Greater Vision

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A couple months ago I stopped at a crosswalk to allow pedestrians to cross the street. People kept coming and crossing so I kept waiting. As the group of pedestrians finished crossing, an impatient driver a couple cars behind me honked his/her horn because I wasn’t moving. What that driver couldn’t see was one last pedestrian crossing the road from the other direction.

A couple days ago I waited to turn left onto a busy road. After two minutes (I kept track of the time), the driver of a car behind me (who was not been there the whole time) impatiently honked, wanting me to turn. What this driver couldn’t see because trees blocked her/his vision was a car coming from our left. This car would have hit me if I turned after the honk.

Are there times you or others become spiritually impatient? The Lord said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God has a plan for us. He sees things we don’t see. He gave us prophets and apostles to provide greater vision of His plan. If we are like these impatient drivers, who trusted more in what they could see than what the car in front of them could see, we can end up in spiritually dangerous situations.

This reminds me of an account in the Book of Mormon after people saw the sign of Christ’s birth: “And there were no contentions, save it were a few that began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures that it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses. Now in this thing they did err, having not understood the scriptures.” (3 Nephi 1:24). Do we follow the living apostles or do we honk impatiently at them, wanting them to go or turn or stop or do something other than what they are doing?

Wait Training

Patience
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As a young deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile backpacking trip with my father, younger brother, and Varsity scouts and leaders. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were like outcasts in a remote location in Arizona. This is an area near the Grand Canyon with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant we spent a lot of time walking through the river. We couldn’t carry enough water to last the extended hike but for two days we enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped or poured from the canyon walls.

Most of our hike kept us within the shelter of narrow canyon walls – walls at times less than 10 feet apart. Once we started to near the end of the canyon it opened and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from springs and shade. We hiked through sand, cacti, and heat. We couldn’t rely on spring water and had to purify water from the river. The hike that had been tiring but pleasant turned more arduous. At one point one of the young men got tired enough that he started asking when the hike would be over. One of the leaders said encouragingly, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses after hiking some hours more, the young man finally blurted out in frustration, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!”

Life can be like that. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path to eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We couldn’t go up the walls or go back – our cars were at the end of the canyon – so we had to go through. This left us with two options – we could hike grudgingly and be miserable or we could endure with patience and enjoy our time. This is largely true of life. We can go through it grudgingly and be miserable or we can do all we can to make the most of whatever situations we are in – good or bad, happy or sad. We can choose to be strengthened and tutored patiently by the trials we endure or just suffer through them.

Patient endurance is a trait of the righteous. As part of the plan of salvation and gospel of Jesus Christ, enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. As we go through trials it is important to go all the way through them. Press forward until you are past the trial. Don’t give up just because something is hard. You can do hard things. You can even be happy in adversity.

This leads to the age-old question of why God allows us to suffer. If God is good and loves us, why are so many people miserable? Why is there so much sadness, even among the righteous? C. S. Lewis wrote:

“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness…by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness — the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.‘” (Source).

This reminds me of the scripture in 2nd Nephi 28: “Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin…and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:7-8)

Many think God should be like the grandfather who spoils His grandkids and then hands them back to parents. We think God should just let us have a good time, eating, drinking, and partying. However, God really does love us, which means He allows His children to learn by experience. How many parents prevent children from learning to walk because they might fall? Or how many parents see their children struggling through school or a sport or another activity and decide that any difficulty or anxiety or challenge is harmful and should be avoided. If we avoided everything that causes us discomfort, we wouldn’t learn or grow. Parents are pained when their children hurt or are upset but there is no growth without adversity. Growth comes from enduring adversity and learning from it.

In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up or avoiding the weights. Without following safety procedures and weight limits, however, serious injury can occur. The benefits also do not come from one session. Growth and strengthening take time and patience. Just as weight training can strengthen our muscles, wait – W A I T – training can strengthen our patience.

What is the longest you waited for something you really wanted? Hours? Days? Months? Years? Sometimes the more we want something, the longer it takes to get it. To hopeful children Christmas Eve feels like a year. But what blessings can come after the wait!

We live in a world of instant gratification. We can order enough furniture and other items to fill a house and get it all delivered within two days. We can instantly reach most people in the world through thin rectangular boxes in our pockets or purses. We can see events happen live around the world on those same devices. Sometimes we might feel impatient if a website doesn’t load instantly. Many people feel frustrated or even explosively angry by delays of a few seconds or minutes, especially when driving.

