The Last Days: “Watch and Be Sober”

In the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference (Oct 1973), Ezra Taft Benson gave us a very direct talk on being prepared in the “last days.” Reading it, just now, has given me a new, improved reason to “watch and be sober” (1 Thess. 5:6).


hhh160303085722-restricted-02-migrant-crisis-0303-super-169When he spoke on being prepared he specified three calamities: famine, sickness, and war.


From our perspective, forty-three years later, we can see how famine in poverty has soared to critical levels, rampant deaths are taking place due to sickness of lifestyle and disease, and devastating fallout is happening because of wars throughout the world. Yet he quotes the Lord who said,


“… if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30).


How is that possible? How can we see all the horror around us and not be afraid? Elder Benson offered usHomelessness a list (first created by Pres. Harold B. Lee for Welfare purposes), and assured us that we can minimize the horrific effects in our own lives with our obedience to our leaders. In other words, we will be able to watch and be sober, instead of panicking and being completely useless.


  1.  “First, and above and beyond everything else, let us live righteously.”


Today, this is the number one preparedness tip our prophets are trying to get through to us. While being bombarded with Satan’s attacks (they are no longer enticements), we must learn the gospel, study to understand the gospel, and fight with gospel principles.


2.       “Let us avoid debt as we would avoid a plague.”


We have been ignoring this principle. Debt, and poor money management, is often the cause of homelessness. We are encouraged by so many factors, including an outrageous economy, to survive precariously on debt. But where there is a will, there is a way to live our lives differently. We don’t have to keep up with the Jones’. We don’t have to follow trends and fads. And we certainly don’t have to allow ourselves to be pressured into money pits. When was the last time you actually saved money for a large expense and paid cash for it?


Instead, Joseph B. Wirthlin reminded us:


“How can we ever repay the debt we owe to the Savior? He paid a debt He did not owe to free us from a debt we can never pay. Because of Him, we will live forever. Because of His infinite Atonement, our sins can be swept away, allowing us to experience the greatest of all the gifts of God: eternal life” (“Earthly Debts, Heavenly Debts,” Apr. 2004).


Would we rather be chained to earthly debt, or heavenly debt? For me, the two are so starkly different, it kind of wakes me up and makes me sober. It pulls me out of the lull of worldly enticements and offers a respite of hope, love, and complete ownership that only the Savior offers.


3.        “Let us straitly and strictly live within our incomes, and save a little.”


By doing a quick search on General Conference talks about Tithing, we can find an abundance of sermonizing. The main message has, and always will be, “We should pay [tithes and offerings] as a personal expression of love to a generous and merciful Father in Heaven” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Like a Watered Garden,” Oct. 2001). We must know and recognize that He is the true source for all our necessities. And by living on less than our means, we will have plenty of gratitude to show.


As long as we are in debt, it is not possible to truly save. Elder Marvin J. Ashton wrote the hallmark of all pamphlets for wise money management, “One for the Money.” He said that no one suffers from a “lack of money but rather by the mismanagement of personal finances.” He also stated that the “greatest favors parents can do for their children is to teach them to work.” We live in a day where the philosophy is “my child is going to school. For him/her school is work.” This idea is the opposite of what Elder Ashton is suggesting here. “Family unity comes from saving together for a common, jointly approved purpose.”


He suggests to those just getting married to ask some serious questions:


“Brides should ask, ‘Can my sweetheart manage money? Does he know how to live within his means?’ These are more important questions than ‘Can he earn a lot of money?’ To the husband who says his wife is the poorest money manager in the world, I would say, ‘Look in the mirror and meet the world’s poorest teacher-trainer.’ Learn to see through the money illusion and recognize the real value of money.”  


4.         “[Have] on hand enough food and clothing, and, where possible, fuel also, for at least a year … put your money in foodstuffs … not in stocks and bonds; … do not speculate. … every man who has a garden spot, garden it; every man who owns a farm, farm it.”


For some reason, this is the only one of the four we attempt to concern ourselves with and probably feel most guilty about. Elder Benson quoted President Harold B. Lee saying something I don’t ever remember hearing before.


“Perhaps if we think not in terms of a year’s supply of what we ordinarily would use, and think more in terms of what it would take to keep us alive in case we didn’t have anything else to eat, that last would be very easy to put in storage for a year … just enough to keep us alive if we didn’t have anything else to eat.”


This sheds a whole different light next to all those books being sold at Deseret Book! If you’ve got 50wheat buckets of wheat in your basement, that you’ve never touched and don’t know the first thing to do with, you’ll figure it out when you’re starving.


In all this, Elder Benson gave us the key to being prepared: “Look to the prophets for the words of God, that will show us how to prepare.”


As I read through this talk, it absolutely led me to reflect on what the prophets have warned us about for years. This advice is real. It made me want to put myself in a position where I am able to watch–instead of panic, lose my way, feel desperate, feel overwhelmed, and overcome–and be sober–or humble, teachable, obedient, wise, helpful, and available to others.


Additional posts from General Conference Odyssey:


My Favorite Session So Far Nathaniel Givens

Fatten the Pig G

A Fixed Point Marilyn Nielson