“Ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ…. after that [Christ] came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God…. [Christ] spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you. Wherefore…have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men? For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing.” (Moroni 7:19,26-28).
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).
There is much joy, pleasure, and fulfillment in life. All of us go through wonderful, happy experiences. We are told in the Book of Mormon we exist so we might have joy. Our entire existence is about being joyful and being filled with joy. While this is the ideal, life is not always joyful. It wasn’t for the Savior, it isn’t for us. Many people also go through difficult and disturbing events in life. Many people suffer severe pain, heartache, depression, oppression, and persecution. Some of you have experienced much of this. All of us experience difficulties to one degree or another. I know some of you plead with your Heavenly Father to take away your suffering. You plead with Him to know why you must endure so much for so long. I don’t have a full answer to that but we know that all things give experience and ultimately all can work out for the good of the faithful. That might be small consolation in the moment of trial but it is eternal truth.
Truman Madsen offered insight from the perspective of the restored gospel into the nature of challenges in life: “If the question…is raised, ‘God, why did You get me into this?’ The Mormon answer is, ‘Why did you get you into this?’ You elected and we are told we shouted for joy at the prospect [of coming to earth even though there would be great trials]. Imagine that! Shouting for joy! But couldn’t God being all powerful have arranged a plan of redemption that would enable us to become what we really have it in us to become without going through such a struggle?…The Mormon answer to that is, ‘No, He couldn’t!’ To achieve the growth and the overcoming that are essential to a condition like unto His, we have to submit to the operation. I repeat, our understanding is: God Himself is powerless to get us to total fulfillment except through the operation we call mortality. And that involves freedom, and much of the evil of the world derives from freedom, but not all of it.” (http://bystudyandfaith.net/2011/02/human-anguish-and-divine-love/)
As we go through our lives we make choices. In 2 Nephi 2 verses 16 and 27 we read of this agency: “the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other…. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”
The bold Lamanite prophet Samuel taught of agency: “And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you.” (Helaman 14:30-31).
While we all experience varying degrees of freedom and captivity, joy and sorrow in this life, our choices have eternal consequences. If we choose God, we choose liberty and ultimately eternal life. Eternal life is a life with and like God.
Knowing our choices have eternal consequences might be daunting. It might be discouraging. We might wish for less responsibility. While such thoughts are natural, we know agency is a wonderful gift. Jacob, the great Book of Mormon teacher and younger brother of Nephi, said, “Therefore, ???cheer up? your hearts, and remember that ye are ???free? to ???act? for yourselves—to ???choose? the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life. Wherefore…reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.” (2 Nephi 10:23-24). Knowing we have agency is a reason to rejoice! We are co-agents with God. We have the ability to choose what we want to do. A challenge is sorting out all the competing voices offering competing suggestions.
On one hand we have a loving Father who wants us to be free and happy. He wants the best for us. On the other hand we have the devil who wants us to be captive and miserable. He wants the worst for us. We are free to choose for ourselves. Some choices are good, some are bad, and many are somewhere in between.
All along the way those of use who have been confirmed as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and offered the gift of the Holy Ghost offered guidance by the Spirit. Those with ears to hear and eyes to see will understand the gentle promptings from our loving Father. Many choices we make are ours alone – that is the blessing of agency – but some are encouraged by the Spirit of God, which burns like a fire. Others are encouraged by the Spirit of Satan, which offers turmoil, coldness, and darkness. It is up to us to choose who we will follow – Satan, ourselves, or our loving Eternal Father. Who knows you best and wants the best for you? Our Father in Heaven knows what we want. He knows what we need. He wants us to be happy. He loves us. He knows the choices we need to make to return to live with Him. God knows us best and wants the best for us. Great blessings come as we submit our will to His.
All of us sin and fall short of the eventual perfection required to live with God again. We were reminded of this by Elder Holland at the most recent general conference. He said we should be perfect…eventually. He said, “If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/10/be-ye-therefore-perfect-eventually?lang=eng)
This is only possible, as Jacob taught, “in and through the grace of God.” Elder Holland also said, “‘Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him … ,’ Moroni pleads. ‘Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then … by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.’ Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven—we can’t “earn” it. Thus, the grace of Christ offers us not only salvation from sorrow and sin and death but also salvation from our own persistent self-criticism.”
That’s the greatest miracle of all! All our imperfections, our shortcomings, our sins, and our sorrows can be overcome by the great atoning sacrifice of the Savior. He can save us from our sins but will never save us in our sins. This is hope in light of the great responsibility of being agents unto ourselves. There is risk but there is great reward. We can overcome someday. Overcoming doesn’t come through marches or demonstrations, it doesn’t come through somehow mustering up enough internal resolve to perfect ourselves; it comes only through the Atonement of Christ. We can never absolve ourselves of of sins and must rely on Him who is mighty to save.
Abinadi the dedicated Book of Mormon prophet, in lamenting over the wickedness of King Noah and his priests, taught that salvation comes through the Lord God. Abinadi prophesied: “And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies. And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people. And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.” (Mosiah 11:21-23)
Abinadi referred to the Lord as a “jealous God”. This is a concept familiar to the ancient house of Israel (see the list of Old Testament references to God as “jealous”). The Hebrew word translated into English as “jealous” is qinah. When applied to humans, jealous, as used in the Bible, typically refers to envy (e.g., Numbers 5:14) and thus sin. It can also refer to zeal (e.g., Psalm 69:9), which could be both positive or negative, depending on the circumstance and usage.
When referring to God as “jealous” the best interpretation for us is: God fiercely protects Truth; He protects covenants and His covenant people. A jealous God is a God Who defends right with zeal. A jealous God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:31; Alma 45:16) A jealous God knows wickedness never was happiness.(Alma 41:10) As a jealous God, the Lord requires faithfulness; He commands that we should have no other Gods before Him. (Exodus 34:14) This is a harsh reality but it is a reality that provides safety and countless blessings. It is a harsh reality that leads to eternal life, an inheritance as an heir like Christ. (Romans 8:17)
God’s commands are not forced; all His children are able to express will and act independently, if they desire, from God. There are some who are without mental/emotional capacity to understand choices or fully express moral agency. In some way or another, this is true of all of us because we do not fully understand the consequences of our actions or inactions. God, as a perfectly loving and just God, will weigh all in the balance to bless His children to the extent He is able.
A jealous God is not filled with petty envy but rather with charity. God loves us enough to set firm boundaries. We can wander through life or we can travel the strait road of the jealous God, a road that leads to unimagined heights and countless blessings. God is jealous because He zealously protects His covenant children, particularly as they are faithful unto their covenants. This does not mean they are without suffering but their sufferings will be for their good. (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7)
Great blessings come from keeping the commandments. Our lives will never be free from trials. Trials are important for our growth and progression. What the Lord offers is strength in trials. We are not often strengthened to bear burdens rather than have those burdens taken away. He gives us commandments so we can be happier. I testify your life will always be better when you keep the commandments. When you follow Christ you will always be happier than you otherwise would have been. You will not always be happy but you will be happier.
During the most recent devotional for young single adults, Elder Uchtdorf said, “I urge you to believe that your life will be infinitely better if you rely on God to guide your steps. He knows things you cannot possibly know, and He has a future prepared for you that you cannot possibly imagine. The great Apostle Paul testified, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’” (Posted on the @ldschurch Instagram account: https://instagram.com/p/BeajqaPFTzi/)
Your life will be better now and tomorrow and much better — infinitely better — in the life to come as you keep the commandments. It will be better in ways you might see and many you won’t see.
Recently on Facebook Elder Renlund posted an experience he had that teaches this lesson: “Recently, as we walked into our condominium, we heard the telltale beeping noise of a low battery in one of our smoke detectors. The offending detector was on a high ceiling on the second floor. It is rather an ordeal to get a ladder up the stairs and situated to replace the battery. As we finished the task, we wondered if we should replace the battery in the smoke detector in another room of the second floor. We concluded that not all batteries run down at the same rate and that it could be months before the other battery needed replacing, and we hauled the ladder back down the stairs to the garage. Way too early the next morning we were rudely awakened by the telltale beeping of a low battery in the other smoke detector. To have hope of finishing what we wanted to be a long winter’s nap, we were forced to get up and haul the heavy and cumbersome ladder up the stairs—again. Throughout this ordeal, it occurred to me that there is a life lesson in that rude awakening. Had we exchanged the battery for a fresh one when we were thinking about it, we would never have known that we prevented being awakened to take care of the problem. In many ways this is like what the gospel teaches us—that as we stay on the path, there are so many problems prevented that our Heavenly Father is trying to help us avoid. That doesn’t mean that all problems relate to some fault of ours, but we certainly are able to prevent many other things from happening—and we don’t have to carry ladders around in the middle of the night!” (https://www.facebook.com/DaleGRenlund/posts/2043414759268696)
We have agency; we can do what we want to do. God allows it because He has to — agency is an eternal principle. There is no other way for us to grow and progress in order to become more like Him. Truman Madsen said: “In the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way you can build character and sanctify souls is through distress and pain.” That doesn’t mean we seek out distress and pain; it means we persevere through the pain and distress, knowing God is good, knowing some day, like a mother in labor, we will be delivered and experience a rebirth into a glorious world of light and peace. Peace amid suffering comes from faith in God and in His purposes. Strength of character comes from resisting the distress and pain – not necessarily fighting it but not letting it take over our lives. Just like lifting weights. The strength comes from the resistance, not from giving in.
Suffering is real but we need not despair. We have agency that can prevent much suffering. We can choose faith and hope in Christ. He is our salvation! He gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence. Without the Atonement of Christ, existentialist philosophers would be correct — life would be meaningless. But Christ atoned for our sins and sorrows and sicknesses. We all will overcome death and through repentance and the grace of Christ will overcome Hell. Life is not meaningless. All suffering can have purpose and meaning. If we can find the meaning in suffering, then it has a purpose. Suffering caused by sin is also needless but it happens. It is up to us to make the best situation we can wherever we are. That’s not easy but prayer, righteousness, and faith in Jesus Christ will give us the strength we need to overcome all trials and sorrows. The light will come; it always comes to those with faith and endurance.
Let me repeat what I said earlier. Your life will always be better when you keep the commandments and follow Christ. It will always be better when you repent. We might not know how or why our lives are better but they will be. This is the ultimate test of life — do we go our own way or do we choose to follow Christ? The first way might bring happiness but the second way will bring happiness in this life and more importantly, in the life to come. Exercising our agency to follow the Lord provides rich rewards today, tomorrow, and in eternity.
The Book of Mormon is a collection of writings and commentary by an ancient American prophet named Mormon, who lived around the year 400 AD. It tells histories and teachings of a few different groups of people who were independently guided from the Middle East to the Americas. The main group lived near Jerusalem during the time of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah preached against the sins of God’s covenant people. He taught it was not enough to be covenant people, salvation only comes through following the commandments of the Lord. Who we are is not as important as what we do and who we become.
