A House of Prayer Podcast Episode 7 – Strangers in a Strange Land

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In this episode I present an essay I wrote about wandering in strange lands. Throughout the generations, the followers of God were often called to dwell in lands away from their ancestral homes. We too might feel like we wander in the dusty and lonely wilderness. The Lord is there to support us. The text for this podcast is available clicking on the following links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

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Credit: The short music clip I use as an entrance and exit to the show is an arrangement of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing from the album Reflections of Christ. Visit that link to find out how you can purchase the music (I’m not associated with the artists; I just enjoy the music).

The podcast album art is an image by Irwin-Scott. Check out his photo stream on Flickr. I thought his photo of the Salt Lake Temple would be a fitting image as a house of prayer. His night-time photo of the illuminated temple surrounded by darkness has a lovely symbolic meaning of the temple as a light on a hill, an ensign to the nations, a lighthouse shining forth in the darkness.

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 5

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Quoting Elder Holland again from the October 2008 General Conference:

“In the course of life all of us spend time in ‘dark and dreary’ places, wildernesses, circumstances of sorrow or fear or discouragement. Our present day is filled with global distress over financial crises, energy problems, terrorist attacks, and natural calamities. These translate into individual and family concerns not only about homes in which to live and food available to eat but also about the ultimate safety and well-being of our children and the latter-day prophecies about our planet. More serious than these—and sometimes related to them—are matters of ethical, moral, and spiritual decay seen in populations large and small, at home and abroad. But I testify that angels are still sent to help us, even as they were sent to help Adam and Eve, to help the prophets, and indeed to help the Savior of the world Himself. Matthew records in his gospel that after Satan had tempted Christ in the wilderness ‘angels came and ministered unto him’ (Matt. 4:11). Even the Son of God, a God Himself, had need for heavenly comfort during His sojourn in mortality. And so such ministrations will be to the righteous until the end of time.”

We should remember that the Savior suffered more than any other person. As the Lord told Joseph Smith in his great sufferings: “The Son of Man hath descended below them [your sufferings] all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C; 122:8). Also, “He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth” (D&C; 88:6). We can take strength in knowing that the Savior suffered the things we suffer – He suffered more than we will ever suffer – and knows and understands each of us. He comforts us in our trials. He cries with us when we are sad or hurt or afraid. As we wander in wildernesses, often in darkness, the Lord is there for us. We need but exercise faith to find Him who will guide us to the Promised Land. In the words of the poet:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me toward the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
(Minnie Louise Haskins. From “The Gate of the Year,” in James Dalton Morrison, ed., Masterpieces of Religious Verse (1948), 92.)

I pray that we may follow the Lord so we can return home and not forever wander in strange lands. He is there for us always, especially in times when we seem to be strangers in a strange land – tired, lonely, and lost in the wilderness. The Lord will lift us and guide us home.

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 4

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For those feeling lost, who are struggling and sorrowed, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin stated at the October 2008 General Conference:

You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, ‘Why me?’ But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt. I love the scriptures because they show examples of great and noble men and women such as Abraham, Sarah, Enoch, Moses, Joseph, Emma, and Brigham. Each of them experienced adversity and sorrow that tried, fortified, and refined their characters.
Learning to endure times of disappointment, suffering, and sorrow is part of our on-the-job training. These experiences, while often difficult to bear at the time, are precisely the kinds of experiences that stretch our understanding, build our character, and increase our compassion for others. Because Jesus Christ suffered greatly, He understands our suffering. He understands our grief. We experience hard things so that we too may have increased compassion and understanding for others. Remember the sublime words of the Savior to the Prophet Joseph Smith when he suffered with his companions in the smothering darkness of Liberty Jail: ‘My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.’ (D&C; 121:7-8).
With that eternal perspective, Joseph took comfort from these words, and so can we. Sometimes the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome.

It is important to remember that when the Lord requires us to wander in strange lands, He will deliver us: “The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it” (Acts 13:17). Not only are we blessed after our wanderings, we are blessed throughout them. Like He supported Nephi, the Lord lifts us through our afflictions in the wildernesses of our lives. He preserves us when the great swells of the oceans seem about to overwhelm us and bring us down to the depths of despair (see 2 Ne. 4:20). We may feel, whether we have sinned or not, that we “are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they” (Mormon 5:18). But the Lord will be our Captain if we allow Him to be.

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 3

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The Lord told Abraham, “I have purposed to take thee away out of Haran, and to make of thee a minister to bear my name in a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice” (Abr. 2:6). Abraham spent his days as a stranger and a wanderer: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9-10). Moses too was a stranger in a strange land: “He called [his son’s] name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Ex. 2:22). Those who wander are usually looking for a promised land, just as the tribes of Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert before they entered their promised land. The Psalmist called himself a “stranger in the earth” (Psalm 119:19); indicating that all of us are strangers here on earth; it is not our original home. Those who are faithful, like the prophets, will receive the blessings of eternal life in the celestial realms – the ultimate Promised Land: “These [the first Patriarchs – Adam through Jacob] all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly [one]” (Heb. 11:13-14,16). The prophets all had faith that they would receive a better country, a heavenly home.

Alma also taught on this theme: “And they [glad tidings of great joy] are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land; therefore, we are thus highly favored, for we have these glad tidings declared unto us in all parts of our vineyard” (Alma 13:23). Ammon likewise talked about wandering in strange lands: “Yea, blessed is the name of my God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I say blessed be the name of my God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land” (Alma 26:36). Even in the Promised Land, a land of bounty and blessing, the Nephites were strangers because they were broken off from the rest of the house of Israel.

Isaiah stated: “For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers [foreigners] shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob” (2 Ne. 24:1). The Lord said that those who wander in strange lands, who spend time in wild parts of the vineyard, will return to their own land with the added strength of the wild branches (see Jacob 5). Even the people of Enoch first went through a period of wandering before they established Zion: “they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth; But obtained a promise that they should find it [Zion] and see it in their flesh” (D&C; 45:13). That is what all the righteous have been promised – a city of refuge, a city of holiness, a place for the pure in heart, even Zion. Faith requires trial; promised blessings only come after our faith is tried. How hard our trials may be!

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 2

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Entering the wilderness is not usually easy, even for the righteous who know of and believe in the promised blessings. Even Sariah complained for a time to Lehi: “Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness” (1 Ne. 5:2). Such grumblings and murmurings are common among those who do not recognize the Lord’s hand in their lives. It is difficult to keep an eternal perspective when you are suffering. Sariah had forgotten (or never really yet believed) that it was not Lehi who told them to leave Jerusalem, it was the Lord. Lehi merely acted as spokesperson. She quickly repented of her murmurings though. When Nephi’s bow broke, his family started to murmur against the Lord because of their afflictions and because of the sufferings they had experienced in the wilderness (see 1 Ne. 16:20). However, Nephi went before the Lord, prayed, and made a new bow. He had faith through his afflictions and trusted in the Lord.

Some in Lehi’s and Ishmael’s families murmured when Ishmael died: “Our father is dead; yea, and we have wandered much in the wilderness, and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue; and after all these sufferings we must perish in the wilderness with hunger” (1 Ne. 16:35). They forgot all the times the Lord had blessed them with food, just like the Israelites were blessed with manna, quail, and fresh water by the Lord in their need. We too are often quick to forget the blessings of the Lord when we wander in strange lands, in deserts of despair or forests of darkness.

What is a strange land? A strange land at the most basic level is somewhere that is not your home. A strange land can also mean somewhere new, not the land in which you or your ancestors grew up. Even though you may be in a promised land, rich in resources, you can still be in a strange land. A strange land could also mean a land of wickedness or a land of non-covenant people.

Strangers in a Strange Land, Part 1

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“Time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days” (Jacob 7:26).

Many times throughout history the covenant people of the Lord have suffered as they wandered. They have wandered physically, emotionally, or spiritually in strange lands. Their sojourns in these wildernesses have been hard, harsh, and heavy. Oftentimes these people had to leave their homes behind to enter unfamiliar places. Some, like Jacob, felt that all their days were spent in mourning. Why are the righteous so often asked to do hard things and suffer?

We made the choice in the pre-earth life to come to earth. We knew that we would face suffering, sickness, limitations, and sorrow. We also knew that we could experience great joy and progression. We agreed to enter this ofttimes dark and dreary world because we knew of the blessings that would result if we were faithful. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland talked about some of the thorns and darkness of life during the October 2008 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “When Adam and Eve willingly stepped into mortality, they knew this telestial world would contain thorns and thistles and troubles of every kind. Perhaps their most challenging realization, however, was not the hardship and danger they would endure but the fact that they would now be distanced from God, separated from Him with whom they had walked and talked, who had given them face-to-face counsel. After this conscious choice, as the record of creation says, ‘they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence’ (Moses 5:4). Amidst all else that must have troubled them, surely this must have troubled them the most.”