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Friday, February 16, 2018

Rejoice in Suffering

by Nicky Smith

James says, "Count it all joy when you meet various trials." (James 1:2)

Recently as I was going through a specific trial the Spirit said to me: "Rejoice in your trials." I wondered how I can do this because my trial wasn't something in which I was finding much happiness. I kept pondering it. Later I had another trial which caused me to experience great pain in my heart. It literally hurt and the pain was so great I couldn't breathe. Very quickly I felt consumed by the pain. I couldn't think. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I prayed but struggled to connect to God because all I could feel and think about was the pain in my heart. I wondered how I can rejoice in this when I feel this way. The next day as I was praying and as I gained a bit more in control of my pain, I learned some things about rejoicing in painful trials.


The Necessity of Self Control
Pain is a response to a negative situation or experience. This pain results due to false beliefs or weakness (which in turn results from false beliefs) we have. Allowing the pain to consume us is never the right thing. When we allow the pain to become dominant in our lives, it forms a barrier between God and us. We can't hear his voice when all we focus on is the pain. We have to exercise self-control by acknowledging the pain of an experience and then putting that pain in a box to the side (which does not mean eliminating the pain, because that requires changing our beliefs and overcoming our weaknesses). Putting a boundary on our pain means we can continue to call on God and hear his voice, as well as function in daily life through tending to all our responsibilities, despite the pain. 

Controlling the pain requires that we also control our thoughts, because if we let our minds focus on how terrible the situation is, those thoughts quickly spiral out of control which leads to an inability to control the pain and the result is often self-pity (see this post on self-pity). It is so easy for us to allow our sadness to become despair and once we do, it is hard to escape it. However, if we exercise self-control, we can feel pain and sadness, but not feel consumed by it. It's not that we are ignoring the pain but rather, that we don't allow ourselves to wallow in it. 
8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
Feeling pain or sadness is normal. In fact, they are essential for helping us learn and grow. However, we cannot let those things control us. The more we focus on them, the more we given them power over us, in that pain skews our sense of reality and our decisions are impacted. When I focus on my pain, I quickly forget the purpose of the trials and what God is trying to accomplish through them and that they really are for my good. I find that when I allow sadness to consume me, I end up doing something that further isolates me from God and my faith decreases. It also often leads me to do things that cause pain and sadness in others, because I may do or say something I shouldn't.

Having self-control during a difficult trial is hard. We can cry to God to help us develop this self-control. As I have asked God to help me have self-control, he has given me just the right experiences and has taught me how to do it. Relying on God to aid us is essential. It is rare that we will successfully navigate a trial without fully depending on him.  

Rejoice and Joy
Controlling the pain is not sufficient to learn what we need to learn in the trial. With not letting the pain consume us, we are able to learn to rejoice in the trial. Rejoice means to celebrate something, or to see the good in a situation or experience. It is different to simply experiencing the emotion of happiness or joy, because rejoicing involves an attitude of mind and heart regarding our trials. As James said, we count or view our experiences as a joy (James 1:2). In other words, rejoicing requires we see things in a particular way that allows us to become open to God giving us joy, not that we immediately experience joy. It entails changing our perspective on our trials that lead eventually to feeling joy. In fact, Paul in addressing those who minister the gospel, wrote that they can be "sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing." (2 Corinthians 6:10) Sorrow and rejoicing can coexist. However, we ought to consider the root of our sadness and whether it is based on the sins and suffering of others, or if it is based on our not having the life and experiences we desire.

Rejoicing involves desiring (not simply accepting) God's purposes in the suffering we experience. Rejoicing means we feel grateful for God's plan for our lives, knowing he is allowing us to experience exactly what we need to draw nearer to him. Rejoicing involves praising God for his involvement and help in your life. Rejoicing entails totally surrendering our lives to God and trusting that the experiences we are having will work our for our good, as we obey him. Rejoicing entails using our trials to become pure, instead of simply trying to get through them, with little or no benefit to our relationship with God. Rejoicing means opening our hearts to feel God's peace, comfort, and love. 

Peter states that we can rejoice in God's blessings and in how he is preserving us (as we turn to him), knowing that these trials try and increase our faith:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
4 To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
5 Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1, emphasis added)
Rejoicing is very difficult if we allow painful thoughts and emotions to consume us. However, once we have those controlled, we can then change our attitude that leads us to rejoice and become open to eventually feeling joy. 

Finding Comfort in Knowing the Purpose of a Trial
So much of rejoicing is about how we see our situation. As we see the trial as God sees it, rejoicing is a natural response. Consider standing in the rain. This has the potential to make you feel miserable. You may feel cold, lonely, and dejected. However, if you understand that standing in the rain is God's will for you at that time and that through standing in the rain you can learn to better trust God and overcome your sins and weaknesses, you can not only be grateful for the rain but, you can desire the rain. In fact, if you know how much you need the rain, you will ask for the rain. And, through knowing these things, you can feel comfort and joy from standing in the rain. 



