3 Ways To Ruin Your Self-esteem

bank-1238320_1280I held up a fresh-from-the-bank, clean, crisp $20 bill and asked my students, “Who wants this?” Every hand shot up into the air. Then I crumpled it in my hands and asked, “Who still wants it?” Every hand was still up. I threw it on the floor, stomped on it, ground it into the carpet for a bit and said, “I hope I didn’t step in any doggy doo doo on the way here….Who still wants this?” A few hands went down, but most of them were still up. I spit on the $20 bill and most of the hands were still up in the air. Gross! These youth must really want to see the new movie this weekend! “What if I threw up on it?” I asked, “Would you still want it?” There was some hesitation, but there were still hands in the air! One of my students told me, “I’ll just wash it off! It’s still worth $20!”

Then I pulled out a second $20 bill. It was crisp, clean, and looked freshly pressed! “Which $20 bill is worth more?” I inquired. The students immediately responded, “They’re worth the same!”

“No, no,” I protested, “look at this dirty, crumpled up $20 bill. It can’t be worth nearly as much. It’s no good any more.” My students objected, “They are worth the same!”

“They can’t be,” I said in disbelief, “This $20 bill is totally ruined. A worthless piece of junk!” We argued back and forth for a bit and then I finally gave in. “Of course you are right. We can’t buy more candy with the crisp, clean $20 bill. The dirty $20 bill is worth just as much as the clean one. I want you to remember that: they are worth the same!”

Self Worth vs. Self-esteem

Then we had a powerful discussion. We are all $20 bills. We were born $20 bills and we will NEVER be worth less. Our worth is our potential to become like our Heavenly Father. We are His children and we are worth the full 20 bucks.  Satan knows we are worth $20. He can’t ever change that so what does he do?  He tries to make us feel like we are worth less.  He has that dirty $20 bill look at the clean one and whispers, “You’re not worth 20 anymore – you’re dirty – you’re only worth 19.” If they keep listening, pretty soon they feel they are only worth $10, then $5, then $1 and then, sadly, $0. The poor $20 has been told so many times that he’s worth $0 that he actually begins to believe it.

“We cannot get more worth.  A larger house, a better salary, and an impressive investment portfolio may give us more net worth, but our self-worth remains constant.  Getting a new job or not getting a new job, driving an expensive car or driving a used car, wearing new clothes or putting on old clothes will not affect our self-worth, either positively or negatively.  While our self-esteem fluctuates, our self-worth never changes.  Our feelings of self-worth (or the degree to which an understanding of our self-worth is deeply internalized) will vary; but unlike self-esteem, our self-worth is unaffected by the ups and downs of life.  It is a constant power and comfort in our lives.  We change as we recognize – and act upon – this inherent gift, this endowment from God.  But our self-worth is always the same.  The more we realize our intrinsic worth, the less our self-esteem fluctuates, the more we are empowered to change our lives and build our self-esteem.”

–Lloyd D. Newell, The Divine Connection: Understanding Your Inherent Worth [1992], 11

Self worth and self esteem are two very different things.  Self worth never changes – it was set when we were born (it was set to our POTENTIAL, not our starting point).  Our goal in life is to get our self-esteem (how we personally feel about our self worth) to be up as high as our self worth.  It’s not enough to be a $20 bill. We need to feel  like we’re worth $20.

So, how does Satan get us to feel like we are less than we are? Let’s examine three of his methods.

3 Ways to Ruin Your Self Esteem

The Comparison Epidemic

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
–Theodore Roosevelt

By comparing yourself to others and dwelling too much on what they think of you, you are giving away your happiness to other people and letting them control YOUR happiness.  Your self-esteem will go up and down like a bumpy roller-coaster.  One day you’ll be on the top of the world because everyone thinks you’re great – you scored the most goals, you got the highest grade on the test, or you looked the cutest, but the next day you’ll be on the bottom because you said something dumb.  You will never be truly happy if you compare yourself to others.  You will always find someone better which will make you feel worse.

“Have you ever thought: ‘I’m not very important so what I say or do will never really be noticed? What can I offer that will make any difference? What can I do that will truly help others, cause their lives to be different, to be better? Do I actually have any worthwhile talents? Is there anything I can do to reach another in need? I’m not that special. If I don’t help, someone else will come along and do a better job than I can do.’

One of the greatest challenges is to overcome the feeling that we are unimportant, that we are not special and unique. Do you think for a moment that Heavenly Father would have sent one of His children to this earth by accident, without the possibility of a significant work to perform?

My dear friends, you are a royal generation. You were preserved to come to the earth in this time for a special purpose. Not just a few of you, but all of you. There are things for each of you to do that no one else can do as well as you. If you do not prepare to do them, they will not be done. Your mission is unique and distinctive for you. Please don’t make another have to take your place. He or she can’t do it as well as you can. If you will let Him, I testify that our Father in Heaven will walk with you through the journey of life and inspire you to know your special purpose here.”
–H. Burke Peterson, “Your Life Has a Purpose,” New Era, May 1979, 4

God made all of us different on purpose. Each of us has unique talents, abilities, and personal missions He needs us to fulfill. We are not here by accident! God has a great work for each of us to perform. We have things to say, share, do, and people to help that no one else can help as well as we can. Instead of looking around at all the wonderful things people around us are doing, it’s time to look inside of us and figure out what God-given gifts we have that we should be sharing!

“By comparing yourself to others, you limit yourself to being only as excellent as they may be and in so doing, prevent yourself from achieving a higher level of accomplishment that you never knew possible. Let others be guides, not goals!”
–Stephanie Trevino

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Wouldn’t it be tragic if God made an oak tree, and instead of the oak tree rising to the great heights apple-693971_1280it was meant to attain and sheltering the animals it was meant to protect, it spent its whole life trying to become like an apple tree? The oak tree would die hunched over and feeling like a failure its whole life!

Albert Einstein taught this same principle only he used a fish instead of a tree.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Developing Higher Self-esteem

An incredible book that we treasure at my house is You Are Special by Max Lucado. It’s a story about a village of wooden people called Wemmicks. Every day they go around and give each other gray dots or golden stars. You get a golden star if you can do amazing things and you get gray dots if you mess up, look funny, or don’t measure up. The main character, Punchinello, gets a lot of gray dots. One day he meets a Wemmick who has no dots or stars. He wants to be like her. Luckily, she shares her secret with him. Every day, she goes to see the Woodcarver (their creator).

Punchinello musters up the courage to go and see him too and it is a touching, beautiful story of God’s love and the power of realizing our self worth. Punchinello is worried that the Woodcarver will be disappointed with all the gray dots he has accumulated, but the woodcarver tenderly explains that he doesn’t care what the other Wemmicks think and that Punchinello shouldn’t either. “Who are they to give dots or stars? They are Wemmicks just like you. What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special.”

Punchinello goes on to ask him why the gray dots or stars won’t stick to Lucia. The woodcarver explains, “Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think. The stickers only stick if you let them….The stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.”

Now, I was super impressed that the gray dots wouldn’t stick to Lucia. It wasn’t that the Wemmicks didn’t try to give her gray dots; they just wouldn’t stick to her! That proves that we have control over our reactions. We can choose not to be offended.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
–Eleanor Roosevelt

But why didn’t the golden stars stick to her? Aren’t stars a good thing? Shouldn’t we give stars to people? I finally realized that the stars didn’t stick to her because she didn’t NEED them to feel good about herself. It’s not that we should reject every compliment and thank you card we get – those are very much appreciated, but we shouldn’t need them to feel of worth.

Great danger awaits those whose self esteem is so low that they rely on outside sources to feel good about themselves. These people will do anything to get a star. I taught high school and I loved my teenagers, but my heart ached for those who started drinking or smoking or doing other things they knew to be wrong in order to get a star.

The secret to our self-esteem matching the level of our self worth (feeling like 20 bucks =) is coming to know for ourselves that God loves us and that He thinks we are awesome. If someone comes along and tells us we are stupid, we can respond, “I am a child of God and He thinks I’m smart. Which voices are we going to believe? Other people who have lived 10-100 years or an all-powerful, eternal being?

Nephi, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, was not a carpenter, but he was commanded to build a ship. His brothers mocked him and said he couldn’t do it, but God had told him he could. Who was Nephi going to believe – God or his brothers? He chose God. Nephi performed miracles because he knew who he was.

Romans chapter 8 is basically Paul trying to prove to the Romans how much God loves them! Look at these incredible verses

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

We are God’s children. The Holy Ghost testifies of this powerful truth to us!

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God

God is always doing what’s best for us. If He wasn’t, He wouldn’t be God. Even “bad” things can turn into glorious things when we place our trust in Him and patiently wait. 

31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

All things are possible with God’s help. He is more powerful than any of our enemies or trails.

32 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?

God delights in blessing us and granting the righteous desires of our hearts.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

Once we truly understand we are a child of God, we begin to see other people differently. They are also children of God and how hurt He must feel if we are mean to one of them! We were sent here to help each other up, not tear each other down.

We can’t control whether people like us or not or what they think about us. We can’t MAKE anyone like us. We can try to influence it by being kind, but ultimately, whether they like us or not is THEIR decision. It is foolish to base our happiness off of someone else’s choices.

We can’t control how much someone loves us, but we can control how much we love them. Forget about if other people love you or not. Focus on loving them – whether they deserve it or not. As you develop this gift of charity, to love as Christ loves, you will become more forgiving, understanding, patient, compassionate, sympathetic, and judge less. Life will be infinitely better because YOU have become a better person whether people around you have changed or not.

“Be one who nurtures and who builds. Be one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them. If we could look in to each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently.”
–Marvin J. Ashton

We never know what trials and heartaches another person is facing, so it is so unfair to judge them. Assume that everyone is doing their absolute best and be ready to lend a helping hand, especially if someone is unkind. If they are unkind, it’s a sign that their cup of sadness is overflowing and they need, more than ever, someone to be kind to them. Be so worried about improving yourself that you don’t have time to criticize other people. And remember that the only person you should compare yourself to is yourself.

 “If you continuously compete with others, you become bitter, but if you continuously compete with yourself, you become better.”

SIN

How does Satan want us to react when we have sinned? He whispers, “Give up. You know you’re just going to mess up again so why keep trying? There’s no way God can love you any more. You’ve messed up way too many times…” These negative, despairing thoughts never come from God.

“The discouraging idea that a mistake (or even a series of them) makes it everlastingly too late, does not come from the Lord. He has said that if we will repent, not only will He forgive us our transgressions, but He will forget them and remember our sins no more.” (See Isa. 43:25; Heb. 8:12; Heb. 10:17; D&C 58:42; Alma 36:19.)
–Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, May 1989

How does God want us to react after we’ve sinned? He wants us to feel godly sorrow – be sad that we’ve sinned, but be determined to do better. God wants us to repent, learn from our mistakes, and move on! We shouldn’t dwell on our mistakes and beat ourselves up for what a rotten, terrible person we are. That is what Satan wants us to do! God motivates us to feel,  “I can do better! I want to do better! I will do better!” It is a positive feeling. Don’t dwell on the sin – dwell on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness and healing that will come to you as you fully repent, learn, and progress. Never give in to Satan’s lie that you have sinned too often and too much for God to love you.

…however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines… there is nothing that you have done that cannot be undone. There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. “Come boldly [to] the throne of grace,” and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast “without money and without price” at the table of the Lord.
–Elder Holland, “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012

Negative Self Talk

What if you got up every morning and told yourself, “I am stupid.” How would you feel after four weeks? I bet you would feel pretty stupid. What if you got up every morning and said, “I am gifted at coming up with solutions to problems.” I bet you would feel pretty smart after four weeks.

