The words of prophets matter. Prophets testify of the divinity of Jesus Christ. They teach his gospel and show his love for all. I bear my witness that our living prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, hears and speaks the word of the Lord.
  • “President Nelson has a way with words. He has said, ‘Keep on the covenant path,’ ‘Gather Israel,’ ‘Let God Prevail,’ ‘Build bridges of understanding,’ ‘Give thanks,’ ‘Increase faith in Jesus Christ,’ ‘Take charge of your Testimony’ and ‘Become a peacemaker.’ Most recently he has asked us to ‘Think Celestial.’”
  • Elder Rasband said he had completed the dedicatory prayer for the Bangkok Thailand Temple when he awoke to revelation the night before the dedication to revelation.
  • “I sensed certain words were missing, and by divine design, they came to me in revelation and I inserted these words in the prayer near the end. “May we think celestial, letting thy Spirit prevail in our lives, and strive to be peacemakers always,” he said, referencing the words of President Nelson.
  • Third, one’s own words matter. Elder Rasband said three phrases can help: “Thank you,” “I am sorry” and “I love you.”
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gestures during his talk during the morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 7, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Elder Dale G. Renlund, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Elder Renlund compared spiritual progress to a kayaking trip he took when, as he paused in the water, small waves flipped his kayak. “We become vulnerable when we slow down and especially when we stop,” he said.

  • “If we maintain spiritual momentum by continually ‘rowing’ toward the Savior, we are safer and more secure because our eternal life depends on our faith in him. Spiritual momentum is created ‘over a lifetime as we repeatedly embrace the doctrine of Christ.’ Doing so, President Russell M. Nelson taught, produces a ‘powerful, virtuous cycle.’”
  • “In life, we need to ‘row’ toward the Savior to come unto him. Our faith in Jesus Christ needs to be nourished daily. It is nourished as we pray daily, study the scriptures daily, reflect on the goodness of God daily, repent daily and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost daily.”
  • He said his kayaking guide provided good advice without judgment when Elder Renlund was most receptive. “As we minister to others, we do not need to ask unhelpful questions or state the obvious. Most people who are struggling know that they are struggling. We should not be judgmental; our judgment is neither helpful nor welcome, and it is most often ill-informed.”
  • “I invite you to live the doctrine of Christ repeatedly and iteratively and help others on theirway. I testify that the doctrine of Christ is central to Heavenly Father’s plan; it is, after all, his doctrine. As we exercise faith in Jesus Christ and his Atonement, we are propelled along the covenant path and motivated to help others become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Elder Patrick Kearon of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during the morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 7, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Elder Patrick Kearon, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

The intent of God’s plan is to save, redeem and extend mercy, said Elder Kearon, who said that unlike a policeman he saw stopping cars at a roadblock, “everything about the Father’s plan for his children is designed to bring everyone home.”

  • “Our Father’s beautiful plan ... is designed to bring you home, not to keep you out. No one has built a roadblock and stationed someone there to turn you around and send you away. In fact, it is the exact opposite. God is in relentless pursuit of you. He wants all of his children to choose to return to him, and he employs every possible measure to bring you back.”
  • “What do God’s messengers, his prophets, call this plan in Restoration scripture? They call it the plan of redemption, the plan of mercy, the great plan of happiness and the plan of salvation which is unto all, ‘through the blood of mine Only Begotten.’”
  • “The intent of the Father’s great plan of happiness is your happiness, right here, right now and in the eternities. It is not to prevent your happiness and cause you instead worry and fear.
  • “The intent of the Father’s plan of redemption is in fact your redemption, your being rescued through the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, freed from the captivity of sin and death. It is not to leave you as you are.
  • “The intent of the Father’s plan of mercy is to extend mercy as you turn back to him and honor your covenant of fidelity to him. It is not to deny mercy and inflict pain and sorrow.
  • “The intent of the Father’s plan of salvation is in fact your salvation in the celestial kingdom of glory as you receive the testimony of Jesus and offer your whole soul to him. It is not to keep you out.”
  • “Christ’s great atoning gift removes every roadblock of physical and spiritual death that would separate us from our eternal home.”