While it is a wonderful blessing to have instant access and near-instant gratification, much of life requires dedicated effort to reach goals. We need to learn how to wait if we want to make it successfully through life. In October, scientists announced a treatment that will cure many diseases and health challenges (Piercy KL, Troiano RP, Ballard RM, et al. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. JAMA.2018;320(19):2020–2028. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.14854). Among the benefits of this treatment are lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and lower cholesterol. This treatment also lowers the risk of many types of cancer; it improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, improves sleep, and slows weight gain or reduces weight. There are many more benefits. What is this miracle treatment? Exercise.

Occasional exercise isn’t enough. We can’t run a few steps or lift a few weights and see the benefits. These health benefits take consistent and dedicated effort year after year. Those who consistently exercise can add up to seven years to their lives. That’s not just increased quantity but also increased quality. If we regularly exercise we will be healthier and happier than we are without exercise. While any amount of exercise helps, consistency is best.

Exercise has many benefits so why do most people get too little? One of the barriers is that it takes time. There are no instant health benefits; they require dedication and patience. Similar dedication and patience are required in the gospel and in life. Just as the full benefits of physical exercise take years of patient effort to receive, it takes years of dedicated spiritual effort and exercise to receive the full spiritual benefits. We receive many instant blessings from our Eternal Father but the ultimate blessings require faith and patience.

Jesus taught: “In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19). Joseph Smith read verses on patience as he contemplated the nature of God and which church he should join. In James 1:3-4 we read, as did Joseph: “The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” The next verse was the key that inspired Joseph to pray and ask God. We often focus on the immediate answer to Joseph’s prayer but he spent years pondering, studying, and offering silent prayers before his miraculous vision (Source).

Many of us spend years seeking for answers to prayers. What do we do when answers don’t seem to come? Do we give up or do we continue trusting God? Do we only look for the answers that come how we expect or do we open our eyes and hearts to all the others answers God gives? Some of our prayers might be answered how and when we want or they might be answered how we want but not when we want. Some prayers might not be answered at all or maybe those ones are answered in ways we don’t expect.

President Uchtdorf said, “God’s promises are not always fulfilled as quickly as or in the way we might hope; they come according to His timing and in His ways…. I know for sure that the promises of the Lord, if perhaps not always swift, are always certain. Brigham Young taught that when something came up which he could not comprehend fully, he would pray to the Lord, ‘Give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself.’ And then Brigham would continue to pray until he could comprehend it. We must learn that in the Lord’s plan, our understanding comes ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.’ In short, knowledge and understanding come at the price of patience. Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.” (Source)

God loves us. Our Savior Jesus Christ loves us. They want us to be happy – not just happy here but happy in eternity. As we develop patience, we trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not unto our own understandings (Proverbs 3:5). As we acknowledge Him, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:6). When we are tired and feel like our destination or an answer or blessing will never be around the next bend, we can patiently wait upon the Lord, doing the best we can. The blessings will come. The Lord “will go before our face. [He] will be on [our] right hand and on [our] left, and [His] Spirit shall be in [our] hearts, and [His] angels round about [us], to bear [us] up.” (D&C 84:88).

Image by airpix. Used under a CC by 2.0 license.

The Path To Christ

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The apostle Peter provided a blueprint of a holy house, a house wherein those who dwell become more like Christ.

“And beside this [giving up our sinful ways], giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

First, we need to act with diligence. We need to cease our sinning and follow the teachings and commandments of Christ. This takes tenacity and perseverance. As we start to follow the teachings of Christ and His prophets, we are blessed with faith.

Faith is just a start though. We need to add virtue to our faith. Virtue is goodness, it is chastity. It is being morally clean, in all the meanings of the word moral. Once we are filled with virtue we can gain knowledge (virtue could also be understood as priesthood power but that is not true to the underlying Greek {virtue in this verse is from the Greek areth meaning valor}; see Luke 8:46 {virtue in this verse comes from the Greek dunamin meaning power}).

So first faith, then virtue, then knowledge. Why is this order important? Nephi provides an answer: “O that cunning plan of the evil one [notice that Satan has a plan just as Father has one]! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.” (2 Nephi 9:28). Without a foundation of faith and virtue (i.e., goodness, or even valor in living Truth), knowledge has a way of fostering pride; then knowledge profits nothing.

