Choices

The Choice to Choose

Every day when we wake up, we are instantly presented with choices. Some choices are more trivial, such as “What shall I eat for breakfast?” – we even have the choice whether to eat breakfast or not. Some choices are more important “Do I get on my knees and thank the Lord for the new day?” At the times in the morning I’m sure many of us arise at, this choice may not be as easy as we think. I know when I go to our children’s room where our 3 year old son is insisting it is morning (despite it being 6am in the morning at a weekend) it can be easy to make small choices which will affect us later on.

All our decisions will have an impact on our lives. As mentioned, some will have more influence on us. However, do we ever stop to consider how fortunate we are to choose? How blessed are we that we are able to choose. From before the beginning of this world, an important choice was made. We made the choice to choose.

The War in Heaven

President Thomas S Monson said When we left our premortal existence and entered mortality, we brought with us the gift of agency.” As spirit children of our Heavenly Father we were given an important opportunity. We had two choices: choose Satan and have no choice, or follow Father’s plan and have choice, but with that choice came accountability. Ironically, in order to accept Satan’s plan, we would have to use our agency to lose it – make that choice. We know that as we are on this Earth today, we, like all of the people who have lived and will ever live on this Earth made that choice to follow our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. There are, at least, two very important lessons we learn from this doctrine, this plain and precious truth:

  1. We recognised the value of our moral agency.
  2. Everyone else on this Earth…EVERYONE…once made the choice to follow Christ

Value of Moral Agency

When we, along with two thirds of Father’s children decided to accept the Plan of Salvation, the Plan of Agency, Satan and his hosts rebelled. In Revelation 12:7 we read:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels”

We do not the nature of this ‘war’ but we know that, ultimately, it was our agency, our ability to choose, that was at stake. Do we remember when we live our everyday lives just how blessed we are to choose? This agency has been fought over, retained and been given as a precious gift. This is why we veer away from the phrase ‘free agency’ because it really has never been free (the term free agency is also never mentioned once in the scriptures – moral agency is though). This phrase moral agency implies something much more accurate, yes we can choose but all our choices lead to a consequence which we do not decide.

Satan recognises the value of this moral agency and the potential it has to bless us, and that is why his tactics revolve, generally, around us giving up our agency to sin, the loss of free will because of the lack of blessings we receive. Lehi, in his great lesson to his son, Jacob, taught:

And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)

Each and every day, that War in Heaven is continuing around us spiritually. Will we make the choice to continue to follow Father’s plan and retain the full blessings of agency or will we yield some of that ability to choose to him who would make us miserable? Of course, in the haze and mists of the day, it will not be so clear that all the choices we make are that important, but they are.

All have made the Choice to Choose

The other truth learnt from knowing about this choice to choose that we all made is that everyone on this earth once accepted the same choice we did. Isn’t that a great motivator for missionary work? Just think: our colleagues at work, our friends at school and our neighbours around us all stood on that ‘battlefield’ in the War in Heaven shoulder to shoulder with us and our Saviour. When asked “Who will be faithful?” – at that time, all of us said we would, and all of us were. That is why we live on this earth today. We made the choice to choose also. In the year 2000, Elder Jeffrey R Holland said to an audience of missionaries in the Provo MTC: “So the fact of the matter is investigators are not only hearing our testimony of Christ, but they are hearing echoes of other, earlier testimonies, including their own testimony of Him, for they were on the side of the faithful who kept their first estate and earned the privilege of a second estate. We must always remember that these investigators, every man, woman, and child, were among the valiant who once overcame Satan by the power of their testimony of Christ! So when they hear others bear that witness of Christ’s saving mission, it has a familiar feeling; it brings an echo of truth they themselves already know.”

There may well be times where we think that our friends just will not be interested. They are living lives they are perfectly happy with, why would they want to listen? We know how much this Gospel has blessed us and they once felt the same as us, they simply do not remember. As children of God that have the opportunity to have plain and precious truths in this life – we must invite others!

How can we invite others? Start with small steps – I once went away from a Stake Conference around 4-5 years ago with the invitation from our Stake Presidency to be a better member missionary. I had, what can only be explained by me as a rush of adrenaline, the decision that I would speak to every person on the early bus I used to take to placement about the marvellous news I had. I then quickly realised that for me personally, that probably wasn’t the best place to start. So instead, we invited the missionaries into our home more often, I went teaching with the missionaries more. A few months later my wife and I were asked if we could help teach an investigator in our home – we of course agreed. I have to say – that was the easiest missionary work I have ever taken part in. The investigator came to us, built a great friendship with us and our son and he was baptised. I felt prompted later on to call him as our Activities Coordinator in the Elders Quorum and we had some fantastic Quorum brotherhood building experiences.

