Getting from A to C via B

Just a quick post this week.

Over a year ago in October 2015, my wife and I find out that we needed to move our little family out of the home we had been staying in for nearly a year and really enjoyed. This was not pleasant news for us. Nevertheless, we began looking for a place to within 6 weeks. It was not the easiest time but through our prayers we felt that the Lord would direct us. Most importantly we wanted to feel confident and sure in the decision we would make.

As we looked around we found a place that was a possibility. It was a similar price to what we were already paying, was a well cared for house and had a little garden. The problems were that it wasn’t in the most pleasant of areas, it was not a large home and we would have to move wards from the ward we love right now. It also had an excellent school fairly close by but also some troubling ones closer to it. We decided to go have a look round as we were quite undecided. We jumped into the car and drove the short drive. As we looked around we checked every detail. We were aware of the issues mentioned earlier. The house was pleasant and we were anxious about the little amount of time we had to find a new home for our little family. So, on the drive back, we pulled over and prayed about the decision, involving our children in the prayer. What happened next surprised us. We received a clear answer. Our three year old son also said he felt the same. The answer was not the answer we wanted and not the answer we were expecting. We felt that we should go for the home we had just viewed, despite it not being the home we maybe would have wanted. This was a clear and distinct impression, one that we could not deny.

So we set the process into motion. If this experience followed most you hear about listening to the Spirit, we would have moved into the home and lived happily ever after. But this did not happen.

Once we had begun the process and it became more serious, we suddenly felt differently. Both my wife and myself felt this uncertainty around our decision on the very same day and were unsure how to express this to each other that evening until we realised we both felt the same. And so, after more prayer and discussion, we decided to pull out of renting that home.

The next day, we went about our daily activities, confused why we had been allowed to go through this process if ultimately that was not the right destination for our family. But then, the very next day after pulling out of the original house, another appeared. One that was larger. One that was cheaper than the one we were living in AND the one we nearly moved to. One that would keep us in the Ward we wanted to stay in. One that had good and excellent schools and nurseries around it to choose from. This was our answer, this was our blessing for obedience to the promptings of the still, small voice.

For a long while, I thought that this experience was simply a test of faith. If we could listen to the promptings and follow them, even though it may not have originally been what we wanted, then we would be blessed further. However, my wife recently came across this video from Elder Jeffrey R Holland who speaks superbly about sometimes being led by the Lord down a certain path before being corrected by Him to go on another – to show us that the right path is absolutely the right one. He explains it much better than I could, so I will just drop the link here and urge you to watch it.

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‘Moses, My Son’

The Pearl of Great Price is a remarkable piece of scripture, as all scripture is! It begins with Moses 1, in which we learn a lot of precious truths which had previously been lost.

One is the fact that we are the literal children of God. He repeatedly reveals this to Moses, in saying “…thou art my son…” (Moses 1:4), “…Moses, my son…” (Moses 1:6), “…Moses, my son…” (Moses 1:7) – there is no coincidence about this. God our Heavenly Father, speaking through the premortal Jehovah, was telling Moses and us that he and we are literally His children. For one who understands the great importance of this eternal truth – we now know that we have the great potential to become like Him. “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:17) – what great power this truth can give us! In fact, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said “Consider the power of the idea taught in our beloved song ‘I Am a Child of God’ … Here is the answer to one of life’s great questions, ‘Who am I?’ I am a child of God with a spirit lineage to heavenly parents. That parentage defines our eternal potential. That powerful idea is a potent antidepressant. It can strengthen each of us to make righteous choices and to seek the best that is within us. Establish in the mind of a … person the powerful idea that he or she is a child of God and you have given self-respect and motivation to move against the problems of life.” We as God’s children have monumental potential – if we would only do the things necessary to reach such potential.

