But the Spirit Did Not Fail Him (Alma 4)

In my study of the Book or Mormon, I came across a verse that had special meaning to me as a missionary.

As my last transfer drew to a close, It was naturally to look back and ask, ‘is there more I could have done? How did I do? Was I a good missionary?’

No immediate peace came with such contemplation. I knew my weaknesses and I was afraid that some of them were rather glaring. For example, it bothered me that I never got used to contacting. Everyday was like the first day. It never came naturally. I also had an excellent memory and could easily recall moments I wasn’t proud of.

These weighed on me. I kept working, I kept giving it my best effort, but in the back of my mind these things festered.

It was at some point near the end of my last transfer I read about Alma and the struggles and setbacks he experienced watching the Church under his watch studded a little bit:

And now it came to pass that Alma, having seen the afflictions of the humble followers of God, and the persecutions which were heaped upon them by the remainder of his people, and seeing all their inequality, began to be very sorrowful;nevertheless the Spirit of the Lord did not fail him. (Alma 4:15, emphasis added).

As I was invited at my last zone conference to speak, this verse came to mind while I was on my feet. I quickly realized that this was true for me. Yes, I struggled. Yes, there were challenges. Yes, I made some stupid mistakes. But I never gave up, I kept moving in the right direction. And most importantly, the Spirit did not fail me. I never felt alone, and recognized throughout my mission the Spirit teaching me and teaching others through me.

And if I had the spirit, that means I was worthy. Which was a witness to me that The Lord accepted my efforts.

Sometimes that is still hard for me to remember and focus on. I get impatient with myself, I feel like I should be further along in some categories. Other things don’t come as naturally as I hoped they would and I am painfully aware of where I come up short.

But let all that go for a moment and just focus on having the Spirit. That is the reminder of every sacrament meeting: that The Lord will grant His Spirit to the willing. If we will keep at it, His spirit will sustain our efforts
and help us yield fruit. And then at some future day we’ll peak back over our shoulder and realize just how far we’ve come.

Lehi-influence-of-a-father

The Influence of a Father

As a family, we just finished reading the first book of Nephi in the Book of Mormon. The more if reflect back it is a powerful narrative of a family struggling to keep peace and spiritual harmony during a time of great change and hardship. What are some of the events that happen?

  • The father, Lehi, receives a spiritual calling to preach repentance and foretell the destruction of Jerusalem–a very unpopular position that puts his life in peril.
  • The family leaves all of their possessions behind and travels about two hundred miles south (so estimate scholars).
  • Everyone in the family has to come to personal grips with the situation (Sariah, Nephi, Sam successfully do but, Laman and Lemuel never fully do causing a rift in the family).
  • The brothers return in attempt to get sacred records. Their lives are threatened multiple times and they lose all their gold and silver in the process.
  • They make the trip again from their father’s camp back to Jerusalem and convince another family to travel with them.
  • An argument erupts on the way back and part of the family leaves one brother in the wilderness tied up to die.
  • They travel through pretty harsh desert region, without the aid or warmth of fire, nor are they permitted to cook their meat
  • The women bear children in these extreme circumstances
  • Father-in-law dies, causing further strife, requiring divine intervention to settle
  • Nephi breaks his bow, it becomes very difficult to find food for a period of time
  • After years of travel, they arrive in coastal oasis with milk and honey but they’re not staying: as Nephi builds a boat an intense conflict arises in which the older brothers seek Nephi’s life.
  • On the boat, as the older siblings start to get boisterous and irreverent, another fight breaks out, resulting in Nephi being tied up to the mast for many days. A storm arises and threatens the safety of all on board until Nephi is finally released.

Whew! That is a lot of stress and conflict for one family to cope with. And unfortunately its not over as shortly after Lehi’s death, Nephi and his side of the family will need to flee in the night from their brethren because their hate metastasized into an intent to kill. It will be hundreds of years before any semblance of peace between the two groups is reached.