When Job had everything he loved taken from him, his wife thought it better for Job to curse God and die. Yet, Job understood the necessity of opposition. He understood the need for pain and loss. He understood that just as we ought to be grateful for God's providence, we ought to be grateful for the trials he allows us to have too. 
9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? (Job 2)
Recently I have experienced another trial. As the trial began I thought about what God had taught me about rejoicing in my trials and I exercised self-control over my pain. I can see how my pain is in fact a sign to me that I have a weakness to overcome (just as physical pain often indicates that something is wrong with our bodies). Controlling my thoughts and emotions allowed me to focus on God's will and how he wants me to act. It allowed me to objectively examine my weakness and work on overcoming it through experiencing the trial. Despite the difficulty of the trial, through rejoicing, I was better able to connect with God and increase my faith in him. It also allowed me to see God's purposes in everything and express gratitude for God's hand in my life. 

Learning to rejoice is a process. I know I may fail at times, but I can immediately repent and continue walking forward. I hope that I can eventually rejoice always, no matter the experience. As Paul said, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice." (Philippians 4:4, emphasis added) Here are some things to remember to help you (and me) rejoice always:

DON'T BE SURPRISED AT THE TRIALS YOU FACE
There have been times where I can see God has warned me that I would experience a particular trial and I am still surprised it actually happened. Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) I have found that if I am surprised that I am going through a specific trial, it is harder for me to control the pain and my thoughts. 

TRUST THAT GOD IS ALLOWING WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU
The trials we experience are to help us overcome our weaknesses and sins (see Romans 5:3-5). God allows us to experience the perfect tailor-made afflictions so that we can increase our faith and become pure. Trust God is in all things. Peter wrote, “Let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” (1 Peter 4:19) As I trust that God is giving the precise experiences I need to grow, I am more open to rejoicing in my trials. 

MOVE AWAY FROM HEDONISM AND SEEK THE SUFFERING
So many of our ideals in this world involve avoiding pain and seeking a comfortable, pleasurable life. Without the trials though, we cannot spiritually progress. Paul wrote, "But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." (1 Timothy 5:6) A couple years ago when I really learned the necessity of my trials and my desire to do God's will and become pure in this life became my focus, I began praying for the trials I need in order to progress. Even though the trials rip my heart apart, I want them because I know I need them. 

DON'T COMPLAIN ABOUT YOUR TRIALS

Complaining (to God or others) about our experiences because they are so hard leads us unable to feel grateful for the path God wants us on. It shows our lack of faith and trust in God. It is evidence that our will is not aligned with God's will. Paul wrote,
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
17 Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.
18 For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2)
I realized recently that in my complaining about my trials, I couldn't surrender my heart to God. I couldn't use the trials to overcome my weaknesses. I am now trying to complain less and to feel gratitude and trust God more. 

REALIZE YOUR SUFFERING BINDS YOU TO CHRIST
Our trials bind us to Jesus in a way that isn't possible outside of suffering. Peter declared, "But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing." (1 Peter 4:13) As I have accepted God's will in my suffering and said, "Let thy will be done, Father" I have felt a greater connection to Jesus. I see myself laying myself on an altar and offering my heart and will as a sacrifice to God in my trials. 

We are not going to feel joy every moment of the day, because sometimes we will feel sad, but we still have to rejoice. This requires we have self-control, which is acquired through relying on God and practice. Rejoicing then involves desiring God's will and trusting in him that he is in control in your life. Rejoicing includes feeling a deep sense of gratitude for our experiences and praising God for them. As we change our attitudes and behaviors regarding adversity, we can "glory in tribulations" (Romans 5:3) and open our hearts to feeling joy. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Forgiveness and Seeing the Goodness of God

by Erin West

Not long ago I sat our children down to read scriptures to them.  Not really sure what to read that evening, I grabbed a Book of Mormon off the shelf and flipped it open.  I found myself near the end in Mormon chapter 9.  Scanning quickly, verse 31 caught my attention:

"Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been."

My mind was drawn to the fact that I struggled a great deal when it came to studying the scriptures due to a very real possibility of faulty record keeping, and my eyes were also being opened to the fact that many of the revered patriarchs in scripture were not perfect.  I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing.  I became prideful and bitter.

However, upon reading Mormon 9:31, it became clear to me that I had sinned because I was condemning people in the scriptures for their weaknesses.  Who am I to condemn when I struggle too?  This verse became an important platform to jump from, helping me to be forgiving of the imperfections of the fathers, and most important, see the marvelous mercy of our God we strive to walk with.

Abraham and Abimelech

We can all agree that Abraham walked with God.  They often spoke together, and God blessed him to be the father of many nations, and that through him the earth would be blessed (see Genesis 12:1-3).  We tend to think that because he received such great promises that he must have walked perfectly all his life, meaning there wasn't a single mistake made, including ones we'd consider innocent errors. 