After showing Moses His creations and His glory – Moses was left to himself for a while, and he collapsed. We read of similar instances when, after hugely spiritual experiences others have felt this exhaustion. For example, Joseph Smith. The day after seeing the angel Moroni in the night, he says “I found my strength so exhausted as to render me entirely unable. My father, who was laboring along with me, discovered something to be wrong with me, and told me to go home. I started with the intention of going to the house; but, in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me, and I fell helpless on the ground, and for a time was quite unconscious of anything.” (JSH 1:48). This also happened after the First Vision – “When the light had departed, I had no strength…” (JSH 1:20). I have even felt this in my own life – I will not mention the experiences in detail but moments of deep heartfelt prayer and worshipping in the Temple have brought these feelings that have been referred to in the examples.

Moses then exclaimed, after coming back to his senses “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I had never supposed.” (Moses 1:10) This is very true – however, it should not be concluded that Elder Oak’s statement is incorrect. Man truly does have great power and potential (only with the support and strength of God of course) – but when compared to the glory and majesty of our Heavenly King, as Moses experienced, then we are truly miniscule compared to that.

Moses then has another informative experience. “Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.” (Moses 1:12) Here, Satan’s plan is two pronged. First, he is obviously trying to get Moses to worship him. However, he is also trying to get Moses to doubt the invaluable truth he has just learned by using the term ‘son of man’ meaning that Moses is not a son of God and therefore lacks the great potential of being like him. If Moses was to lose sight of that important fact – as many people have in the world today – then why not give in to the enticements of Satan? We would have no potential to fulfil, but we know we do! Moses knew this and acted accordingly. He said to Satan “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of His Only Begotten; and where is thy glory that I should worship thee?” (Moses 1:13) He re-emphasises the fact he is a son of God and Satan has no power – hence why worship him?! He then calls upon God, in the name of Jesus Christ, and banishes Satan from his presence. Alone, Satan would have overcome Moses, but he had the power of God with him and thus, Satan was gone. This experience once again highlights the fact that once we realise that we are literally the children of God – we know we have great power on our side.

After this, God’s presence returned to Moses and “Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God. And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the sea shore.” (Moses 1:27-28) Understandably, Moses saw all of these things and wondered for what purpose had all this come to pass – why was the earth created and all inhabitants possessing it – for what reason was Satan present and what was the end goal? After posing this question to the Lord, He says to Moses “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) This is perhaps the most simple and clear phrase to describe what this is all for – to help us become like Him. There is an important distinction in what the Lord says too – note how he says eternal life. President James E. Faust said “There is a distinction between immortality, or eternal existence, and eternal life, which is to have a place in the presence of God. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, immortality comes to all … , just or unjust, righteous or wicked. However, eternal life is ‘the greatest of all the gifts of God’ (D&C 14:7). We obtain this great gift, according to the Lord, ‘if you keep my commandments and endure to the end.’ If we so endure, the promise is, ‘you shall have eternal life’ (D&C 14:7).” Because of this sacred book of scripture, we know that God truly does love His children, He is aware of all their circumstances and His whole purpose is for them to achieve their greatest potential possible.

How marvellous is that for us – even when we slip up, our loving Heavenly Father never turns away from us and cares for each one of us. No matter how many creations He has, He says “…all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.” (Moses 1:35) Because of this great scripture we know we are literally sons and daughters of God and this truth can be life-changing, life-saving and life-giving.

Facing the Future with Faith

Very often, we look back to the past and brood over it for too long. We can reminisce about the old days and wish that those days were still now, or these moments bring back bad memories or can make us feel disappointed and disheartened at opportunities missed. We need to look forward with faith for a brighter tomorrow.

The Saviour, in speaking about the day of His Second Coming, spoke of how people should not return to their home to retrieve things, or possessions, left behind. He then gives a very ambiguous but meaningful phrase – “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:32) Who exactly was Lot’s wife? What did she do that we have to remember, as we have been counselled by Christ to do?