Given all that Laman and Lemuel did in stirring up strife, threatening the lives of their family members and probably otherwise making life difficult for the rest of the family, it is all the more remarkable to me that the Lord fully intended to save and preserve their descendants. Not only that, but in the end bless them with all blessings of the Gospel.

It is very striking: Nephi, the righteous one, saw the destruction of his people because they would go on to reject the greater light, while he saw the descendants of his wicked brothers, who were kept from the full truth because of the misdeeds of their parents would take active part in being restored to full glory as members of the House of Israel in the last days.

So taking a step back, I’m led to ask what makes this all possible? How can this family make it thousands of miles under significant stress and hardship to the promised land still as a family unit? And even after that family unit dissolves, what made it possible for Laman and Lemuel’s descendants to eventually receive the fullness of the gospel?

As I pondered this question as we read, a thought entered my mind: The descendants of Laman and Lemuel are also the descendants of Lehi.

What tribute or honor could properly describe the righteous influence of a father like Lehi other than patriarch? This man, though relatively simple means, would not only provide for the temporal salvation of his family by following the Lord’s commandments, but provided the spiritual foundation for powerful civilizations on the American continent. The record thereof would then in turn bless millions of additional lives in the form of a divine witness and fruit by which men can recognize the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

And yet, when you read the account, what did Lehi do?

  • He prayed for inspiration and did his best to follow it
  • He bore testimony of the Savior to the people and more importantly to his family
  • He shared his spiritual experiences with his family
  • He valued the scriptures and encouraged his children to do the same
  • He never appears to command or coerce his family, but speaks with deep love and persuasion, with ‘all the feeling of a tender parent’
  • He repented when he needed to
  • He left each member of his family a blessing

And with that he was able to successfully get his family to the promised land and secure for them amazing blessings, not the least of which is a personal visit from the Savior after his resurrection. Today, Lehi’s legacy is still felt as the record of his family helps us prepare for the second coming of the Savior. How great is the influence of a father!

 

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Art by Chris White

 

 

 

 

Book of Mormon Notes – Page One…again.

We’ve started reading the Book of Mormon over as a family.

Book one, chapter one is one of my favorite sections.

For one, it begins with a man who witnesses a spiritual revival in his country, prays, receives a vision from God, receives a book from which he bears testifies of the Savior, and is rejected to the point that the people seek his life.

I wonder what it was like for Joseph as the restoration of the Church rolled on to go back to that opening scene. What a tender mercy–from the very chapter that gave us that phrase–for Joseph as well as for the rest of us. For not only does it serve as a pattern for what Joseph Smith was called to do, it is the invitation and expectation given to each of us.

It exemplifies the honest pursuit of truth. As Lehi heard from the prophets, he turned to the Lord in personal prayer and reflection to seek his own confirmation. Part of that process involved the scriptures (represented by the Book he received and like the Book of Mormon we invite investigators to read and ponder). As Lehi’s testimony of the divinity of the Savior grew, his natural inclination was to share it with others. By the end of the next chapter, that commitment to the Savior will require great sacrifice, taking his family and leaving his homeland and worldly possessions behind for a new world.  The story of Lehi also doesn’t skate around the sometimes drastic changes in life or lifestyle that come from following Jesus Christ.

That is an important legacy that ripples down through the generations of Lehi’s family and to our experiences today. And yet all of this is mentioned in Nephi’s narrative to catch us up to what he experienced. The whole first book of Nephi is easily one of my favorite not only because of the compelling narrative but the growth and challenges that they experienced as a family are so deep and full of insight.

 

Thoughts on the Brother of Jared

Yesterday during sacrament meeting I was reminded of the story of the brother of Jared.  As he goes before the Lord,  he is very aware of his own shortcomings and weakness.  Just a few verses prior,  the Lord chastised him for failing to call upon the Lord.

It also reminds me of the BYU professor who was upset at his kid,  told him to go to his room until he was told he could come out and then he forgot. Hours later the child came out with a sobbing-stutter,  “Daddy,  can we ever be friends again?”

