Monday, July 20, 2009

Being Made Whole

Nephi, in what has become known as Nephi's Psalm, lists off the great things that the Lord has done for him:

"Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time...And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away...And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man" (2 Nephi 4:23-25).

He then asks a question that I have asked myself recently,

"O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?...Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?" (v. 26-27).

Why, indeed? When I have seen such great things, when the Lord has visited me in so much mercy, why should I allow Satan and the lies he spreads to have place in my heart to destroy my peace?

Yesterday, a friend asked me what changes I had noticed in my life as a result of a major decision I recently made. My answer was simple: I still have the same questions I always had. In fact, I have many more questions. There are many things I do not understand. But strangely, the questions I have excite me, instead of depressing me. My questions no longer disturb my peace and afflict my soul.

It is hard to describe the way I have felt lately. These past six months have been a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences, for me and for those I love. I have been driven to consider who I really am, and what I want to become. More importantly, I have reflected on whose I really am, and whose I want to become--and remain. I have considered the words of Nephi, "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul" (v. 28). I have commited myself more fully to a path I always knew was the right one. In doing so, I have found a greater measure of "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). I have found that the "enemy of my soul" no longer is given a place in my heart. I have once again tasted of the Lord's love and felt to proclaim with Enos, "Lord, how is it done?" And the answer is, as it always has been, "Because of thy faith in Christ...wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole" (Enos 1:7-8).

I have gained a greater understanding of what it means to be made whole. I used to think that being made whole meant being healed, or not being sick anymore. But I had forgotten the obvious meaning--to be whole is to be complete, to have all the pieces of your soul put back in place and welded together, to be unified in your heart instead of being fragmented and broken. Wholeness is more than not being sick--it involves being complete, unbroken, united. It requires divine grace to fill the "God-shaped hole" in each of us, to bind up our broken hearts and make us complete. I praise God for the wholeness He has given me, a wholeness only He could give.

"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).

Friday, July 10, 2009

The First Law of Heaven

After Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden, they prayed for guidance from the Lord, and heard His voice, "And he gave unto them commandments, that they should...offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord" (Moses 5:5). Thus was instituted the practice of animal sacrifice. "And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me" (Moses 5:6). The angel then explained to Adam the reason for the animal sacrifices he had been offering--they were a symbol of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Our first parents received a commandment. They obeyed the commandment. But it wasn't until "many days" had passed that an angel explained the reason for that commandment. And in the meantime, they had to be content with saying, "I know not, save the Lord commanded me."

There is great power in obedience, even when we do not understand the reason. Obedience to any law brings the blessings associated with that law. We know that "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (Doc. & Cov. 1130:20-21). And, it follows, when we do not obey a law, we have no claim on its associated blessing (see Doc. & Cov. 82:10).

Saul learned this lesson the hard way, when he defied the instructions of the prophet Samuel in going to war against the Amalekites. Commanded to destroy every living creature, he and his soldiers instead "spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them" (1 Samuel 15:9). When Samuel chastised him for his disobedience, Saul countered by insisting that he had saved the animals to sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel rejoined, "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry." (1 Samuel 15:22-23). Because of his rebellion, Saul lost his kingdom--a heavy price to pay for a few plundered livestock. Saul had forgotten the sum of all commandments, given through Moses, "what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

The Lord has repeated this instruction in our day: "Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days" (Doc. & Cov. 64:34).

Obedience requires submission, and submission is HARD. Well, it is for me, anyway. I'm pretty strong-willed and stubborn. I like to have a reason for things I do. I want my world to make logical sense.

Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I have questions that have no answers. Sometimes I'm asked to do something that is hard on me--physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Sometimes I wish there could be another way. Sometimes I wish the Lord would listen to my advice and do it my way.

When Christ prayed in Gethsemane, He admitted that He wished there could be another way. He admitted that He didn't want to do what the Father wanted Him to do. He admitted that His will was different from His Father's will. And this was not a sin, for in the same breath Christ made a choice--He chose to do the Father's will anyway (see Luke 22:42). And in doing so, He opened the way for mortals like me, who will readily admit a difference of will and a deficit of understanding, to submit our wills to God's and find peace thereby.

Though my "bitter cups" differ from the Savior's by orders of magnitude, I have found that when I have the humility required to say, "Though I do not understand why this must be, and though I do not like this, and though it causes me pain, I know that You have commanded it. I love You, therefore, I will do this thing," I find greater peace, strength, and hope than I thought possible. When I obey without knowing the reason, and allow myself to say, "I know not, save the Lord commanded me," I am blessed. Sometimes I come to understand the reason, often after "many days"--or years--of sincere and earnest seeking, and sometimes I realize that it will all make sense only in another world. But in each case, the Lord gives me His peace. Peace through the heartache, peace in the midst of the trial, peace in the storm, peace with the burden still on my back--a total and consuming peace that comforts and strengthens me. As I submit my will to His, I am given a great gift. It is an endowment of power from on high, a portion of the Lord's power to perform the Lord's will. It is a gift of knowledge and strength and understanding and grace and joy. It is a gift that is worth any price.

"And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and 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. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it" (Mosiah 2:41).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

My Soul Delighteth In The Scriptures

Those of you who know me well know that I am prone to answer gospel questions (or, really, any questions) by quoting some passage of scripture. This often frustrates those who would prefer me to answer in my own words. It's hard for me to explain the comfort I find in the scriptures. Perhaps (how's this for an ironic illustration of this principle?) Nephi said it best, "For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them" (2 Nephi 4:15). I love the scriptures, and find joy in pondering them.

I love books. I read voraciously. I have an extensive library, and many books I love. But none of them have the same power over me; none of them call me back over and over again, offering me a glimpse of new insights and old friends; none of them bring more peace to my heart and joy to my soul than the scriptures. When I feel lost or alone, frightened or concerned, depressed, worried, or off-balance, I find solace in their words, words I have read scores of times before but have never grown tiresome, words that are comfortably old and familiar, yet everlastingly new and fresh, words that fill me up but always leave me wanting more. Their words reassure and console me, they inspire and uplift me, they challenge me to be better, to reach higher, to try harder. They teach me doctrines in plainness and in symbol, and principles in story and in song. They show me the reach of a Savior whose Atonement is both infinite and intimate, grand and sweeping in scope but quiet and personal in application.

The scriptures contain the word of God. I testify of their truthfulness. I cannot deny their power. They bring the companionship of angels (2 Nephi 32:3), protection from the deceiver (JS-M 1:37), hope and comfort (Romans 15:4), and wisdom unto salvation through faith in Christ (2 Timothy 3:15).

I invite you to recommit yourself to a study of the scriptures. As I have done this recently, I have felt the heavens draw near and have tasted of the Lord's peace. I know that you, too, will find strength, power, and comfort in their pages, that they will enlighten your soul and become delicious to you.

"He that hath the scriptures, let him search them" (3 Nephi 10:14).

Picture from http://www.geocities.com/DaveGarber1975/