As LDS General Conference approaches this week I've been thinking about spiritual spectators. Have some of us turned our personal spirituality into a spectator sport? Do we, marvel at the demonstration of spiritual power during general conference by those we view as spiritual superstars and then lounge on the couch of spiritual listlessness?
Ponder this analogy. There are those who showed great athletic promise in high school but completely abandoned physical exercise somewhere in their 20's. These Monday morning quarterbacks sit on the couch through the weekend watching college and professional sports to re-live what they perceive as their glory days. They know all the plays, all the moves, their favorite athlete's statistics, and their training programs, yet they never apply any of that knowledge to their personal life. Likewise, there are many returned missionaries in the Church who have spiritually done the same thing. They spend their life re-living their missionary glory days while letting their spiritual power grow weak. Consider this story about President Spencer W. Kimball:
"While visiting a stake conference, Elder Kimball listened to a group of Primary children sing “I Am a Child of God.” Soon after that, he commented on the song in a conversation with a member of the Primary General Board. “I love the children’s song,” he said, “but there is one word that bothers me. Would Sister Randall mind if the word know were changed to the word do?”
"Sister Randall agreed to change the song. Now the chorus ends with the words “Teach me all that I must do to live with him someday.” These words reflect a principle that President Kimball emphasized throughout his ministry: “Celestial life may be had by every soul who will fulfil the requirements. To know is not enough. One must do. Righteousness is vital and ordinances are necessary.” He taught that the gospel is “a way of life, the plan of personal salvation, and is based upon personal responsibility. It is developed for man, the offspring of God. Man is a god in embryo and has in him the seeds of godhood, and he can, if he will, rise to great heights.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church - Spencer W. Kimball, 2006, p.10)
To know is not enough. Spiritual power does not come from knowing how to gain spiritual power, it comes from doing the things that you know. Just as you get no physical benefit from watching others exercise or participate in sports, you will get no spiritual benefit from watching conference from the sidelines.
Several years ago I stopped taking notes of General Conference. While I believe there is great benefit to knowledge retention as you take notes, I realized that I had taken the wrong approach. My goal was not to have a comprehensive list of notes of what was said in general conference. I could get get talk summaries and notes from multiple locations on the Internet. I decided that I would spend the time in general conference listening to both the speaker and the spirit. If the speaker said to do something, then I would also listen carefully to the spirit. General authorities and general officers of the Church are speaking to such a large audience, the list of things they tell us to do is very long. So, I applied this test. If I felt prompted to do that thing the speaker said, then I would write it down in my notebook. When conference was over I ended up with a list of personalized to-do list rather than a compilation of speaker notes. Then, rather than consider that list as a simple addition to my already too long to-do list, I looked at it as my personalized spiritual training program for the next 6 months.
Spiritual sloth won't lead for spiritual power any more than physical sloth leads to athletic prowess. There are no prizes for those who won't run the race [See Ecclesiastes 9:11 and Mosiah 4:27]