Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Prayer for Yom Kippur

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. On this day, in ancient Israel, the high priest, dressed in simple white clothing and without his usual priestly finery, entered into the Holy of Holies and spoke the Ineffable Name of God, sprinkling blood upon the Mercy Seat, where the presence of God dwelt. In doing so, he made atonement for all of Israel, for the tabernacle, and for the world. He restored a right relationship with God, bringing together those who had been estranged through the blood of sacrifice.

Today, in synagogues throughout the world, Jews gather together before the Lord and recite the Kol Nidre prayer:

All solemn vows, all promises of abstinence and formulas of prohibition, and declarations of austerity, and oaths which bear a name of God, whatever we might have sworn and then forgotten, whatever earnest, well-intentioned vows we might have taken up but not upheld, whatever punishment or harm we might unwittingly have called down on ourselves, from the last Day of Atonement to this Day of Atonement, from all of them, we now request release: Let their burden be dissolved, and lifted off, and canceled, and made null and void, bearing no force and no reality.

They pray for forgiveness for thing they have done, and things they have left undone, for vows not kept, for harms inflicted, for rebellion and dissension, for failures to serve God as they ought to have done.

And today, I pray with them. For forgiveness for my rebellions, for my lack of understanding, for the oaths made in the name of God that I have not kept perfectly, for my failures and fallen-ness and fractious temperament, for the times I have not looked to the Lord as I should have. I pray for release for the punishment or harm I may have unwittingly called down upon myself or my loved ones. I pray for a release from burdens large and small, and for the strength to bear up the burdens that the Lord sees fit not to remove just yet. I pray for the ability to bear the burdens of others, and so in some small way to follow the Savior, who promised to make our burdens light.

I pray for renewed strength to follow the Master. I pray for greater understanding of His purposes, and for his aid in closing the gap between what I know and how I act. I pray that the blood of my Savior, the great and last sacrifice, might heal my broken heart, might grant me release, might mediate between me and the judgments of God, so that I might also part the veil and enter the presence of God, and stand clean before Him.

On this ancient holy day of atonement, my prayer—and my testimony—is centered on the redeeming power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that if we look to Him in faith, He WILL wipe away the tears from off all faces, swallow up death in victory, heal the wounded heart and transform the life in shambles, if only we will see His grace more than we fear Him. I pray that when I meet Him and prostrate myself at His feet, He will lift me to Him and hold my face in His wounded hands--those hands that created the universe, healed the sick, raised the dead, and carried a cross--and wipe away the tears from my eyes, and heal my broken heart. And then, I pray that my Savior will embrace me, and call me His own, and lead me by the hand back into the presence of my God. That is a day I would give anything to see.

Picture from http://judaica-art.com/images/

Sunday, September 20, 2009

All Things Shall Work Together For Your Good

The Lord commanded the prophet Lehi to prophesy to his people concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. Lehi was obedient, but the people were not receptive to his message. The Lord spoke to Lehi in a dream, and praised him for doing his duty. He told His prophet, "Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life" (1 Nephi 2:1)

Did you catch that? The Lord told Lehi "Blessed art thou...behold, they seek to take away thy life." That sounds like a strange sort of blessing to me!

I find it interesting how different the Lord's perspective is from our perspective. Things that we now think of as great trials might someday, with an eternal perspective, be manifest as the richest blessings.

An elderly man in my ward who has been a friend of my family for years is in a care center with only days to live. Before his condition became critical, he would play bingo with the other residents to pass the time. Those who won each round would receive 10 cent coupons that could be exchanged for candy and other items at the gift shop. My littlest brother, when he went to visit this man, eagerly informed my mom that when he got old he wanted to live in THIS care center, too, so he could play bingo all day long and trade his winnings for candy. In his little mind, it hadn't occurred to him that the elderly people who live in such a place would gladly give up their bingo winnings for some of the youth and energy that he took for granted, or that great-grandparents probably place a much lower value on gift-shop candy bars than second-graders do.

I wonder if God doesn't sometimes look at us the way I looked at my little brother--with a kindly smile and a gentle assurance, "dear child, I know that your worldview might make sense to you now, but someday you will understand what really matters, you will see life from a higher plane, and you will realize what life is all about, you will see more and know more, and the things you experienced in this life will make infinitely more sense to you. Until then, please realize that all is not as it now appears to be."

All this is not to discount our struggles in this life, nor to belittle the very real pains and sorrows we must face, but it does give us hope that someday the things that we do not understand will be explained to us, that all will be right in the end, that eventually we will understand the meaning of all things. The sometimes-painful truths of our lives can be illuminated by him who "descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth" (Doc. & Cov. 88:6).

Ether tells us that "whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God" (Ether 12:4). This better world is ours by covenant, as the Lord has stated, "Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord" (Doc. & Cov. 98:3).

The Lord's word is good. His promise is sure. And even when we do not understand, even when our perspective is limited, we can have faith that the infinite love of a perfect God will see us through the storms that lie ahead, and will guide us until we reach that better world, where we will be able to look back and see the Lord's hand in things we called trials as well as things we called blessings, and know that all things wherewith we have been afflicted have truly worked together for our good.

Picture from http://www.lindajlord.com/2009/01/

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Greater Than Our Heart

Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, speaks powerfully of adoption into the family of God through Christ.

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:14-17). Whereas before we were strangers, orphans, bondservants to sin, children without a father, now we are members of an eternal family, God's family. Through the Atonement of Christ, we become legitimate heirs, joint-heirs with the only perfect man to live on this earth. As such, we inherit all that our Father has.

The first epistle of John likewise speaks about becoming the children of God through the love of Christ, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God...and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him" (1 John 3:1-2).

One of Satan's most successful tactics is to obscure our divine nature, to make us feel worthless or unworthy of God's love. It was a trick he tried with Moses, saying, "Moses, son of man, worship me" (Moses 1:12). It is a trick he tries with you and me, saying, "You will never be good enough. You are dirty, you are unclean. God will never love you. You are not worthy." Sometimes we make the mistake of believing the adversary. We forget that he is the father of nothing but lies, while God is the Father of our souls. We allow our hearts to condemn us and thus fail to accept and bask in our Creator's great love.

John speaks of this tendency, and how to overcome it. He says, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth....For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God (1 John 3:18-21).

God is greater than our heart. He knows all things. Even when we condemn ourselves, even when we fall, God does not condemn us. He wants us for His own. He has paid the price of the blood of His Son to redeem us. And, having paid that price, He will not desert us now. As Paul put it, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?...Christ...is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Romans 8:31-37).

More than conquerors, he says. Because the Atonement, by which we conquer, was infinite for all mankind (2 Nephi 25:16), it is more than enough for us to prevail in whatever battle we fight. It is enough to make us more than conquerors.

"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

I, with Paul, am fully persuaded of the infinite and eternal power of the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is our Father. He loves us. And if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart.