One of my favorite things to do when listening to General Conference is to look for common themes and patterns in the talks. As Elder Neil L. Andersen said a couple of years ago:
There are no assigned subjects, no collaboration of themes. The Lord’s way, of course, is always the best way. He takes the individual prayerful efforts of each speaker and orchestrates a spiritual symphony full of revelation and power. Repeated themes, principle building upon principle, prophetic warnings, uplifting promises—the divine harmony is a miracle! I testify that in this conference we have heard and felt the mind and will of the Lord.
President Henry B. Eyring has reinforced this idea that patterns we see in prophetic words help us know and recognize God’s voice.
The Apostle Paul wrote that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Cor. 13:1). One of the ways we may know that the warning is from the Lord is that the law of witnesses, authorized witnesses, has been invoked. When the words of prophets seem repetitive, that should rivet our attention and fill our hearts with gratitude to live in such a blessed time.
Of course, the Holy Spirit can help us engage the words of prophets to know what messages God would have us focus on and act upon. I’m reminded of something I heard in a talk once, to consider what we are learning about what is not being said. What is the Spirit saying to us as we listen to and ponder the words?
We as a people celebrate the fact that God speaks to the world through prophets, but General Conference is not just general, it’s very personal as we seek God’s guidance. The speakers seek that guidance as they prepare, and we seek that guidance as we listen.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland expressed it well:
[W]ith rare exception, no man or woman who speaks here is assigned a topic. Each is to fast and pray, study and seek, start and stop and start again until he or she is confident that for this conference, at this time, his or hers is the topic the Lord wishes that speaker to present regardless of personal wishes or private preferences. Every man and woman you have heard during the past 10 hours of general conference has tried to be true to that prompting. Each has wept, worried, and earnestly sought the Lord’s direction to guide his or her thoughts and expression….
If we teach by the Spirit and you listen by the Spirit, some one of us will touch on your circumstance, sending a personal prophetic epistle just to you.
I just found this article that talks about other ways General Conference is personal, from the way the Conference Center is designed to how translation services bring General Conference messages to people in their own languages — Conference reaches people from 175 countries and is translated into 94 languages — see General Conference infographic for more information.
Michael Otterson also talked about the personal side of General Conference in his recent Washington Post “On Faith” article entitled “Why do Mormons hold ‘General Conference?‘”
For people who have come to the Conference Center, or for people who watch it at home on TV or the Internet, or in a live or time-delayed broadcast in some far-flung part of the world, this is a time for listening and thinking. … All will listen to the 20-plus addresses over the weekend for what seems most relevant to them. Many will ponder and pray and find ways to help them be better parents, better husbands and wives, better sons and daughters, better neighbors, better followers of Jesus Christ….
Like the scriptures, the true relevance of the revelatory sermons of General Conference is in the lives of the members they touch. The most important transformation is not in the city environs, but in the potential for change in the hearts of the listeners.