The people in Jerusalem rejected Jeremiah’s teachings and continued to sin. Sinning against greater light brings greater condemnation. The Israelites in the time of Jeremiah rejected the Lord in the same way most people rejected the Lord and the teachings of Noah before the flood. Instead of receiving safety from an ark of covenant, the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day were swept away by a flood from the east. A flood came to Jerusalem and the house of Israel in the form of the Babylonians. Babylon was a major kingdom within ancient Mesopotamia. It was in what is currently Iraq. Many Israelites were taken captives of the Babylonians and carried away from their homes. Many never returned home to their promised land.
One family who lived near Jerusalem just a decade or so before the destruction of Jerusalem was the family of Lehi. Lehi had a remarkable vision where he saw God and was called as a prophet.
Lehi’s son Nephi wrote of the experience: “[Lehi] saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.” (1 Nephi 1:8-12)
Lehi saw God. He saw Jesus Christ and His first twelve apostles. Then Lehi read words out of the book of God. The Spirit of God filled Lehi when he read. As we read the words of God we too are filled with the Spirit.
Lehi also saw Jerusalem would be destroyed in not many years. After the vision, Lehi preached to the people, warning them of impending danger. He was faithful to his calling. Lehi prophesied of the future coming of the Messiah and of the necessity of repentance. Lehi did what prophets since the time of Adam have done – he testified of Jesus Christ. Many of these prophecies of the Messiah are lost or obscured in the Bible but the Book of Mormon teaches them with great clarity. Lehi pleaded with those around him to repent and be saved. Those in Jerusalem did not believe him; they laughed at him and some tried to kill him.
Nephi wrote of this: “And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world. And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” (1 Nephi 1:19-20).
Lehi testified of the coming of the Messiah – the Anointed One who would redeem Israel and the world. This Messiah would shortly deliver Lehi and his family from destruction through His tender mercies. Jesus Christ watches over us, offering His tender mercies to each of us. He delivers us from destruction as we exercise faith in Him and sometimes even when we don’t.
To save Lehi’s life and for other grand purposes, the Lord sent another vision to Lehi. In that vision the Lord told Lehi to leave his home and depart into the wilderness. Lehi and his family promptly left their home, land, gold, silver, and other precious possessions. The Lord asked them to sacrifice all they had — they did. The Lord offered to save them but in return they had to give up everything. In a faithful and difficult act of consecration, Lehi and his family left the comforts of home as refugees, fleeing for their lives. Thousands of years later, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would flee Illinois as refugees. They were led out into the wilderness, the high deserts of Utah. The Mormon pioneers, like Lehi, followed the Lord in faith.
At first Lehi and his family did not travel far (that was again mirrored by the initial Mormon pioneers, who wintered not too far from Illinois in what is now a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska — a place we call Winter Quarters). The reason Lehi did not travel far soon became apparent. The Lord asked his family to return to Jerusalem and obtain a copy of the scriptures. These scriptures also contained Lehi’s family history. Laban was the keeper of this copy of the scriptures. Lehi’s sons went to obtain the plates from Laban. They were eventually successful because the youngest son – Nephi – boldly declared his faith and trust in God: “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7).
Getting the scriptures from Laban was not easy. Lehi’s sons had their gold and silver stolen by Laban when they tried to buy the scriptures from him. Laban sent servants to kill the boys but they escaped. It was then Nephi demonstrated his remarkable faith in God when he went back to try again. Would you have been persistent like Nephi and go back into the lion’s den, as it were? The third time was a success for Nephi because of his faith in God and faithfulness in doing the hard things asked of him.
The boys returned successful to their parents in the wilderness. They sacrificed much to obtain a copy of the scriptures and their family history. How much effort do we put in obtaining and reading the scriptures? Do we give our all like Nephi or do we casually read a verse or two when we remember? Do we similarly work hard to obtain our family history? We have a gospel responsibility to seek out our deceased ancestors and perform sacred ordinances for them in sacred places. How many of us are fulfilling this responsibility?
The Lord knew Lehi and his descendants needed both the scriptures and their family history. Those items and teachings provided a way to bind them together culturally, religiously, linguistically, and spiritually. The scriptures obtained from Laban would serve them in the way scriptures serve us today; they strengthen, provide counsel, provide insight into God’s plan for His children, and they teach us how to be better people. The scriptures teach of Jesus Christ.
After one more trip into Jerusalem to convince a family to join them in escape from impending destruction — this family conveniently had a number of unmarried daughters — Lehi and his tribe traveled south and then east across the Arabian peninsula, a trip that took them years. This band of refugees then set up camp in a beautiful oasis near the Indian Ocean. This was not their promised land. That would come after more hard work and faith.
The Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, something he had never done before. Again he was faithful and fulfilled the commandments of God, building a remarkable ship not patterned after other ships of the day. THe Lord gave Nephi revelation about how to build it. We similarly can receive revelation concerning our jobs, our callings, and our responsibilities. The Lord can show us new ways to do new things, particularly when our efforts align with His eternal purpose. God’s purpose — God’s work — is to bring to pass the eternal life of His children (see Moses 1:39). He provides the means necessary to accomplish His plan.
During this time on the beach while starting to build the ship Nephi taught his brothers of the power of God. He reminded them of Moses, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. He chastised his brothers Laman and Lemuel for being slow to repent: “Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God…. he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.” (1 Nephi 17:45). Nephi also testified of his great faith in God: “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them.” (1 Nephi 17:50). What great faith! Is our faith as strong as Nephi’s? If the Lord commanded us to do all things, could we do them? If our faith isn’t that strong, that gives us something to work towards. We can be perfect, eventually.
Lehi and his family prepared and then got on the ship to sail the thousands of miles to the promised land. Through faith in God they made it to the Americas where they built new homes. Nephi and those of his family who would go left his older brothers Laman and Lemuel. Once again Nephi fled as a refugee, this time to escape his oldest brothers who had murderous intent.
This was the start of the Nephite people. Nephi acted as ruler and prophet. He and his people built a temple. Nephi’s younger brother Jacob became a powerful teacher. Together they taught their people the Law of Moses and the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ. They taught of the necessity of baptism and repentance. They taught their people they must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now…this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 31:20-21).
Nephi clearly taught salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. This is something prophets in our day also boldly declare. As we press forward in faith, diligently studying the scriptures and the words of living prophets, and endure in keeping the commandments to the end of our lives, we can be saved through the grace of Christ. I also add my witness that it is only through the Savior Jesus Christ we can be saved.
Nephi eventually became old and transferred the duty of keeper of the records and scriptures to his brother Jacob. Then Nephi died. Jacob became old and turned the record keeping to his son Enos. Then Jacob died.
Enos shared a powerful experience with prayer and repentance he had as he pondered the teachings of his father.
Enos wrote: “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins. And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.” (Enos 1:2,4).
After his much praying and supplications Enos heard a voice say, “Thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” (Enos 1:5).
Enos was a man of faith. He testified he knew God could not lie so his guilt was swept away. Then Enos asked one of the most important questions in the scriptures: “Lord, how is it done?” (Enos 1:7).
How were Enos’s sins forgiven? They were forgiven by his faith in Jesus Christ. They were forgiven through the Atonement of Christ.
When we repent, how are our sins forgiven? In same way they were for Enos — through faith in Jesus Christ and through His atonement. When we repent, do we trust God and believe our sins are forgiven? When we repent do we forgive ourselves? How does forgiveness happen this? Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
A prophet who lived hundreds of years after Nephi, Jacob, and Enos testified of the power of Jesus Christ. Benjamin taught his people of the many miracles Jesus Christ would perform. For each one we might ask as did Enos: “Lord, how is it done?” Benjamin said:
“The time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.” (Mosiah 3:5-6).
Next King Benjamin taught how Jesus would accomplish the many miracles.
“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people. And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary. And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him. And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.” (Mosiah 3:7-10).
How did Jesus cast out devils? How did He heal the sick, bless the weary, and raise the dead? How did He rise from the dead? He did all those things through His faith and through His divine power. He did them because He is the Son of God. He is divine. Although we are not holy as Christ is holy, we too can perform miracles through faith in Christ and through the Spirit of God.
Benjamin also taught another miracle that comes through Christ: “Even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.” (Mosiah 3:16).
This verse contains important doctrines. We learn little children cannot sin but they too need salvation. We learn little children are saved through the atonement of Christ. Another important doctrine is tied to the salvation of little children. Jesus Christ’s Atonement overcomes the effects of Adam’s fall. It was because of this clarification in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith wrote: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (AofF 1:2). How is it done? Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ; through the great mercy of God.
It is because of Christ’s wonderful Atonement we can overcome sin and death. It offers hope to the hurt and solace to the sorrowful.
Seven years ago my sister’s family experienced a shocking loss when their daughter Allison, my 11 year old niece, was hit and killed by a car as she rode her bike. At the time I wrote: “Yesterday as the lights [went] out here on the East Coast, in the West, a different light dimmed and then disappeared. In a moment worlds changed and hearts broke. Bicycle and automobile danced a tragic ballet, extinguishing the light of one so small. As this light faded from earth, leaving a hole in the hearts and darkness in the lives of loved ones, a brighter light grew and radiated with an unfiltered luminosity in an eternal world. The sorrows and tears of earthly separations were balanced by the tears of joy from reunions with other pure lights. [Her] death…brought a dearth of joy to all who mourn [her] passing but [Allison’s] life brought love and joy to those around [her].”
My sister, brother in law, and their family at the time had to start putting the pieces of their shattered lives back together. They started by spending time in prayer and in the temple.
The loss of a child under such circumstances is devastating. It is a hellish darkness of separation – poignant and painful; a pain one might expect would never end. But with the inexorable march of time comes a deadening of the pain. The storm passes, the numbness fades, but still gray skies remain. There is room for laughter and joy but at times the grief can be overwhelming. So would go life, the only solace in the numbness of time, without knowledge of God’s plan for His children. However, there is more solace available; it comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and the knowledge and power of eternal families. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds and burning away the dreary mists of life.
Jesus is like a song in the night. He is a pillar of fire. He restores breaches in our hearts and families. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas. The Lord blesses us with His tender mercies – friends, family, and other loved ones who provide meals and support. There are the mercies of the promptings and love provided by the Comforter – the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, we are blessed to know that because of the sealing power of the Priesthood, Allison can be forever part of her family. All who lose family members to death have a promise of eternal reunion when families are sealed together in the temple. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. At a time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.
Again, we ask with Enos, “Lord, how is it done?” How are these hurts and pains and great sorrows healed? How do we have hope after such loss? It is only in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify of His eternal love. Through Him we can overcome sin and will overcome death. Through Jesus Christ we can return to our Eternal Father in Heaven as we consistently and persistently do what is right.
Many years ago two brothers lived in what is now part of Iraq. They lived near or in the city Babel. The word “Babel” means both the “gate of God” and “to confuse”. In Babel, or Babylon, was a false temple – a false gate to God. The Babylonians wanted to reach heaven but they built a false gate and worshipped false gods. Many in our day also worship false gods.
