I’ll admit it, I have a soft spot in my heart for Elder Russell M. Nelson, a living Apostle of God. , “living apostle of God.” The power in that alone speaks to the veracity that God still speaks to man and will continue to do so for eternity. But this is not what I’m writing about today.
I wish to tell you about Elder Nelson. On MormonWiki.com we read:
Elder Nelson entered medicine in college and by the time he’d graduated from the four year program in 1945, he was already a year into medical school. He was an M.D. in 1947 [at] twenty-two [years of age].
– and further . . .
Elder Nelson interned at the University of Minnesota and rather promptly went on to make medical history. He worked on the team that developed the first machine which could perform the functions of a patient’s heart and lungs, while the patient was undergoing heart surgery. In 1951, it was used for the first time in surgery (the first open heart surgery in history), where it performed well. Four years later, he would perform the first successful open heart surgery (using the heart-lung machine) in Utah.
Elder Nelson would perform a number of firsts in Utah related to heart surgery. He was nationally known as an exceptional surgeon, as well, even elected president of the Society of Vascular Surgery.
You may wonder why this part is particularly important to me . . . I’ll tell you. When I was 15-years-old I was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. My health was spiraling downward, although it did not stop me from living life to the fullest, and by the time I was 18 it was very clear I needed open heart surgery or I would die.
My mother and I had heard about Elder Nelson. He was the doctor to the prophet and apostles, on top of having a thriving medical practice and global reputation. I was certain if a prophet of God entrusted his medical care to Dr. Russell M. Nelson I could do the same. Without going into a lot of detail, what they thought was wrong with me was not, and what was wrong with me was far worse than any of them had imagined. But, I was blessed to be operated on by a future apostle of the Lord. Through inspiration, he said, he’d been able to discern the actual problem and repair it. He also stated that he’d only seen this physical anomaly once, thirty years prior. If anyone else had operated on me I’m not sure I’d still be here. I am alive today because of the sure and inspired hands, mind and heart of Elder Russell M. Nelson.
So yes, I have some interest in this Apostle. From my own experience of being under his care for 15 days, I came to know a soft, gentle, humble man who, first and foremost, loved the Lord and adored his family.
In 1984, three years after my surgery, Dr. Nelson became Elder Nelson and was called, ordained and sustained as a special witness of Jesus Christ, an apostle. Now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, my access to him became nil. But I received my own witness of his apostolic calling when I petitioned the Lord for confirmation. In my heart, I knew the Lord had need of the special skills and giant spirit of my surgeon. 21-years-old and I was panicking about who would do any future heart surgeries I would need and Elder Nelson very sweetly told me, “I have trained thousands better than I.” I doubted anyone was as skilled AND inspired as he was, but his statement did help a little . . . however, it was the witness from the Holy Ghost that gave me the peace I needed.
Elder Nelson has become known for speaking about life, death, hope, divinity of Jesus Christ, so much . . . all offered in that soft and tender voice. Let’s enjoy just a few of his thoughts:
“Come unto me,” the Savior said, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). So you come unto Christ to be yoked with Him and with His power, so that you’re not pulling life’s load alone. You’re pulling life’s load yoked with the Savior and Redeemer of the world, and suddenly your problems, no matter how serious they are, become lighter. That’s what we mean by coming unto Christ, being yoked to Him.” (Russell M. Nelson, “The Mission and Ministry of the Savior: A Discussion with Elder Russell M. Nelson,” Ensign, Jun 2005, 16–19)
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We’ve all had that experience. We’ve prayed for something to happen, and it didn’t happen. Farmers pray for moisture, but moisture is parceled out so partially. I think we need to learn a lesson from the Lord Himself who taught us how to pray. In the Lord’s Prayer He said: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10). If we can train ourselves to pray to God that we might conform to His will rather than have Him conform to our will, that problem will disappear. It’s a matter of learning who is the Father and who is the son or the daughter. You pray to be consonant with the will of God and to let your life be consonant with His will and direction for you. Maybe that means you have to suffer through a death or an illness in the family in order to get the growth and the experience that will be to your eternal advantage. Remember who you are when you pray and to whom you’re praying. Blessings are always granted upon obedience to the law upon which those blessings are predicated. I learned in doing surgery that all the prayers in the world could be undone by a single mistake because blessings are predicated upon obedience to laws. Therefore, if you really want a certain blessing, you’d better find out what the laws are that govern that blessing and then work on becoming obedient to those laws (see D&C 130:20–21). (Russell M. Nelson, “The Mission and Ministry of the Savior: A Discussion with Elder Russell M. Nelson,” Ensign, Jun 2005, 16–19)
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As I go around to visit the members of the Church in stake conferences and regional conferences, often I ask them what they know about the life of the Savior. How can you describe what you know about the Savior in a word or two? And maybe I don’t phrase the question very well, but quite often their answers are rather nebulous. I’ve learned that generally people in the world do not understand who the Lord is, what His mission was, or what His ministry meant. The Lord’s mission in mortality was to accomplish the Atonement, which is a gift of immortality to every individual who has ever lived. That is an incredible gift. Part of that mission was to make eternal life a possibility for anyone who would qualify for it. That is a gift conditioned upon obedience to the laws and temple ordinances and covenants. What was His ministry? His ministry was everything else that He did—His miracles, His teachings, His love, His focus on ordinances, His teaching us how to pray. His mission—the Atonement—was uniquely His. Only one was required to do that. He did it once for all. On the other hand, His ministry was to be an example for us. There is no limit to the number of people who can learn to love as He loved, to serve, obey, pray, and endure to the end as He did. We can all emulate that example. We need to make a clear distinction between the things we can do that the Lord did and the things we need not worry about that the Lord did once for all. If we can understand that, then we can really emulate the Lord in our own lives and follow the example He set for us. (Russell M. Nelson, “The Mission and Ministry of the Savior: A Discussion with Elder Russell M. Nelson,” Ensign, Jun 2005, 16–19)
Whenever this man stands at the pulpit, my spirit stills, my heart opens a little more and I simply drink in the words of inspiration, hope and wisdom which come from one who played a direct role in my continued existence on the earth. I testify to you that he is indeed an apostle of God, a special witness of Jesus Christ.
We are so blessed in this day and age. We have a living prophet of God in Gordon B. Hinckley as well as living apostles, of which Elder Russell M. Nelson is one. I testify that God does speak to man through His mouthpiece, Gordon B. Hinckley, and that His gospel does roll forth to every land. Under the guidance and direction of these holy men, our path to eternal salvation is clearly and often pointed out and defined. And through our God, Jesus Christ, immortality is assured and eternal life is a possibility.