The Europe Area Plan urges us become temporally and spiritually self-reliant, find an ancestor and bring a friend. Knowing that all our friends once made the choice to choose, we must choose today to begin a pattern to become more missionary minded. We might not feel confident to go to someone tomorrow and invite them to be baptised. But we can make the choice to invite the missionaries into our home as a start – they will jump at the chance. As a missionary myself I would love to meet with the members briefly during the day as seeing so much rejection when you know how amazing this news is that you are sharing. Sharing some time with members can strengthen missionaries and may lead to future missionary opportunities. Wherever we are on the missionary spectrum, try to move today.

Once we understand how much value has been placed on our agency from the pre-mortal existence and we have been blessed even further with a knowledge of the Gospel in this life, the small choices like getting on our knees in the morning or studying regularly from the Book of Mormon suddenly become privileges, not mundane decisions.

The Ball is in our Court

As a primary school teacher in a school where around 80% of the children speak English as an Additional Language, we often come across moments where there is a little confusion in language. For example, we were having a discussion which led to a question. One student wanted to decide something but was unsure which response to go with. I, having spoken the English Language for pretty much all my life, said “Well, you can’t sit on the fence,” meaning the student would have to decide. This was followed by a look of confusion from at least half the members of the class and one child raised their hand and asked ‘Sir, what fence?” These peculiar phrases, or idioms, shape a lot of our language and all of us use them in day to day language. The phrase “sitting on the fence” can apply here – we have been given the ability to choose. We cannot decide to sit on the fence. The ball is in our court. We have to be led away from Father or go the whole nine yards. If we are not making choices which will lead to spiritual blessings then we must turn over a new leaf and get the ball rolling.

In 2 Nephi 26:23-24 we are taught by Nephi: “For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness. He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.”

We will never be forced to make the right choice; that is not God’s plan. However, he has asked, invited, us all to come unto Him. No one is exempt from this invitation. What we decide today will in large part determine whether we will allow the full blessings of the Atonement to enter our lives our not. As President Monson has said ‘Decisions Determine Destiny.’

We Are Accountable

However, despite this fantastic news that we are truly blessed to be able to choose, there is a word of warning – and it refers back to the definition of moral agency. We choose our decision, but we do not choose the consequence. Yet, we are fully accountable for that choice. To prove this further, we read in the Doctrine and Covenants 101:78, we learn… “That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.”

We, not anyone else, are ultimately responsible for our decisions. We have often heard and sung the phrase ‘Choose the Right’. In a world of swiftly decaying values and attitudes, choosing the right is becoming increasingly more difficult. We can never take the approach that we are safe, for the War of Heaven is continuing around us; it continues to claim souls. However, like a call from a watchtower, our prophet, President Thomas S Monson had these words to say in his address: “We know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life leads to our destination in the next life.”

We are constantly making decisions of eternal significance. We read in the scriptures that by small and simple things, great things are brought to pass. Unfortunately, this can apply to the opposite. If we don’t do the necessary small and simple things, make those small decisions of course-correction, then it will have larger consequences.

We have a Guide

All of this can be unnerving. However, we have an Anchor, a Rock, and Iron Rod which we can hold fast to, not just cling to half-heartedly. Our Saviour Jesus Christ has felt the pains, sorrows and therefore difficult decisions we have to make in life. He can help us. He will help us, if we will just invite Him. We read in Alma 7:11-12:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Because our Saviour knows how to support us, He knows what will give us the greatest opportunity to reach Heavenly Father. If decisions determine destiny, then Christ can support us in making the correct decisions to lead us back to Father.

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Accounts of the First Vision

The basis of this post has been drawn from the following website and some ideas selected from it. The post are my thoughts and contributions to this topic:

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-are-there-multiple-accounts-of-joseph-smith-and-almas-visions

With the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, there has always been opposition. Arguments and theories to denounce the truth of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelations have been voiced and brought forward. Most, if not all, of these arguments have all stood their ground but ultimately not been able to prove the fact that Joseph Smith was not inspired of God.