Yet, in one instance Abraham only told half the truth about his wife Sarah to King Abimelech, because he felt he could do so after being told by the Lord to do the same thing with Pharaoh (see Abraham 2:20-25).  As he and his family were traveling, they entered Abimelech's kingdom, and Abraham told those who greeted him that Sarah was his sister (which is true...but she was also his wife, a fact he intentionally kept hidden.)  So Abimelech sent for Sarah with the intent to take her to wife.

"But that night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, “You are a dead man, for that woman you have taken is already married!”

But Abimelech had not slept with her yet, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Didn’t Abraham tell me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘Yes, he is my brother.’ I acted in complete innocence! My hands are clean.”

In the dream God responded, “Yes, I know you are innocent. That’s why I kept you from sinning against me, and why I did not let you touch her.  Now return the woman to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don’t return her to him, you can be sure that you and all your people will die.”  (Genesis 20:3-7)

Some might be familiar with the explanation that Abraham's deception was completely justified, as if he were testing the king in some way.  However, if that were the case, why would God take the time to intervene and save Abimelech from committing a grievous sin by taking a woman who was already married?  God's intervention alone shows that Abraham had made a mistake here.  

Why would Abraham deceive the king?  Abraham himself answers the question.  When the upset Abimelech demanded an explanation for Abraham's deceptive behavior, Abraham's response went as follows:

“I thought, ‘This is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.’  And she really is my sister, for we both have the same father, but different mothers. And I married her. When God called me to leave my father’s home and to travel from place to place, I told her, ‘Do me a favor. Wherever we go, tell the people that I am your brother.’”  (Genesis 20:11-13)

"This is a godless place and they will kill me."  He feared losing his life, which, if you think about it, is understandable given his traumatic experience of  nearly being sacrificed when he was younger, (Abraham 1:12, 15-16).  He also appears to have not waited on the Lord in this instance, and figured Abimelech was as godless as the Egyptians.  Yet, the scriptures indicate that Abimelech and his kingdom were different.  Abimelech was open enough that the Lord could visit him and warn him not to take Sarah as his wife.  

As for Abraham, let's not condemn him. The truth is that he walked with God, and God walked with him, and greatly blessed Abraham.  Despite imperfections, the Lord had a plan for him, and saw him for who he really was and was there to mold and shape Abraham in His own image.  

Moses

This prophet was considered the meekest of all men on the earth, (Numbers 12:3).  He too made mistakes, all of which can be forgiven by us.  Initially in his walk with God, he was really quite hard on himself,
Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”   
The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:10-12)
The Lord's reassuring words about His own ability and power was not sinking in for Moses, 
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do." (Exodus 4:13-15)
The Lord was not pleased that Moses would be so hard on himself, so much so that he was denying the Lord's power.  I can definitely say I've done this and have injured and insulted God by telling Him to leave me alone because I was simply unfit and would list off various excuses as to why I thought He should cease to deal with me.   The Lord seems to be very forgiving of Moses, as he continues to work with him, and sends him out to free the Israelites from Egypt anyway.  Moses even grows into his role God gave him as time goes on.  So it's easy to forgive Moses here.  However, what about his getting so angry that he struck a rock twice instead of speaking to it as God told him to?

This happened near the end of his guiding the Israelites in the wilderness.  They came to him upset that there was no water in Meribah.  They complained, wishing they were back in Egypt, where at least they had water despite being enslaved.  It definitely wasn't the first time Israel complained to Moses.  He took the matter to the Lord and was told to speak to the rock, water would gush out, and Israel would be able to quench their thirst (Numbers 20:6-8).  However, when Moses walked out with his staff, 
He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.  
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:10-12)
Moses did not do as the Lord commanded.  We can either choose to be hard on him, or forgive him.  How often do we only partially keep God's word to us, or just change it up altogether, whether it's because we don't like what the Lord told us, we don't trust him, or are upset, and so on?  Moses seemed really angry with Israel, and his anger overpowered his ability to honor the Lord.    

However, do not condemn Moses.  He may have spent the remainder of his days pleading with the Lord for forgiveness for dishonoring Him in front of Israel.  What is interesting, is that it appears the Lord forgave him, otherwise, what would he be doing at an important event like the Mount of Transfiguration, talking for a time with the Savior who was clothed in glory?  (Matthew 17:1-3)

Joseph Smith

God chose this man as the prophet to usher in the Restoration of the Gospel.  He taught many things dealing with obtaining a personal relationship with Christ.  Eventually, Joseph gave his life for what he believed.  He certainly walked with God.