So many times we feel as though we have been sent to our room spiritually,  and we’re brutally aware of our shortcomings,  but there we are,  in need of the Lord’s grace and assistance.

But here is the bold faith of the Brother of Jared, 

“We are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires” (Ether 3:2).

And so he asks the Lord to touch those 16 stones,  and in a wonderful moment,  the Brother of Jared receives so much more than he ever could have hoped to have come out of this experience.  He becomes one of the first to see Jesus Christ as he will appear in His mortal ministry.

I find so much hope in this account.  In so many ways we are like the Brother of Jared,  in need of some light for our journey. We know our weaknesses and shortcomings,  we may have even made big mistakes in the past,  but not withstanding,  we need that light.

When we look throughout the Book of Mormon,  is there any prayer for help that goes unheeded in the Book of Mormon? It’s beautiful. And as is so wonderfully portrayed in this story,  so often the Lord’s response far exceeds our humble hopes. Much like the father in the story of the prodigal son, we often find the Lord runs to our aid when we take those steps in His direction.

So,  like the Brother of Jared, when we come forward with our best effort, much like those simple stones, there is no reason we can’t see the finger of the Lord bring light into our lives.

Ammaron and Mormon

In our family reading we came to the end of the fourth book of Nephi.

I find the last two verses interesting,

And it came to pass that when three hundred and twenty years had passed away, Ammaron, being constrained by the Holy Ghost, did hide up the records which were sacred—yea, even all the sacred records which had been handed down from generation to generation, which were sacred—even until the three hundred and twentieth year from the coming of Christ.

And he did hide them up unto the Lord, that they might comeagain unto the remnant of the house of Jacob, according to the prophecies and the promises of the Lord. And thus is the end of the record of Ammaron.

When Ammaron closed up his record and hid it, it appears that he was fully expecting to be the end of the line. Can you see this old man, run down by the wickedness of everyone around him? The Spirit had instructed him to hide it away. What a weight, to put the pen down on the record and to think your done.

Perhaps it was for the safety of the record. Seldom was the record keeper just the observer. He probably was vocal and perhaps to keep the record safe he had to hide it and walk away. I don’t think it hard to fathom that perhaps there were many who were seeking the life of Ammaron and the gold upon his plates were written.

But there’s one hope. A boy, a sober boy, one who the Spirit whispers to Ammaron is worthy as a keeper of the plates. He intrusts him with a holy secret and charge to carry on as recorder, as witness to the end.  This boy, who by his 17th birthday will be the commander of the Nephite armies, will have to watch it all unravel.

The events that surround the end of the Book of Mormon are some of the saddest and tragic in all scripture, but so many of the messages are so hopeful and so full of light looking forward to our day. Like what Ammaron saw in Mormon, Mormon saw in us–the potential for good. The potential to take care and cherish the record.

Like Mormon we stand outnumbered in a world of unrest with very few moral anchors. Mormon and Moroni represent to me what it means to have a perfect brightness of hope in Christ. What lessons can we learn from this father and son?

 

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What the Nephites taught me about the Sacrament

In our reading of the Book of Mormon, we have reached the the crowning event: the Savior’s visit to the people after his resurrection and ascension as recorded in the New Testament.

You’ll recall that many are gathered in the land of bountiful, discussing the various signs and destructions that occurred at the time of the Savior’s death. They hear a voice and see a man clothed in white descending from on high.

He speaks, “I am Jesus Christ.” The people feel the prints in his feet and hands. He calls disciples to minister to the people. He teaches them his doctrine, the same teachings we read of in the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament. He teaches them about baptism, and to lay down contention.

After so much teaching, we read,

Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is at hand.

I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.

Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again, (3 Nephi 17:1-3).”

They have just spent many hours with the Son of God and he mercifully recognizes they need some time to digest all that he has taught them. And yet,

And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.

And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you, (3 Nephi 17:5-6).”

