In press conferences which we attend, we are frequently asked: “Well, what is the condition of the Church?” We answer, “The Church is well and growing and is strong and healthy. Thank you.” As we approach the conference, we have 661 stakes. There were but 148 when I came to the headquarters of the Church in 1943. There were no stakes abroad, and we were to wait for many years before the Church began to cross the oceans and the great land masses. Already, since President Romney organized the Auckland, New Zealand, Stake in May 1958—there are 86 stakes overseas. We now have 112 missions, plus the 661 stake missions, and we now have approximately 18,000 missionaries, whereas in 1943 there was a very small group, relatively. We are happy with the growth, which is consistent and continues to be stable. And when we are asked why we are such a happy people, our answer is: “Because we have everything—life with all its opportunities, death without fear, eternal life with endless growth and development.” With 3.3 million members of many races and numerous lands in the north, the south, east, and west, we will soon close another year of development and growth. The people are attending their meetings and looking after their personal responsibilities. The temples are increasing in numbers, and the work at the temples indicates great spirituality. The educational program is pleasing, with the university and the colleges, the institutes and seminaries, and the ecclesiastical organizations of the Church all teaching. And knowledge is expanding and testimonies are deepening. . . Now, brothers and sisters, we have launched a cleanup campaign. . . We call attention also to the habit in which many buy their commodities on the Sabbath. Many employed people would be released for rest and worship on the Sabbath if we did not shop on that day. Numerous excuses and rationalizations are presented to justify the Sunday buying. We call upon all of you to keep the Sabbath holy and make no Sunday purchases. . . Remember, God is in his heavens. He knew what he was doing when he organized the earth. He knows what he is doing now. Those of us who break his commandments will regret and suffer in remorse and pain. God will not be mocked. Man has his free agency, it is sure, but remember, GOD WILL NOT BE MOCKED.
I am intrigued by the words of Isaiah, who called the Sabbath “a delight.”1 Yet I wonder, is the Sabbath really a delight for you and for me? I first found delight in the Sabbath many years ago when, as a busy surgeon, I knew that the Sabbath became a day for personal healing. By the end of each week, my hands were sore from repeatedly scrubbing them with soap, water, and a bristle brush. I also needed a breather from the burden of a demanding profession. Sunday provided much-needed relief. What did the Savior mean when He said that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”?2 I believe He wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal. God gave us this special day, not for amusement or daily labor but for a rest from duty, with physical and spiritual relief. . . . How do we hallow the Sabbath day? In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father.12 With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.
In closing may I share with you an example of one who determined early in life what his goals would be. I speak of Brother Clayton M. Christensen, a member of the Church who is a professor of business administration in the business school at Harvard University. When he was 16 years old, Brother Christensen decided, among other things, that he would not play sports on Sunday. Years later, when he attended Oxford University in England, he played center on the basketball team. That year they had an undefeated season and went through to the British equivalent of what in the United States would be the NCAA basketball tournament. They won their games fairly easily in the tournament, making it to the final four. It was then that Brother Christensen looked at the schedule and, to his absolute horror, saw that the final basketball game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. He and the team had worked so hard to get where they were, and he was the starting center. He went to his coach with his dilemma. His coach was unsympathetic and told Brother Christensen he expected him to play in the game. Prior to the final game, however, there was a semifinal game. Unfortunately, the backup center dislocated his shoulder, which increased the pressure on Brother Christensen to play in the final game. He went to his hotel room. He knelt down. He asked his Heavenly Father if it would be all right, just this once, if he played that game on Sunday. He said that before he had finished praying, he received the answer: “Clayton, what are you even asking me for? You know the answer.” He went to his coach, telling him how sorry he was that he wouldn’t be playing in the final game. Then he went to the Sunday meetings in the local ward while his team played without him. He prayed mightily for their success. They did win. That fateful, difficult decision was made more than 30 years ago. Brother Christensen has said that as time has passed, he considers it one of the most important decisions he ever made. It would have been very easy to have said, “You know, in general, keeping the Sabbath day holy is the right commandment, but in my particular extenuating circumstance, it’s okay, just this once, if I don’t do it.” However, he says his entire life has turned out to be an unending stream of extenuating circumstances, and had he crossed the line just that once, then the next time something came up that was so demanding and critical, it would have been so much easier to cross the line again. The lesson he learned is that it is easier to keep the commandments 100 percent of the time than it is 98 percent of the time.