The Wemmicks were constantly giving gray dots to each other, but sometimes we don’t even need a gray dot from someone else to feel crappy because we give so many to ourselves! We would never go up to someone and say, “You are ugly” but we don’t even hesitate to say that to ourselves.

How do we stop the negative self talk? One powerful tool is affirmations. Affirmations are positive statements that help shape our beliefs of who we are or who we want to become. I had my teenage students fold a paper in half. On one side, I had them list 5 negative things they said to themselves. On the other side, I had them change these negative statements into positive statements. Here are a few examples:

I have no friendspositive-954797_1920 -> I am a friendly person who reaches out to others

I am ugly -> I am a beautiful daughter of God with a light that shines

I am worthless -> I am a child of God with infinite worth

I have a temper -> I am a patient person who listens and understands before speaking

Recipe for Self-esteem

Scripture Pancake #1: Ezra Taft Benson gave us the key ingredients we need to have a healthy, high self-esteem: “If we loveGod, do his will, and fear His judgment more than men’s, we will have self-esteem.”

Scripture Pancake #2: “The more we realize our intrinsic worth, the less our self-esteem fluctuates, the more we are empowered to change our lives and build our self-esteem.” (Lloyd D. Newell)

What are some things you’ve done (or some things you have taught to your children) that have built up your (or their) self-esteem? Comment below!

 

How To Get More Miracles In Your Life

I handed out a small piece of paper to everyone in my class and told them, “You’ve got 60 seconds to list as many miracles as you possibly can. Go!”  Some students had a hard time until I told them to think about all the miracles Jesus performed and then their pencils were writing furiously until I told them it was time to stop. The class came up with an impressive list (I’ll only mention a few):

  • Parting of the Red Sea
  • Walls of Jericho Falling down
  • Ten Plagues
  • Widow of Zarephath’s food (meal and oil) never failing
  • Jesus walking on water
  • Healing lepers
  • Healing the blind
  • Calming Storms
  • Feeding 5000

Defining the Word “Miracle”

I asked my students to work with someone in the class and come up with the definition of a miracle – to really ponder that word and what it meant. I was inspired by the beautiful definitions they came up with:

  • A blessing directed to you out of love to miraculously strengthen you and lift you up spiritually.
  • God’s help (something man can’t do)
  • A personal and individualized blessing
  • Anything that lifts you spiritually
  • A blessing that strengthens you

As we discussed each of these definitions, I emphasized the fact that a miracle doesn’t have to be a huge, spectacular event such as the walls of Jericho tumbling to the ground! Miracles can be a very “small” and personalized event. One of my all-time favorite definitions of a miracle is this:

“A miracle is the evidence of the hand of God in your lives.”
–Celeste Witt, Professor at Brigham Young University

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Now, when the children of Israel were trapped between a huge sea and an Egyptian army, the parting of the Red Sea was pretty big evidence that the hand of God was in their lives!

Just a quick side note: I’ve always wondered who could be dumb enough to follow the Israelites into the Red Sea! I mean, if you were charging full-speed ahead to kill some Israelites and were suddenly, and miraculously, stopped by a pillar of fire, don’t you think a light bulb would go off in your head saying, “Hmmm, maybe God is protecting these people?” Who on earth follows after unarmed people after watching a sea part in two? Not the brightest people I’ve read about…

Truly, this was a hand-made miracle for the children of Israel, but miracles aren’t necessarily always that dramatic.  There are so many other “ordinary” events in our lives that are just as miraculous.

Tender Mercies

David A. Bednar taught this concept beautifully. He basically described a miracle as a Tender Mercy. He told about his experience of being called into a new leadership position (one of 15 men who lead our entire church worldwide!). He felt the weight and responsibility keenly. Just before he was to address the entire church in a world-wide conference, a hymn was sung entitled “Redeemer of Israel.” Elder Bednar described this event as follows:

“Now, the music for the various conference sessions had been determined many weeks before—and obviously long before my new call to serve [as a leader over the entire church]. If, however, I had been invited to suggest an intermediate hymn for that particular session of the conference—a hymn that would have been both edifying and spiritually soothing for me and for the congregation before my first address in this Conference Center—I would have selected my favorite hymn, “Redeemer of Israel.” Tears filled my eyes as I stood with you to sing that stirring hymn of the Restoration.

Near the conclusion of the singing, to my mind came this verse from the Book of Mormon: ‘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’ (Book of Mormon, 1 Ne. 1:20).

My mind was drawn immediately to Nephi’s phrase ‘the tender mercies of the Lord,’ and I knew in that very moment I was experiencing just such a tender mercy. A loving Savior was sending me a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance through a hymn selected weeks previously. Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.

I have reflected repeatedly upon the phrase “the tender mercies of the Lord.” Through personal study, observation, pondering, and prayer, I believe I have come to better understand that the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
–David A. Bednar, “The Tender Mercies of the Lord,” April 2005 General Conference

Tender Mercies are NOT random events or coincidences. God knew that Elder Bednar would be asked to fill this leadership position and He knew that his favorite hymn was “Redeemer of Israel.” The Lord had arranged this Tender Mercy long before Elder Bednar was even asked to speak!

It was a tender moment when the Lord reached down from heaven to show His son that He was there, He understood, He would help, and that things would be okay. No one knew about this miracle except for Elder Bednar and God himself. And that’s how most of the miracles have been in my life. I knew they happened, and the Lord knew they happened, and that was enough. Most modern-day miracles are not broadcast to the world. They happen in quiet, ordinary places to very ordinary people.

Modern Day Tender Mercies

My brother related the following experience shortly after his wife delivered their fifth child:

baby-718146_1280“While delivering our latest bundle of joy, in the final minute before delivery, I could tell from the look on Deborah’s face that she was in extraordinary pain — she later said that it was much more painful than the delivery of any of our other five kids. She called out repeatedly for help, and I remember feeling so powerless and helpless. I said some silent prayers asking God to help her. Afterward she received the distinct impression that God had helped her through it. I was very grateful.

A short while later, after the placenta also came out, the doctor came to show it to us. She explained to us that our daughter’s placenta had a “velamentous cord insertion”, which apparently means that sometimes part of the blood vessels in the umbilical cord are attached to the placenta in an unusual place and don’t have the gelatinous protection layer that the rest of the umbilical cord does. The upshot is that those vessels can easily rupture without that extra protection. A normal delivery is apparently quite dangerous for such cases, because even the mom’s water breaking if not the rest of the process of birth can rupture those vessels and cause the death of the baby (and maybe even make the mom bleed a lot too). Even if they don’t rupture, they can get heavily compressed and send the baby into distress, and then they’ll need to do an immediate C-section. As the doctor was explaining this to us, she referred to our daughter as a “miracle baby” multiple times. She also said that in her 30 years of delivering babies, this was only the second case of a velamentous cord insertion that she had ever seen.

Later when I got home, I remember thinking that not only had God saved my wife from who-knows-what, He had also miraculously saved my baby daughter — but I never would have known of the second miracle had the doctor not noticed something highly unusual about the placenta and pointed it out to us. As I prayed that night, not only did I thank Him for helping, I remember even commenting to Him that I almost didn’t even notice the great miracle He had done for me in my life. After those comments, the thought was impressed upon my mind that if I had completely missed the second miracle that it wouldn’t be a unique event by any means.

I guess it goes to show that God is aware of us and helping us far more than we tend to realize.”

My brother and his sweet wife would have never known a miracle had occurred if the doctor hadn’t told them! They just would have thought it was another delivery, albeit a more difficult and painful one. After we pass into the next life, I think we will be astounded when we find out about all the behind-the-scenes work our Father in Heaven did just for us.

This miracle wasn’t recorded in scripture for millions of people to read about, but it was just as miraculous and humbling. Only a handful of people knew about it which just goes to show that God is not just a God of the entire Universe, but a God of individuals – His children, that He very personally cares for and deeply loves.

Christ didn’t go around to large crowds of people, wave his hand, and cure hundreds of people at the same time. He went to them individually, one on one, and healed them. Large crowds were waiting to hear His message, but he was never too busy to stop and help one individual (see 3 Nephi 11:15, Mark 5:21-24, Mark 5:25, 29-34, Mark 10:46-52)

A God of Miracles

Some may ask, “Do you really believe God plays such an individual role in our lives?” Absolutely! What good is a God that doesn’t – a God that just does a few, fantastic miracles once in a while for His children? What good of a mother would I be if I checked up on my kids every few weeks to see how they were doing?

God is a God of miracles. That is who He is and what He does for His children. The scriptures are filled with examples of the miracles He performed.

clouds sun lightBut if God performed so many miracles in the Bible, where are those miracles today? Has He stopped doing them now? My testimony to you is that he has NOT stopped performing miracles. They are happening all around us. We just have a problem RECOGNIZING them for what they are. I repeat: the problem is not a LACK of miracles. The problem is the lack of our ability to see and recognize them for what they truly are!

The prophet Mormon understood this principle and was frustrated that his people were no longer believing in a God who still performed miracles for His children.

15 And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles.

17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought? (Mormon 9:15-17)

Mormon argued that if God performed miracles since the world was created, and if God is an unchangeable being (see Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ the same yesterday and to day, and forever”), then why would God simply stop performing miracles? There must be a reason. Does He love us less today then He did back then? No! Has he lost His power? No! Then we must have simply grown too smart, solved all the world’s problems, and don’t need Him anymore. No! Of course that’s ridiculous! (See “Profile of a Prophet,” by Hugh B. Brown for further reading on this argument).

18 And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles. (Mormon 9:18)

Christ performed miracles to show us what He can do for us in our lives if we will only let Him. If He could heal a leper by touching Him, what can He do for you in your life?  There is not any tragedy He can’t heal you of.  There is no wound He can’t heal, no heart He can’t mend, no life He can’t repair.

19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles. (Mormon 9:19)

Mormon does caution us that miracles can cease among the children of men, but it is NOT because God’s character has changed. It’s because ours has!

 20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust. (Mormon 9:20)

Whether or not we are receiving miracles is not so much dependent upon God as it is upon ourselves and the condition of our faith!

Did You Know God Just Saved Your Life?

road twilightWhen I was in college, I was driving home after hanging out with some friends and, having stayed too long, raced home to finish my insane amount of homework! I drove along the back roads which were very dark. All I could see was an occasional headlight of another car or a light on a house.

I came to an intersection where I needed to turn left and saw a car coming.  If I turned left quickly, I could beat it and get home sooner, but then the prompting came, “Wait, just wait.” As I hesitated, I had another very strong feeling to slow down and wait. I did. I slowed down and let the other car pass. As I turned left onto the next street, my headlights caught the shape of a man who had just finished jogging across the street. Had I turned any sooner, I could have hit him and seriously injured or even killed him! I was so shaken I could barely drive the rest of the way home. I wanted to get out of my car, chase him down, grab him by the shoulders and say, “Do you realize that God just saved your life?”

That man will never know that God saved his life that night. He will think that jog was just another ordinary run. He would have left his wife and kids, gone jogging and come back – a very uneventful evening – or so he thought.

He didn’t know that God saved his life, but I did. I am so grateful for this experience. I got to see the hand of God in action and I have never forgotten it. Since then, I have often wondered how many times God has literally saved my life and I’ve been totally oblivious! How much behind-the-scenes work does He do for me every day that I’m totally unaware of? I came away knowing that God watches over all of His children. I had experienced it first hand. I had this sacred experience of witnessing the love of God for a man that was out late jogging – a man I didn’t even know, but a man that God was actively protecting and watching over.

