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


 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.