Diligence –> Faith –> Virtue –> Knowledge –> Temperance. Temperance is control, it is restraint. It is power over our appetites, passions, and desires. I think this is a natural progression from knowledge, even if it is not practiced as much as it should be practiced. We learn and grow and learn the value of moderation. Temperance is also important with knowledge because knowledge is power and without a virtuous foundation and without temperance, it can be easy to abuse knowledge. Part of learning temperance is learning self-restraint. Within the LDS Church we have Fast Sundays where part of our practice is to gain control over our appetites. We also are taught and given other reminders to be temperate in our physical appetites and passions.

To temperance we add patience. We can be patient in the midst of afflictions; we can be patient towards others; we can be patient in living our lives in the hope of Christ’s promised blessings. I’ve found that life flows more smoothly with patience.

Next, we add to patience, godliness. Godliness means having the characteristics and qualities of God, particularly, holiness. Holiness means that we consecrate all we have to God and to His work. It means that we rise above the sins of the world living sanctified lives. It means, for Latter-day Saints, attending the temple and remaining true to the covenants we make there.

Now, all the Christian characteristics so far have largely been focused on the self. That’s not what the gospel is about though; that’s not what being a disciple of Christ means. To truly be like Christ, we have to serve others. In order to serve others as Christ did, we need to develop brotherly kindness. We have to recognize that each individual is a child of God. That’s not just a nice phrase of hyperbole, it’s a phrase of literal truth. We are all children of God and should treat one another as such. If we are godly, we can develop a true brotherly kindness and strive to do good to all others, even those who do evil to us.

Lastly: Diligence –> Faith –> Virtue –> Knowledge –> Temperance –> Patience –> Godliness –> Brotherly Kindness –> Charity. The chief virtue is charity. This is the pure love of Christ: “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:47). Charity is without end, it will endure forever. Charity is much more than helping others, it is more than treating others well, it is a pure love that comes from God. Charity is a gift from God.

Peter lays out a clear path to Christ. The foundation is built on keeping His commandments and receiving His ordinances. As we are diligent in following the Savior, we can become more like Him, even becoming filled with charity. We will be able to bless the lives of those around us and have a desire to bless the whole world.

Sin, Sorrow, and Suffering – Part 7

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The Prophet Joseph Smith also suffered much affliction; however, most of his suffering was due to the persecution he received from others who did not believe his story. “I continued to pursue my common vocations in life until…one thousand eight hundred and twenty-three, all the time suffering severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious, because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision” (JS-H 1:27). Joseph Smith was persecuted from when he had the First Vision until he was assassinated 25 years later. He was persecuted and murdered for telling the truth; he was despised and rejected yet he remained faithful.

The word suffering implies patience. The Lord stated on occasion, “Suffer it to be so” (cf. Matt. 3:15). Suffering can mean “allow”, as in “suffer [allow] me first to go and bury my father” (Matt. 8:21). Thus, the word suffer is used contritely, even in a begging manner. In these instances suffering is a plea for patience. We should follow the Prophet Joseph Smith’s example and be faithful and patient in our afflictions and sufferings.

Three young Jewish men named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were living in captivity in Babylon. They, like Joseph in Egypt, impressed their captors and were eventually placed as rulers over the province of Babylon. They were respected by Nebuchadnezzar and many others. However, not all were fond of these men. When the king made a large gold idol, some of his advisers and other leaders sent out a decree that all people must worship the idol. The king signed off on the decree. Then his advisers told the king that these men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego did not worship the idol. The king was upset and sent for the three men. Their reply shows their faith and courage. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee [we won’t try to hide the truth] in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:16-18). What an example of faith! They would not deny their faith even if it cost them their lives.

The king was furious with these men. He commanded that the furnace be heated up 7 times hotter than normal. The fire was so hot that it killed those who put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego into the furnace. However, when the king looked into the furnace he saw 4 men, one of whom looked “like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25). None of the men were hurt. The astonished king commanded them to come forth, which they did. None of their hair had been burned. None of their clothes had been so much as singed. They did not even smell like smoke. They had been protected and strengthened by God. They were blessed because of their faithfulness. After this, the king commanded that no one should speak ill of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. He also promoted them to a higher position in their government, they had impressed him so much.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were faithful. They did not suffer but were strengthened in their afflictions. They were patient when being punished for their faithfulness. They were like Joseph in Egypt, or Moses, or Daniel who sat with lions, or Joseph Smith, who all were patient and suffered long, yet remained faithful. The Lord’s chosen have always suffered many afflictions at the hands of their enemies but they always could look to One who is more powerful and comforting than the waters of Bethesda. The Lord’s people are rarely without affliction but they need not suffer. They can have the faith of Alma and his followers: “And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15).