One of these supposed reasons for why the Restoration should only be a footnote in American religious history rather a true global event is the evidence of accounts from the First Vision. Some have claimed (and continue to claim) that Joseph Smith did not see the Father and the Son in the grove of trees on that spring day in 1820 because the accounts, or versions, he gave of this experience differ from one telling to the other.

I considered telling of the experience here in case any reading were not aware of this First Vision but then realised that telling one account of the experience would not help as there have indeed been a number of accounts from Joseph himself that differ in details. A useful visual of what is contained or not contained in certain versions can be seen below:
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As can be seen here – there are four separate documented versions of the First Vision given by Joseph Smith himself. Incidentally, this makes the First Vision “the best-documented theophany—vision of God—in history,” meaning we have a lot of evidence to draw from here. However, because of the lack of certain details in different versions of the vision, some try to claim that this shows that Joseph Smith made the vision up, that it didn’t really happen – otherwise wouldn’t he remember every detail? For example, the Saviour was not introduced by the Father in Joseph’s first documented telling of the experience in 1832 yet in the 1835, 1838 and 1842 versions the Father is described as introducing the Saviour. Some question the truth of the entire First Vision because of this.

From all four versions, there are these details that are consistent: that Joseph had questions about which religion was true, he searched the scripture, that there was a vision and he spoke with the Lord Jesus Christ. The other details (such as Satan attempting to prevent the prayer, the pronouncement that Joseph’s sins were forgiven and the context of there being religious excitement in America at that time) are not found in all the accounts.

So, this means the event didn’t happen? Personally, I find it astonishing that some can cite this as a reason for the First Vision not happening. Stories that happened are retold often with certain details being omitted or being made more of a focal point for the lesson they are told for. Experiences and stories are rarely told for no reason, without a teaching point to be made.

I will refer to three examples where experiences or events are retold for various purposes and yet this does not lessen the fact that they happened.

1. Alma the Younger is converted

In Mosiah 27, Alma 36 and Alma 38 we read of the same pivotal experience, the angel appearing to Alma the Younger to halt his destructive progress against the Church of Christ and invite him to the Saviour. Some details of the accounts are remarkably similar. For example, Mosiah 27:11 states that the angel spoke with “a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood,” and Alma 36:7 states: “He spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet.” Alma 38:7 does the same thing: “I have seen an angel face to face, and he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth.” This is just one example of a similarity but there are others in the three accounts.

However, as with the First Vision, some details are inconsistent. For example the role of the sons of Mosiah. In Mosiah 27, there are quite a number of references to them in that experience, in Alma 36 they are mentioned once and in Alma 38 they are not mentioned at all. Does that make us question their involvement with the vision of the angel? Does that make us wonder whether they were actually present or not? Of course not. In this example, the detail is dependant on the person giving the account and the lesson they want to teach by it.

2. The Gospels

You could write a book (and dozens of dedicated students of the scriptures have) about the reasons for the differences in the four Gospels, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I will not try to cover all the possible examples due to the time it would take and also because I am no where near as familiar with the scriptures as I would have to be to offer an effective narrative.

However, I will take the greatest moment in the history of mankind as a good vehicle to demonstrate how the four Gospels, whilst they offer similar commentaries of the Saviour’s life they do have key differences. The reason? It depends on who told the story and what message they were trying to get across. Whether it’s King Mosiah or Alma and whatever message they are trying to get across, there will naturally be a leaving out of details or an emphasis of points

3. My experience – or any of your examples!

Basically the point is that any experience shared can be used in part or any parts emphasised to make a point. We may leave certain parts out or made certain parts the main part if we want to focus on that. Does that change the actual event? Of course not!

Harper, Joseph Smith’s First Vision, 1.

It’s Never Too Early or Too Late

Where are you on your journey?

In Europe we have had an Area Plan: this simple, yet inspired Area Plan focuses on three key areas. This plan is to bring a friend, become self-reliant temporally and spiritually and find an ancestor. In Alma 34:32 we find a well-known verse which reads –  “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” We have all been blessed to be on this Earth, we need to use our time effectively. If we have not moved off in our journey this year yet and left the shore to get to the Promised Land, it’s not too late to start TODAY!