Are we building and worshiping in false temples like the Babylonians? Are we worshiping at unholy altars? Are we letting the good crowd out the best? Do we make sacrifices to gilded calves? What do we allow in our lives to take priority over the gospel and the things of God? Do we wander on side-roads when we should be traveling on God’s heavenly highway to the temple and eternal life? The prophet Isaiah wrote of God’s highway, “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.”((Isaiah 35:8))
This highway leads through the deserts: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” ((Isaiah 40:3)); it leads to the exalted heights: “And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.”((Isaiah 49:11)) If we travel on God’s exalted roads, we are in the path to peace; we are on a temple road, a road for the clean and holy. Those who wander on strange roads are on the way to false temples and false gods.
Our worshiping in false temples could range from shirking church responsibilities to spending too much time pursuing work or recreation (or even family) such that other necessary activities are left undone. Our worship of false gods could range from obsessively following the latest trends, technologies, or celebrities to dishonoring the Sabbath day. All that is good is not exalting and too much of a good thing might hinder our salvation. We don’t have to focus only on the gospel and family – we can and should spend time doing other things – but if our devotion to these activities becomes our religion we are like the Babylonians.
Elder Oaks taught the importance of prioritizing in our lives: “As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all. Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best.”((Ensign, Nov. 2007))
Many things, people, and causes clamor for our attention. We can run around exhibiting a kind of attentional disorder trying to do everything (or conversely, doing too little or focusing on too narrow a thing) or we can wisely use and improve our time by choosing to spend the most effort on the best things. Our Savior Jesus Christ and our families come first. Anything that takes away from the centrality of God and a Christ-centered family is a false god.
So the Babylonians were building and worshiping their false temple – the great tower of Babel. Because of wickedness, this became a time of great confusion and war of words. Jared and his younger brother, their families, and friends left the confusion – they left the false gate to God – to find sanctuary elsewhere. The Lord led them to a new land of promise and covenant. To get to this new land, they first needed to cross an ocean. To cross the ocean they needed to build vessels. The Lord taught the Jaredites how to build the barges but the Jaredites quickly realized they would be in darkness for much of the crossing. Because the brother of Jared was the spokesman, he went and spoke with the Lord to ask about light during the journey. The Lord provided clear directions for the building of the vessels but when the question of light came up the interaction was different.
“And [the brother of Jared] cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness? And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire….And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” ((Ether 2:22-25))
I love this interaction. The Lord asked the brother of Jared: “What will ye that I should do?” I love the humility of our Savior. Think about it; the creator of the earth asked the brother of Jared, “What do you want me to do?” He was willing to do what the brother of Jared decided. To provide some guidance, He pointed out some of the challenges of lighting a storm-tossed vessel and sent the brother of Jared on his way to figure out a solution.
“And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord.”((Ether 3:1))
The brother of Jared ascended the mountain to craft stones and then speak with the Lord high on the mountain top.
He prayed: “I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea. Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men. And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear…. And…behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.”((Ether 3:4-6,13))
So great was the faith of the brother of Jared that the veil had no power to hide the Lord from him. The brother of Jared did not just converse with the Lord while separated by a veil, he was brought directly into the presence of the Lord. The brother of Jared worked to make the stones but the Lord filled them with light just as he filled the brother of Jared with light.
How can we apply this story to our lives? The scriptures are most useful when they result in a mighty change of heart. If we only read the words but don’t heed the words, we fall far short of what we can and should be. In the same chapter of James that Joseph Smith read before deciding to pray in a quiet grove of trees we read: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.”((James 1:22))
Just like the brother of Jared, as we act and do good things Jesus Christ fills us with light. As we do good things our souls are filled with lighted stones and we become more like Jesus Christ. Each stone of light in our soul softens our stony heart and Jesus Christ blesses us with a new heart of flesh.
The prophet Ezekiel testified with the words of the Savior: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.”((Ezekiel 36:25-28))
These are promises made to all who follow the Lord. We can be cleansed and blessed with a soft heart. This new soft heart comes as we are filled with the Spirit of God.
Let’s return to the brother of Jared. His [the brother of Jared’s] experience on the mountain was a temple experience. The brother of Jared entered into the Savior’s presence through the true gate of faith and diligence. That is what temples are for – helping the children of God – helping us – return to God’s presence.
Regularly performing temple work is important because it is the process whereby we and others can return to live with our Eternal Father. In temples we partake of saving ordinances without which we cannot return to live with God. Because of this, building and attending temples are among the most important things we can do as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In 1834 the saints were building the Kirtland Temple but the temple was in serious trouble. The Saints soon needed to pay the mortgage loan on the temple lot but they did not have enough money to repay the loan. Faced with this problem, the Prophet Joseph Smith and other church leaders gathered in prayer and asked the Lord to send someone or some people who had money to save the temple. 200 miles from the birthplace of the Restoration lived the man who was the answer to prayer. John joined the Church in 1832. He was a wealthy and generous man. One night he had a dream that he was urgently needed in Kirtland, Ohio. Within two weeks, John sold his land, homes, hotel, and everything else he could and prepared to leave. On Christmas Day, John and his family left their mansion in New York in search of a mansion in heaven. John and his family headed west to the home of the saints. John arrived in January after 500 miles and a month of travel; he found the prophet (whom he had not previously met) and quickly discovered why he was needed in Kirtland. John loaned Joseph and the Church the money needed to pay the mortgage. Without John’s money, the loan would have defaulted and the temple land would have been repossessed. Without John Tanner’s consecration, the Kirtland Temple would not have been completed.((If John Tanner did not have the faith and money, the Lord would have provided someone else. I share this experience to encourage each of us to more faithfully act on inspiration.))
From the days of Adam, temples have always been important to the followers of God. In the ancient world, temples were often at the center of city life. This also is how some modern cities are designed, including Salt Lake City. Wherever the saints of God lived, they built temples. Adam built an altar upon which he offered sacrifices. This was the first temple. Many years later, the Lord commanded Moses to build a tabernacle – a portable temple. Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem that was alternately destroyed and rebuilt over the years. Shortly after Nephi and his family reached the Promised Land, they built a temple. Following the Restoration, the prophet Joseph was commanded to start building temples. The saints built one in Kirtland, Ohio. The saints fled Ohio because of persecutions – leaving behind the precious house of the Lord. They dedicated land in Missouri for a temple. That structure has not yet been built.
Once in Nauvoo, the Saints built a temple, finishing it with a trowel in one hand and a wagon in the other as they fled the country to head to the Salt Lake Valley. Brigham Young dedicated the Nauvoo Temple before it was fully completed so at least portion of the Saints could receive their temple blessings before they had to cross the plains. I’m sure those blessings gave courage and strength to many who faced the grueling journey ahead. The Prophet Joseph stressed the importance of temples: “The main object [of gathering the Jews, or the people of God, in any age of the world] was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.”((as cited in R. Millet, The Power of the Word, p.218))
The prophet Isaiah saw in vision latter-day temples and the church members who attend them: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”((2 Ne. 12:2-3)) One of the first things President Brigham Young did upon entering the Salt Lake Valley was designate the land for the future Salt Lake Temple – the mountain of the Lord’s house that is built in the top of the mountains. Isaiah saw that temple in vision as he prophesied of the last days.
In the last days – in our day – comes the clarion call to the temple. It is a call to go to the temple to hear the words of the Lord. This is what King Benjamin asked of his people: “And now, it came to pass that Mosiah went and did as his father [King Benjamin] had commanded him, and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them.”((Mosiah 1:18)) Mosiah called the people to come to the temple to hear the words of the prophet. We should also go to the temple and participate in the work of salvation.
This call to the temple is a call to learn the ways of God and to walk in the paths of the Lord. It is a call to one and all to visit the house of God as individuals and as families in order to receive the blessings of time and eternity. A temple is literally the House of the Lord. It is the place where ordinances necessary for exaltation are performed. Temple ordinances weld generation to generation, husband to wife, mother to daughter, and sister to brother.
We learn further of the importance of the temple in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Therefore, verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statutes and judgments, for the beginning of the revelations and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name. And verily I say unto you, let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.”((D&C 124:39-41))
What we learn from this scripture is that the temple is a place of revelation. Within those walls we can know things that have been hidden from “before the foundation of the world.”
The temple is a place of covenant – it is a house of holiness. To be holy means to be dedicated, set apart, or consecrated. When we are holy we consecrate all our lives and everything we have to the work of the Lord. The prophet Zechariah spoke about consecration: “In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD…Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts.”((Zechariah 14:20-21)) Zechariah envisioned the day when even the horses and dishes would be consecrated for the work of the Lord.
Many of us do this in our lives – we drive our children and the children of others to church activities or we drive to our visiting or home teaching appointments; we also use our dishes to take food to those who are ill or in need. Those may seem like small matters, but that is the essence of consecration – it is using our means and lives to serve and support others and further the work of the Lord. John, whose money saved the Kirtland Temple, gave almost everything he owned to the Church without ever being repaid. Elder Maxwell taught, “Consecration is the only surrender which is also a victory. It brings release from the raucous, overpopulated cell block of selfishness and emancipation from the dark prison of pride.”((Neal A. Maxwell, “Settle This in Your Hearts,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 66)) Consecration is holiness.
Just as the Lord inspired John Tanner to go and save the temple, we should emulate his example and go to the temple, not to save it but to be saved and help save others. The temple not only will bless our lives but also the lives of those around us – most importantly our family for generations to come. The temple is a holy place that has eternal significance and provides eternal blessings. Let us follow the admonition of Isaiah by gathering all who will be gathered and beckon unto them: “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.”
To paraphrase Boyd K. Packer: “What happens if we don’t [attend the temple]? Nothing happens. We miss everything. We live far below our privileges.”((Boyd K. Packer as quoted by Sander Larson and modified by me))
Moroni pleaded with us: “And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.”((Ether 12:41)) I also urge you to seek Jesus. We more fully seek Jesus by attending the temple regularly.
In closing I echo the words of the Psalmist: “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”((Psalms 84:10)) Serving in the temple is a greater honor than anything the world can give. That we might leave the tents of wickedness and enter the house of God is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[I gave this talk in our stake’s Spanish branch. I don’t speak much Spanish so I relied on a translator of the bulk of the talk.]
Buenos días, hermanos y hermanas. Estoy feliz de hablar con ustedes hoy por asignación del Presidente Graham. Hablo solamente poquito Español y hablo como un niño y un gringo, por lo que se traduce el resto de mi discurso.
I’d like to talk about two things that help us to return to Heavenly Father. The first are ordinances. The second are covenants.
“An ordinance is a sacred, formal act performed by the authority of the priesthood. Some ordinances are essential to our exaltation. These ordinances are called saving ordinances. They include baptism, confirmation, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood (for men), the temple endowment, and the marriage sealing. With each of these ordinances, we enter into solemn covenants with the Lord.”