A Change in Perscpective – How To Recognize A Miracle

How do we recognize the miracles all around us? Henry B. Erying gives us the keys:

“When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day. Let me tell you how that got started. I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property.

He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”

I went inside. I didn’t go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn’t have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.

I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: ‘Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?’ As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.

More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.

The years have gone by. My boys are grown men. And now and then one of them will surprise me by saying, “Dad, I was reading in my copy of the journal about when …” and then he will tell me about how reading of what happened long ago helped him notice something God had done in his day.

My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. It will build our testimonies. You may not keep a journal. You may not share whatever record you keep with those you love and serve. But you and they will be blessed as you remember what the Lord has done. You remember that song we sometimes sing: “Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
–Henry B. Erying, ‘O Remember, Remember,’ General Conference October 2007

journal-1090599_640 I have kept a Tender Mercies journal and it has been life-changing. It was different from a regular journal or even a gratitude journal because I was purposefully looking for how God had blessed me THAT DAY. Some days were rough and a million things went wrong, but there was NEVER a day where I couldn’t think of at least one thing the Lord had done for me that day.

It started to open up my eyes to how much the Lord is in the little details of our lives. And I realized, that if I hadn’t taken time to actually ponder about my day, I would have missed many of the miracles He did for me because I didn’t see them for what they were as I was rushing about my day.

Scripture Pancake: So, the question really isn’t “How can I get more miracles?” but “How can I recognize the miracles that the Lord is already sending my way?” That is our great challenge, opportunity, and blessing.

How To Make Your “Sundae” A Delight

“Today, class, we’re going to talk about Sundaes!”  I pulled out some ice cream and put three big scoops in a bowl.  “Who wants some ice cream?”  I always had some VERY eager students raise their hands!  “Oh good,” I continued, “but plain vanilla ice cream isn’t very good.  Let’s put some toppings on it!”  I pulled out some ketchup and, ignoring the protests of my students, squirted a generous amount on top.  “Hmmm, this isn’t very healthy.  Let’s add some green beans!” The class moaned as I continued to put black pepper, beans, and other “disgusting” things on top.  “You’ve ruined it!” some of them groaned.  “What are you talking about?” I argued, “Green beans are delicious.  Black pepper spices things up!”  Amazingly, I always had a few students who still wanted to eat it!

The class contended that all of the ingredients I had put on top were good, but NOT on a sundae.  “Exactly my point!” I exclaimed, “there are many things that are good things to do, but not on a S.U.N.D.A.Y!  So many of us start out our Sundays on the right foot.  We go to church and get 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream, but then we come home, and through our Sabbath Day activities, proceed to dump ketchup, green beans, and pepper all over it!”  I announced the theme of my lesson: Don’t ruin your Sunday!

Let’s turn to the Book of Mormon for an example of a people who were ruining their Sundays!  The Zoramites had built a synagogue to worship in.  Inside, they had built a high stand called the Rameumptom that would only admit one person at a time.  Every person climbed up the stand, said the exact same prayer, and then they “returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again” until the next Sunday! (see Alma 31:23).  Satan must have whispered, “See, you built a church.  You go every Sunday.  You’re a good person.”  There is a big difference between going to church each week and being changed by what you learn at church.  One of the main purposes of church is to teach you the tools, motivate, and help you to live better DURING the week.

The tower gave the Zoramites the illusion that they were close to God.  Now, the goal of every Sabbath is to come closer to God, but you can’t do that merely by constructing a tower (a one time event).  We must actively choose to do things, throughout our life, that bring us closer to Him.  If God feels far away, He is NOT the one who has moved!

The tower only admitted one person at a time.  Contrast this with Moroni 6:5 which reads “And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.”

Now, the Zoramites were correct in going to church – that is a crucial step in keeping the Sabbath Day holy:

A man of my acquaintance remained home each Sabbath and justified himself by saying that he could benefit more by reading a good book at home than by attending the sacrament meeting and listening to a poor sermon. But the home, sacred as it should be, is not the house of prayer. In it no sacrament is administered; in it is not found the fellowship with members, nor the confession of sins to the brethren…: ‘It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine in the remembrance of the Lord Jesus’ (D&C 20:75) (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, [1982], 220).

However, as important as it is to go to church, the Zoramites were NOT keeping the Sabbath Day holy.  The Sabbath doesn’t end after church!  It lasts the ENTIRE day!

Today is the Sabbath. It does not end when we leave this session; it does not end if someone calls on the phone or knocks at our door inviting us to come out and play, go for a ride, to a ball game, or shopping; it does not end because we are on vacation or someone is visiting us, whether member or nonmember….The Sabbath lasts all day! (H. Aldridge Gillespie, “The Blessing of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 79–80)

But didn’t God rest on the Sabbath?  Isn’t it a day when we can relax, hang out, and have some fun?

The Sabbath is not a day for indolent lounging about the house….The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts, and if one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it. To observe it, one will be on his knees in prayer, preparing lessons, studying the gospel, meditating, visiting the ill and distressed, sleeping, reading wholesome material, and attending all the meetings of that day to which he is expected. [Failure] to do these proper things is a transgression on the omission side.” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), 96–97)

I think the problem lays in the fact that, in the English language, rest means to relax, but let’s look at how the word “rest” is used in the scriptures!  Do we really think God created the Universe in six days and then went and took a nap on the seventh?  What does the term “rest” really mean?  Let’s take a look at the following scripture chain (D&C 77:12, 3 Nephi 27:19, D&C 84:20-24, and Alma 13:12-13)

 We are to understand that as God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he finished his work, and sanctified it (D&C 77:12)

This scripture does not even mention the Lord resting on the seventh day.  It says he was sanctifying his work.  God did work on the Sabbath, but it was a different kind of work – a spiritual, purifying, sanctifying work.  We’ll come back to that later.

And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. (3 Nephi 27:19)

Those who enter into his rest are those who are sanctified (have become clean through the Atonement of Jesus Christ).  What does it mean to enter into his rest?

24 But they [the children of Israel during the time of Moses] hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. (D&C 84:20-24)

God’s definition of rest is to receive the fulness of his glory.  It is to receive your salvation (as members of my church would say – it is to receive your exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom (see D&C 76:6)).

That is how Alma uses the word “rest” as well:

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.  And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest. (Alma 13:12-13)

When we think of the word “rest,” we think of being lazy, relaxing, and doing nothing.  But that is NOT God’s definition of rest.  Entering into the Lord’s rest means entering into his Kingdom.  Therefore, the Sabbath is a day to prepare yourself to enter into the Lord’s rest – to prepare yourself and sanctify yourself so you are more worthy to enter his presence (get to the Celestial Kingdom).  The Sabbath is a day to REST FROM worldly activities and ENTER INTO THE WORK of the Lord which is, actually, restful work because the more you become like God, the more at rest you are and the easier life becomes. God is in a restful state.  It is easy for him to keep the commandments.

Once each week man is commanded to cease his own labors and allow God to perform His work of sanctification on him. Resting on the Sabbath, then, implies far more than taking a nap or stopping normal activities. Mankind must enter into the Lord’s work on that day. This work involves making themselves and others more godlike, another way to speak of sanctification. Doing the work of the Lord (sanctification) often involves great activity on the Sabbath day, and the day may not be restful in the usual sense. One can assume that if doing good to an animal on the Sabbath is approved by the Lord (see Matthew 12:11; Luke 13:15), then doing good to men is an even higher good. The two commandments for the Sabbath are rest and worship (see D&C 59:10).  The Hebrew verb la-avodh, “to worship,” means also “to work” and “to serve.” This holy work then creates a new and holy man… (In “The Fourth Commandment,”  Part 1, The Ten Commandments Today, pp. 55, 57–58.) (See also Exodus 20:8-11, D&C 77:12, 3 Nephi 27:19, D&C 84:22-24)

You know you’ve kept the Sabbath Holy if, at the end of the day, you can honestly say you feel closer to Heavenly Father than you did at the beginning of the day.

When my mom was teaching a class of children, she asked them if they knew what the 10 commandments were.  With her help, they listed 9 out of the 10 on the board, but she purposefully left #4 blank.  She announced, “Great job!  Let’s move on with the lesson…”  The class, of course, wouldn’t let her.  They wanted to know what #4 was!  My mom simply responded, “Oh, that one isn’t very important.  No one keeps it.”  They protested, “It’s one of the 10 commandments!  It has to be important!”  My mom insisted that it wasn’t and started moving on with the lesson, but a little boy, more curious than the rest, demanded to know.  My mom looked him in the eyes and said, “If I tell you, will you keep it?”  He didn’t even hesitate, “No!” Apparently, he didn’t want that kind of responsibility!  I love how honest children are!  My mom (probably trying to hold back a smile), wisely said, “If you won’t keep it, then why should I tell you?”  She taught her lesson for a while until the little boy promised he would keep the 4th commandment if she would just tell them him what it was.  So she read him these verses:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God:in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.(Exodus 20:8-11)

She talked about how everyone must not think it’s important since the mall parking lots are full and the churches seem to be more  and more empty.

But just showing up for church is not enough.  The Zoramites showed up for church, but it didn’t do them much good!  We need to be actively engaged at church.

Years ago I was sitting in a sacrament meeting with my father.  He seemed to be enjoying what I thought was a dull talk,…I watched my father, and to my amazement his face was beaming as the speaker droned on.  I kept stealing looks back at him, and sure enough, through the whole thing he had this beatific smile.

… [As] we walked home I remember walking with my father on the shoulder of the road,….I finally got up enough courage to ask him what he thought of the meeting.  He said it was wonderful.

Now I really had a problem…I was puzzled.  I was trying to summon up enough courage to ask him how I could have such a different opinion of that meeting and that speaker.

Like all good fathers, he must have read my mind, because he started to laugh.  He said:  “Hal, let me tell you something.  Since I was a very young man, I have taught myself to do something in a church meeting.  When the speaker begins, I listen carefully and ask myself what it is he is trying to say.  Then, once I think I know what he is trying to accomplish, I give myself a sermon on that subject.”  He let that sink in for a moment as we walked along.  Then, with that special self-deprecating chuckle of his, he said, “Hal, since then I have never been to a bad meeting.”  (Henry B. Eyring, to Draw Closer to God: A Collection of Discourses, p. 22-23)

Spencer W. Kimball further explained our individual responsibility on the Sabbath:

But we do not go to Sabbath meetings to be entertained or even simply to be instructed. We go to worship the Lord. It is an individual responsibility, and regardless of what is said from the pulpit, if one wishes to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth, he may do so by attending his meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and contemplating the beauties of the gospel. If the service is a failure to you, you have failed. No one can worship for you; you must do your own waiting upon the Lord (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, [1982], 271).

He also gave a powerful suggestion for the purpose of the Sabbath:

The Sabbath is a day on which to take inventory—to analyze our weaknesses…(Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, [1982], 216).

Isaiah was trying to teach the same thing – that the Sabbath isn’t a time to do what we want, but to do what the Lord wants, improve ourselves, and draw closer to Him.

13 ¶If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, fromdoing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:

14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:13-14)

The Sabbath is supposed to be a day of delight!  It is not one of drudgery.  It is not a day of bemoaning the fact we can’t do some of our favorite activities.  Look at the amazing blessings we get if we will just give ONE day to the Lord!

BLESSINGS FOR KEEPING THE SABBATH DAY HOLY

The prophet Jeremiah had the serious responsibility of warning the Jews that, if they didn’t repent, Jerusalem would be taken captive by their enemies.  He pleaded, prophesied, and cried repentance, but no one listened.  In Jeremiah chapter 17, the Lord tells Jeremiah that if the people will just keep ONE commandment, the entire city will be spared.  Jeremiah goes to each gate of the city and proclaims this commandment.  What is it?  Searching the scriptures?  Praying?  Going to church?  Serving your fellowman?  No, it was keeping the Sabbath Day holy.  God wasn’t even asking them to be righteous every day.  They just had to give him ONE day and they couldn’t do it.

Sadly, Jeremiah watched as Babylon destroyed the city and took many, many captive.  I have often pondered about this chapter.  Why, out of all the commandments, did the Lord pick the Sabbath Day?  I finally came to the realization that if you keep the Sabbath day holy, you will automatically begin keeping all of the other commandments!  If you would just stop sinning on one day, give it to the Lord, and allow Him to start speaking with you, you will automatically want to start praying, reading your scriptures, serving others, etc.  One of the greatest blessings of keeping the Sabbath Day holy, is that YOU are made holy.  It transforms your heart to the point that you no longer desire sin.  You WANT to live righteously.

“…we will be amazed at how much we were blessed in important—though often unperceived—ways through keeping the Sabbath holy; and to our sorrow we may sense how many blessings we kept from ourselves by not consistently keeping the Sabbath day holy. Oh, my dear brothers and sisters, there is power in keeping the Sabbath day holy….If we would have God’s blessings and protection as individuals, as families, as communities, and as nations, we must keep His Sabbath day holy. (John H. Groberg, “The Power of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, Nov 1984, 79)

I love the Sabbath day! It has blessed my family in countless ways. I bear a testimony born of personal experience that the commandments of the Lord are “true and faithful.”  I know you will be happier, enjoy greater peace, and find your lives made glad as you witness the miracles that come to each person and family who make the sacrifice of keeping this eternal covenant. (H. Aldridge Gillespie, “The Blessing of Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy,” Ensign, Nov 2000, 79–80)

When I was in college there was an engineering class I was sure to fail. I didn’t understand a thing the teacher was saying.  He’d put up crazy equations and mention things from biology, chemistry, physiology, and physics and somehow expected his freshmen to put it all together!  Everyone in the class was confused, frustrated, and feeling pretty helpless.  This professor was used to teaching graduate students and had no idea how to teach freshmen.

I prayed and prayed about this class.  I couldn’t understand anything in the book and the homework was ridiculously impossible.  My friends finally got together and announced they were going to do a study group once a week where they could do the homework together and prepare for the upcoming test.  I was so relieved.  I was sure this was the answer to my prayers.  Unfortunately, the only time all of my friends could meet together was on Sunday.  My heart sank.  I had never done homework on Sunday before.  In high school I had decided I would never do homework on Sunday.  I would keep that day reserved for Heavenly Father and spiritual things.  Even though I had some really challenging classes in high school, I kept my promise even if it meant staying up until midnight on Saturday and waking up at 3 AM on Monday morning to finish.

I didn’t know what to do.  All week I stressed about it.  I had to go to these meetings or I would fail.  I was sure of that.  But how could I do that to Heavenly Father?  I did some more praying.  One night as I said my prayers, I knew I shouldn’t go.  Not because I’d feel like an evil, terrible person, but because I didn’t want to go.  I wanted to have a day where I could relax and work on my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  I told Heavenly Father that if I was going to fail then I was okay with that.  My relationship with Him was more important to me than passing the class.  I promised I wouldn’t go to the study sessions on Sundays.

I worked and prayed hard over the material during the week.  I was envious of my friends and how much less time it took them to do the homework.  The big day of the test came and I was scared.  I filled it out as best as I could, but it was very difficult.  I was sure I’d missed a lot.  As it turned out, I had, but to the amazement of myself and all of my friends, I scored higher on that test than ALL of them!  I don’t know how (and they sure didn’t either!), but I had.  And it was like that every test!  I out-scored them EVERY time.

I learned a lot about priorities from this experience.  I learned that if you put God first everything else will fall into place.  God may not give you more time (he won’t give you 26 hours instead of 24), but my testimony is that He enables you to do more in less time.

You will notice that I have purposefully NOT given a list of what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath.  I have not listed what things are good toppings – chocolate syrup, sprinkles, bananas, and whip cream – or what the “bad” toppings are – ketchup, black pepper, and beans.  Russell M. Nelson discussed how to determine which activities are appropriate on the Sabbath.

…I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father.  With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.

How can you ensure that your behavior on the Sabbath will lead to joy and rejoicing? In addition to your going to church, partaking of the sacrament, and being diligent in your specific call to serve, what other activities would help to make the Sabbath a delight for you? What sign will you give to the Lord to show your love for Him?

Not pursuing your “own pleasure” on the Sabbath requires self-discipline. You may have to deny yourself of something you might like. If you choose to delight yourself in the Lord, you will not permit yourself to treat it as any other day. Routine and recreational activities can be done some other time. (Elder Nelson, “The Sabbath is a Delight,” April 2015 General Conference).

What things has your family done to make the Sabbath more of a delight?  Comment below!

 

Can I Chew Gum While I’m Fasting?

One day as I was teaching a class full of teenagers about fasting, they were bombarding me with questions like, “Can I chew gum while I’m fasting?  Can I suck on a hard piece of candy?  Can I just fast for 2 meals or does it have to be for 24 hours?”

While these were sincere questions, they were completely missing the point!  They wanted to know exactly how little they could do and still count it as a full fast!  I was reminded of Isaiah’s words:

Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? (Isaiah 58:4-5)

Apparently, the Jews were fasting, but not for the right reasons.  They were going through the motions and “afflicting” their bodies with hunger, but they were not reaping the spiritual benefits.

In our church, we set aside the first Sunday of every month as a Fast Sunday.  We go 24 hours without food or water.  We also give the money we would have spent on our meals that day as a Fast Offering to help the poor.  Now, the definition of our fast is to go without food or water for 24 hours, but if that is ALL we are doing, we are NOT fasting.  We are just starving and that is a miserable experience!

Fasting is NOT about food.  It’s not about being hungry and miserable.  It’s not about showing everyone how righteous you are because you’re fasting.  It’s about connecting with heaven and having a deep, soul satisfying spiritual experience.  Fasting is about your spirit, not your body.

Paul described the natural man as someone who “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  We all have “natural man” tendencies – it is quite natural to be lazy, selfish, angry, and dishonest.  It is exactly those tendencies that we have to fight off in order to develop Christlike character traits and make our spirits strong.  When we are fasting, our body wants food and the battle between spirit and body begins.

Some of the greatest battles we will face will be fought within the silent chambers of our own souls. (Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps,” Ensign, September 1988).

When I was a little girl growing up, I woke up to the smell of pancakes on Sunday!   We had cold cereal every other day for breakfast, but my sweet dad would wake up early on Sundays and make sure a delicious breakfast was waiting for us.  It helped me look forward to Sundays and taught me that they are special.  I remember one Sunday running (and I mean running!) into the kitchen for breakfast.  Dad served all of us his delicious pancakes, but I noticed that he hadn’t eaten anything.  “Dad,” I said, “Aren’t you going to have some pancakes?”  My dad just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I’m fasting.”  I wondered what kind of a man could make pancakes and not eat them!  I was sure I would NEVER have that kind of willpower! I was also pretty sure that fasting could definitely NOT be worth it if you had to skip pancakes for breakfast!

As I got a little older, the dreaded Sunday came when there was no smell of hot pancakes on the griddle.  At first, my parents just had us skip breakfast and then we gradually worked up to the point we could fast for 24 hours (which I think I first did as a teenager).  It was tough.  It was probably even tougher for my parents (I’m sure we complained more than once that we were hungry!), but they knew the power behind fasting and they wanted us to discover it for ourselves as well.

Do not think that there is not a spiritual significance in the little principle of fasting.  Do not think, parents, that you are favoring your child when, out of compassion, you say, “Oh, give him his breakfast; oh, let us have breakfast; let us have dinner; I have a headache; the little boy is too young to go without his meal, and so on.  You do not know what you are doing by such teaching as that.  I want to tell you that the children of our Church can be so taught this principle of self-denial that they will set worthy examples to their parents in the observance of it (David O. McKay, in Conference Report, Apr. 1915, 105-106).

Physical hunger is hard to fight off!  It gnaws at you!  Your body knows it needs food to survive and it will fight for it!  It takes a lot of self discipline to resist.  And that is one of the greatest blessings of fasting – it develops our self mastery.  We become a master over our bodies instead of our bodies being the master over us.  We develop some serious willpower!  In my humble opinion, there are few things on earth that can develop our willpower quicker than fasting!

Fasting increases your power to resist temptation.  And not just the temptation to eat, but EVERY temptation the devil will throw at you!  Wanting to eat while we’re fasting is one of the strongest temptations there is, and if you can control that, you can control anything!

Developing our self discipline is crucial in fighting against Satan.  Just think about it – EVERY time we’ve sinned it’s because we lost self control.  We weren’t disciplined enough.  We didn’t have enough willpower.  We caved to the temptation.  Through fasting, we gain more power over Satan.  It’s not that sin is not as tempting as before, but we are stronger than before and are less likely to give in!  Every time we do give in to sin, it weakens our willpower.  If you feel like you’ve been losing a lot of battles with Satan lately, maybe it’s time to fast and gain that power back.

When I was 21, I decided to do a service mission for my church.  I was assigned to serve in Germany and Austria for 18 months.  At the beginning of my mission, I was pretty discouraged.  I was struggling to learn a new language and the lessons I was trying to teach people weren’t coming across very well.  I knew I needed some extra help.  I decided to fast, but I also realized that I couldn’t become a master teacher in 24 hours.

That’s when I came up with a plan that transformed the way I fasted and I truly reaped the POWERFUL blessings from fasting.  I decided to have a monthly theme for each fast.  I started each month (on that first Sunday) with a fast.  I went without food or water and begged Heavenly Father to help me learn how to be a better teacher.  At the end of the 24 hours I knelt down and said, “I am going to end the food part of my fast, but I am NOT going to end my fast.  I’m dedicating this whole month to Thee and learning how to teach Thy word better.  Please help me and teach me the things I need to learn.”

That entire month I focused, read, prayed, pondered, and studied how the Savior taught.  I woke up early, studied during lunch, and pondered during the day and miraculous things began to happen!  They probably wouldn’t have been considered miraculous to other people, but they were to me.  I was amazed at how many experiences, stories, poems, scriptures, and analogies came to my mind.  I was amazed at how easily lesson outlines came together and how many different kinds of teaching methods I came up with.  God was so very merciful to me that month.  The heavens were opened and a constant stream of brilliant ideas flowed down to me.

The next month I chose a different theme and marveled at the fabulous results.  To this day, I still choose a monthly theme each month.

The monthly themes also work when you are fasting to help someone else in need.  It’s great to fast for them for 24 hours, but even more powerful if you dedicate an entire month to helping that individual!

I have also fasted to strengthen relationships.  I’ve fasted to strengthen my marriage, help a child who was struggling with a certain issue, etc.  Every time I’ve come away with a far greater understanding of that individual, how much God loves them, and received a ton of new ideas on how to help that individual (or how to help me deal with them).  It’s been during these months where I’ve come up with some of my most brilliant parenting strategies!

Sometimes we feel like we’re being pulled in a million different directions.  We have a millions different responsibilities, and it seems we’re not making much progress in ANY direction.  We are stretched too thin.

The trick is to pick ONE direction – ONE thing you really want to improve, and focus on it for a month.  It’s amazing how much progress you can make in becoming more patient if you dedicate an entire month to fasting about patience (believe me, I know!  I’ve done it!).

Isaiah was lamenting the fact that the Israelites did not understand the powerful blessings that came from fasting.

Look at these beautiful promises in the book of Isaiah to those who fast:

FASTING WILL:

  • Loose the bands of wickedness
  • Undo the heavy burdens
  • Let the oppressed go free
  • Take care of the poor (Isaiah counseled them to “deal thy bread to the hungry and “bring the poor that are cast out to thy house”) (Isaiah 58:6-12)

BLESSINGS FROM FASTING

  • Then shall thy light break forth as the morning
  • Thine health shall spring forth speedily
  • Thy righteousness shall go before thee
  • The glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward
  • Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer.
  • Thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
  • And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not (Isaiah 58:6-12)

Can we chew gum while we’re fasting?  It depends.  It’s all about our inner desires and motivations.  If we’re chewing gum to freshen our breath, maybe.  If we’re chewing gum to take the edge off our hunger, maybe we should think twice before popping our favorite spearmint gum in our mouths.  Feeling hungry during our fast is actually a blessing.  Each time we feel hungry, we are reminded of the reason we are fasting and can focus our attention on that.  In addition, the harder it is to go without food, the more willpower we develop!  If it were easy to go without food for that long, maybe our spirits wouldn’t grow quite as much.  Although, there have been times when it was easier to fast than others and it was precisely because I wanted the thing so badly that I was fasting for that the sacrifice was easy to make and the temptation to eat didn’t phase me at all.

Fasting without a purpose is torture, but fasting with a monthly theme in mind is powerful and rewarding.  I used to dread fasting each month (especially when I was younger), but now I look forward to having a month of one on one time with the Lord where He can personally teach me how to overcome my next challenge.

And yes, I get up early Sunday mornings and make my kids pancakes.  None of them are old enough to fast yet and, as I pour syrup over hot pancakes, I think back to my four-year-old self who never would have believed that she’d be able to resist pancakes on Fast Sunday!

Peter Walked On Water, But Why Didn’t The Other 11 Apostles As Well?

Peter often gets a bad rap.  Often, the one part of the story that we remember about Peter is that he sunk.  He failed.  But did he fail?  Peter remains the only mortal man to have ever walked on water, but there were 11 other people on the boat.  Why didn’t they get out?  They missed the opportunity of a lifetime because they gave in to fear.  Reason and logic overcame faith.  But Peter, a fisherman, a man who knew more than anyone that a man doesn’t float on water (he sinks!), was eager to jump out and DO what he saw the Savior doing.

Was this experience a great failure?  No!  It was a great success!  Peter learned many priceless lessons. Peter learned that he could walk on water!  When we follow the Savior and do what He asks of us, we can do things we never even dreamed were possible.  Christ was showing Peter the miraculous things he could do through faith!  What a confidence booster!  Peter must have thought, “Wow!  If I can walk on water, is there anything, with Christ’s help, that I can’t do?”  I wonder how many times Peter thought of that experience as he was symbolically asked to walk on water during his ministry – to do things that must have seemed impossible.

While [Peter’s] eyes were fixed upon the Lord, the wind might toss his hair and the spray might drench his robes, but all was well. Only when with wavering faith he removed his glance from the Master to look at the furious waves and the black gulf beneath him, only then did he begin to sink….

It is my firm belief that if as individual people, as families, communities, and nations, we could, like Peter, fix our eyes on Jesus, we too might walk triumphantly over “the swelling waves of disbelief” and remain “unterrified amid the rising winds of doubt.” But if we turn away our eyes from him in whom we must believe, as it is so easy to do and the world is so much tempted to do, if we look to the power and fury of those terrible and destructive elements around us rather than to him who can help and save us, then we shall inevitably sink in a sea of conflict and sorrow and despair.

At such times when we feel the floods are threatening to drown us and the deep is going to swallow up the tossed vessel of our faith, I pray we may always hear amid the storm and the darkness that sweet utterance of the Savior of the world: “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. (Howard W. Hunter, “The Beacon in the Harbor of Peace,” Ensign, November 1992, p. 19)

As soon as Peter began to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (Matt 14:30) “And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him” (Matt 14:31).

Jesus reached out his hand immediately.  He didn’t put His hands on His hips and say, “Peter, it’s your own fault you’re sinking.  Go swim a few laps and think about what you’ve done. Then, just maybe, I’ll think about forgiving and helping you…”

Peter learned that even when it was his own dumb fault that he was sinking, the Savior stood ready to save him as soon as He asked.

The other 11 apostles avoided “failure,” but, as Denis Waitley once said, “ Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”  Henry Ford put it beautifully: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

How often has the Lord called us to do something, great or small, and we were too scared to leave our comfort zones and do it?  What great opportunities have we missed when we have given in to fears or doubts?  It is time to be like the great Apostle Peter and jump in with all our might and, despite the storms raging around us, put one foot in front of the other, keep our eyes on the Savior, and discover the amazing things we are capable of!

1 Cor 2:9 Don’t be too anxious to die…

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (1 Cor 2:9)

Linda S. Reeves gives an insightful explanation that sums up the meaning of this verse beautifully:

Understandably, many have expressed that our Father’s promised blessings are just “way too far away,” particularly when our lives are overflowing with challenges. But Amulek taught that “this life is the time … to prepare to meet God.” It is not the time to receive all of our blessings. President Packer explained, “‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right.” However, a vision of our Father’s incredible promised blessings must be the central focus before our eyes every day—as well as an awareness “of the multitude of his tender mercies” that we experience on a daily basis.

Sisters, I do not know why we have the many trials that we have, but it is my personal feeling that the reward is so great, so eternal and everlasting, so joyful and beyond our understanding that in that day of reward, we may feel to say to our merciful, loving Father, “Was that all that was required?” I believe that if we could daily remember and recognize the depth of that love our Heavenly Father and our Savior have for us, we would be willing to do anything to be back in Their presence again, surrounded by Their love eternally. What will it matter, dear sisters, what we suffered here if, in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the kingdom of God with our Father and Savior? (Linda S. Reeves, “Worthy of Our Promised Blessings,” Ensign, November 2015).

I often think Heavenly Father didn’t reveal how absolutely wonderful life would be after we die because then we would be way too excited to die!  We’d walk out into the street hoping a car would hit us =).  He knew we needed to stay on Earth (and not leave prematurely!) so we could gain the experiences we needed that will make us more like Him.  He sent us here to BECOME something.  And that requires effort, time, dedication, grit, and faith (to name a few!).

So often we want to be a marathon runner without wanting to put in the necessary training to become one!  We want the blessings of being able to run 26 miles without running the 3, 6, 10, and 15+ mile runs that led up to that victory!

It’s a natural, human tendency to just want our lives to be easier.  We pray for a removal of our trials, instead of the power and strength to handle them.  But is living on easy-street the purpose of this life – is it even a desirable state?  What marathon runner would feel any sense of accomplishment if, as she crossed the finish line, thought, “Well, that was easy.”

But how do we learn to run for 26 miles when everything around us seems to be falling apart?  What do we do when our challenges are too much and too many?  Five letters will answer all those questions:  G.R.A.C.E.   The power of grace is far reaching:

It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means (Bible Dictionary, “Grace”).

David A. Bednar gave a beautiful example of what it truly means to use grace in your life.

Nephi is an example of one who knew, understood, and relied upon the enabling power of the Savior. Recall that the sons of Lehi had returned to Jerusalem to enlist Ishmael and his household in their cause. Laman and others in the party traveling with Nephi from Jerusalem back to the wilderness rebelled, and Nephi exhorted his brethren to have faith in the Lord. It was at this point in their journey that Nephi’s brothers bound him with cords and planned his destruction. Please note Nephi’s prayer: “O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound” (1 Nephi 7:17; emphasis added).

Do you know what I likely would have prayed for if I had been tied up by my brothers? “Please get me out of this mess NOW!” It is especially interesting to me that Nephi did not pray to have his circumstances changed. Rather, he prayed for the strength to change his circumstances. And I believe he prayed in this manner precisely because he knew, understood, and had experienced the enabling power of the Atonement.

I do not think the bands with which Nephi was bound just magically fell from his hands and wrists. Rather, I suspect he was blessed with both persistence and personal strength beyond his natural capacity, that he then “in the strength of the Lord” (Mosiah 9:17) worked and twisted and tugged on the cords, and ultimately and literally was enabled to break the bands.

The implication of this episode for each of us is straightforward. As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon. (David A. Bednar, “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality,” Ensign, April 2012).

 

 

Joseph in Egypt: life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you decide to do about it!

Joseph’s life was riddled with trials and bumps in the road that he never saw coming.  As soon as he rose to the top, he seemed to get slammed back down to the bottom.  When Joseph was seventeen, he was sold, by his brothers, into slavery in Egypt.  What probably made this a particularly bitter experience is that Joseph had seen a vision showing that he was chosen of God to be a ruler over his brothers.  Being sold into Egypt as a slave must have seemed like a DIRECT contradiction to a promised blessing from the Lord.  It seemed the Lord had promised one thing and allowed quite the opposite to happen.  That must have been, to say the least, a very confusing time.  As Joseph trudged along to Egypt, I’m sure he wasn’t thinking, “Yes!  Becoming a slave is the next logical step to becoming a noble ruler!”  But there is no record of any bitterness or complaint from Joseph.  I am astounded that Joseph’s attitude seemed to be, “Well, I’m a slave now.  I can’t change that, but I can be the best slave there ever was!”  He put his whole heart and soul into his work and before long, his master, Potiphar, “saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand” (Genesis 29:3).  Potiphar appointed him overseer over his house.

All was well until Potiphar’s wife desired Joseph.  Joseph chose to be chaste.  He did the right thing and ended up being thrown into prison.  And prisoner is a step down from slave!  Whenever I think my life is unfair, I think of Joseph and suddenly, my life doesn’t seem so bad =)  He could have a few good talks with those of us who think life isn’t fair =)

As if being a slave (or a prisoner!) weren’t hard enough, I think maybe the hardest thing about it was the fact that he hadn’t done anything to deserve it.  The scriptures teach that if we keep the commandments, God will bless us.  While that is always true, the blessings may not always be immediate or obvious.  Being righteous does NOT guarantee that we will not have trials.  But we do have this promise:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). 

There may be no better example of the truth of this scripture than Joseph’s life!   

Please remember this one thing.  If our lives…are centered upon Jesus Christ…nothing can ever go permanently wrong.  On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and His teachings, no other success can be permanently right (Howard W. Hunter, “Following the Mater:  Teachings of Howard W. Hunter,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, pg. 21)

There is a purpose to every trial we are called to endure.  Though we may not know the reason, no trial is a waste.

No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted.  It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility.  All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God…and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.  (Orson F. Whitney as quoted by Pres. Kimball in Faith Precedes the Miracle, pg. 98)

Thrown into prison, Joseph could have become very resentful, but again, there is no record of complaint and once again, his attitude seems to be, “Well, I’m a prisoner.  I can’t change that, but I can be the best prisoner there ever was!”  It would have been so easy for him to have turned his back on God. It would have been so easy for him to have felt betrayed by God.  It would have been so easy to sit in a corner and rot with bitterness.  It says a lot about Joseph’s character and work ethic that “the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.  The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper” (Genesis 39:23).

Joseph interpreted the baker’s and the butler’s dreams while he was in prison, but it was two years before Pharaoh had a dream that he was called to come and interpret.  Joseph was 30 years old when he was appointed second in command of all of Egypt.  Finally, after 13 years in Egypt, his life started making sense!  That’s a long time to be patient and wait for the Lord’s promises to be fulfilled!  To his credit, he had kept himself so pure and so close to the Lord that when the time came to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, he was worthy to do it and he was so in tune with the Lord that he not only gave Pharaoh the interpretation, but was also able to devise a plan to save all of Egypt!  Pharaoh recognized this immediately and asked, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” (Genesis 41:38).  It was obvious that Joseph was a spiritual giant.

Perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned from Joseph is how to react when life doesn’t make sense.  When I feel like I’m doing everything I should – keeping the commandments to the best of my ability – and yet feel like my life is falling apart, do I shake my fist at the heavens or trust that the Lord is in control and can see the whole picture while I often just see a tiny piece of it?  Joseph’s trust in the Lord was unwavering.  He had truly learned that in the gospel of Jesus Christ, everything works out in the end.  If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end!  He wasn’t obsessed with how unfair his life was and how things weren’t working out.  He made the most out of every situation he was thrown into!

We know that Joseph’s life turned out great.  We know that he ends up being second in command in Egypt.  We know that he ended up saving his family from starving to death.  But he didn’t know that’s how it would turn out!  THE reason his life was so hard is that he didn’t know what was going to happen.  He didn’t know how long he would be a slave or how long he would be in prison.  He just knew that he wasn’t going to turn his back on God.  All he knew was that if he did his best, God would help him get through anything he was called to pass through.

I remember taking my son to the doctor to get his first set of vaccinations.  The nurse had me hold his head in my hands as she did the first shot.  My poor, unsuspecting, baby wailed at the shock of the pain!  He looked up at me with eyes that pleaded, “Please, mom, help me!  Someone is hurting me!  Please save me!”  My heart broke as I looked into those tear-filled eyes and realized that the only thing I could do was hold him.  How I wish I could have explained that these shots were necessary – that they would save him from contracting terrible diseases that would have caused much more pain than these shots – but I knew that there was no way he would understand my explanations.  I knew it was for his best interest.  It was to prepare (and protect) him for the future.  If he could only know what I did.  If he could only see what I could.  How could I explain that I wasn’t doing it to hurt him?  I was doing it to help him.

So often we want an explanation from God.  We want to know WHY we have to endure certain things.  We want to know why we are having marriage problems, financial problems, parenting problems, employment problems, health issues, etc.  That has caused me to ponder:  why does God often withhold explanations?

Then my epiphany:  If God did explain why we have to go through a certain trial, it would not be a trial!  If God had told Joseph (when he was sold into slavery) not to worry because he would end up being second in command in Egypt and saving his family from starving, would his life have been difficult?  No (or not nearly as much), because it would have made sense.  Joseph’s trials were hard because they didn’t make sense.  He was doing everything God asked him to and he kept getting negative consequences for it (or so it seemed).  He could have said, “Lord, you told me to be chaste and I was and then I was thrown into prison!  That’s not fair!”  But Joseph didn’t complain.

God could have explained, “Joseph, my son, you need to be in prison so you can interpret the butler’s dream so he can introduce you to Pharaoh and so you can save Egypt and your family from starvation.”  But Joseph would never have increased in faith if the Lord had done that.  Explanations remove the need for faith.  The real test is whether or not we will be consistent in keeping the commandments even when things don’t make sense.  True faith means not giving up no matter what happens.  The only thing that is important to keep is our faith.  We are not in control of anything else.  We can’t control many of the things that happen to us in this life, but we can control the strength, vibrancy, and efficacy of our faith.  We are in control of our character and who we choose to become.  We must learn to trust the Lord even when He hasn’t revealed all the answers.

THE TAPESTRY

My life is but a weaving,

Between my God and me.

I do not see the colors,

He worketh patiently.

Oft times he weaveth sorrow,

And I in foolish pride,

Forget he sees the upper

And I the underside.

Not ‘till the loom is silent

And the shuttles cease to fly,

Will God unroll the canvas

And explain the reason why

That the dark threads are as needful

In the skillful weaver’s hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern he has planned

ADDITIONAL READING

“See the end from the beginning”

by Dieter F. Uchtdorf

My young friends, today I say to you that if you trust the Lord and obey Him, His hand shall be over you, He will help you achieve the great potential He sees in you, and He will help you to see the end from the beginning.

Allow me to share with you an experience from my own boyhood. When I was 11 years old, my family had to leave East Germany and begin a new life in West Germany overnight. Until my father could get back into his original profession as a government employee, my parents operated a small laundry business in our little town. I became the laundry delivery boy. To be able to do that effectively, I needed a bicycle to pull the heavy laundry cart. I had always dreamed of owning a nice, sleek, shiny, sporty red bicycle. But there had never been enough money to fulfill this dream. What I got instead was a heavy, ugly, black, sturdy workhorse of a bicycle. I delivered laundry on that bike before and after school for quite a few years. Most of the time, I was not overly excited about the bike, the cart, or my job. Sometimes the cart seemed so heavy and the work so tiring that I thought my lungs would burst, and I often had to stop to catch my breath. Nevertheless, I did my part because I knew we desperately needed the income as a family, and it was my way to contribute.

If I had only known back then what I learned many years later—if I had only been able to see the end from the beginning—I would have had a better appreciation of these experiences, and it would have made my job so much easier.

Many years later, when I was about to be drafted into the military, I decided to volunteer instead and join the Air Force to become a pilot. I loved flying and thought being a pilot would be my thing.

To be accepted for the program I had to pass a number of tests, including a strict physical exam. The doctors were slightly concerned by the results and did some additional medical tests. Then they announced, “You have scars on your lung which are an indication of a lung disease in your early teenage years, but obviously you are fine now.” The doctors wondered what kind of treatment I had gone through to heal the disease. Until the day of that examination I had never known that I had any kind of lung disease. Then it became clear to me that my regular exercise in fresh air as a laundry boy had been a key factor in my healing from this illness. Without the extra effort of pedaling that heavy bicycle day in and day out, pulling the laundry cart up and down the streets of our town, I might never have become a jet fighter pilot and later a 747 airline captain.

We don’t always know the details of our future. We do not know what lies ahead. We live in a time of uncertainty. We are surrounded by challenges on all sides. Occasionally discouragement may sneak into our day; frustration may invite itself into our thinking; doubt might enter about the value of our work. In these dark moments Satan whispers in our ears that we will never be able to succeed, that the price isn’t worth the effort, and that our small part will never make a difference. He, the father of all lies, will try to prevent us from seeing the end from the beginning (“See the End From the Beginning,” Dieter F. Uchtdorf, General Conference April 2006).

 

Ether 6 The Jaredites: “We learn lessons from storms that we cannot learn from calm seas” (John H. Groberg)

THE FARMER AND THE DONKEY

 One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well.  The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do.  Finally he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway, it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him.  They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.  At first the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly.  Then to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down.  A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw.

With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing.  He would shake it off and take a step up.  As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up.  Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off!

Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt.  The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up.  Each of our troubles is a stepping stone.  We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up!  Shake it off and take a step up!

The Jaredites, a people who lived during the time of The Tower of Babel, escaped the curse of the confounding of languages after the brother of Jared prayed and asked the Lord that their family would be able to understand each other.  They traveled in the wilderness and eventually came to the seashore where they faced the daunting task of building barges in order that they might cross over and come to a promised land (the Americas).

How did the Jaredites shake off the dirt and take a step up?

PREPARATION (Ether 6:4,11) – they were on the sea for 344 days.  What if they had only gathered 200 days of food?

LIGHT (Ether 6:2-3,10) – Christ had touched the 16 stones to light up their 8 barges.  It was a symbol that they were bringing Christ with them throughout their journey – He was their light and led the way.

TRUST (Ether 6:4) – The Jaredites did everything they could to prepare themselves for the journey and then they “commended themselves unto the Lord their God.” This principles is also taught beautifully in Doctrine & Covenants 123:17 “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”

John H. Groberg writes of a time when, while serving as a missionary for his church in Tonga, he was shipwrecked during a ferocious storm.  The captain of their small motor boat had expressed concern about the heavy storm clouds, but Elder Groberg had assured him that he was a missionary of the Lord and that all would be well – God would protect them.  After all, he was on the Lord’s errand.  The storm hit and, as the boat flipped over and they crashed into the sea, Elder Groberg thought, “This can’t be!  This isn’t true!  I’m a missionary; this isn’t supposed to happen!  I’m not supposed to swin!” He continued, “But it was true and I was there, and I knew I had better quit complaining and start swimming.”

Elder Groberg reported, “I have thought a lot about that experience.  God was with us.  He saved us.  He could have brought us through the storm unscathed and landed us safely in our home port of Pangai.  But for some reason, He chose otherwise.  I have heard it said that sometimes the Lord calms the storm, and sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.”

So often in life we think that because we have done things in a certain way, certain results should follow.  But life is like the ocean.  Sometimes we get caught in squalls and storms and things don’t go the way we think they should, even when we think we have done right.  But God can find us in the eye of a storm and give us courage to swim in rough water.  We learn lessons from storms that we cannot learn from calm seas.

I understood better than ever that the Lord’s promise to us personally is that if we do what is right, He will give us peace no matter what the environment.  I know that to be true.  That peace may not come in the way we think or how, where, or when we think, but in the eternal scheme of things, it will come in the way best for us and we will yet praise His name for things we do not now understand.” (In the Eye of the Storm, John H. Groberg, pages3, 5, 6)

WIND (trials) never ceased (Ether 6:5,8) – The wind was relentless, BUT it was blowing them towards the promised land (without it they would have never gotten there!  The very thing they must have, at times, hated was the very thing that was saving them.  IF THE WIND HAD CEASED, THEY WOULD HAVE STOPPED AND THEIR PROGRESS WOULD HAVE CEASED – literally.  Our trials blow us toward the promised land (Celestial Kingdom).  These trials refine us and can help us become the sons and daughters of God we were meant to become.

No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God} will never desert us.  He never has, and He never will.  He cannot do it.  It is not His character.  He is an unchangeable being; the same yesterday, the same today, and He will be the same throughout the eternal ages to come.  We have found that God….We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed.  We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them, if we only trust in our God and keep His commandments (George Q. Cannon in Neal A. Maxwell’s If Thou Endure it Well [Salt Lake City:  Bookcraft, 1996], pg. 121).

…adversity teaches us things we cannot learn otherwise. Adversity helps to develop a depth of character that comes in no other way. Our loving Heavenly Father has set us in a world filled with challenges and trials so that we, through opposition, can learn wisdom, become stronger, and experience joy (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Happily Ever After,” Ensign, May 2010).

It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Happily Ever After,” Ensign, May 2010).

No water could hurt them because their vessels were “tight like unto a dish” (Ether 6:6-7

All the water in the world
And Every Kind of Sin
Could Never Harm a Human Soul
Unless it Got Within

There is no external force that can stop us from reaching the Celestial Kingdom.  Satan can’t stop us.  Christ can’t make us go.  The ONLY one who can stop us is ourselves.  If we choose to sin, then we let water leak into our boats and unless we repair the leak (repent), we will end up drowning ourselves.  We are in full control of how much water leaks into our boat.  We must learn to stop the leaks early.

PRAYER (Ether 6:7) – every time they were buried too deep, they simply prayed and the Lord brought them back up to the top.  Their simple prayers were more POWERFUL than the “mountain waves” of the ocean.  Prayer = Power.  When life gets too hard to stand, kneel.

Another powerful lesson we learn about prayer is how the Lord resolved the issues with the barges.  After they were completed, the brother of Jared came to the Lord and told him there were 3 problems with them: 1) they couldn’t breathe in them 2) they didn’t have a way to steer them and 3) there was no light in them.  For concern #1, the Lord told him what to do (put a hole in the top and the bottom so they could have air – see Ether 6:20).  For concern #2, the Lord told him not to worry about it because He would steer them (Ether 6:24).  For concern #3, the Lord told the brother of Jared to figure out his own solution (Ether 6:23).  From this pattern, we learn that sometimes the Lord tells us what to do to solve the problem, sometimes He takes care of the problem for us (that’s the one I always want!), and sometimes He expects us to use our brains to figure out what to do (and then pray and ask the Lord if it’s right).

PRAISED THE LORD (Ether 6:9) – they kept their focus on the Lord, not on the trials.  They focused on the fact they were heading towards the promised land, not on how hard the wind was howling.  We need to be grateful for how far we have come and not dwell on how far we must go.  Just like the donkey in the story, we can’t always control our circumstances, but we can control our attitude.  At first, all the donkey did was complain, but he soon learned that complaining about the dirt was getting him nowhere.  As Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “No Misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.”  The donkey realized he could either use his energy to complain or use it to get out!

“When we find ourselves in these squalls or storms, we should remember we don’t have enough energy to complain and still keep our head above water.  Our duty is to swim, not wonder or complain.  We need to get to shore and must leave the reasons for the storm with the Lord.  If all the effort we put into asking ‘why’ were used in swimming, a lot more of us, with His help, would reach shore” (In the Eye of the Storm, John H. Groberg, page 6)

The Jaredites didn’t know the details of their journey.  They didn’t know how many days it would take, how rough the waters would be, etc.  They only knew that God had promised them He would take them to the promised land.  They trusted in that end promise.  Even though they didn’t know HOW they would get there, that didn’t matter, because they knew they WOULD get there.  They knew God always keeps His promises.

In the pre-earth life, Heavenly Father explained the waves would be tough and that we would have to build ships, but we didn’t know all the details.  All we knew was the end promise – that we would grow to become like Heavenly Father and He would lead us back home.  We don’t need to know the rest.  We don’t need to know why the waves hit so hard, why the wind never ceases, why our boat seems to be constantly hit by sea monsters while other people are gliding effortlessly along, etc – we just need to know that if we keep the light (Christ) as our guide, we will get back.  While we may not know everything, we know enough to keep trying.

Neil L. Andersen shares two experiences about individuals (one of them a personal experience) who chose faith over doubt and decided to act on what they knew instead of acting out of fear about all the things they didn’t know.

“While there are many experiences like the one we are having today, full of spiritual power and confirmation, there are also days when we feel inadequate and unprepared, when doubt and confusion enter our spirits, when we have difficulty finding our spiritual footing. Part of our victory as disciples of Christ is what we do when these feelings come.

Nearly 40 years ago as I contemplated the challenge of a mission, I felt very inadequate and unprepared. I remember praying, “Heavenly Father, how can I serve a mission when I know so little?” I believed in the Church, but I felt my spiritual knowledge was very limited. As I prayed, the feeling came: “You don’t know everything, but you know enough!” That reassurance gave me the courage to take the next step into the mission field.

Our spiritual journey is the process of a lifetime. We do not know everything in the beginning or even along the way. Our conversion comes step-by-step, line upon line. We first build a foundation of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We treasure the principles and ordinances of repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We include a continuing commitment to prayer, a willingness to be obedient, and an ongoing witness of the Book of Mormon. (The Book of Mormon is powerful spiritual nourishment.)

We then remain steady and patient as we progress through mortality.

Several years ago a friend of mine had a young daughter die in a tragic accident. Hopes and dreams were shattered. My friend felt unbearable sorrow. He began to question what he had been taught and what he had taught as a missionary. The mother of my friend wrote me a letter and asked if I would give him a blessing. As I laid my hands upon his head, I felt to tell him something that I had not thought about in exactly the same way before. The impression that came to me was: Faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision. He would need to choose faith.

My friend did not know everything, but he knew enough. He chose the road of faith and obedience. He got on his knees. His spiritual balance returned.

It has been several years since that event. A short time ago I received a letter from his son who is now serving a mission. It was full of conviction and testimony. As I read his beautiful letter, I saw how a father’s choice of faith in a very difficult time had deeply blessed the next generation” (Elder Neil L. Andersen, Ensign, Nov. 2008).

God is at the helm of our ships.  He is steering us.  And though storms will come our way, the trick is to hold on and don’t jump out of the boat!!! – especially NOT during a storm!  We often have a blurred perspective of what is going on during the storm, but once the water settles, many times the reasons for the storm become clearer and we come out wiser.  But even if we are left without a reason for the storm, we can trust that God will never steer us amiss.

As Brigham Young has said: “We are on the old ship Zion. … [God] is at the helm and will stay there. … All is right, sing Hallelujah, for the Lord is here. He dictates, guides and directs. If the people will have implicit confidence in their God, never forsake their covenants nor their God, He will guide us right” (Brigham Young, “Remarks,” Deseret News, Nov. 18, 1857, 291).

God would never do anything that wasn’t in our best interest.  If He did, then He wouldn’t be God.  Trust that He knows what we need to learn and HOW we will best learn it.  And many times, “we learn lessons from storms that we cannot learn from calm seas.”   Let us be like the Jaredites and learn from their example in how they reacted during the storms.

 

The Parable of the Ten Virgins: convinced vs. converted

It is a paradox that men will gladly devote time every day for many years to learn a science or an art; yet will expect to win a knowledge of the gospel, which comprehends all sciences and arts, through perfunctory glances at books or occasional listening to sermons.  The gospel should be studied more intensively than any school or college subject.  They who pass opinion on the gospel without having given it intimate and careful study are not lovers of truth, and their opinions are worthless.  (John A. Widstoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 8.)

“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.” (Matt. 25:1)

The ten virgins were members of the church.  They weren’t just ten random people on the face of the earth.  All of them knew what would be expected of them in order to enter into the wedding.  All ten of them brought their lamps.  The five foolish virgins’ lamps looked just like the wise virgins’ lamps.  They looked like they were full of oil.  They looked good on the outside.  They LOOKED like good members of the church with strong testimonies, but they were empty on the inside.  “They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them.” (Matt 25:3)

When did the bridegroom come?  “And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh.” (Matt 25:6).  We must have enough oil in our lamps to last us until midnight.  Only having enough oil to last us until 11 PM will not be enough.  Much like the ten virgins, we don’t know when the Savior will come again.  We need to make sure we are adding oil to our lamps every day.  We can’t afford to ever fool ourselves into thinking that we have enough, we’ve done enough, and don’t need to be actively adding oil anymore or we may end up like the five foolish virgins who realize, too late, that they do not have enough.

Panicking, the foolish virgins beg the wise virgins to let them borrow some oil.  Elder David A. Bednar counseled us to consider the oil to be the oil of conversion.  He asked,

Were the five wise virgins selfish and unwilling to share, or were they indicating correctly that the oil of conversion cannot be borrowed? Can the spiritual strength that results from consistent obedience to the commandments be given to another person? Can the knowledge obtained through diligent study and pondering of the scriptures be conveyed to one who is in need? Can the peace the gospel brings to a faithful Latter-day Saint be transferred to an individual experiencing adversity or great challenge? The clear answer to each of these questions is no (“Converted Unto the Lord,” Ensign, Nov. 2012).

Did the wise virgins ignore the foolish ones?  Did they make fun of them?  Were they mean?  No.  They told them what they needed to do to go and get some oil.  “…but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.”  (Matt 25:9)

Now, in this parable, you could go and buy oil.  What if you could buy your testimony?  How much would you be willing to spend on it?  Would you run down to the nearest store and get the $5 testimony?  Or would you get the $10, $20, $100, or $100,000 testimony?  Even though you can’t buy a testimony, it does cost something.  There is a price to be paid.

I know that to gain knowledge of great worth requires extraordinary personal effort.  This is particularly true when our desire is to obtain spiritual knowledge.  President Kimball put it this way: The treasures of both secular and spiritual knowledge are hidden ones–but hidden from those who do not properly search and strive to find them . . . Spiritual knowledge is not available merely for the asking; even prayers are not enough.  It takes persistence and dedication of one’s life . . . Of all knowledge, the most vital is the knowledge of God (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 389-90).

Profound spiritual truth cannot simply be poured from one mind and heart to another.  It takes faith and diligent effort.  Precious truth comes a small piece at a time through faith, with great exertion, and at times wrenching struggles.  The Lord intends it be that way so that we can mature and progress.  (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, November 1993, p. 88.)

There are those who have made a casual, even an insincere effort to test the scriptures and have come away having received nothing, which is precisely what they have earned and what they deserve.  If you think it will yield to casual inquiry, to idle curiosity, or even to well-intentioned but temporary searching, you are mistaken.  (Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, May 1974, p. 95.)

I am grateful for emphasis on reading the scriptures.  I hope that for you this will become something far more enjoyable than a duty; that, rather, it will become a love affair with the word of God.  I promise you that as you read, your minds will be enlightened and your spirits will be lifted.  At first it may seem tedious, but that will change into a wondrous experience with thoughts and words of things divine.  (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, May 1995, p. 99.)

The price you have to pay is the price that all righteous men and women pay – a life totally dedicated to Christ and His cause.  A life of keeping the commandments every day and enduring to the end.  A life of doing the thousand little acts of goodness and kindness that change us and make our faces show who we really are – divine children of our Heavenly Father.  Harold B. Lee said the gods we worship write their names on our faces (Elder Alexander B. Morrison, Friend, Nov. 1997)

Christ paid such an enormous, enabling price for us!  Will we not apply His Atonement in order to pay the much smaller price required for personal progress?  Being valiant in our testimony of Jesus, therefore, includes being valiant in our efforts to live more as He lived.  (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, Nov. 1997)

This touching story shows that the price we pay is not really a sacrifice.  It is never a sacrifice to live the gospel of Jesus Christ because you get back so much more than you give.

A teacher, conducting a class, said it was unwise ever to attempt, even to permit them [the Martin handcart company] to come across the plains under such conditions.”

Then President McKay quoted an observer who was present in that class: “Some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.

“An old man in the corner … sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.

“In substance [he] said, ‘I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? …

“ ‘I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.’ ”

He continues: “ ‘I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

“ ‘Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.’ ” (David O. McKay, “Pioneer Women,” The Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1948)

How much is a testimony worth?  Can you put a price on it?

Your personal security and happiness depend upon the strength of your testimony, for it will guide your actions in times of trial or uncertainty.

A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life.

It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.

A strong testimony gives peace, comfort, and assurance. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future secure, and there will be capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our path.

As you fortify your own personal testimony, you will have power to make correct choices so that you can stand unwaveringly against the pressures of an increasingly vicious world.

…fundamental truths must become part of the very fiber of your character. They must be an essential part of your being, more treasured than life itself (Elder Richard G. Scott, “The Power of a Strong Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 2001).

Those who know Christ best are those who have paid the price to know Him.

“The only measure of true greatness is how close a man can become like Jesus.  That man is greatest who is most like Christ, and those who love Him most will be most like Him.  How, then, does a man imitate God, follow His steps, and walk as He walked, which we are commanded to do? (3 Nephi 27:27, 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6).  We must study the life of Christ, learn His commandments, and do them.  God has promised that to follow this course will lead a man to an abundant life, a fulness of joy, and the peace and rest for which those who are heavy burdened long (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, [1988], 327-328)

The five foolish women were convinced the church was true.  It made logical sense in their minds and they went through the motions of being good members.  The five wise women had become truly converted to the gospel.  They had experienced that mighty change of heart that King Benjamin’s people experienced where “the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent…has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”  (Mosiah 5:2)

The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails a fundamental and permanent change in our very nature made possible through the Savior’s Atonement. True conversion brings a change in one’s beliefs, heart, and life to accept and conform to the will of God (see Acts 3:19, 3 Nephi 9:20) and includes a conscious commitment to become a disciple of Christ (David A. Bednar, “Converted Unto the Lord, Ensign, Nov. 2012)

There is great concern to make sure our children aren’t just convinced the gospel is true, but that they become fully converted to it.

Harold B. Lee talked about the young people of the Church and about the challenges they face in growing up in this world in which we live.  He expressed his deep concern about the fact that some of them could go through Primary, Sunday School, Mutual, priesthood quorums, and Seminary and come out the other end without testimonies.  He said: “Do you know why I think it is?  Because our young people have grown up spectators.” (Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer, 1985, 505.)

Our young people are very good at showing up to things.  They show up to church, young women and young men activities, seminary, devotionals, etc, but showing up is not enough.  Two people can show up to the same meeting and one of them can come away with tremendous insights and goals to make personal improvements while the other person may have thought the meeting was boring and a complete waste of time.  The meeting was the same.  The difference lay in the people.  We must be actively engaged in learning and living the gospel.  It is not enough to just go through the motions.

Sometimes in our homes, we successfully teach the dance steps but are not as successful in helping our family members to hear the music….

…We learn the dance steps with our minds, but we hear the music with our hearts. The dance steps of the gospel are the things we do; the music of the gospel is the joyful spiritual feeling that comes from the Holy Ghost. It brings a change of heart and is the source of all righteous desires. The dance steps require discipline, but the joy of the dance will be experienced only when we come to hear the music.

…If our children learn the dance steps without learning to hear and to feel the beautiful music of the gospel, they will over time become uncomfortable with the dance and will either quit dancing or, almost as bad, keep dancing only because of the pressure they feel from others who are dancing around them (Elder Wilford W. Andersen, “The Music of the Gospel,” Ensign, May 2015).

So how do we help our youth (and ourselves) HEAR the music?

Sometimes we become so anxious to help and teach our students that we simply disseminate to them the principles that we have learned or been taught.  We have all felt the power, excitement and motivation of personal discovery through the Holy Ghost.  The greater good for our students might accrue if we lead them in such a way that they become able to begin making discoveries for themselves (Harold B. Lee, Address given to seminary students, 24 Feb. 1973.)

The prophetic efforts of Joseph Smith did not center in sharing his spiritual experiences but rather in the effort to qualify us to have our own spiritual experiences.  The emphasis was not on what he had seen but on what we could see… Joseph invited us to check him by having our own Sacred Grove experience. (Joseph Fielding McConkie , Regional Studies in LDS Church History, 206-207.)

For the gospel to be written in your heart, you need to know what it is and grow to understand it more fully…sometimes reading a few verses, stopping to ponder them, carefully reading the verses again, and as you think about what they mean, praying for understanding, asking questions in your mind, waiting for spiritual impressions, and writing down the impressions and insights that come so you can remember and learn more.  Studying in this way, you may not read a lot of chapters or verses in a half hour, but you will be giving place in your heart for the word of God, and He will be speaking to you (D. Todd Christofferson, “When Thou Art Converted,” Ensign, May 2004, 11.)

True faith has enormous power, but there are principles that must be followed to unleash that power…. you must practice the truth or principle you have faith in. As you live it consistently, there will come a witness of its truthfulness through the power of the Holy Ghost….He will confirm the certainty that His laws will produce the promised results when obeyed willingly and consistently (Richard G. Scott, “The Power of a Strong Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 2001).

The Lord will hear your prayers in time of need. He will invariably answer them. However, His answers will generally not come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response. There is a pattern that must be followed. You are asked to look for an answer to your prayers, then confirm that it is correct. Obey His counsel to “study it out in your mind.” Often you will think of a solution. Then seek confirmation that your answer is right. This help can come from prayer and from pondering the scriptures, at times by the intervention of others, or from your own capacity, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

At times the Lord will want you to proceed with trust before you receive a confirming answer. His answer generally comes as packets of help. As each piece is followed in faith, it will unite with others to give you the whole answer. This pattern requires the exercise of faith. While sometimes very hard, it results in significant personal growth (Richard G. Scott, “The Power of a Strong Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 2001).

I know that true happiness comes from having a lamp that is full of oil.  When our lamps are low, we feel empty.  We feel lonely, discouraged, sad, and dissatisfied.  People roam the world looking for happiness, but all the “fun” things the world has to offer leaves them feeling even more empty than before.  The truth is that the happiest people on earth are those who are living the most like Christ.  The more Christ-like we are, the more forgiving, patient, compassionate, generous, optimistic, not easily offended, resilient, determined, joyous, unselfish, peaceful, loving, and courageous we are.  And how could life not be beautiful if we are all of those things?

David and Goliath: When the time for performance has come, the time for preparation has passed

David didn’t wait for the Lord to call him to kill Goliath.  He tells King Saul, “Let no man’s heart fall because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” (1 Same 17:32).  Other men had to be called and they were scared to death (Moses, Jonah, Gideon, etc).  David saw a problem and immediately jumped in! He was already so courageous that he was able to persuade the king to let him, a shepherd with no military experience, battle a man that would decide the fate of his entire nation.

Have we prepared today to fight our Goliaths of tomorrow?  When David woke up that morning, he didn’t know that he would have to fight a giant, nine foot-tall warrior!  But it didn’t matter because he was ready!  We need to have a testimony so strong that it doesn’t matter what trial comes our way because we are strong enough, determined enough, and courageous enough to tackle anything!  Then we can be at peace because we know that whatever comes, with the Lord’s help, we will come off conquerors.  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  (Philippians 4:13)

Another reason Daniel was fearless is that he had past spiritual experiences to sustain him.  David didn’t know that he would someday have to fight off a terrifying monster of an enemy, but God did.  So God sent him experiences to prepare him.  As David was tending the sheep, a lion and a bear (see 1 Sam 17:34-37) came and he, with the help of the Lord, was able to kill them.  These past spiritual experiences let him KNOW that the Lord was with him and would help him.

We all have a Goliath of a problem to face (depression, divorce, abuse, grades, contention, low self esteem, friends, homework, poor health, eating disorder, loneliness, sickness, addiction, rejection, discouragement).  What would be the saddest tale of all is WHEN (not if) our Goliaths come, we are unprepared for the challenge!

To every man there comes… that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to him and fitted to his talent. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour. -Winston Churchill

5 Characteristics of “Goliaths” in 1 Samuel chapter 17

  1. vs 4 – they seem bigger than life – insurmountable
  2. vs 5-7 they are tough to fight (well protected)
  3. vs 9 desires to make us its servant
  4. vs 16 feels it never goes away (constant nagging)
  5. Vs 11 makes us afraid (takes away faith)

HOW TO OVERCOME A GOLIATH  – Have students read through verses 26-51 and find how to overcome Goliaths.  Have them pick their favorite one and then share it with a neighbor.  Share it with the class.  Journal:  How have you overcome big problems in your life?  What do you do when you’re going through a hard trial?  Think of a time when you or someone you know, overcame a tremendous obstacle

  1. Vs 26 see the problem for what it truly is
  2. Vs 32 be willing to fight it
  3. Vs 33 don’t let others discourage you or tell you it can’t be done
  4. Vs 36 know your strengths
  5. Vs 37 have faith
  6. Vs 39 be yourself
  7. Vs 40 realize it may take several tries (David didn’t collect ONE stone; he took five)
  8. Vs 47 realize God will help you (you are not alone)
  9. Vs 50 do the little things (small and simple)
  10. Vs 51 completely kill it,

“There are Goliaths all around you, hulking giants with evil intent to destroy you. These are not nine-foot tall men, but they are men and institutions that control attractive but evil things that may challenge and weaken and destroy you. Included in these are beer and other liquors and tobacco. Those who market these products would like to enslave you  into their use. There are drugs of various kinds. . . . There is pornography, seductive and interesting and inviting. It has become a giant industry, producing magazines, films, and other materials designed to take your money and lead you toward activities that would destroy you.

The giants who are behind these efforts are formidable and skillful. They have gained vast experience in the war they are carrying on. They would like to ensnare you.

It is almost impossible to entirely avoid exposure to their products. You see these materials on all sides. But you need not fear if you have the slingshot of truth in your hands. You have been counseled and taught and advised. You have the stones of virtue and honor and integrity to use against these enemies who would like to conquer you. . . . You can triumph over them by disciplining yourselves to avoid them. . . .

Victory will be yours. There is not a [person] within the sound of my voice who needs to succumb to any of these forces. . . . You have His power within you to sustain you” (Gordon B. Hinckly, Ensign, May 1983, 46, 51).

This article is a great resource for teaching the importance of spiritual preparation.

At a recent stake conference, a returned missionary spoke on the subject of preparing for missionary service. He used the analogy of a father saying to his son, “I will be happy when you play in your first basketball game so you can learn to dribble and shoot the basketball.” He compared that example to a father saying to his son, “I will be happy when you go on your mission so you can learn to be a good person and teach the gospel.” This analogy had a significant impact on me as I reflected on my life.

When I was a young boy, my greatest desire was to play basketball. Fortunately, I had a father who was anxious to see that his son’s desire was met. Dad and I would practice the basics of passing and dribbling the basketball hour after hour in our small kitchen. I would listen to college basketball games on the radio and dream of playing college ball someday. Serving a mission was far from my mind at that time; consequently, I spent very little effort in missionary preparation. In an attempt to ensure some balance in my life, my dad—who had not held a Church calling in many years—accepted the call to serve as my Scoutmaster. He operated by the book, and due to his diligence, some of my friends and I became Eagle Scouts. I realize now that Scouting is great preparation for a mission.

My boyhood dream came true when I made the basketball team at Utah State University. During my second year at Utah State, a returned missionary befriended me. Because of his example I began looking at my associates at school, including those on the basketball team, and realized that the people I most wanted to be like were those who had served missions. With the kind and loving mentoring of my good friend—and, I am sure, as a result of my mother’s prayers and good example—my desires changed. After my second year at Utah State, I was called to serve in the Western Canadian Mission.

Three months into my mission, a new missionary from Idaho was assigned to be my companion. We had been together only a few days when I realized something very significant: my new companion knew the gospel, while I only knew the discussions. How I wished that I had prepared to be a missionary as hard as I had prepared to be a basketball player. My companion had prepared for his mission throughout his life and was immediately a valuable member of the team. How important it is for fathers and sons to work together on the basics in preparing for a mission.

I believe it is appropriate to compare the game of basketball to missionary work. The game of basketball includes not only the time you compete with another team on the court but also the hours of proper training and practice. The great work of saving souls is not limited to the two years that you serve a mission but, rather, requires years of righteous living and preparation in order to meet the standard for full-time missionary service. (Daryl H. Garn, “Preparing for Missionary Service,”  Ensign, May 2003, 46)

We love all our missionaries who are serving the Lord full-time in the mission field.  But there is a difference in missionaries.  Some are better prepared to serve the Lord the first month in the mission field than some who are returning home after twenty-four months.  We want young men entering the mission field who can enter the mission field “on the run,” who have the faith, born of personal righteousness and clean living, that they can have a great and productive mission (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, [1988], 192).