The Daily Battle of Direction

In fact, this principle of it never being too late (or indeed too early) is exactly the message I want to think about. This is based on a talk that was given by Elder Bradley D. Foster of the Seventy. In his talk he applies the approach of it never being too early or late to raising children in the Gospel but I want to apply this wider to anything in our own or our family’s spiritual progression and then discuss the impact on children in Zion.

He begins by making this statement:

“Brothers and sisters, we are engaged in a battle with the world. In the past, the world competed for our children’s energy and time. Today, it fights for their identity and mind.”

When we wake up tomorrow, will we remember that we are on a spiritual battlefield? Bearing in mind that it used to be a battle in itself to get our son, Joshua, out of bed for Nursery in the morning (despite him only being 3 years old at the time, not 13) it can be easy to see in our hectic day-to-day lives why we might forget this. In the confusion and hardships of the day, we might sometimes slip our focus away from the things that matter most. I want to look at an event from the scriptures which links well to this – the Brother and Jared and the Jaredites. As we know, they were blessed to come away from a sinful nation and were given the promise that if they followed the Lord, they would be lead to a blessed land where they would prosper. They obeyed and travelled and it says in Ether 2:13: “… it came to pass that the Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands. And as they came to the sea they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer; and they dwelt in tents, and dwelt in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years.”

Surely, if they were content to dwell there on the seashore for four years, it must have been a pleasant enough place? Just picture where you were 4 years ago – that is a long time! If we’re talking about it never being too late to act then this is a good group of people to study(!) – because for four long years they settled. They did not progress. Are we sometimes not like the Jaredites, settling for what we have right now? If we think for one moment that we are good as we are and all is well in Zion then we need to repent – because none of us are where our Heavenly Father would have us yet – although I am sure He is pleased with the progress we have made so far!

 

All is Well?

This attitude of all being well as it is right now, today, is not only a sign of a lack of motivation to improve but it is a cunning tool of Satan to have us never reach our full potential – to be stunted in our spiritual growth. In 2 Nephi 28:21 we read:

“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”

Not only is Satan craftily making us stop our own progress if we feel content where we are, but he is carefully leading us back away from the Lord. To quote from Elder Neil L. Andersen in his talk at the same Conference, he said:

“How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith.”

We are either moving forward in our journey, or slipping away from our eternal goal.

Never Too Early or Too Late

To return to the account of the Jaredites, the Lord clearly wanted to make this point to the spiritual leader of the group, the Brother of Jared, as we read:

“And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.” (Ether 2:14)

To me, we can learn a lot from this. Yes, what the Jaredites did in being content was wrong, that is made clear. Also, the Lord is always there for us when we are ready to return back to Him. However, we also read here that the Lord ‘came’ to the Brother of Jared. Our loving Saviour is not just always there but he will seek us out if we are lost. This is a great lesson for us as members of His true Church – whilst we should always be ready to receive those of our number who are lost with open arms, it is NEVER too late for us to go out and find them, and it can’t be done early enough. In the New Testament, our Saviour taught us our role when he gave the parable of the Lost Sheep:

“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:4-5)

Obviously we are not encouraged to literally lay investigators on our shoulders – but how amazing is it that we have the opportunity to play our part and not only be ready to receive, but also to go out and find – it is NEVER too late for them! As we know, it wasn’t too late for the Jaredites either and they made it to the land which the Lord had prepared for them.

Children in the Gospel

As we know it is our mandate to bring people to the Lord, what do we need to do to help them become spiritually self-reliant so they can become tools in the Lord’s hand? This can apply to our children, as Elder Foster goes on to teach, but also children in the gospel (investigators, our friends, even our HT/VT families as we are all meant to be teachable).

Elder Foster taught us a very valuable principle when he said:

“On this occasion, Jesus told a story about planting seeds—the parable of the sower. In explaining this to His disciples, and ultimately to us, He said, “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.” The message for parents is clear: there is a difference between hearing and understanding. If our children merely hear but do not understand the gospel, then the door is left open for Satan to remove these truths from their hearts.”

Our FHE’s, investigator lessons, HT/VT visits etc. are not simply places where we are to preach and they are to listen to our words. If we attempt this, then we are not teaching in the Lord’s way. Why is this? Because we are not to be the teachers. If we set ourselves up as the teacher then the learner will only hear the words we say. However, if we recognise the Holy Ghost is the teacher, then understanding will implant deeper into the listener’s heart.

Teaching By the Spirit

Before mentioning a few things to remember about teaching by the Spirit, I would echo Elder Foster’s plea again – It Is Never Too Early or Too Late. Our daughter, Elaina, is 2 years old. If we do not begin now to offer a spiritual feast each and every day in our home then she will look for a feast elsewhere as she grows up and it will be more difficult to provide that feast later as we have not got into the habit of providing that feast. Similarly, it still is never too late if we have not been providing that feast. Begin today.

Can I dispel some myths about teaching and learning by the Spirit? Supposedly, you can tell children, or even adults, have been taught by the Spirit if:

  • They sit quietly through the whole lesson (again, adults as well as children!) – quite honestly if this were true then I would start thinking it’s never too late to give up
  • They cry with tears. Whilst crying can be a response to the fruits of the Spirit we can feel (Galatians 5:22-23 like love, peace, joy and goodness) it does not mean you have to cry to indicate you have been taught by the Spirit. Again, to apply this to our FHE setting, I think I would be concerned if my 4 year old began sobbing at what we were saying – in fact, the only time he has cried during a FHE is when he was struck by his sister with a toy.
  • The teacher does not prepare the lesson and so decides they have to ‘teach by Spirit’. Teaching by the spirit is not the same as ‘winging it’. As a primary school teacher, I know what it is to have to ‘wing it’ for a lesson sometimes – and often it can pay off. However, the Spirit will be the strongest if we are prepared. It is never too early or too late to prepare a spiritual lesson or experience with our children. If we spend hours on preparing a lesson for Church and then sit swiftly with our children and make up a lesson for FHE or some other experience on the spot, something is wrong.
  • Everyone is happy and the lesson went great. There will be times that you feel that a lesson did not go the way you wanted it to (again, this applies to parents, member missionaries, HTs, whoever) – however, it may well be those lessons that the Spirit has touched the heart of one of the listeners and that teaching moment by the Spirit will change their life forever.

Build a Better Tomorrow, Today

Building eternal bonds, loving ties and spiritual foundations has to be on the mind of all parents in Zion. To quote the scripture which always makes me feel terrified as a parent but willing to do better in D&C 68:25

“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.”

It is never too early or late to build lasting relationships with our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends, our ancestors, with our HT/VT families – it needs to begin NOW otherwise we will not move on in our spiritual journey and miss out on potential future promised land blessings.

Prayer Preparation

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a wonderful thing. It provides the opportunity for all of God’s children to find some rest and peace in this turbulent world. Of course, life is still not always easy but the Savior promises us support in our struggles. He said Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) We can find solace and comfort through the power of prayer.

Prayer is a miraculous gift. We have been sent to Earth to live by faith and yet we have been provided with something so precious as it allows us to contact the Being who allowed us to come here. However, there are some very important things to remember with prayer. Prayers are not an opportunity to place an order and accept things instantly. To begin with, a look in the Bible Dictionary will tell us “Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.” Prayer is the means by which we can come closer to God and, as such, bring our will closer to His. We can ask for blessings and if we receive that blessing, it is because the Lord is willing to give it to us and would have if we asked.

Because of these truths, prayer is therefore something which of course should require some effort on our part. If we take a casual attitude to our prayers, then we can expect nothing less than “casual” responses (not that I am suggesting our loving Heavenly Father will care less). In fact, we will not receive great blessings because our desires will not be aligned with our Father’s and so if we don’t receive something we think we need (but it actually is not best for us) then we will feel that Heavenly Father is casual in our attitude to us.

Of course there are times it may feel like we have not been answered. We were teaching our 4-year-old son in our Family Home Evening this evening and I had found this beautiful story in the lesson on Prayer in the Family Home Evening Resource Book. It reads:

It was Saturday morning, and father was home. He had brought some work from the office to complete and went into the study to be alone.

(1) Soon his little daughter came into the room crying. Someone had broken her new doll. Her father told her not to worry: he would fix her doll. She thanked her father and ran happily back to play.

(2) Next his son came in. He asked his father for money to buy a new model boat to take sailing with his friends. His father took time to explain that the boy had already received his weekly allowance two days ago with the understanding that it was to take care of such things.

(3) His teenage daughter came in next. She wanted a new dress for the coming dance. Her father told her that she would have to wait. He told her that if she saved as much as she could herself, he would help her buy the new dress.