Joseph wasn't without his weaknesses however.  Opening up the Doctrine and Covenants, you will find peppered within that book rebukes and warnings from the Lord to Joseph regarding his fearing man.  These are just some of the examples, beginning with the most well known rebuke dealing with Joseph's giving the 116 page manuscript to Martin Harris against God's will:
"And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men.  For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words..." (D&C 3:6-7 emphasis added) 
"The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?  Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever." (D&C 122:8-9 emphasis added) 
" Call ye, therefore, upon them with loud proclamation, and with your testimony, fearing them not, for they are as grass, and all their glory as the flower thereof which soon falleth, that they may be left also without excuse..." (D&C 124:7 emphasis added)
Joseph often feared man more than God, going on in their persuasions instead of heeding the Lord.  Yet do not condemn Joseph.  Despite his faults, he continued to receive revelation from the Lord, and Christ was with him.  Why?
"God is merciful; therefore, repent of that which thou hast done which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou art still chosen, and art again called to the work..." (D&C 3:10)
Joseph Smith reached out to God continually.  God extended the hand of mercy to him.  Seeing the Lord's loving behavior towards Joseph ought to help us be forgiving of his weaknesses.  In turn, it ought to help us see the love of God towards us, and help us understand that He is also as willing to give us forgiveness if we continually call on Him for aid, and praise Him for His grace. 

Conclusion: The Goodness of God Revealed

Far too often we view these patriarchs as perfect people, meaning there wasn't a single slip up on their part, no matter how innocent that faltering may be.  We take this notion so seriously that we basically flog ourselves, cursing ourselves for our own sins and mistakes.  Our outlook on God's character becomes flawed, as we think to ourselves, "He wants nothing to do with me.  Indeed, God is unable to work with someone like me."  It's a self-destructive behavior.

Look at the men discussed above.  Abraham had an instance of not waiting on the Lord as maybe he ought. Moses, in the beginning of his walk, focused too much on his own weaknesses, and later, got so angry with the Israelites that he didn't heed the Lord's command to speak to a rock so water would come out of it, and instead struck it twice.  Joseph Smith was rebuked multiple times in the D&C.  Yet it doesn't change the fact these men had callings from the Lord, and walked with Him.  Despite their failings, they continually called on God.  

That should tip you off to God's incredible forgiveness and mercy towards His children.  If He was willing to walk with them, why would it be any different for you?  God is incredibly persistent in His desire to establish a relationship with you.  He wants to help you overcome all things, and despite your failings, reaches out to you, showing you He has the power to help you improve.
Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Testimony Settled as Dust

by Erin & John West  
             
At a youth fireside in Bellvue, Washington during January of 2016, Elder Dallin H. Oaks was asked what one should pray for in order to receive the same testimony that Alma the Younger had.  Elder Oaks’ answered the question, saying,

“I’ve never had an experience like that and I don’t know anyone among the 1st Presidency or Quorum of the 12 who’ve had that kind of experience. Yet every one of us knows of a certainty the things that Alma knew. But it’s just that unless the Lord chooses to do it another way, as he sometimes does; for millions and millions of His children the testimony settles upon us gradually. Like so much dust on the windowsill or so much dew on the grass.  One day you didn’t have it and another day you did and you don’t know which day it happened. That’s the way I got my testimony. And then I knew it was true when it continued to grow.”

While Oaks’ makes a valid point in that the Lord can choose to give us a testimony in a variety of ways, unfortunately it is used to support a faulty method of receiving a testimony of the Gospel, of Christ, or of anything we seek to understand.  A testimony settles gradually like dust on a windowsill?  Or like dew on the grass?  Why is comparing a testimony to dust and dew so problematic?

Dust in the Wind

Picture the windowsill Elder Oaks spoke of and imagine the dust settling on it over time.  What happens to this dust when someone comes and blows it away with one strong breath, or comes and wipes it away with a cloth?  The questions answer themselves.  The dust is gone and there is no trace of it and you are left with a clean windowsill.  Now, what if your testimony is like this dust?



Some scriptures come to mind here.  The first is from Ephesians 4.  In verse eight, Paul teaches that when Jesus ascended, “he gave gifts unto men.”

“It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14)

If our testimony is like dust, it can be blown away by “every wind of teaching” that comes our way.  It can be wiped away by the trickery of other people.  Paul tells us we are to come to a knowledge of the Son of God.  In the epistle of James we are told to ask God and He will give liberally (not exactly a gradual, unnoticeable thing there.)  “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” (James 1:6).  If our testimony is dust, or like the waves of the sea, it is easily changed and even removed. 

A Sure Nail

What if our testimony was something different, like a nail?  Look back to our windowsill and imagine someone coming and driving a nail into the windowsill.  Can that be wiped or blown away?  Even if someone were to come and pry the nail out again, evidence of the nail’s existence remains—a hole.  Regardless of what one does, there is evidence on that windowsill that cannot be removed.  A testimony based on evidence is no different. 



How is such a testimony gained?  1 Nephi 10 contains a very simple answer, “For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.”  We are promised that if we diligently seek, we will find something…we are going to find that witness.  Christ in Doctrine & Covenants 93:1 makes the same statement but in a more vivid manner, “Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am…”  Seeing the face of Christ is not an undetectable subtle event to which we don’t come to a realization to twenty years down the road.  It is a very clear, unmistakable event, a witness upon which our testimony of Him can be based.