“Ordinances and covenants help us remember who we are. They remind us of our duty to God. The Lord has provided them to help us come unto Him and receive eternal life. When we honor them, He strengthens us spiritually.” (https://www.lds.org/topics/ordinances?lang=eng)
The prophet Joseph Smith taught of the importance of ordinances in the Articles of Faith. The 3rd article of faith states: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
We are obedient to the ordinances of the gospel when we keep the covenants we make. Obedience saves us by unlocking the power and path of Christ’s Atonement.
The fourth article of faith tells us how to start on this path: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
The first covenants we formally make with God are baptism and confirmation. Any person who wants to live with God has to be baptized and confirmed. All ordinances and covenants have to be done through the proper authority. This is why we have full time missionaries. This is why we perform work in temples.
The fifth article of faith is about the authority of God: “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/a-of-f/1.3-5?lang=eng#2)
Ordinances are not valid without the proper authority given from God. Ordinances also do not have any power without righteousness. If we do not keep the commandments, our baptisms and confirmations will not allow us into heaven.
Saving ordinances and covenants were restored to the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith. The ordinances and covenants were first given to Adam and Eve. They were also given to their children. Abram also made the covenant with the Lord, who told him: “But as for thee, behold, I will make my covenant with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. And this covenant I make, that thy children may be known among all nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be called Abraham; for, a father of many nations have I made thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:8-9).
Abraham truly is the father of many nations. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are numbered among the children of Abraham and partakers of his covenants. This Abrahamic covenant, which includes the promise of numberless posterity, blessed and still blesses the children of Abraham.
This covenant of Abraham is clear in the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis: “And thou [Abraham] shalt observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with thy fathers; and thou shalt keep the commandments which I have given thee with mine own mouth, and I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.” (JST, Genesis 17:12)
We find a record of God’s covenants with His children in the scriptures. The Old Testament contains covenants given to God’s children before the coming of Christ. The New Testament contains covenants offered by Christ and His apostles. The Old and New Testaments are rightly called the Old and New Covenants.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Saints in the Roman province of Galatia: “Wherefore then, the law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made in the law given to Moses, who was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first covenant, (the law.) Now this mediator was not a mediator of the new covenant; but there is one mediator of the new covenant, who is Christ, as it is written in the law concerning the promises made to Abraham and his seed. Now Christ is the mediator of life; for this is the promise which God made unto Abraham.” (JST, Galatians:19-20)
The new covenant given by Christ was lost from the earth not long after the Savior’s death and resurrection. The Book of Mormon is another record of covenants. This record contains the covenants given to small groups of people in the Americas but Mormon wrote The Book of Mormon for us. It is a book of teachings spanning more than one thousand years. The prophet Mormon edited and wrote the book and then gave it to his son Moroni. Moroni finished the book and then buried the plates. He sealed them up unto the Lord so that they might come forth later by the power of God.
Just as the prophets in the Americas were killed, Jesus Christ’s apostles in Israel were killed and the gospel became polluted. Over the next 1700 years, people wandered in darkness. There was light and faith but no authority. The true covenants of the Lord were not available upon the earth.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read of the apostasy, which is still happening: “And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:14-16).
To reverse the apostasy, God and Jesus Christ appeared to young Joseph Smith. I recently walked through the Sacred Grove. It is a special place of peace. My small children recognized the spirit there. We also climbed the Hill Cumorah where Moroni buried the plates. We felt the Spirit there too. In the Kirtland Temple we saw the place where Jesus Christ and angels appeared to Joseph Smith. What an experience that was! They visited to restore truth, authority, ordinances, and covenants.
These restored covenants are contained in the Doctrine and Covenants. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states: “And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” (D&C 45:9)
Thus, we can be guided by the light of the new covenant; we can rally around it as armies would gather around a standard. We have ordinances and covenants to light the path back to Heavenly Father. They provide safety for us. God blesses us through ordinances and covenants. As we promise to follow Him, He promises us rich blessings. The greatest blessing is the gift of eternal life. Eternal life is a life with God; it is a life like God’s.
As a boy, I often went rappelling with my family – going down a cliff on a rope. When I first started out, these “cliffs” were no more than 15 to 20 feet tall. As skills progressed, the cliffs we went down were taller. It might not seem particularly safe to walk, jump, or run down the face of a cliff but with secure anchors and strong equipment, rappelling is safe. If safety procedures are not followed, however, rappelling can be fatal. This is true for many activities in life, including driving a car. My father had three main safety principles. 1) In order for rappelling to be safe you must be securely anchored. My father would, whenever possible, tie a rope to one anchor and then tie that anchor to a second anchor. He had a backup anchor in case the first anchor failed. In this manner, we always knew we had a sure foundation when we bounded down the cliffs. 2) As an additional safety precaution, someone would remain at the bottom the cliff acting as belayer. The belayer is able to provide friction on the rope by pulling it away from the cliff face to stop the person on the rope. 3) Another safety principle was to never use faulty equipment. Once our ropes showed signs of significant wear, they were replaced. Before and during each rappelling outing, we inspected our ropes and other equipment to make sure all were in working order. If we had a question about any piece of equipment, it wasn’t used. New equipment was always cheaper than a person’s life.
Ordinances – baptism, priesthood ordination, the temple endowment, a temple sealing – are like the equipment we used to go rappelling. They anchor us to a sure foundation through the journey of life. The covenants we make and keep are additional safety equipment. Covenants bind us to God the Father and to Jesus Christ. If we break our covenants, we are at risk of falling. One of the miracles of the gospel is if we fall, Jesus Christ can lift us up. When we fall, we can be saved by the Atonement.
I know God gives us ordinances and covenants to strengthen and bless us. They keep us anchored to God and open the path of Christ that leads home. I pray that God blesses you as you strive to be true to the ordinances you receive and covenants you make.
When Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephites He first reassured them; like many when confronted with a heavenly being, those gathered at the temple were afraid when the Savior appeared. I’m not sure why fear is the typical response; maybe people reflect on their sins and unworthiness in the presence of angels and fear destruction. Maybe it’s just the shock of someone appearing out of nowhere. Whatever the reason, Jesus first told the people to calm their fears. He visited as the merciful Savior to calm, teach, and heal. Jesus next invited all to come feel the marks of His crucifixion as a physical witness His triumph over sin and death. Third, He called and set apart twelve disciples, giving them the priesthood. After He established the core church organization He taught the basic doctrines of the church – mirroring the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus first gave the pattern of prayer then spoke of fasting, “Moreover, when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (3 Nephi 13:16-18)
Fasting is of such importance that it was one of the first truths Jesus taught. Do we similarly make fasting a central part of our lives? Just as Jesus taught the pattern of prayer and then fasting, is fasting yoked with prayer in our lives? Fasting without focused prayer is just going hungry. It might have physical health benefits but fasting without prayer has limited spiritual health benefits. God will acknowledge our sacrifice without prayer but prayer combined with fasting is an opportunity for us to show our dedication to Heavenly Father. He in turn will bless us.
The first Sunday of every month is designated a day of fasting in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church members who are able are asked to fast for at least two meals. They are also asked to donate to the church the money they would have spent on the meals; more generous donations are encouraged. This is not a commandment, no church member is required to either fast or pay a fast offering, it is simply encouraged. Of those who are able, most pay much more than the cost of two meals. 100% of this money goes to help those in need, first in the immediate ward or branch and then more broadly from there if there is excess. All overhead for these fast offerings (and that overhead is very small) is paid by tithing; this means that 100% of fast offering money goes to help those in need.
Isaiah wrote of the relationship between fasting and helping those in need: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).
As we fast, our bonds of sin, our heavy burdens can be broken. We should also fast to help others. I’ll add that if we are not helping others, we are not fasting as fully as we might. We also need to fast in the right spirit. Isaiah criticizes those who “fast for strife and debate.” (Isa. 58:4) In other words, those who fast for the wrong reasons often are irritable and short-tempered, what some call being “hangry”. If we do not fast with sincere purpose, we are just starving ourselves with little benefit. When we fast for the wrong reasons, we are more likely to “exact all [our] labours” (Isa. 58:3), as Isaiah said; in other words, we make sure others know we are suffering and take it out on them. This is what the Savior taught about on His sermon on the mount (and to the Nephites after His resurrection). Jesus said, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:16-18).
There are many promises associated with fasting. I think it’s interesting to look at the etymology of the word fast. It comes from a similar-sounding Old English word. This Old English word also formed the roots of other words that we still use today. For example, steadfast and fasten. By looking at how these other words are used in the scriptures we can learn more about promises that come to us through fasting in faithfulness.
Lehi spoke unto his son Lemuel saying, “O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!” (1 Ne. 2:10). Lemuel was urged to be steadfast – to be firmly rooted in the gospel and to never waver in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Elsewhere, the prophets have commanded people to be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his” (Mos. 5:15). When we fast, we subject the desires of the flesh unto the needs of the spirit. When we fast we follow God’s commandment; we are proving ourselves steadfast and immovable and as such, through the Atonement of Christ, will be sealed to our Heavenly Father. We will be sealed for time and all eternity to our Eternal Father. His name will be fastened upon us.
To fasten something is to bind together, such as fastening two pieces of wood together with screws or ropes. Those things that are bound together become one. However, over time if care is not taken or if the fastener is weakened, what was fastened together might slip apart. The bond might break. We must always be mindful of our fastening to God and keep it strong. This bond to God makes us free. Captain Moroni, that great champion for freedom, made a banner out of his coat and “fastened it upon the end of a pole” (Alma 46:12) that he might be able to travel from city to city, waving the flag of freedom, rallying the believers of God to fight for their God, their families, and their homes. He wanted them to hold fast to the words of the prophets and to their God. As we respond to Captain Moroni’s call today and hold fast to our God, our families, and our homes, we will be sealed together with our Father.
When we fast, we sacrifice so that we might be able to become steadfast in our faith, becoming one with our God, to be fastened together with Him and Jesus Christ.
Fasting is an opportunity for us to faithfully sacrifice eating and drinking and pray for special needs for us or others. Fasting is an opportunity for God to bless us and others. Those blessings might not always be what we want.
Forgive me for sharing a personal experience. I share this because I think it will resonate with some of you; it might even be encouraging.
I set a goal when I was younger to get a specific job when I was all done with school. After years of graduate school, almost 15 years after setting that goal, I was finally in a place where I could apply for that desired job. I prayed and fasted for months that I could get the job. My parents, siblings and their families, and some friends prayed and fasted for me. With all those prayers and all that faith offered on my behalf, what happened? I didn’t get the job. I didn’t reach the goal set nearly 15 years before. Why weren’t my prayers and fasts answered? Why weren’t the prayers and fasting of others on my behalf answered?