(4) His teenage son interrupted the father next. The son was doing his homework and needed help with a problem. His father gave him some suggestions, but did not work the problem for him. A few minutes later, his son returned to say, “Thank you for the idea you gave me. It worked!”

(5) Finally, the youngest child came in. His father looked down at the boy and asked kindly, “What do you want, son?” “I don’t want anything,” the little boy answered as he reached his arms around his father’s neck and kissed him. “I just wanted to be with you.”

I loved this. I wish I knew this story when I was on my mission. One of the most asked questions was around why God didn’t answer them, or why was God not responding to that person they knew. This story breaks down various, reasonable suggestions as to how a loving father works – and it is the same with our loving Heavenly Father.

For (1) the child was ready to receive and the father listened, intervened and supported the children. In this instance, the child does need that help but cannot help themselves and so the father listens and acts.

For (2) the child had to understand responsibility. They were listened to but did not get the response they wanted. If they were to receive it they would quickly become spoiled and presume to receive things whenever they wish. They had to learn to do without the thing they didn’t really need.

For (3) the child again was listened to by this loving parent. This was a blessing that was required, but this child had means wherewith they could contribute. It would be foolish of the parent to give the money or the blessing in full instantly – what would the child learn? They had to put the work in beforehand and the father would make up the rest.

For (4) the child had to work out the answer themselves. If they were given the answer they would not grow or develop. The loving parent listened and gave suggestions but then let the child go away and work it out. As a result, the child was so grateful to the parent and had developed.

For (5) the child clearly loved their father. They only wanted to interact to say how much they loved their parent and were grateful for all he had done for them. I’m sure Heavenly Father would love to receive more prayers like this!

Even if you do not receive responses right away, do not despair. Your Father in Heaven does listen and wants to hear your heartfelt prayers.

Thinking about all this – I was visiting another ward to speak in on Sunday and a sister missionary spoke before me (again). She spoke of prayer and an experience she had over Christmas. All the missionaries were invited on Christmas Day to engage in a 45 minute prayer. As this daunting task lay before her, she planned what she would discuss with her Heavenly Father and was able to pause for answers. This illuminated me. In all my years of, quite frankly, failing to consistently hold meaningful prayers I had never thought of this! Actually sitting down and planning what I would discuss in my prayers. I am a very methodical person so I am hoping to try this out and see if it works!

 

Faith is not by Chance, but by Choice

This post focus on a talk given by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles entitled ‘Faith is not by Chance, but by Choice’. 

I will not spend a long amount of time defining faith, but I will let the great Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, do this for me when he said:

“And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21) – I will also add then when referring to faith we usually mean having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His enabling power to bring us salvation and exaltation.

One of Elder Andersen’s concluding comments, which I feel sets up my thoughts well, was:

My dear friends, your faith did not begin at birth, and it will not end at death. Faith is a choice. Strengthen your faith, and live to be deserving of the Savior’s approving words: “Great is thy faith.”

We are the children of our Heavenly Father. We existed before our current situation here on Earth. We began the important process of developing our faith way before we came to Earth to have it tested, otherwise we would have no faith TO be tested. This life-long practice of developing our faith will not end with death either. However, whilst here on Earth, away from our Father in Heaven and those beyond the veil who we love, this will be a vital time to strengthen our faith. It is, and will always be, a daily battle.

The Daily Battle

Ponder the following question – Is my faith getting stronger or getting weaker? It is important we ask ourselves this question, because it is only one of these two events that are occurring. Our faith in Christ is either being strengthened or it is diminishing. Have you ever stopped to ponder how significant this is? In our day to day lives, whatever we are doing has the influence to bring our faith closer to the Saviour or lead us further away. Elder Andersen put it forward clearly when he said:

“How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes. Why did the Savior say to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not”? Because there is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.” 

There is one who seeks to drag us all away from our loyal Mediator that we will be as miserable as he is. Satan is real. He is fighting maybe more valiantly than we sometimes do, to pull us away from the Lord, the influence of His Spirit and, in the process, diminish our faith.