Lot and his family were living in Sodom and Gomorrah at the time in which the Lord declared it time for it to be destroyed. However, Lot and his family were slow to leave. Although they were clearly obedient and righteous to some degree (else why would the Lord wish to preserve them?) they felt ‘at home’ in that wicked place. This reluctance indicates a problem that we sometimes may have. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained “As Elder Neal A. Maxwell…said, such people know they should have their primary residence in Zion, but they still hope to keep a summer cottage in Babylon.” In Lot’s account we continue “And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand…the Lord being merciful unto them…and set him without the city.” (Genesis 19:16) – the men being angels of God – led them out. The Lord told them to “…look not behind thee,” (Genesis 19:17) and to continue to flee. However, “…his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.” (of Genesis 19:26) She disobeyed, and looked back to her past. This may not have just been a physical ‘looking back’ but also a mental wishing to be back. Elder Holland says “…she looked back longingly. In short, her attachment to the past outweighed her confidence in the future. That, apparently, was at least part of her sin.” Hence, why she was punished for it.

Applying this to our own lives – we need to look forward “…with an eye of faith,” (Ether 12:19) toward our future, knowing that we are in the safe hands of our Father in Heaven. “To yearn to go back to a world that cannot be lived in now, to be perennially dissatisfied with present circumstances…and to miss the here and now and tomorrow because we are so trapped in the there and then and yesterday are some of the sins of Lot’s wife,” continued Elder Holland. Paul had the right idea in writing to the Philippians. Paul, previously known as Saul, had a very high-ranking, privileged life (in worldly terms) and so, could have easily looked back longingly to the ease of his previous years. But he wasn’t like Lot’s wife, in fact he wrote “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14). Paul forgot about his past and looked forward to the future. Just like a burnt fire, we can use the glowing embers of experience, but we shouldn’t try to reclaim the ashes.

Now, of course, something that often occurs when dwelling in the past is that past wrongs and embarrassments of others are reclaimed. We should always remember the counsel from the Lord, which says “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42). We have also been told by the Lord “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:10). Therefore, we should not bring back old problems to tease or hurt someone. Elder Holland puts it perfectly when he said “If something is buried in the past, leave it buried. Don’t keep going back with your little sand pail and beach shovel to dig it up, wave it around, and then throw it at someone, saying, “Hey! Do you remember this?” Splat! Well, guess what? That is probably going to result in some ugly morsel being dug up out of your landfill with the reply, “Yeah, I remember it. Do you remember this?” Splat.” – basically, it will end up very dirty and very contentious and “…the spirit of contention…is of the devil…” (3 Nephi 11:29) as Christ taught to the Nephites.

As we put the past behind us, remembering the glowing good times and character-building experiences we endured, our future will be our focus and it will become better. As Mormon wrote to his son, Moroni, to remember Christ and let “the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever…” (Moroni 9:25) and as we do this, the best is truly yet to be!

Personal Revelation

Recently, whilst studying a Sunday School lesson on personal revelation, it hit me just how vital this amazing opportunity is from God – to receive personal, customised guidance from Him!

In the Bible Dictionary pg 762, it says:
“…Continuous revelation from God to his saints…makes possible daily guidance along true paths and leads the faithful soul to complete and eternal salvation in the celestial kingdom…Without revelation, all would be guesswork, darkness, and confusion.”
We all need revelation in our daily lives to help guide us. It’s fantastic having a living prophet who can receive direction for the whole Earth, but he can’t give each of us revelation individually everyday – that would be impractical and impossible!

How do we ensure we are receiving this vital revelation? We can learn from the example of Joseph Smith’s study in JSH 1:8-17. First, his “mind was called up to serious reflection…[his] feelings were often poignant…[he] attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit.” (v8) Here we see that he thought deeply and actively about a problem he wanted answered – to know which Church to join himself to. He then was “…one day reading the Epistle of James…” (v11) – he searched the scriptures! Elder Dallin H. Oakes in the Jan 1995 Ensign said:
“Scripture reading may…lead to current revelation on whatever [subject] the Lord wishes to communicate to the reader at the time. We do not overstate the point when we say that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to assess each of us to receive personal revelation.”
This is why it is so important that we read the scriptures everyday – they are a conduit to allow the Holy Ghost to speak to us.