First, they were answered but the answer was “No” or maybe “Not right now.” Second, I probably wasn’t asking for the right thing. My goal was good but it turns out that it wasn’t the job I was meant to have. I’ve found that I’m not always very good at wanting what Heavenly Father wants for me. Isn’t that one of the main tests of life? Learning to give up what we want when it isn’t what our Father wants for us? Our ultimate sacrifice – that’s what fasting is about is sacrifice; the law of the fast is part of the law of sacrifice. So our ultimate sacrifice is submitting our wills to the Father’s. We can, just as Jesus did, ask for another way but ultimately we need to submit our wills to the will of our Father. He knows what will bring us greatest happiness. He knows where we need to be and what we need to do.
So what do we do when we work towards something only to have the goal frustrated? We trust in God and accept His will. My parents have always encouraged my siblings and me to be the best we could wherever we were. A favorite saying was (and still is): “Bloom where you are planted.” I urge you to do the same.
I don’t have an answer yet about what job Heavenly Father wants me to have but opportunities are in sight; they just might be better than what I didn’t get. This is one of the messages I felt strongly that at least one of you needed to hear today. When we don’t receive what we want, when it seems as if our prayers and fasts have not been answered, it is important to keep trusting God. He has something better in store for you. The words of C. S. Lewis are appropriate here:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 176)
You might want a cottage, God wants to give you a castle. You might want to be an angel, God wants you to be something more…someone more. Fasting is one of the methods by which our Father in Heaven helps us become who we are meant to become. One of the things God wants us to become is radiantly joyful. It might be a difficult path to that joy.
One such difficult path was shared on the Church’s Instagram feed on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Some of you might have seen what was shared about a young woman named Katia:
“In the last few years, the following occurred: a tumbling accident left me in a wheelchair for more than half a year; my dad almost died from a brain hemorrhage (and lost his job a couple of times); my mother underwent a complicated surgery; I had to have a tumor removed; and my brother had to return home early from his mission because of health problems. It was a lot for our family to deal with. In the midst of all of this, my younger sister was struggling through an intense battle with depression that was scary and confusing for all of us. There was one point when I kind of just broke down. My parents taught me to never question why you are going through something, and instead to remember that God has a plan. But I guess it was the timing that got to me. I was just afraid of how much longer it would be like this. I can remember kneeling on the floor crying one evening in our living room. At one point, I looked up and I saw a picture of Christ on the wall. And I just felt at peace at that moment. I just had this feeling that I was meant to go through all of these difficulties. I knew it wasn’t going to be over soon, but I also knew there was a purpose in it all. I felt that God was preparing me to help others in the future—that I could be a light and example through my experiences. I knew I was going to be able to help somebody else at some point.” (https://www.instagram.com/p/BG9M_R7DyBT/?taken-by=ldschurch)
We can continue to have faith through trials. Fasting, even if it doesn’t result in what we ask for, will build faith. Eventually we will receive all that our Father can give as we press forward in faith, relying on the grace of Christ. Though fasting might be a trial now, ultimately, as we learn from restored scripture, fasting is about joy. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read: “And on this day [Sunday] thou shalt do none other thing, only let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, or, in other words, that thy joy may be full.” (D&C 59:13; emphasis added). When our fasting is perfect, our joy is full. Fasting is a means to bring joy to our lives. We make a small sacrifice of hunger. God in turn satiates our hunger and fills our emptiness with more than we gave.
Fasting in accordance with the law of sacrifice allows us to show love and devotion to God. God in turn showers forth love and blessings upon us.
Another part of the law of sacrifice is the law of tithing.
I remember being a full time missionary teaching the commandment of tithing. It was always challenging for me to testify of the blessings I had seen in my life from paying tithing. I grew up with the example of my parents who always paid tithing. Paying tithing was never a challenge for me but at 19 and 20 years old I was not in the same place in life as most of those I taught. I taught mostly middle age individuals who were working and supporting a family. That’s one reason I loved having members there to help teach the law of tithing. They could usually give more examples of the blessings they saw from paying tithing. An investigator or new convert being asked to donate 10% of their income was usually a significant challenge – that can be true for many of us, recent convert or not. On the surface tithing seems like a 10% pay cut. A convert joins the church and suddenly gets to live on 10% less income from before. I know some of you struggle with this. If you’re in school, funds can vary between slim and nonexistent. If you’re working full-time or part-time or not at all, funds can also vary between slim and nonexistent. God loves us and does not enjoy watching us struggle. So why does He require us to pay tithing?
There is not a single answer to that question and I’m not going to answer it. Instead, I want to share some blessings…I’ve seen in my life as I’ve paid tithing – most of these became clear after years of paying tithing. Isn’t that how the gospel usually works? We have to put forth the faith first, sometimes for years, before we are blessed.
[Two stories were removed to protect confidence in this setting].
I’ve seen tremendous blessings from paying tithing. Providing for a growing family on a graduate student income was a great lesson in budgeting and faith. Even though funds were severely restricted, we never ran out of money. We never had to do without the necessities of life. Another blessing was discovered when my wife and I looked back and realized we had very few medical costs for years. We worked on remaining healthy but we saw that the Lord blessed our family with good health. That is a blessing we both know was partially due to paying tithing and fast offerings. After all, the Lord promised us through Isaiah that if we fast (and, I might add pay tithing): “[our] health shall spring forth speedily” (Isaiah 58:8).
Being generous with tithing and offerings has other benefits.
Arthur C. Brooks ran a study looking at the relationship between charitable behaviors and prosperity. He explained his findings at a BYU Forum address: “when people get richer, they tend to give more money away. But I also came up with the following counterintuitive finding: When people give more money away, they tend to prosper.
“Specifically, here’s what I found. If you have two families that are exactly identical—in other words, same religion, same race, same number of kids, same town, same level of education, and everything’s the same—except that one family gives a hundred dollars more to charity than the second family, then the giving family will earn on average $375 more in income than the nongiving family—and that’s statistically attributable to the gift…. [Other studies have found that] givers are healthier, happier, and richer in this country—and probably around the world. It gives us stronger communities; indeed, it gives us a more prosperous nation.”
Arthur Brooks went on: “As Christian people we are taught that giving is important to help others. I’m telling you that the data say giving helps you, so if you want to help others, don’t just give to them—think about what you can do today to help somebody else to give. The main beneficiary of a charitable gift is the giver.”
As we give we receive. I’m not encouraging paying tithing or giving fast offerings for selfish reasons but it is important to recognize and thank our Eternal Father for the blessings he gives us for paying tithing and other offerings. In Malachi we read: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10). When God pours out those blessings on us – and those with eyes to see will recognize the blessings – we need to thank Him for them.
Brothers and sisters, the Lord gave us the law of sacrifice, of which tithing and fasting are a part, to help us be better. They are opportunities for us to be more Christ-like and serve others. They are opportunities for God to richly bless us as we faithfully offer up our sacrifices to Him. May God bless each of you through your tithes, fasts, and offerings!
We have a series of statements about our core beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called the Articles of Faith. The fourth of these states: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
One evening as a missionary, my companion and I received a call from the hermanas, who asked if we could go give a blessing to a baby who hadn’t slept more than minutes at a time for a couple days and hadn’t stopped crying for hours. The baby was exhausted, her mother was exhausted and didn’t know what to do other than ask God for help. I think we’ve all been or will be there – in a situation where we are overwhelmed, exhausted, beaten down, looking for relief. Maybe we are like this mother or like the infant – in either case we need the Lord.
My companion and I prepared for the blessing and went over to the apartment, meeting the hermanas there. As soon as my companion took the infant in his arms, she stopped crying. We blessed her that she would be comforted and be able to sleep. During the short blessing the baby fell asleep. Her mother was greatly relieved and grateful to God. I was touched at the faith of the mother and baby. Infants have innate goodness and faith in Christ. I knew that it was because of their great faith that the prayers of the mother were answered.
Such can be the power of faith in our lives every day! Some of us might have the pure, but small, faith of a child. Though your beginning fire of faith might be small, righteous choices bring greater confidence in God, and your faith grows. Others might have more mature, tested faith. This is the more abundant faith we receive over time as we are tested and strive to remain true to the faith. At any stage of development, faith is a shield unto us. The Apostle Paul counseled: “Above all, [take] the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire to attack his enemy with his sword or spear. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and could use it to attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand strong attacks from the enemy. Soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually.
Paul said the shield of faith was the most important armor for us. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other principles and ordinances build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others – we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it’s important to attend church regularly and be an active part of a branch or ward. Who is has not been at church (recently) but could be or should be? Who is missing out on the faith-strengthening experience of attending church and partaking of the Sacrament? Who can you invite to join the army of the Lord? Inviting others to Christ will strengthen your faith in Him and help others develop faith in Christ.
Just as faith is a shield to us we should shield our faith. Elder Neil L. Andersen said “There is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.” (Andersen, Oct 2015 General Conference). Faith in Jesus Christ should lead to repentance.
Most years when I was growing up my family would drive out to the desert near our home in Arizona and pick ripe prickly pear fruit to turn into jelly. It’s not an easy process. Each cactus plant is covered with large and small spines, threatening anyone who approaches too close. Each fruit also has spines on it so we picked them using tongs and dropped them in buckets. Usually within an hour we would have enough fruit for a large batch of jelly. One year when I was about 14 we were picking fruit when my sister called saying, “There’s a rattlesnake over there under the cactus!” I looked, asking “Where?” She stood by me, pointing right to it and said, “Right there under that cactus [about 10 feet away].” I looked but did not see the snake. I looked again in the same location and finally it became clear. The snake blended in perfectly with the ground, only becoming visible with close inspection. What appeared to be dirt, rock, and shadow was a serpent that would be dangerous if approached. We decided to not pick fruit from that cactus.
What is a spiritual application of this story? Sin can be like the snake. It is hard to recognize sometimes, especially for those who are inexperienced or who are not looking carefully. Sin, like venomous snakes, is increasingly dangerous when approached. Once we recognize it, it’s best to leave it alone and go elsewhere. Do not try to see how close you can get to it because eventually you will be bitten. The biting sting of sin burns. All of us sin, we all fall short. When we sin it is important to exercise faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance. Sin brings suffering. Repentance might bring suffering but it’s necessary to be cleansed from sin to live with our Father again.
Even though we do not seek suffering, in some instances suffering may be essential. Elder Ballard stated, “Pain and suffering [serve] a necessary purpose in the process of healing” (M. Russell Ballard, A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, Ensign, Sep. 1990). When we sin, we experience the loss of the spirit of the Lord. The small or large measure of suffering we experience can help us desire to repent and again feel the Holy Ghost. The Savior’s suffering was essential so that we all had a way to be resurrected and be forgiven of our sins. Without His suffering, we cannot be saved. In turn, when we sin, if we do not suffer at all, it is difficult to fully learn the impact of our sins and in turn the sweet mercy of forgiveness. Adam and Eve were taught that they would understand the bitter so that they could appreciate the sweet. This is why we should not be scared of suffering – it is a natural part of life and helps us learn to appreciate the good in our lives. We do not seek it, but we can find meaning in it. We can turn to the Lord and partake of the assuaging mercy of the Atonement. We can find that Balm in Gilead that soothes souls.
