Where the Ropes Are

"Maybe we feel inadequate to receive our own spiritual revelation. Maybe we even look to the prophets to save us." 

Almost 9 years ago I was sitting in the Marriott Center during BYU Education Week when an apostle said something that gave me chills. I knew I was hearing a message that God wanted me to hear. This message has had a significant impact on my life. 

Before I share with you what he said, I want to talk about a place in the scriptures we rarely talk about, if ever at all. I think the reason why we don’t talk about it is because it’s actually blank. 

It’s the space between the Old Testament and New Testament. Despite how close Malachi and Matthew are physically in the Bible, the Intertestamental Period was actually over 400 years. 

This was a time when the Jews had no living prophets. They also came under Greek rule who destroyed their temple. The Maccabeans overcame this oppression and the Jews began to rebuild the temple. Then eventually they came under Roman rule. 

This is a super high level of the Intertestamental Period. For more information on this tumultuous time for the Jews, see the resources at the end of this article. 

Now we have Jews who don’t speak Hebrew–very few can read and write it, they have their  scriptures in Greek, and they speak Aramaic. 

Without any living prophets, the people relied on scribes. They filled the vacuum that was created when the living prophets left. Scribes knew Hebrew and would translate and interpret the scriptures for those who had lost the language. 

Yeshua Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue, by James Tissot

They were considered experts in the sacred Mosaic Law, which was supposed to be the law used to govern the people in both civil and religious matters. The Jews looked to them to tell them what to do. They were wealthy, honored, and powerful men. 

About now you might be thinking, “Okay, that’s an interesting history lesson, but I’m alive when there are living prophets on the earth.” 

Note: This talk was given to an LDS congregation.  To find out why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes prophets are alive on the earth, click here. 

The reason why I wanted to mention scribes is because I think it gives added meaning to what I heard all those years ago by Elder Neil L. Andersen. He said, “It is becoming more precarious to stand on borrowed light.” He went on to say that we each will need our own lantern to light our own path to see the jagged rocks and uneven cliffs. 

The metaphor of borrowed light and lanterns makes me think of an ancient Jewish wedding tradition. Back then while the betrothed couple were waiting to be married, the woman would keep a lamp lit in her window at night to show that she is ready to be retrieved at any moment. Only the father of the groom could determine when the bridegroom could get his bride and take her to the ceremony. The notice might be as quick as half an hour. Not enough time to go get more oil to light the lamp. The time to borrow light was over. 

Do we try to borrow light today? Maybe sometimes we wish scribes were still around so we could use their lanterns to light our path. Maybe we feel inadequate to receive our own spiritual revelation. Maybe we even look to the prophets to save us. Then when they do something that reveals they are indeed human beings, we question whether anything they say is true and our testimonies feel shaken. 

As I have studied the words of President Nelson, I see him warn us not to use the living prophets as scribes in our lives. 

In the October 2001 General Conference, then Elder Nelson told a story about a rafting accident his family was in. As the raft was about to go down a waterfall, he instinctively grabbed his wife and daughters to protect him. This ended up flinging him into the air, out of the raft, and into the rapids. He almost drowned. A few days later the raft was about to go down another waterfall. He called an emergency family council. He told his family the inflatable raft was not going to sink. He said no matter what happens, they should cling to the ropes that are secured to the raft. His family made it safely through the rough rapids. 

In the April 2018 General Conference, Pres. Nelson’s first General Conference as the President of the Church he warned us that if we want to survive spiritually we need the constant influence of the Holy Ghost. He encouraged us to increase our spiritual capacity to receive revelation. He modeled for us how we can do that by telling us how he selected his counselors with the now often quoted phrase, “good inspiration is based upon good information.” 

Then just a few weeks before the world shut down with a pandemic, Pres. Nelson introduced a campaign with the hashtag #HearHim. He invited us to explore ways to hear the words of Jesus Christ. It wasn't much later that church buildings and temples closed and we were left to worship in our homes and figure out how to best do that. The rough rapids had hit. 

President Nelson has stood on the watchtower warning us to cling to the ropes. He has been showing us how to cling to Christ, not to men. 

As we approach the next General Conference, may I share how I strive not to stand on borrowed light but let the living prophets show me where the ropes are, or in other words, bring me closer to Christ? I think of it as the 3 R’s: record, reflect, refine. 

I like to listen to General Conference with a notebook by my side. My goal is not to record what is said at the meeting because they come out in print and on video later, but my thoughts and impressions that come to my mind. I want to record what the Holy Ghost is trying to tell me. 

How many times have you taken notes at a meeting, only never to see them again?  I know that’s happened to me. I’ve come to realize that the record doesn’t do much good if I don’t revisit the record. I find that when I open up my notebook and reflect on what I wrote in previous conferences, I gain new insights and information. It also helps me to internalize what I wrote down in the first place. 

This is where the rubber hits the road so to speak. I think of the Refine step of asking the question, “So what?”  What am I supposed to do with this impression that I wrote down? Rarely does the Holy Ghost reveal to me that I need to totally upend my life and make wholesale changes. Usually it’s small improvements by degrees. If after General Conference I feel overwhelmed by what is being asked of me, it’s because I want the living prophets to be my scribe. I then feel like they are asking me to lift more than I can carry. (see Matthew 23:4) The Holy Ghost knows exactly what I can handle and knows how to direct me. 

I’m grateful we have living prophets to show us where the ropes to the raft are. They point us to Christ, they don’t replace Christ, for it is Christ in whom we are to have faith and rely upon. I’m grateful for a Savior who will never let me drown in the rough rapids of life. My prayer is that when the Father declares it is time for Christ to come again, I am ready with my own light to receive him. 

A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous, Neil L. Andersen, August 18, 2015
“The Time Between the Old and the New Testaments,” New Testament Teacher Resource Manual (2002), 17–19
“The Intertestamental Period,”  New Testament Teacher Resource Manual (2002), 285
“Set in Order Thy House” By Elder Russell M. Nelson Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,”  By President Russell M. Nelson President of the Church
All images are from LDS Media Library unless otherwise sourced. Click on image for source.

Sacrament Meeting talk given March 17, 2024 in Pleasant Grove, Utah

This is not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.