President Susan H. Porter, general Primary president

Sister Porter spoke directly to children, telling them that prayer is a special gift from God. She asked them to pray to know that Heavenly Father is real and loves them, to pray to grow to become more like Jesus Christ and pray to show Heavenly Father’s love to others.

  • “Our Heavenly Father loves you! You are his child. He knows you. He wants to bless you. I pray with all my heart that you will feel his love.”
  • “Share with Heavenly Father what is in your heart. As you sincerely ask for his help, you will receive his Spirit to guide you. Praying every day will fill you with love for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. This will help you want to follow them your whole life!”
  • “Through his Spirit, Heavenly Father will help you notice someone who is sad so you can comfort them. He can help you show his love by forgiving someone. He can give you courage to serve someone and share with them that they are a child of God. You can help others come to know and love Jesus and Heavenly Father as you do.”

Elder Paul B. Pieper, Quorum of the Seventy

Elder Pieper instructed listeners to work toward building their trust in God. He said his family uses the trust exercise where one falls backward and trusts the family will stop the fall.

“Sometimes the best way to learn to trust God is simply by trusting him. Like the ‘crazy trust exercise,’ sometimes we just need to be willing to fall backward and let him catch us ... He extends us personal invitations to strengthen and deepen our trust in him. Each time we accept and act on an invitation, our trust in God grows. If we ignore or decline an invitation, our progress stops until we act on a new invitation.”

“The relationship God seeks with each spirit child is one so close and personal that he will be able to share all he has and all he is. That kind of deep, enduring relationship can develop only when built upon perfect, total trust.

“Notwithstanding God’s trust in us, our relationship with him will grow only to the degree we are willing to place our trust in him. The challenge is that we live in a fallen world and have all experienced a betrayal of trust as the result of dishonesty, manipulation or coercion by others. Once betrayed, we may struggle to trust again. These negative trust experiences with imperfect mortals may even impact our willingness to trust in a perfect Heavenly Father.”

“Good teachers and coaches know that intellectual growth and physical strength can happen only when minds and muscles are stretched. Likewise, God invites us to grow by trusting his spiritual tutoring through soul-stretching experiences.”

Elder Brian K. Taylor, Quorum of the Seventy

Elder Taylor said human suffering and afflictions are swallowed up in the joy of Christ, that life’s trials “prove us” and that one day Christ “will compassionately declare, ‘Behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.’”

Elder Taylor shared the tragic loss Holly and Rick Porter suffered when their 12-year-old son Trey passed away in a fire. Holly Porter suffered severely burned hands and feet in a heroic rescue attempt. She testified that God poured peace and joy on her family in its anguish.

“My hands are not the hands that save,” she said. “Those hands belong to the Savior! Instead of looking at my scars as a reminder of what I was not able to do, I remember the scars my Savior bears.”

Elder Taylor shared three divine principles. “One, stronger faith comes by putting Jesus Christ first. Two, brighter hope comes by envisioning our eternal destiny. Three, greater power comes by focusing on joy.”

He said Christ, as he wrought the Atonement, allowed his will to be swallowed up in the will of the Father.

  • “This phrase ‘swallowed up’ deeply moves me,” Elder Taylor said. “My interest was heightened when I learned that in Spanish, ‘swallowed up’ is translated as ‘consumed,’ in German as ‘devoured’ and in Chinese as ‘engulfed.’ Thus, when I feel overwhelmed in life’s challenges, I remember the Lord’s promise, that we ‘should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it [be] swallowed up, [consumed, devoured, and engulfed] in the joy of Christ.’
  • “With joyful reverence, I witness our Savior lives and his promises are sure. I testify that our Heavenly Father hears your tearful pleadings and will always respond in perfect wisdom. I know he will strengthen you, as he has done for our family in times of great need, ‘that [ye] should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.’”

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square provided the music, with guest singers from Argentina, Austria, Chile, Denmark, England, France, Ghana, Guatemala, Sweden and South Korea.