A story of the Savior teaches the healing process of repentance.
“And again [Jesus] entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Mark 2:1-5; emphasis added).
Jesus visited Capernaum, a small (by today’s standards) town on the northwestern edge of the Sea of Galilee. It is thought to be near or might have been the hometown of the apostles Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It is in this setting that the miracle recorded in Mark occurred. Jesus was in a house preaching to a packed audience – standing room only – with overflow outside the house. Hearing of Jesus’s visit, four men carried a man with palsy (in other words – paralysis – the man might have had seizures as well) on a stretcher to visit the Lord for healing. They could not enter through the door so they got on top of the house and broke apart the roof over where Jesus was standing/sitting while preaching. I like that they broke apart the roof; they destroyed it to get to the Savior.
These men, bearers of the ill, were persistent and a little destructive. Sometimes we must destroy something to bring healing. Cancer treatments often involve chemotherapy, a drastic process that attacks rapidly dividing cancer cells (and as a side effect, bone marrow, hair follicles, and the digestive system, which all have rapidly dividing cells and are why chemotherapy usually suppresses the immune system, causes hair loss, and digestive difficulties). To kill the bad cells requires broad destruction. Epilepsy, when severe and not well-controlled by medication, sometimes requires cutting out portions of the brain causing the seizures. To heal, drastic actions and destruction can be required. Seeing the diligence and faith of those seeking healing for the man with palsy, Jesus was impressed and offered healing – not just the physical that was sought but also spiritual.
C.S. Lewis wrote on this process of healing through destruction: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Lewis, Mere Christianity).
Healing might hurt us abominably but such pains are necessary. To heal us, the Savior hurt abominably. He suffered so that He might succor us. What He asks in return is faith, diligence (occasionally destructive), and repentance. Repentance leads to and grows from baptism.
Not long after returning home from my mission I had an opportunity to hike to the top of the tallest mountain in Arizona – Humphrey’s Peak. Much of the northern part of Arizona is a region called the Colorado plateau. This area is mostly high altitude desert but there are areas with luscious vegetation – towering pine trees, quaking aspens, and brilliant wildflowers. Rising above this plateau is Humphrey’s Peak, peaking over 12,600 feet above sea level. The parking lot of the main trail up to the peak sits at almost 9000 feet, leaving three quarters of a mile elevation to ascend along a 4.5 mile trail. The path winds up the mountain with loose jagged rocks underfoot. At the start of the trail there is thick vegetation but as you approach the tree line – the point above which trees no longer grow – the towering trees turn into bristlecone pines, sturdy trees hardened and twisted by strong winds and frost. Above the tree line the only plants left are hardy shrubs that can withstand the tundra climate. During the summer the air is often warm but snows can come during any month and weather changes rapidly. At the peak on clear days it is possible to see for over a hundred miles. In the distance you might see the mile deep gash of the Grand Canyon.
My parents, a neighbor, and I hiked Humphrey’s Peak. My mother did not want to hike the whole way so shortly after starting she told us to go on ahead. Soon, I wanted to ascend faster so I left my father and neighbor to follow up after me. When I hit 12,000 feet with about a mile to go I started feeling the altitude but I improved approaching the summit. Up at the peak, there was time for resting and enjoying the view. Parts of the landscape were blocked by clouds lower than the summit. I marveled at the winds that whipped clouds by me. It was serene being high on a mountain top. Mountains always remind me of the majesty of God. After a rest, it was time to descend the mountain. One thing I love more than hiking up mountains is running down them. This trail was challenging – a misplaced foot, a loose rock could result in serious injury – but running down a mountain is exhilarating. My muscles, bones, and joints ached for hours after the descent and my legs were sore for days but I enjoyed the run at the time.
What happened to my father and our neighbor? They eventually made it up and down but had to go slowly because my neighbor had altitude sickness due to the thin air.
What is a principle from this story? Climbing the mountain is like getting baptized. Baptism is the gate opening the path that we travel to try and return to our exalted home. But baptism is not the end. Those of us who are baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all covenanted with God – a covenant is a two way promise – that we would keep His commandments and always remember Him. If we want to reach the summit we cannot stop by the gate, we need to press forward with our eyes fixed upon the Savior. We work but none of us works our way to heaven. We are required to participate in priesthood ordinances like baptism but Jesus strengthens our lungs and legs. He lifts us up when we fall and strengthens us in spiritual and physical sickness. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that ultimately lifts us home but baptism puts us on the upward path, a spiritual one that we never need descend from.
Just as hiking does, baptism requires preparation. In Moroni we read of the requirements for and duties of those who are baptized: “And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end. And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.” (Moroni 6:3-4).
Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. When I was young I went on two multi-day backpacking trips with my father and his varsity scouts – a 21 mile hike in the Grand Canyon when I was 11 and a 40 mile one through the Paria Canyon when I was 12. We could only carry enough water to last a day so on both excursions we relied heavily on spring water to survive. Water from the springs is pure; we could drink right from living streams. When there were no springs to replenish our water we had to purify our water by filtering, boiling, or using iodine tablets. The water from streams and rivers needed purification or it could have made us sick. If we did not have water, we would not have survived our desert hikes.
Many of the events in the Bible occur in deserts. The early part of the Book of Mormon also takes place almost exclusively in deserts. The Savior lived in Israel around Jerusalem, which receives little rainfall each year. Water is a precious resource. Drinkable water is even more precious. Because of the desert surroundings of many of the prophets in the scriptures, water plays a prominent role in many parables or scripture stories. “Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh” (Ezekiel 47:8-9). In the desert, where water is, there is life. Because water provides and symbolizes life, it is easy to understand why so many prophets, including the Savior, referred to water in their teachings.
The Lord’s control and power over water was demonstrated many times throughout the scriptures. Moses parted the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians. Elijah divided the waters of the River Jordan, as did Elisha (see 2 Kings 2). Elisha also healed the waters of Jericho: “And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake” (2 Kings 2:19-22). Our own spiritual waters can also be healed and cleansed as we partake of the blood of the Atonement and as we follow our priesthood leaders, especially the Lord’s prophet.
The Jaredites and the people of Lehi both crossed over the oceans in order to travel to the Promised Land. They survived their trials by water with faith in the Lord. Sometimes the waters beat down and seem to attack our very foundation but if we are built upon stony ground instead of sand, we can weather the storms. Jesus walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. We use water today for the sacrament in remembrance of the Savior’s atoning blood.
Water is cleansing. The prophet Alma baptized in the waters of Mormon. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water when He was baptized in the River Jordan; baptism is essential for exaltation, which is why the Savior was baptized even though He was and is without sin. Through it we make a covenant – a two-way promise – with our Father. Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins.
But just as the Mosaic Law was incomplete without Christ, so is baptism without confirmation and the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half – that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, p.314).
By baptism we keep the commandment but through the Holy Ghost we are absolved of blame and purified. The blood of Christ sanctifies us (see Moses 6:60).
I’ll always remember what it was like to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. I was baptized and confirmed a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was eight years old. I wrote in my journal that I felt warm and not just because it was in Arizona in the summer. The Holy Ghost blesses us with warmth and peace. At that early age I learned of the power of the Holy Ghost and of the consequences of sin. Before I was baptized I remember doing something I was not supposed to do but really did not have a strong feeling that it was wrong – I think I only realized it was wrong in hindsight. When I did the same thing after I was baptized I knew immediately it was wrong, I felt compelled to fall to my knees and ask Heavenly Father for forgiveness. That is the power of the Holy Ghost – He teaches us right from wrong and helps us know how we can be better. He warns us; He comforts us.
The first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
These are a foundation for us. If you have not been baptized, I encourage you to take that step. It is one you will not regret. If you have been baptized, continue on the path of faith, repentance, covenant, and spirit. I know Jesus Christ is our Savior. He loves you and me.
To testify is to declare a belief about, of, or in something. Testifying is the declaration of a fact or a truth – stating something that you know is true. The word testimony is a noun, which means that testimonies can be acted upon; someone possesses a testimony and can share it. The word testimony comes from the Latin word meaning witness. It is also related to the Latin words for three and stand, implying that a witness stands as another – particularly a third – witness.We are taught in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Doctrine & Covenants that the Lord’s pattern is for multiple witnesses to establish truth. Incidentally, testament is the same word as testimony; a testament is also a covenant. So we have an Old Covenant, a New Covenant, and a latter-day Doctrine and Covenants with, of course, the Book of Mormon standing as a special testament of Jesus Christ (and a special covenant between God and the remnants of the people of Lehi). All books of scripture serve to co-establish the truths contained within each other book; this includes God’s word, which shall be established by multiple witnesses (two or three; see Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; D&C 6:28). We have multiple witnesses at church. Bro. [Smith] and I are visiting by assignment from the stake presidency to teach truths; the Holy Ghost also bears witness of the truths we share and the testimonies we bear. We are establishing truth through three witnesses. Even members of the Godhead, though united in testimony, purpose, and glory, serve as multiple witnesses. When Jesus Christ was baptized, His Father bore witness to John the Baptist saying, “This is my beloved Son.” The Holy Ghost also descended like a dove as a sign to John of the divinity of Jesus Christ. God’s pattern for testifying of His truths is well-established.
When Alma and Amulek preached in the land of Ammonihah, the people were amazed that two missionaries bore testimony: “And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them” (Alma 10:12). This is one reason our missionaries go out two by two – there are multiple people to bear witness, to share their testimony of the truths of the gospel.
We gain knowledge about testimonies and how we gain one by listening to the Lord’s apostles. In the October 2001 General Conference Elder Richard G. Scott gave this powerful teaching about testimony: “A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life. It is centered in an understanding of the divine attributes of God our Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is secured by a willing reliance upon Them. A powerful testimony is grounded in the personal assurance that the Holy Ghost can guide and inspire our daily acts for good. A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Scott; emphasis added).
Let me repeat: “[A testimony] is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.” A testimony is based on the goodness of our lives, of our characters, and our actions. Our testimonies are strengthened as we live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. That is the only way to gain a testimony! Live the gospel principles that you want to gain a testimony of. If you want to have a testimony of tithing, pay it! If you want to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, follow Him! If you want to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, read it and pray about it! We are taught in Alma 32 to “experiment upon the word.” As we test what God has told us, we can know of its truth.
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27; emphasis added).
With these words, the prophet Alma taught the poor and outcast how they could develop faith. These humble people were struggling with their faith so Alma taught them how to increase it. My words are particularly directed at those who do not have a testimony or those who feel like they have a weak testimony. I pray that all may benefit.
The word experiment is only found in the scriptures five times. One of those is in the New Testament (see 2 Cor. 9:13). The other four uses of the word experiment are all found when Alma and Amulek taught the Zoramites. Alma developed an analogy of faith as a seed, encouraging those who listened to plant the seed of faith in their hearts then nurture it and watching it grow.