Despite this powerful adversary, we can still find ways in our day to day life to strengthen our faith. These methods are not unfamiliar to us. We partake of the sacrament, we learn more by the power of the Holy Ghost (who can teach us the truth of all things). This is a good place to start. It’s easy to feel our faith building in a sanctuary provided for us at Church each week – but how well are we developing our faith in the other 165 hours we are given in the week outside of our Sunday worship? Again, the list of things we can do to develop our faith is too long to discuss in this setting but it should be something we are constantly aware of. To help us, Moroni including an edifying sermon from his father Mormon in the scriptures, where he was recorded saying:

“Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”

If we are striving to strengthen our faith, our choices should be made clear to us, by the Spirit, what we can do. But one thing is definitely true, our faith will not develop by chance. It is our choices that will define how strong our faith is, and therefore, how well we will endure trials and tribulations. No matter how weak we think our faith may be now, the only way our faith will go will be stronger (if we support it by doing the right things). Elder Neil L. Andersen taught:

“Although your beginning fire of faith may be small, righteous choices bring greater confidence in God, and your faith grows. The difficulties of mortality blow against you, and evil forces lurk in the darkness, hoping to extinguish your faith. But as you continue to make good choices, trust in God, and follow His Son, the Lord sends increased light and knowledge, and your faith becomes settled and unwavering. President Thomas S. Monson said: “Fear not. … The future is as bright as your faith.””

This is not an easy task. Life will throw challenges before us. However – in our Heavenly Father’s grand plan, the very influence that seeks to overthrow us by sending us trials is actually strengthening us…trials, if tackled with the faith we currently have, can help our faith grow even stronger. We just need to tackle them with full reliance on the Lord and a vision that we will get through – and our faith will help us do that.

The Eye of Faith

In Ether 12 we are taught about spiritual giants in the scriptures who had immovable faith, who truly saw miracles because of the faith they had developed – from Alma and Amulek who saw themselves miraculously delivered from bondage because of their faith to the Brother of Jared who’s literal vision could not be kept from the veil because of his faith – he saw the premortal Son of God.

In Ether 12:19-20 we read:

“And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad. And behold, we have seen in this record that one of these was the brother of Jared; for so great was his faith in God, that when God put forth his finger he could not hide it from the sight of the brother of Jared, because of his word which he had spoken unto him, which word he had obtained by faith.”

This phrase ‘eye of faith’ appears previously in Alma 5:15 where we are asked by Alma: Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality…? As we develop our faith, it is recorded that we can look forward with an eye of faith, in (to paraphrase Alma) hope of things not seen which are true. We can receive a vision from our Father in Heaven to guide and direct our next steps. Now, when we say a ‘vision’, I am not suggesting that when we strive to see with an eye of faith, or pray with strengthened faith for guidance, that we will see an angel. Neither am I saying that we will be asked to go and uncover some sacred discovery that will be a testament to the world of our Saviour, but what I am saying is that we can receive direct, personal guidance for ourselves, our family and for the stewardship we have in the Church.

You can receive a vision. As a newly called Elders Quorum President three years ago, I was encouraged by our Stake President to pray and seek revelation, a vision even, on how to lead the Melchizedek Priesthood in my area of stewardship. As I did so, with an eye of faith (faith that I would receive an answer), promptings and direction began to flow. I will never forget that moment.

A more practical example occurred on my mission. I was in my third area and I was training a new missionary. We were very excited to serve; we were white-washing a new area (opening an area that had previously been closed to missionaries) and we wanted to see miracles. However, after a few weeks we had been teaching a number of investigators but nothing ‘miraculous’ (in our eyes) had happened. The following Sunday was a Fast Sunday and we were studying together this very principle (which had been taught by our Mission President), to receive a vision, find our own Sacred Grove, and try to see with an eye of faith. As a companionship we put our full trust in the Lord, admitted our faults and pleaded that we would see our faith bear fruit.

As we sat in our Ward Council meeting that morning, we noticed out of the corner of our eye an unfamiliar person walk into the entrance area of the chapel. My companion and I looked at each other, and without a word to each other, left the meeting to go to talk to this man. He was baptised three weeks later and invited a number of his friends to hear the Gospel.

I share this example with the full knowledge that stories like these might instill faith in the principle being considered, but events do not always happen that ‘perfectly’ – for that one investigator we had, there were probably dozens if not hundreds of situations where things did not happen quite as we would have liked. However, if we seek for a vision, as we look with an eye of faith, to have the Lord direct us and then we do all within our power to realise these goals, then the Lord will make up the rest in His own way and time.

As an Apostle of the Lord has stated, “Your faith is either growing stronger or becoming weaker.” Do not let it fail.

Reflections on #LighttheWorld

So as many of you will be aware, the Church recently had their initiative for Christmas in 2016. I certainly enjoyed it. You can follow this link for the actual material: #LighttheWorld. Any search on Twitter and for #LighttheWorld and you will find a long list of positive messages and inspiring comments all around the Saviour and the Spirit of Christmas.

My family and I have particularly enjoyed the advent calendar list of activities that were offered. Every day there was a short video and a list of activities. Doing these has brought us closer to the Saviour over this Christmas season, which is why I hope to continue lighting the world through as many ways possible.

Today, I was visiting our YSA Ward in my capacity as a High Councillor and was asked to speak. Before my talk, a sister missionary gave a wonderful talk. She spoke about the light of Christ and how all of us this New Year can bring Christ to people by the very we act and they kind of person we are. She shared the experience of a Church building being built in a country with no proselyting allowed – the BYU building in Israel. They agreed to allow the building as long as the members did not proselyte in the area. A senior official in Israel, who knew and had dealings with the Church, made a statement. He said it was fine stopping the members from actively proselyting, but what were they going to do about the light that shone from the eyes of the members in the streets. He appreciated that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have something special about them.

We find references to this Light of Christ in the scriptures. We read in Moroni 7:18-19 “And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.” The Light of Christ is something we all have access to as children of God – members of the Church or not. It enables every one of God’s children to feel of His influence before baptism and confirmation. Otherwise, how could we be baptised  with faith in the Saviour before receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost? In Preach My Gospel we are taught “It is important for a … missionary … to know that the Holy Ghost can work through the Light of Christ. A teacher of gospel truths is not planting something foreign or even new into an adult or a child. Rather, the missionary or teacher is making contact with the Spirit of Christ already there. The gospel will have a familiar ‘ring’ to them.” When we teach the Gospel, even when we act as our Saviour would, this light is recognised by others and they feel of the Light of Christ. This is why when we live our covenants and live a life as close to Christ as we can, people recognise and warm towards that.

As we enter 2017, I’ve started to recognise something very important. We should not just aim to #LighttheWorld around Christmas time, although it is a very good time of the year to do so. With our example, with the Light of Christ, we can quite literally in a spiritual sense light the world every day of the year. Isn’t this what we covenanted when we were baptised – in the baptismal covenant we promise to “…witness unto…O God, the Eternal Father, that [we] are willing to take upon them the name of [His] Son,” (Moroni 4:3)

What changes will you make to #LighttheWorld in 2017? How will you draw others closer to the Saviour by your example of light?

Understanding Isaiah – 2 Nephi 20

Verse 1 – “Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;” This is clear when linked with Moroni 7:18 “And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.” Those who judge others unjustly, will find that they will be. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of judging. Finding out about some event, or rumour, can be a tantalising subject to discuss and form opinions about. However, as with many times, this can lead to unnecessary upset, misunderstanding and fallouts. Not to mention that we will be judged the same when the time comes for our Judgement.

Verse 15 – “Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as if it were no wood!” This is a great analogy to pride. If we are blessed with success in our career or the service of the Lord, we cannot claim to be the main cause – the Lord is the one who can lead and guide us and His hand is in all things. Of course we can be pleased with our efforts and what we’ve worked on, but we must recognise all things come from Him.

Verse 18 – “And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body; and they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth.” Again, this verse has double meanings. Isaiah is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by Assyria (Babylon), however it can a number of meanings. Destruction of the wicked at the Second Coming (as mentioned in the LDS chapter heading), spiritual death of individuals  who fall to temptation and so on.

Verse 26 – “And the Lord of Hosts shall stir up a scourge for him according to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; and as his rod was upon the sea so shall he lift it up after the manner of Egypt.” This verse will have been included by Nephi because it comes back to his original message – his intention of writing this record way back in 1 Nephi – “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” (1 Nephi 1:20) The Lord is mighty to save. He will deliver us from all adversity if we are faithful. We can liken this to our lives, bringing us hope when we may feel overwhelmed.

Verse 33 – “Behold, the Lord, the Lord of Hosts shall lop the bough with terror; and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down; and the haughty shall be humbled.” A powerful message again to the dangers of pride. For those who act in pride or are prideful of their abilities will be brought low. An example of this happening is found in Helaman 4:12 where the Nephites are caught in the grip of pride and are left without the strength of the Lord “And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—” We must be careful that we do not find ourselves in the same position.