Continuing with the experience of Joseph Smith, he must have recognised the power of what he felt and read because he then said “…I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.” (v13) He made a conscious decision to act and that can often be where we fall – not having the real intent to act when we receive an answer. For example, when teaching investigators on my mission – the first struggle was to help people feel comfortable to pray to ask God if the Book of Mormon was true. The second stumbling block was the investigators intention. Those who were sincere seekers of truth and wanted to change if it were true invariably got an answer (not in the same ways or times but an answer they did receive). A handful of investigators simply prayed merely for educational or general knowledge about the Book, and they often struggled to receive a clear answer. Joseph Smith had real intent – even when all powers combined against him to stop his efforts. He recalled he “…was exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me,” (v16), in other words he didn’t give up when things got (extremely) difficult! And then, finally, he received his personal revelation…and what a revelation it was!

Now, in Joseph Smith’s story, we see Satan trying to stop him from receiving this personal revelation. Note where Joseph Smith went to receive his answer. “I retired to the woods to make the attempt…to the place I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God.” (v14-15) He was in a quiet woodland which he had planned to go to beforehand. Today we see – physically and mentally – that Satan is making the world a louder and louder place to be in. Elder Boyd K. Packer in the October 1991 General Conference told us that:
“This trend to more noise, more excitement, more contention…is not coincidental…The first order issued by a commander mounting a military invasion is the jamming of the channels of communication of those he intends to conquer.”
Don’t forget this was declared in 1991! Satan uses these loud distractions even more so today to jam our ability to receive quiet, calm and peaceful revelation from God. He is crafty and this is working. Set some quiet time aside. Plan to go to your own Sacred Grove and listen! The Lord wants to – needs to – guide us (for our own sake). Open your ears, mind and heart and he will speak to you.

Pleasure vs Happiness

Satan is crafty. He is like a sly businessman who has had centuries, even millennia, of experience in shifting his wares and convincing people to purchase his trade which is falsely labelled as ‘happiness’. He knows how to catch the eye of the customer – he makes things look fancy in bright colours to make them think it must be genuine happiness they have just acquired…

However…their disappointment when they open it and find the cheap, easy imitation of happiness – also known as pleasure – must be deflating! People truly believe that certain things in life bring them happiness and peace in their life…but that is the skill of Satan.

These cheap rip offs of happiness do more damage than they mend. It seems that people can only get pleasure by disobeying one of God’s commandments – anything else leads to true happiness. As we read in Alma 41:10 “…wickedness never was happiness.” Whenever someone drinks alcohol, or smokes a cigarette, they are destroying and abusing their body – the body given to them by a loving Heavenly Father – yet, this is done (despite knowing the ill effects) for a brief period of pleasure.

Elder James E. Talmage in ‘Jesus the Christ’ said:
“Happiness is genuine gold, pleasure but gilded brass…
“Happiness is as the genuine diamond, which, rough or polished, shines…pleasure is as the paste imitation that glows only when artificially embellished…
Happiness is as the ruby, red as the heart’s blood…pleasure, as stained glass, soft, brittle and of but transitory beauty…
Happiness is true food…it builds up the body and generates energy…pleasure is but a deceiving stimulant which, like spiritous drink, makes one think he is strong when in reality enfeebled…
Happiness leaves no bad aftertaste…it calls for no repentance, brings no regret…pleasure too often makes necessary repentance, contrition and suffering…degradation and destruction.
True happiness is lived over and over again in memory…a renewal of the good; a moment of unholy pleasure may leave a barbed sting, like a thorn in the flesh…an ever-present source of anguish…
Have you ever been so happy that you have had to weep? I have.”

These wonderful illustrations really put into perspective the difference and effects of righteous happiness and unrighteous pleasure.

So how do we achieve this happiness? King Benjamin in his address to his people points the way – he taught “…consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God…if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.” (Mosiah 2:41)

I don’t want a cheap imitation which will only last a short period before breaking, with no chance of a refund! Satan doesn’t care about our customer rights – all he cares about is taking our currency, or our devotion away from Heavenly Father and then let us down with his fake products of ‘happiness’. God cares about us and will give us true happiness, if we will pay in service and obedience to his commandments, which are only there to protect us, not to bind us down!