My wife Kristi and I recently taught this principle to our children. We talked about the seed of faith and how by nurturing it, it will grow. Then we planted actual seeds and, as we cared for them, watched them sprout and grow tall. We are still nurturing the plants as we wait for them to bear fruit. We build faith and testimonies the same way – it takes work and time. Alma taught the humble Zoramites to experiment upon the word of God, almost like performing a science experiment. I am a brain scientist by profession and so I spend much of my time doing science.
A foundation of modern science is to seek to discover facts that we hope lead to truth. Scientists study facts, which may or may not be true, by studying what can be observed or indirectly measured. I’m interested in understanding what will happen to the brain as someone gets older or what happens to a person’s brain after a major surgery. My goal as a scientist is to discover things through observation or experimentation that I hope are true and that will help people. While it is not possible to look at a person’s brain directly, I can give tests that measure how well it works. I can also use a machine to take pictures or movies of it.
In some ways, Alma’s faith experiment is similar to a science experiment. For one, Alma tells the people to look for evidence of the growth of faith – sometimes this evidence is not what we expect or is not immediately clear, “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow” (Alma 32:28-30).
Alma told people to not cast the seed of faith out and not resist the Spirit of the Lord; if they accepted the seed, they would feel and understand the seed. They would be enlightened and filled. The seed, with nourishment, would grow into a tree producing fruit of light and purity, fruit which never spoils and is without end. In a scientific experiment, the scientist usually makes a prediction and then tries to show that it is wrong. That’s how many doctors diagnose illnesses – they believe the symptoms might be one thing but they have to rule out other causes. A faith experiment is not quite like this.
In a faith experiment we plant a seed, nourish it, and care for it; we don’t try to kill the seed of faith and then, if it survives, call it a good seed – that’s science. We don’t try to explain away feelings and faith as wishful thinking. We do all we can to try to show that the seed is good – because it is. There are many witnesses of the truth of God. The key is to believe and come to a knowledge for ourselves. We do not need to prove that God exists or that the gospel is true – He does and it is; the gospel is not on trial, we are! We should not fight faith, we nurture it. Neither should we sow the seed of doubt in our own minds or those of others.
Elder Holland said, “In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited…. When…moments [of trial and doubt] come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. It was of [the] very incident, [the] miracle [of healing the mind of a boy], that Jesus said, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.’ The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.” (April 2013 General Conference)
Or, as Pres. Uchtdorf said, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” (October 2013 General Conference).
To those of you who are struggling in your testimonies – embrace what you have and help it grow by living the doctrines in the scriptures and taught by God’s living prophets.
I want to talk more about faith. The word faith is often used as a synonym for trust or belief. We’ll say “You just have to have faith.” That use is the main definition of faith as found in the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines faith as “Belief, trust, or confidence.” That understanding of faith, as helpful as it is, falls short of the real power of faith. The apostle Paul wrote of faith: “Now faith is the substance [or assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [or proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
There are things that we cannot see but that do exist. There are truths that are self-evident and self-existent that are not and cannot be observed by us now – the scriptures and prophets teach us this. There are things that are real that we hope for but cannot see or hear or experience until some point in the future. As Alma stated: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21)
A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is much more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained faith in his work Leviathan: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271; spelling and punctuation not modernized). “Faith is a gift of God.” It’s not a gift we give to God – the gift we give God is integrity to the faith we have received. We believe in Him even though we don’t see Him. We believe, hope, and trust our Eternal Father. Faith transcends belief. Faith is a gift from God.
As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. That means faith is given to us as proof that our beliefs in God are good and true. Belief and good works lead to faith. Referring back to Alma’s analogy of the seed – we have desires to believe and then we plant the seed of faith. We do not create this seed, it is a gift from God. That seed must be planted and then not cast out by unbelief. To help the seed to grow we have to believe and trust and follow the Lord’s commands. As we do this, we are blessed with further evidence – with more faith – as we see the seed grow, sprout, and produce good fruit.
It is important to recognize that faith is the evidence or proof of God’s love that we desire; it is a great and wonderful power. Many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith. But faith is exactly the proof we are looking for. How many times do we believe, trust, hope, and experiment upon the word but overlook our growing faith as evidence of God’s love because we’re so busy looking for something bigger – an angel or a clear sign from heaven? So often we seek for signs without realizing that faith is the answer to our prayers and the reward of our righteousness. Faith is a glorious gift from God. As Moroni wrote on spiritual gifts: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord.
I want to share an experience when my testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith was strengthened and my faith grew. I’ll quote from my missionary journal: “Tonight we taught Sarah [name changed] the 1st discussion at the stake center. She bought us pizza! What an amazing discussion! Elders VanBebber, Malie, and I taught it. Sarah is amazing. Today Elder Malie and I reviewed the 1st [discussion] for companionship study and how we can apply it to Sarah. While doing that I decided to use the Joseph Smith pamphlet and read the Joseph Smith history in the discussion, something we do not always do. [Sarah] used to go to [the LDS] church [with friends] when she was 8 or so. She even wanted to be baptized but [when she] told [her mom, Sarah was not allowed to] go to that family’s house any more. What a change [Sarah’s mom] has gone through [we taught and baptized her mom previous to this experience]! I got to teach the Joseph Smith principle. While I paused after the First Vision story, the Spirit hit me hard and I started to cry. That is the first time that has happened to me – getting emotional like that in a discussion. As I testified of Joseph Smith I thought, ‘Now I can really…say that I know Joseph Smith is a prophet.’ I have always [believed] but now [my knowledge is sure]! This feeling I received, I shall never forget nor deny.”
I have not forgotten that feeling more than a decade later. That was one of the singularly important moments in my life. I have always believed Joseph Smith was a prophet. That’s not something I have ever doubted. My testimony of his calling as a prophet was based on years of going to church, reading the scriptures, praying, and learning about him. I saw and partook of the fruits the Lord restored through him to the earth. However, before that time I had not had a powerful experience like the one I had that evening as a missionary. That does not mean I did not have a testimony before – I did – but it was strengthened by that experience. How did I gain this witness? What I did not write at the time was how I had been reading my scriptures and praying with a sincere earnestness that I would receive a witness of the gospel. The Spirit I received while teaching Sarah did not come out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the gospel. The Spirit I received while teaching Sarah did not come out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the truths of the gospel. A strong testimony can take years of effort or it might come quickly but for those who seek it, it will come. Even if it takes a long time, God blesses us richly along the path to testimony.
For any who want to receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel, Elder Scott, one of the Lord’s apostles, offers His counsel: “Try reading the Book of Mormon because you want to, not because you have to. Discover for yourself that it is true. As you read each page ask, ‘Could any man have written this book or did it come as Joseph Smith testified?’ Apply the teachings you learn. They will fortify you against the evil of Satan. Follow Moroni’s counsel. Sincerely ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with real intent, if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true (see Moro. 10:3–5). Ask with a desire to receive a confirmation personally, nothing doubting. There has to be an explanation of that book you can hold in your hand. I know that you can receive a spiritual confirmation that it is true. You will then know that Jesus Christ lives, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church. You will confirm that the Savior guides His Church through a living prophet. These truths will become a foundation for your productive life.” (Elder Scott, Ensign, November 2003).
Most importantly, a testimony helps you draw near to Jesus Christ and partake more fully of His grace.
One final example of how to gain or strengthen a testimony is in the Book of Mormon. We read in Alma 17 of an encounter between Alma the younger and his friends, the sons of King Mosiah. They had not seen each other for years. “Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” (Alma 17:2-3). The sons of Mosiah demonstrated the foundation for developing great faith and a strong testimony – search the scriptures diligently to learn the word of God and spend much time in prayer and fasting. By doing those things, our testimonies will grow. But as Brigham Young said, “More testimonies are gained on the feet than on the knees.” It’s important to live what we read and pray.
I add my testimony to that of the prophets that all can receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel. We can all know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is God’s word. We can know that Jesus is Divine, the Only Begotten Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. We can know that God has a plan for each of us and that plan is to return to live with Him again and to someday see Him as He really is. I have not had an angel appear to me like the sons of Mosiah and Alma the younger but I have had something better; I have had the Holy Ghost – a member of the Godhead – witness unto me the truth of the Scriptures and the truth of the restored gospel. This is a miraculous witness that is no less miraculous than the visible ministering of angels.
Jesus spent much of His ministry walking and talking with people. One day he was asked to come minister to a young girl who was ill. As He walked to bless the daughter of Jairus, who would die and be brought back to life, many people followed Him or pressed around Him to gawk. In this setting while Jesus traveled, we read in Mark about an experience of faith: “And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.” (Mark 5:25-34)
One of my favorite works of art is a painting by James Christensen of this woman who needed healing. In the painting, she reaches out to touch the hem of Christ’s cloak. The pressing crowds, the background, and even the Savior other than part of His cloak are not in the painting because the focus is on the woman’s great faith as she reaches towards the Savior’s healing. A copy of this painting takes a prominent place in our home to serve as a reminder of the power of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As we keep our thoughts and homes centered on the Savior our faith in Him will be strengthened and His Spirit will be with us.
After miraculously feeding the thousands, Jesus sent his disciples away on a boat while He went to pray to and speak with His Father. He spent hours in communion with His Father. The following day in the hours before the rising of the sun, His disciples were on the boat in the midst of contrary winds and stormy seas. On the unsettled water “Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And [Jesus] said, Come.” (Matthew 14:25-29)
I can imagine Peter crying out to the Son of God, the Light of the world, as he stepped from the boat onto the waves:
“Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene–one step enough for me.” (John Henry Newman, Lead, Kindly Light)
“When Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:29-33)
Some observations about this story. We know Peter had great faith – He walked on the water to the Lord! How many of us have the faith to take even one successful step? Peter’s faith was great – it was not until he took his eyes off the Savior, when Peter looked at the storm around him, that he became afraid, started to doubt, and began to sink beneath the waves. As Peter’s faith faltered and he cried out to the Lord, Jesus immediately reached out and caught Peter. Jesus responded to Peter’s plea for help immediately! King Benjamin spoke of these immediate blessings: “[The Lord] doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?” (Mosiah 2:24). We are forever indebted to the saving, grasping hands of the Savior.
The winds continued to blow around Peter and his Master. It was only after making it to the boat that the winds ceased and peace prevailed. Blessings come while we experience the storms of life; greater blessings and peace come after trials of our faith.
One of the most important lessons from this experience between Jesus and Peter is not the great faith Peter had, it is what happened when Peter looked away from the Savior. As soon as Peter looked away, he focused on the waves and wind; Peter focused on the storm and turmoil and became afraid. With that fear came sinking doubt. If we lose focus on the Savior, though the consequences might not seem as immediate to us as Peter’s were to him, we begin to lose faith and begin to sink.