They could not even necessarily understand Him, but they just wanted Him to stay with them a little longer. Chapter 17 continues with a beautiful account of Christ healing all their sick, and inviting the children to come unto him. Angels descend and they are surrounded as by fire. Christ prays with them and for them. “No tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as [they] both saw and heard Jesus speak, (3 Nephi 17:17).”

Even more interesting is what happens next. Christ instructs His disciples to go get bread and wine. He institutes the sacrament with the Nephites and shares with them a few additional thoughts and then ascends into heaven.

The Sacrament

As we read this in our family reading, it occurred to me that the Sacrament occurred after the Savior realized the people were weak and could hardly understand. As I reflected on that, I think it illustrates an important principle of the sacrament.

Compare these words of the sacrament prayer with the desires of the Nephites:

…that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them…” (Moroni 4).

And the desires of the Nephites:

…when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.”

They could not necessarily understand everything he had to say, but they were willing to understand. They were desirous to have His presence with him.

What I started to understand a little bit better here is how important the role of our desire and our heart is. Sometimes I let myself get bogged down in the mechanics of life. What I know or what I don’t know. But when it comes down to the sacrament, and that weekly opportunity to renew my covenants with the Savior, it all comes down to a simple question, ‘where is my heart?’

Can I imagine myself sitting in the presence of the Savior tapping foot, getting impatient for the meeting to end so I can get back to my life? Or would I be like the Nephites, and desire that He would tarry a little longer with me.

I think that is the beauty of the sacrament: despite everything else that goes on in life, and the struggles we have in our own way of comprehending the full import of trying to live the gospel in our lives, we can step back and ask that His spirit be with us a little longer. And if our hearts are right and we’re willing to repent, week after week that blessing is continually extended.

 

Featured image: “One by One‘ Walter Rane

Pray Always (2 Nephi 32:8)

From time to time, I find myself wondering if in this or that moment it would be appropriate to say a prayer. I know there are a few scripture mastery verses out there on the subject, so I always what is the hold up, even for myself. The Lord is pretty clear on the subject:’pray always.’

For me, the most telling verse is in 2 Nephi, chapter 32, just before an exhortation to pray always.

“If ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray” (2 Nephi 32:8. emphasis added).

From that, I conclude that the adversary is engaged in a deliberate, coordinated effort to break the habit and predisposition to pray. Any distance or time he can put between us and our Father in Heaven gives him a window of opportunity to make us miserable like unto himself (see 2 Nephi 2:27). Where so many blessings are contingent on our asking, I can see why disrupting our desires and intentions to pray would be key for him.

If we can recognize more readily the promptings to pray and the temptation to not pray, I suspect that knowledge alone will help us a great deal to put us in a better position to do the will of the Lord in a given situation.

To do that, let’s consider the Lord’s Prayer. When we consider the different aspects of the Lord’s prayer, what can they teach us recognizing the influences of the evil spirit that discourages us to pray?

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.

Amen.

A few observations:

1. ‘As we forgive our debtors’

Effective prayer involves personal commitment to act in order to receive blessings. The adversary certainly would have us be passive in our prayers.

2. Give Us Our Daily Bread

Prayer, and our reliance on God is a daily matter. Our relationship is a daily experience. Satan would have us grow complacent and lax in the maintenance of that relationship.

Howard W. Hunter taught,

“If prayer is only a spasmodic cry at the time of crisis, then it is utterly selfish, and we come to think of God as a repairman or a service agency to help us only in our emergencies. We should remember the Most High day and night–always–not only at times when all other assistance has failed and we desperately need help” (Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1997], 39).

3. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

This statement reminds me that I am the servant, and the one who needs guidance (not the other way around).

President Gordon B. Hinckley said,

“The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries–we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for and then speak to the Lord as one man speaketh to another” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 469).

Conclusion

Some of the best advice I received regarding the mindset of prayer was the imagining the Lord was there in front of you as you prayed. As I remember that there is not just another person listening to my prayers, that it is the Eternal and Infinite God and Father of us all, and let that faith guide my thoughts and words, suddenly prayer becomes a much more honest process.

“But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul”