Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Promised Blessings

One of the early prophets of modern times, Lorenzo Snow (1814-1901), once said this of our purpose in life:

--Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 2012, p. 154

(I’m interested to know what stood out to you in this paragraph, so please let me know in the comments below.)

As I read this paragraph, the phrase, “outside of this there are no promised blessings” jumped out at me. At first, it struck me as odd since, in the context of peace, joy, happiness, wisdom, knowledge, and the power of God, what other blessings are there? But as I thought about it more, and in the context of the chapter title in which this paragraph was found—“I Seek Not My Own Will, but the Will of the Father”—I began to better understand what President Snow meant.

My thoughts are not your thoughts

In life we have ambitions and seek after things that we think will make us happy and are taught will make us happy. A lot of these things are very worthy desires, such as getting accepted into a good school, finding a great job, making money to be comfortable and support a family, being healed from a debilitating sickness, starting a family, trying to close on a house, or [insert  goal or trial here]. We are taught that if we study the scriptures, pray, attend the temple, and serve others, we will be blessed. We fast and pray for specific blessings, events, and knowledge, and study the scriptures for answers to specific issues and questions.

Yet, despite the purity of our intentions, the worthiness of our desires, and the diligence with which we keep the commandments to be worthy of the Lord’s help, none of the specific things for which we strive are guaranteed. We have never been promised wealth (even from paying tithing), entrance to a grad program, or even a family. No matter how righteous we live, we will not, by virtue of our own actions, receive a promotion at work or be healed from a sickness. These blessings all happen according to God’s will, as they work together for our eternal good and salvation. He is the grand author of our exaltation, His Son the author and finisher of our faith and They know what is best in the long run—the eternal long run—and bless us accordingly. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah taught:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

This begs the question, then, why do we even strive for specific blessings and plan our lives if nothing is guaranteed? For one, a lot of times we are given what we seek because that for which we strive does fit in Our Father’s eternal plan for us. Often the Lord will grant us according to our righteous desires if we would but ask. But for another, we came into this world to do the works of our Father and, as a result, receive peace, joy, happiness, knowledge, wisdom, and the power of God. And we will receive each of those blessings as we strive diligently to search the scriptures, pray, serve, and otherwise live as the Savior teaches. This means that sometimes obtaining a job at X company, while a worthy and desirable goal, will not bring us as much peace and happiness in the eternal scheme of things as finding a job at Y company later will. Add the struggle and time given to practice faith in times of adversity (such as unemployment) while X falls through and Y has yet to appear, and we are well on our way to all of the guaranteed, eternally-important blessings.

Our thoughts are not His thoughts, but as our ways become His ways, we will begin to see all of the promised blessings that come from a continued faithful life. And we will come to understand what is truly important and what doesn't matter so much in the eternal perspective.


Related readings:

But If Not…,” Elder Dennis E. Simmons, Ensign, May 2004
But If Not,” Elder Lance B. Wickman, Ensign, October 2002

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Take Up Thy Bed and Walk

A couple months ago, I had this really weird thing happened to me. One night I was leaning off my bed trying to grab something and all of a sudden my back just seized up and I couldn’t lift myself back up onto the bed. It was as though my lower half was simply disconnected from my upper half and my lower back was in intense pain. I spent the next hour or so trying various means to get my upper body back on the bed so that I could at least lie down and try to sleep off the weirdness and pain. Each movement was excruciating and by the time I was finished, my lower back felt as though it was on fire. Alyssa was no help—she thought I was kidding and so she fell asleep; not that she could have done anything since any sort of movement aided or no felt like a knife was being twisted around in my back.

In the morning, things were no better. I called in and took the first sick day of my entire life (minus those associated with the various emergency room hospital visits the year I graduated high school). Then, after about an hour of effort, I finally managed to half fall out of bed, use my upper body to sideways drag myself to the bathroom, with the humiliating help of my wife hoist myself up on to the toilet, and then crawl back to the bedroom. There was no chance I was getting back up onto the bed so I just laid on our hardwood floor for the better part of the day.

My brothers came over partway through the day to give me a blessing. In 1829, the Lord restored the priesthood—the power of Jesus Christ given to man to act in His name on the earth—so that we may enjoy the same healing blessings that the people in Jerusalem experienced in Christ’s time. My brothers hold this priesthood, given to them by the laying on of hands by those who have the authority to bestow this power on others, and can bless others as Christ did. As in the time of Christ, these blessings work according to God’s will and the faith of those being blessed. My brothers laid their hands on my head and gave me a blessing that I may be healed and go about my responsibilities as normal.

Now, I did not immediately take up my bed and walk; this is not one of those stories (although those stories do happen in our day). But I did slowly begin to regain movement and the pain lessened to the point I could push myself to sit up, then stand, then walk. My walk resembled the shuffle of a ninety-year-old man, but it was certainly progress. In the evening, one of our friends came over for dinner, which we ended up having on the floor since sitting in a chair was not the most comfortable experience. The next day the doctor prescribed me painkillers and muscle relaxants and said that I would probably be 100% in six weeks. That day was the only day I took any medication. The next day I was back at work, and the day after that I was jump roping. The next weekend we had two full days of jump rope.

Some may look at this experience and say that “these things just happen,” or that my situation was not as bad as the doctor prescribed. But I know this was nothing short of a miracle and ascribe my rapid healing to the power of God and the blessing which my brothers gave me. This event is quite small in the grand scheme of things and would not merit a place in the events told in the Bible. But the Lord works miracles of all kinds in the lives of His children; nothing is too insignificant for the Lord to take notice.

The Lord continues to work miracles great and small; it is up to us to have the faith necessary for them, to live worthy of them, and to recognize them when they come.

What miracles have you seen in your life?


Scripture references:

2 Ne 26:13 Christ works miracles among men according to their faith
Mormon 1:13 miracles cease because of iniquity
Mormon 9:15-19 God has not ceased to be a God of miracles
Moroni 7:27, 29, 35-36 miracles have not ceased because Christ ascended into heaven
D&C 35:8 the Lord will show miracles unto those who believe

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tower Defense in Times of Peace

The Savior often taught in parables because stories help us relate to and understand His teachings. In the 101st section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord gives a parable about workers in a vineyard:1

In this parable, the workers do most everything that the Lord asks them to do. They plant the olive trees, they build a hedge, and they even get started on the foundation of the tower upon which one of them is supposed to keep watch. However, as the construction of the tower wears on, the workers began to doubt their Lord’s counsel. “It’s a peaceful time,” they reasoned together, “why should we build a tower to warn against enemies? We have none.” They even came up with a wise use of the money their Lord would save in not building the tower.

But all their reasoning did not save them from the enemies against which the Lord warned. Despite peaceful times and their money probably doing well in their investments, enemies came and destroyed the vineyard.

Where did the workers go wrong? These were hard-working men whom the Lord trusted to accomplish His work.

“Let us reason together”

The workers second guessed the counsel of their Lord and Master and began to lean unto their own understanding. “All is well in Zion,”2 they reasoned, and concluded that they knew better than their Lord. Do we second guess the Lord when His prophets give us counsel? Do we sometimes think we know better than they, making judgment calls from our limited knowledge rather than trusting the Lord who is omniscient?

Certainly, thinking for ourselves is no sin; on the contrary, we are expected to do many things of our own free will and bring to pass much righteousness. But when we do not understand, we should not use our own judgment alone, or even the judgments of our peers, but seek the counsel of our priesthood leaders, search the words of the prophets, and seek understanding of the Lord through prayer. “Come, saith the Lord, . . . and let us reason together that ye may understand.”3 Only in this way will we remain on the path of safety.

Let’s now explore two reasons why building a tower and a defense in times of peace is a good idea.

 “Wo be unto him who is at ease in Zion”

The workers thought that protection against enemies in a time when there were no enemies did not make sense. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,” the Lord told the people in Isaiah’s time, “neither are your ways my ways.”4 The Lord knew that enemies would come if not protected against. Our cars, businesses, and homes have locks and alarms, not to physically prevent the efforts of people who attempt to rob us each night, but to discourage people from even trying. Our country has an army and navy, not because terrorist groups try to fly bombers in every day, but because they may very well try if we didn’t have those protections in place.

I think it interesting to note that the parable never actually states that the workers decided not to build a tower, but “while they were at variance one with another they became very slothful, and they hearkened not unto the commandments of their lord. And the enemy came by night…”5 Their failure to act immediately when given a commandment led to the destruction of the vineyard.

The same applies to building our own foundation for our own spiritual protection. We are counseled often to study our scriptures daily, to counsel with the Lord daily, to serve, spread the gospel, avoid any unclean thing, be examples, hold family home evening, eat together as a family, attend our Church meetings and serve faithfully in our callings. At times when temptations seem distant and when school is too hard and too busy, basketball season is getting exciting, or a deadline looms close, we may begin to reason that the Lord’s counsel through His servants is good, but unnecessary for us at that particular time. We may think that there are no enemies close by and that continuing to build our foundation is extra and unnecessary effort. Nothing could be further from the truth. As is taught in this parable, if not protected against, enemies will come.

“Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!”6

"When the devil shall send forth his mighty winds"

Perhaps an even more pertinent reason to build up a hedge and tower is to protect against enemies that will come regardless of our protections. We live in a world that is ever spiraling downward. We live in an age where avoiding the influences of the adversary is impossible. We may think that the daily temptations which we encounter on the internet and through other activities do not affect us. However, if not protected against, these small, daily temptations will chip at us almost undetected, until it is too late and the enemy has broken down our hedge and destroyed our vineyard. “Remember,” taught Helaman, “. . . that ye must build your foundation [upon Christ], that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds . . . it shall have no power over you.”

Trust in the Lord

For me, the overarching principle taught in this parable in the Doctrine and Covenants is taught in Proverbs:

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all they ways acknowledge him, and he will direct they paths."

Trusting in the Lord always is the only path to safety and eternal life. Building upon His rock is gives us the only sure foundation, “a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fail.”7

Let us act in all diligence when the Lord commands, without slothfulness. Let us reason with Him and gain understanding though meaningful prayer with Him. And let us gain the eternal rewards and blessings that He wishes to bestow upon us through our faithfulness.