In order to weather the stormy days we live in we must focus constantly on Christ. This focus needs to start in our hearts, minds, and homes. The moment we look away and become fearful of the storms, our faith can falter. Satan tells us lies about the things we fear the most – the waves are too large, the winds too strong, we are unloved, we have sinned too much to repent, we cannot overcome our genes or our biology, we are failures, there is no hope for the future. Satan tries to hit us and hurt us where we are weakest but through Christ all our weaknesses and fears can become strengths. Jesus Christ suffered that we might triumph in strength. He reaches down to pull us up.
The prophet Nephi exulted of the Savior: “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:26). Nephi strove to build a Christ-centered home. He set an example for us to follow so that we can fill our homes with the love of God. We can fill our homes with God’s love as we consistently keep His commandments. We can pattern our homes after our heavenly home, where God dwells.
During the final meeting with His apostles, a meeting paralleled many years later by Joseph Smith giving his last charge and saving ordinances to the latter-day apostles and others, Jesus gathered with His friends to celebrate Passover. He performed the ordinance of the washing of feet. Jesus broke bread and drank wine in sacrament with His disciples. He sent one off who would betray Him and then taught the apostles significant doctrines. Only after Judas departed did the real teaching and blessings begin. What the Savior taught during these late hours is covered in just over four chapters in the book of John – one fifth of a book covering three years of Jesus’s ministry. That so much of the book of John focuses on this time is one indication of the importance of what Jesus taught before His atoning suffering in Gethsemane and His death upon the cruel cross.
What did Jesus teach? One of the most powerful lessons in all scripture is found in John 17, what is commonly called the intercessory prayer – intercessory meaning praying or petitioning on behalf of another. Of this prayer John wrote: “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” (John 17:1-4)
The key verse here is “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) Life eternal is knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ. As we strive for eternal life we must strive for a knowledge of God. Even more, we must not only have a knowledge of Him but also truly know Him. The better we know Him the more we love Him. How can we fully love something we do not understand? How can we truly love someone we do not know? The more familiar we are with someone, the more we understand and love that person.
Joseph Smith’s First Vision was a light in the darkness of knowledge about God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Joseph had clear evidence that the Father and the Son are distinct beings. One of the implications of knowing that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are distinct Beings is that we have a special relationship to God (He is our Father, not just the Savior’s) and we have an opportunity to become more like Him. We are His children and as His children we can grow and develop, gaining attributes of our Divine Parent.
This is what was so revolutionary about what was re-taught in bright clarity to the world when Joseph Smith, a young man of 14, saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. It upended not only the world’s misconceptions of the nature of God but also of the world’s misconceptions of the nature of men and women and of their divine potential, even though that potential would not be understood for years. We can have a personal, loving, relationship with God our Father here on earth just as we had with Him before we were born with physical bodies.
A simple recent experience reminded me of the nature of God’s love for us. As I was praying, just seconds into a prayer, my infant son started crying in the other room. I asked my Father if He would please excuse the interruption to the prayer because my son needed me and then I closed the prayer. I had the distinct impression that my Eternal Father understood completely. My concern for my son mirrored His concern for me, for you, and for all His sons and daughters. That is the nature of God – He is our Father; He loves us; He watches over us. He knows us and wants us to have joy. God hears our prayers. Experiences like this can remind us of our heavenly home.
We can pattern our homes after our heavenly home and build them upon the Lord Jesus Christ. We can do this by establishing patterns of righteousness. Our righteousness can become habitual. The brain is made up of 87 billion neurons – the brain cells that allow us to breathe, think, walk, talk, pray, serve, and love. Each of these cells is connected to others with an estimated total of 100 trillion connections. That’s a staggeringly large number – the number 1 followed by 14 zeros! These connections are not set for life; they strengthen or weaken constantly based on what we do and learn. Even simple actions, such as clapping or raising our hands in sustaining of church leaders, changes blood flow within our brains for half a minute. Each thought we think, each action we do, changes our brains. As we learn and re-learn things, the connections between brain cells change. If we do things over and over they become habits; habits might be easy or difficult to develop but they are usually hard to lose. This is because habits are ingrained within deep recesses of our brains; they travel along major brain pathways automatically and at rapid speed. Each thought or action we have or do has the potential to become a habit if we repeat it. What habits are you forming? What connections are you making in your brain – positive, uplifting, faithful ones? Or are you strengthening connections that lead you away from Christ? The roads of the mind can elevate or debase. Do we seek and strengthen the paths that will lead us back home?
I’d like to share four habits we can develop that will help us focus our families on Christ. These are not meant to be prescriptive, rather they are shared as examples of the types of behaviors we can instill in our homes, whatever the size or state of our family.
In our home every week or two we pick a scripture to memorize. Each time there is a new scripture, it is printed out and placed on a door where everyone will see it regularly and be able to read it. All in our family are encouraged to memorize the verses. In the morning – during breakfast or in the car on the way to school – we take turns reciting a memorized verse (it does not have to be the one for the week) and talk about the scriptures. With this constancy and repetition, all of us (except our baby) have been able to memorize a number of verses. This process doesn’t take long but it requires consistency. Having scriptures memorized allows us to recall them when we need a spiritual boost. Even if some of the specific words of the verses slip from memory, the principles will be retained and will provide strength against storms.
The first habit was knowing the words of prophets of the past. The second habit is learning and knowing the names and teachings of the current prophets and apostles. Knowing who the Lord calls as His chosen servants is important for recognizing how His work is accomplished upon the earth. More important than knowing names and faces of the prophets and apostles is being familiar with their recent messages. Frequently for Family Home Evening we talk about one of the church leaders and discuss the most recent general conference address. We distill one of the main messages of the talks into a single simple phrase. We also pick out a scripture from the talk or find a related one to memorize and discuss. This past week our family discussed Elder Holland’s talk “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet” and learned 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” We all experience sin and death, just as Adam and Eve did, but through the merciful atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ we will overcome physical death and may overcome spiritual death. Understanding the need for the Savior and the centrality of Him needs to start in the home. As we listen to, read, and follow the words of the Lord’s living prophets, we follow Jesus Christ. As our homes are filled with the words of the prophets, we fill our homes with the light and spirit of Christ.
The third habit we seek to instill in our children is a set of simple habits: 1) weekly Family Home Evening, 2) regular journal writing, and 3) daily personal and family prayer. These are ways we show daily devotion to God. In Family Home Evening we have the opportunity to “preach…receive, [and] understand one another [that all will be] edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50:22). Each of us takes turns teaching a lesson, choosing a song, saying a prayer, arranging a treat, and sharing a scripture or short spiritual thought. When everyone participates, everyone feels some level of responsibility. This helps the children pay better attention and be more involved in the evening.
Journal writing is also an important habit that helps us reflect on the present and anchors us to the past. I was encouraged to write in my journal regularly as a child. We encourage our children to write regularly in their journals. While we sometimes hear protests, these journals will be appreciated later. Journals can become sacred texts to us and our families. Many of the books of scripture are journals of the prophets.
Much can be said about prayer. Personal prayer is, as I frequently tell my children, the most important thing we can do in the day. Prayer is an opportunity to for us to converse with our Father. He loves us and wants to speak with us. When we pray we have the opportunity to thank Him. We have the opportunity to tell Him about our thoughts, desires, strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failings. He knows all these things but wants to hear from us. It is far too easy to become complacent in our prayers. It is easy to be like the brother of Jared of old and slip in our personal communications with God, something for which he was criticized severely (Ether 2:14-15). We must make time for God. Family prayer can also bring great blessings of unity and love.
The fourth habit is Sabbath day observance. The Sabbath is a holy day, a day sanctified for us. To be sanctified is to be set apart, holy, dedicated. Is that what our Sundays look like? Is it a day different from the other six of the week or is it just another day? Is it a day spent worshiping God and strengthening our family, or is it merely a “fun day”? I love hearing my children say, “This is Sunday music!” or “That’s not a Sunday movie!” and see them choose to stay in their Sunday clothes all day. Both are signs that they recognize that Sunday is a special day; it is a day to cast off our normal activities, to put off doing our pleasure, and dedicate ourselves more fully unto God. One of the greatest things we can do throughout the week and on Sunday before church is prepare for the sacrament. Partaking of the sacrament is an opportunity to partake of the grace of God. It is a sacred ordinance, central to our week and our lives. It is a time to worship the Lord and offer up our sacraments to God, as we read in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 59:9).
Pres. George Albert Smith, the president of the church from 1945 to 1951, said of the Sabbath: “It is not an insignificant thing to violate the Sabbath day. I want to say that you lose every time you violate the Sabbath day, you lose more than you can gain, no matter what you may think you are going to gain. To forget that it is the Lord ’s Day, as some of us appear to do, is ungrateful. He has set apart one day in seven, not to make it a burden, but to bring joy into our lives and cause that our homes may be the gathering place of the family, that parents and children may…increas[e]…love for one another…. Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy…and it will bring to you great joy and our Heavenly Father will bestow upon you the blessings that result from obedience to his advice and counsel.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 16)
Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a habit we can gain or maintain. There are few things we can do that will strengthen our own spirituality and our homes better than keeping the Sabbath Day holy. It is a sign to the Lord of our faith. He richly blesses those who honor his holy day.
One way to honor the Lord by honoring the Sabbath is attending church. Jesus Christ established The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make individuals better and families stronger. Those who are baptized and confirmed members of Christ’s church are “called his people” – they take upon themselves the name of Christ. The responsibilities of baptized members of Christ’s church include:
• Bearing one another’s burdens
• Mourning with those who mourn
• Comforting those who need comfort
• Testifying of God in all things and times through their words and deeds
Those in the church have a primary responsibility to take care of each other. Our devotion to God and our discipleship of Christ is evident in what we do and how we serve others. This sentiment echoes what the Savior taught His disciples on the eve of His death – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35)
The words of the hymn remind us of our duties at home and to those around us:
“Perhaps today there are loving words
Which Jesus would have me speak;
There may be now in the paths of sin
Some wand’rer whom I should seek.
O Savior, if thou wilt be my guide,
Tho dark and rugged the way,
My voice shall echo the message sweet:
I’ll say what you want me to say.” (I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go, Mary Brown, Hymns #270)
There are loving words we need to speak in our homes and to all around us. We need to say what the Lord wants us to say and help others along the way. Ultimately God wants us to return home to Him. That does not mean we need to be perfect now but the Lord requires us to try to be better; the atonement of Jesus Christ will help us overcome our shortcomings and sins.
The four habits I mentioned – memorizing scriptures, knowing the words of the living prophets, personal and family daily devotion, and Sabbath day observance – will help us draw near to God. They will help us strengthen our homes, allowing them to be places of refuge and peace. Our homes can become sanctified houses dedicated with the spirit of holiness to the Lord. May we strengthen our homes by following the Savior! May our homes be sacred places where the Spirit of God dwells! May they be edifices where we feel comfortable inviting the Lord to dwell. May we build our homes into tabernacles where we might kneel and greet the Lord Jesus, the Great Redeemer!