Nephi and Thomas

The truths contained in the two scriptures quoted above are proved in the examples of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, and Thomas in the New Testament.  With Nephi, his father revealed to him and his siblings the vision of the Tree of Life,

“And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.” –1 Nephi 10:17 (emphasis added)

Nephi’s request was very specific.  He wanted the power of the Holy Ghost to manifest to him in several ways: to help him see, hear, and know.  How long it took for what happened next isn’t very clear.  What is clear is that the answer he received didn’t settle like dust imperceptibly over a long period of time.  It was a nail driven into his soul—

“For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.  And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou? And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.  And the Spirit said unto me: Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?  And I said: Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.  And when I had spoken these words, the Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.” (1 Nephi 11:1-6)

We all know how the rest of this goes.  Nephi is shown his father’s vision, and is given its interpretation.   He witnesses the birth of the Savior, watches His ministry and death.  He is also shown a great deal more beyond that, such as Christ visiting the Nephites in His resurrected glory, and the destruction of the Nephite nation, etc.   He was able to see and know all things.  Were anyone to try and sway Nephi from his testimony, they’d fail, as he’d be able to counter them with the variety of witnesses he received.  

It is as Christ said in Matthew 7, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”  Nephi followed the godly counsel to seek diligently.  He kept the Lord’s commandments, and he received witnesses from the Lord.  His testimony was built on a rock.  You might even say it was like a nail hammered into a windowsill.

Thomas is another example of how those that seek, will find.  Unfortunately, he’s been labeled “Doubting Thomas” and this is used to describe anyone who seeks a witness, even if they are a faithful individual desiring confirmation of something they already believe.  Jesus taught his disciples about not just His death, but also His resurrection:

“Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father?  They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith.  Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me?  Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.  A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.  And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”  (John 16:17-22)

Christ said He would see them again!  The general response of the disciples went as follows, “His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.  Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.” (John 16:29-30)  Surely Thomas was among them and claimed this same belief?

After Jesus’ resurrection, he visited his disciples and showed the nail prints in His hands and feet to the disciples.  All but Thomas were present at that time (John 20:19-24).  The disciples came and told Thomas all that had happened.  He responded, “…Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)  He wanted to experience what they had.  He wasn’t going to rely on their witness alone.  Jesus seems to recognize Thomas' desire when He comes to visit just over a week later.


“And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.  Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.  And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.   Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:26-29)

Jesus showed great love for Thomas by giving him the witness he desired.  This confirmed what he foretold back in John 16:22, “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”  This testimony Thomas received was very much a strong nail driven into him and brought him joy.  It couldn’t be taken away from him.
 
Conclusion

When we allow our testimonies to be as dust, with no concrete, undeniable evidence, we place power into the hands of others to take our testimony away, wiping it clean so there is no trace of it.  As a result, we toss to and fro, and our testimony is as the man who built his house on sand, “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:27)

However, if we seek God and pray faithfully for witnesses from Him, then our testimony is as  a nail.  It leaves a mark which cannot be removed by others.  We can boldly testify to the truth of all things when we have the evidence to back it up. 

(A special thanks to my husband for coming up with the idea that gave birth to this article.)
               


Monday, January 29, 2018

Turning to God for Comfort

by Nicky Smith

There is an interesting story in 1 Kings 19 about sorrow and comfort. After Elijah had killed 850 Baal priests on Mount Carmel, Ahab told his wife Jezebel. Jezebel was furious and sent a message that she would kill Elijah the very next day. Elijah was petrified. Given that he had just witnessed two massive manifestations of the power of God (fire from heaven lighting the sacrifice and rain ending the drought), you'd think that he would not be afraid of Jezebel. However, he was terrified. For some reason, Elijah lacked faith that with God's help he could overcome Jezebel and he ran for his life for an entire day in order to escape her. 
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. (1 Kings 19:4)
Elijah compared himself to the fathers and felt he wasn't good enough. He saw death as the only option. 

The Focus of Our Sorrow
Why was Elijah filled with so much despair? Was it perhaps because he expected a different outcome after the events on Mount Carmel? Perhaps he had hoped that they would lead to a real change in the spiritual climate of Israel. Yet it didn't. Whatever the reason, Elijah felt depressed and despondent.  


During the next 40 days, an angel came and gave him bread and water to sustain him. After regaining his strength, Elijah went and hid in a cave. The Lord then asked him why he was in the cave; Elijah responded that people wanted to kill him and he was alone as all the other prophets had been killed. Essentially Elijah was saying, "Lord, I am all alone and I don't even know if you have forsaken me." The Lord told him to go up into the mountain and there demonstrated some incredible things with his power: a massive wind that broke up the mountain, an earthquake, and a fire. 
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
14 And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (1 Kings 19)
Despite God demonstrating his power through the elements which could have been a source of comfort to Elijah, reminding him that God is stronger than Jezebel, and despite God speaking to him, Elijah would not be comforted. He still felt so incredibly alone since he had given into the temptation of self-pity. 

When we feel self-pity, it is usually due to pride. It arises out of expecting a different outcome and not accepting the truth of a situation or the truth about ourselves. The only way to overcome this and to embrace the comfort God wants to give us is to repent. 

It is interesting to contrast Elijah's sadness with that of Enoch's. Enoch was shown the flood and "as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted." (Moses 7:44) But, then the Lord said to Enoch, "Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look." After Enoch saw Jesus's life and death, "his soul rejoiced." (Moses 7:47) In this instance, Enoch's sorrow was not for his own situation in life, but he felt sorrow for the wickedness of others. Due to the focus of Enoch's sadness, he did not lose hope, while Elijah, on the other hand, felt totally hopeless. This could be why Enoch was comforted due to the things God showed him, while Elijah struggled to feel comforted. 

Since we know Elijah was a man so close to the Lord, had access to a great deal of God's power, and was eventually translated, it is tempting to assume that Elijah didn't do anything wrong. However, the Bible contains all: the good and the bad. Elijah wasn't perfect and he made mistakes. His response to Jezebel was a mistake and something we can learn from (instead of judge him).

I have felt self-pity many times and I have come to understand that self-pity always distances me from God. Each time I repent of my pride, the hurt leaves and my heart opens to comfort God can give me. I still have a long way to go in learning to love like Jesus, but the more I focus on loving others, the less I feel pitiful over the way others may treat me. In the end, the more love I have for others, the more connected I am to the Lord and negative experiences hurt less. 

Turning to God Instead of the World for Comfort
One of the most difficult things we can experience is the feeling of being abandoned by God, that he has in some way forsaken me. There have been times where I can see that I am to blame for this feeling because I deviated from God's will in some way. Other times I have given in to the temptation to lose faith or hope in the promises God has given me (perhaps a bit like Elijah?). Even still, as I try earnestly to obey God in doing his will completely, there are times where I still feel distant from him. In these moments God allows me to feel alone in order to see if I will continue being obedient to him, even when I am not feeling filled with the Spirit. Furthermore, these moments provide a litmus test to demonstrate how much I have overcome of my weaknesses and how much further I still have to go. 

Life is hard sometimes. Being a homeschooling, homesteading mother of five young children (the oldest two are seven) is often demanding. Throw in hormones and being a wife and a struggle to sleep at times, it's the perfect recipe for experiencing some of life's challenges. It is only natural that sometimes we may feel a little bored, tired, depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated, or alone. Furthermore, sometimes there are specific trials God gives us to help us overcome our weaknesses and strengthen our faith in him. Recently when I was struggling with a particular trial, I cried out to God, "I just can't do it anymore. I'm struggling. I doubt my own ability to overcome this." I felt like giving up on myself. That night I had a dream in which I was shown that God has not given up on me even though I was struggling to find hope in my own abilities to endure. This was a great source of comfort from that time on and strengthened my faith in what the Lord had asked of me. As we turn to God to comfort us, he will comfort us. I have learned that as I try to do the Lord's will and turn to him when I am struggling, God is always there to comfort me, even when I don't see it. I really am not alone. He has not abandoned me. I have been shown that there are unseen angels. 

During those times when we feel alone, it is easy to turn to the world for comfort. Do you ever turn to social media, such as Instagram or Facebook, when you feel alone or bored? Or when you feel anxious or depressed, do you turn to a substance, such as food or chocolate? Or when you feel overwhelmed with life, do you turn to talking it through with others? None of these things are inherently bad, but when we use them as a replacement for turning to the Lord, they block us from receiving the comfort God wants to give us. In essence, they become like a god to us as we look to them as sources of comfort and a way to ease our burdens. 

Throughout the scriptures the Lord says that He will comfort us when we need comforting. After all, the Holy Ghost is called the Comforter (John 14:26) and Jesus is called another Comforter (John 14:16-18). Isaiah wrote the words of the Lord, saying, "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." (Isaiah 66:13) Also, when Jesus began His ministry, He used the words of Isaiah to describe His mission:
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.
(Isaiah 61)
Recently I felt quite hurt by the actions of another. As soon as I had the opportunity to be alone, I went to pray. I explained to God how this situation felt like a knife in my heart and it made me feel sad. Words then came into my mind telling me that Jesus knew how I felt and I was reminded of his suffering and how it hurt a lot more, yet he allowed the mistreatment and instantly forgave. I felt so comforted from the words given to me in that instant. In that experience, I was given instruction to forgive and let it go but was also reminded that Christ knows how I feel since he has been through that and so much more. I was given both comfort and encouragement to be more like Jesus. 

There have been other times where I have cried out to God for comfort and I have received nothing. I know that even when it seems like God isn't comforting us, we can trust it is for our own good and growth. Everything he does shows the greatest amount of love he has for us. I also have come to learn that even if I don't feel comforted immediately, I need to persist in seeking comfort from God. It is hard, but when we give up, we show our lack of faith and lack of desire. It is interesting to examine the situations in the New Testament where people asked Jesus for help multiple times before he helped them. Ignoring their first request strengthened their faith and determination (e.g. Mark 7:27 & Matthew 20:30-31). Asking can't happen just once. If we truly desire comfort from God, we need to be willing to persist in our requests until God gives us that comfort. 

Conclusion
Life will often not go the way we expect. When we focus our expectations on what we think is best and what we want, it opens the door to Satan leading us to feel discouraged, hopeless, depressed, and fearful. He wants us to feel like a failure. Our self-pity makes it difficult to feel God's comfort and often leads us to want to hide in a cave (as Elijah did). As we repent and focus on loving others, we are able to experience comfort from God. Seeking this comfort entails not turning to the world during those difficult moments, but persisting in our requests for comfort from God alone. This comfort transcends the comfort that the world and others can offer us, which is always fleeting. His comfort always builds our faith and our love for God and others. It is the only comfort we should desire. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Blessed are the Meek

by Nicky Smith

Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5)

In recent years I have wondered what the word meek really means. I knew many associated it with gentleness and humility and that some saw meekness as an inherent lack in strength and character. I had a suspicion that some of this was wrong and that there was so much more to the concept of meekness. 

Recently as I have been seeking comfort and understanding from God as I experienced a particular trial, God has taught me more about meekness. I have come to realize that meekness is about submission; that is, meekness involves our patient endurance of suffering without resentment or bitterness. Meekness requires self-control and strength to resist giving into temptation during suffering. It also demands at least a measure of humility.

Just as with other Christlike attributes, the development of meekness is reflected in our behavior and attitudes towards God and others, even though it is a condition of the heart. In other words, the amount of meekness we have can be measured by how we respond in situations involving suffering and how we react when we are treated badly. Meekness is not seeking to control a situation or others. Meekness is in essence, submission. 

Submission in Suffering
The world has an incorrect understanding of submission. Submission is not about doing everything and anything another says. Instead, submission has to do with not seeking to control. Recently I was drawn to study 1 Peter and this entire book speaks about the concepts of submission and meekness (although the word meekness isn't used). 

In 1 Peter, Peter discusses the necessity of suffering as we traverse the path towards becoming more like Jesus. Trials and suffering are a common part of life. While we may not suffer daily, most of us have difficult experiences at least fairly regularly. These experiences are often out of our control and arise out of our interactions with others. At times they could involve losing something, such as a job, a home, or a loved one. They could involve painful interactions with another person, such as a difficult co-worker, spouse, or children. Trials can also result from not having something you really desire, such as sleep, health, children, marriage, or financial stability. 

Likewise, Paul referenced suffering as necessary in the learning of obedience to God (Hebrews 5:7-8), in the path towards perfection and becoming sanctified (Hebrews 2:10-11), in the development of humility (2 Corinthians 12:7), and in experiencing comfort from God and offering that comfort to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-6). I have also found that suffering increases my faith and trust in God and his plan for me (see 1 Peter 1:6-7). In essence, the purpose of suffering is to draw us to God. If we are consistently seeking to do the Lord's will, we can know that the experiences we have are for our good. They are a part of the path God desires we walk in order to grow. Everything he allows us to experience is a portrayal of his great love for us as he seeks to draw us to him. On the other hand, when we sin and seek our own way, sometimes we bring unnecessary suffering on ourselves, although that suffering is still useful, if not necessary, in bringing us back to God.

When we suffer as a result of the words and actions of others, it is only natural to resist those experiences and try change the situation or people involved, or treat them in the same way they treated us. However, trying to control situations and people is not submission. It is not submitting to the path God has set before us so that we can learn obedience to him, increase our humility, receive comfort from him, and ultimately become more like him. It is not meekness.

Meekness Towards God
When we have difficult experiences that cause us suffering and pain, meekness towards God involves submission to the experience and seeking to learn exactly what he desires us to learn through that experience. It is trusting in Him that this experience is the best thing for us to grow closer to him and overcome our weaknesses and sins. Meekness involves turning to God for learning and comfort, instead of the world to change the situation to minimize our suffering. 

I have come to realize that often there is no other way to learn the things God is asking us to learn and overcome than through suffering. Recently as I was experiencing a particular trial, I was praying and I asked God if there was any other, less painful way I could learn the lesson he was trying to teach me. I then remembered Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane asking his Father if there was perhaps another way. Very quickly Jesus knew there really was no other way to accomplish the Father's will and he replied, "Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt." (Mark 14:36) Although my trial was not anything like Jesus', meekness towards God is having the same attitude: "I know I can do this because all things are possible with your help. I will do your will. I submit to you."

As I have come to realize and accept the necessity of my really hard, painful trials in order to overcome my weaknesses, I know I ought be grateful for them. God in his incredible love for me is allowing me to have these experiences so I can draw closer to him. That is amazing! As I submit to the experiences, I can feel his love for me to a greater degree. 

Meekness Towards Others
While meekness involves submission to God in choosing to accept his will as our own, this attribute is also reflected in our behavior towards others. Meekness involves submitting to the actions of another while not seeking to control them. In 1 Peter 2-3, Peter discusses what submission means. Peter begins by speaking to servants, then to wives, followed by husbands, and finally to everyone. In examining how Peter describes submission, it is clear that submission is not about obeying another. Peter never mentions obeying another. The only person we ought to obey is God. God may tell us to do as another says, but in the end we are obeying God and not man. 

In addressing servants, Peter says: 
19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 
20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Peter 2, ESV)
Peter wrote that it is so much more impressive when you respond well to undeserving harsh treatment at the hand of another, than if you respond well to harsh treatment you brought on yourself. Peter then says, "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands" (1 Peter 3:1) As he begins speaking to each group, he says "likewise" meaning that the advice to the previous group applies to the following group. In other words, the instruction given to servants applies to wives and the instruction to servants and wives applies to husbands. 

Over and over Peter discussed the need to treat others with love when they cause us to suffer in some way. When Peter addressed everyone he wrote:
8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:
9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3)
This is how you show meekness. This is how you submit. You have compassion for the other person. You love them. You don't return the same treatment back to them. Several times Peter referred to Jesus as the ultimate example of meekness:
21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. (1 Peter 2)
When we experience a painful situation at the hand of another, too often we try and control them or the situation. Sometimes this control comes through the use of defense mechanisms. Other times we "render evil for evil, or railing for railing" (1 Peter 3:9). Perhaps we try and control another through giving them advice or constructive criticism. Regardless of how we respond, if we do not respond with love, we are not being meek and submissive. 

Years ago I knew someone who was frequently impatient with me or with situations involving me. These interactions caused me a great deal of pain. Instead of submitting to the experience, I braced against it. I tried to fight it. I sought to change this person so they would no longer be impatient with me. I used defense mechanisms both to protect myself and to try change this person, because in those situations I felt like I had no control. At some point I began working on myself and changing myself. At first I controlled my response in those situations and after many months I began noticing my heart changing. I no longer felt pain. I no longer felt like I was suffering. I began to feel love for this person. I stopped feeling the need to control in those situations. I am far from being meek though. Other situations and experiences have arisen in which I have resorted back to my desire to change the other person from treating me in a particular way. I offer unwanted advice. This is not loving. This is not submissive. I now see that each of these experiences are given to me by the Lord to help me increase in meekness. 

Meekness Requires Self-Control and Humility
Responding only with love when we are being treated badly or go through some really difficult experience requires great self-control. It takes self-control (i.e. temperance) not to get angry or to retreat emotionally. While meekness involves not controlling God or others, it also always requires controlling ourselves and the way we react in difficult, painful situations. 

Peter continues his discourse on submission and says, "Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility." (1 Peter 5:5) Self-control requires humility. It requires a reliance of God and not viewing ourselves as superior to others. Without a measure of self-control and humility, submission and meekness aren't possible. 

Moses: The Meekest Man
Apart from Christ, Moses is described as the meekest man: "Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." (Numbers 12:3) Moses was meek because he learned to submit to God's will, as opposed to doing thing his own way. When Moses first understood that he was called to help the Israelites be free, he went about it in his own way. Later though he understood what God's will entailed and did just that. Despite him having to leave his family to obey God and despite him suffering along with the Israelites in the wilderness, he ultimately submitted. Furthermore, he did not seek to control the Israelites. He allowed them to make bad choices but continued to teach and guide. He did not react to them in the same way they treated him and the Lord. He responded with love, which love is evident in his intercessory prayers on behalf of the people. 
30 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.
31 And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold.
32 Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.
33 And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
34 Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. (Exodus 32)
Imagine asking God to blot your name out of the book of life if he did not forgive the people. Over and over again, Moses demonstrated his charity and meekness in his behavior and attitude towards God and the Israelites. 

Decide to Develop Meekness
Submitting to the wrongful treatment of another is a decision we make. Submitting to God's will is something we resolve to do. As we begin to do it, we will grow in meekness. Moroni wrote that meekness then leads to increased faith, hope, and charity. 
43 And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.
44 If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity. (Moroni 7:43-44)
Through practice we can learn to better submit to God, not control others, and have greater self-control. Faith and love will flow from us as do this. I am far from being meek. At times I lack self-control. At times I forget to trust in the promises God has given me. At times I revert back to trying to control people. However, all the experiences of suffering we endure not only provide an opportunity to overcome our weaknesses and develop greater trust in God, but they enable us to develop meekness as we submit.