Sunday, August 31, 2008

Faith to Stand Fast

I had the chance to speak at Church today. Here is the text:
Brothers and sisters, I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But I have no idea why some of the things I pray for most earnestly are not granted. On some things it seems like Heaven is silent. It could be that I ask the wrong questions. There is a story from the Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt. Parley was one of the early missionaries in the Church and faced severe persecution in some areas where he labored. In one location, he was unjustly imprisoned. He prayed and prayed to know when he would get out of prison. Eventually, Parley reduced his prayer to: “Will I get out of prison?” That night an angel visited Parley and said, “Yes, you will be freed.” Parley responded: “When?”

Faith in God also includes faith in His timing. That is why it requires faith to stand fast. Faith is trust that God will keep his promises. In Alma’s classic definition, faith is “hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:17).

The Father of the Faithful
Abraham is such an example of faith in God’s ability to fulfill His promises that he is known as the father of the faithful. God had promised Abraham something impossible. At 100 years old, Abraham was as good as dead. His wife, Sara, was only 10 years younger. For them to have a son was impossible. Abraham essentially said, ‘so what?’ The scriptural phrase is, “he staggered not… through unbelief.” God promises impossible things and delivers. In Abraham’s mind, having the promise of God was as good as the promise already being fulfilled. Abraham was “fully persuaded that, what [God] had promised, he was able also to perform” (Romans 4:18-21).

Joseph Smith had the kind of faith we are talking about from his earliest days. When he found James 1:5 – which reads: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” – he had no doubt that God would answer his prayer.

Developing Faith
Faith like Abraham or Joseph Smith does not come by accident. There are some specific things we can do to help nurture our own faith. In the Book of Mormon, Alma compares the word of God to a seed and shows that if faith is nourished, it can grow until it brings forth fruit.

One of the first requirements Alma cites for the nourishment of faith is humility. Anyone who is not teachable will not develop faith. Next, Alma instructs us to “give place” in our hearts for the seed to be planted (Alma 32:28). There are several things we can do to give place for the word of God: read the scriptures, attend church and participate in the class discussions, and attend Institute. I am amazed at how the lessons at Institute are so often exactly what I have needed to hear to strengthen my faith. By placing myself in settings where the Spirit can speak to me, I have been reminded that God knows me and loves me.

When nourished, the fruit from the seed of the word of God will begin to “enlarge my soul” and “enlighten my understanding” (Alma 32:28). The fruit is the gifts of the Spirit: charity, testimony, miracles, prophecy, revelation, visions, and healing. These gifts teach us that God loves us and how we can show our love for Him – by serving others. Eventually, Alma describes the fruit as “the fruit of the tree of life” (Alma 32:40). So the ultimate fruit is to live again with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Remember the Covenants: Past, Present, and Future
We often sing of the Lord: “We’ve proved Him in days that are past” (Hymns 19). God’s kept promises give us reason for hope. Our individual and collective experiences give us ample reason to trust in the Lord.

One of THE purposes of the Book of Mormon is to show all Israel “the covenants (or promises) of the Lord” (Title Page). Alma taught: “For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers” (Alma 37:17, emphasis added). Alma helps us have faith in God’s promises to us by reminding us of the promises already fulfilled to ancient Israel.

Nephi had to constantly remind his wayward brothers of the great things the Lord had done for their fathers in delivering them from Egypt. He says: “And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?” (1 Nephi 17:51). We need to constantly ask that same question: ‘how is it that the Lord cannot instruct me?’

Faith in the Promises
The problem that led Joseph Smith to pray in 1820 was “they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (JS-H 1:19). They didn’t believe the promises. If we don’t believe the promises, we are no different. The Lord has made tremendous promises to us – in the scriptures, through modern prophets, but also in our patriarchal blessings. Do we believe what the Lord has promised us there? Of all people, we should have faith in God’s promises.

Luke asked, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). In the Lord’s preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, he said one purpose of the Restoration was “that faith may increase in the earth” (D&C 1:21). Without the gospel context of promises and covenants, there would be no faith - or at least not much faith – on the earth.

I served my mission in Philadelphia. One of the most heartrending things I saw was the lack of intact families. It seemed that very few had fathers in the whole city. The missing fathers imply broken promises, or at least promises that should have been made but never were. The phrase from the parable of the sheep and goats: “As ye have done it unto one of the least of these… ye have done it unto me” certainly applies to breaking or keeping promises to our families (Matthew 25:40).

Broken promises are like wrecking balls leaving individuals, families, communities, and nations in shambles. Rightly did modern prophets warn that the disintegration of the family would bring destruction (see The Family: A Proclamation to the World).

Mortal life is specifically structured so that we may learn to be like our Heavenly Father. We learn firsthand the disastrous consequences of un-kept promises, infidelity, and the lack of faith. We also have the opportunity to make the most important kinds of promises: sacred covenants, the keeping of which will activate the power of the atonement in our lives.

Joseph Smith taught that “Being born again comes by the spirit of God through ordinances” (TPJS 162). Or, in other words, being born again comes by the Spirit through making and keeping promises.

Faith to Anchor the Souls of Men
Our faith in Jesus Christ allows the possibility of hope strong enough to anchor the souls of men (see Ether 12:4). When God makes a promise, He delivers. Ultimate hope, hope in the resurrection through Jesus Christ, is what Moroni calls “a more excellent hope” (Ether 12:32). Proximate, short-term hopes – like getting to date a particular girl or getting a particular job offer – are often disappointed. But these need not diminish our faithfulness to eternal promises. Neal A. Maxwell reminds us not to mistake local cloud cover for general darkness (see Lord, Increase Our Faith, 43-44).

In a masterpiece of a talk, Elder Holland points out just one more promise we have: “Mine angels shall go before you, and also my presence, and in time ye shall possess the goodly land” (D&C 103:20). Elder Holland continues, “What goodly land? Your goodly land. Your promised land. Your New Jerusalem. Your own little acre flowing with milk and honey. Your future. Your dreams. Your destiny” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence” BYU Speeches 98-99).

Faith and hope centered in Jesus Christ allow us to be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works” (Mosiah 5:15). We can see the promise of the resurrection, when we will be united forever with our families. We can see past difficulty and disappointment, and hold on to our faith. We can know that the Atonement of Jesus Christ covers not just our sins, but our sicknesses, our sorrows, our heartaches, and our trials (see Alma 7:11-13).

In evaluating your own faith, the best questions would be: Do you keep your baptismal covenants? Do you keep your temple covenants? Do you renew all your covenants regularly? Or, to borrow some grammar from the 19th century: Does you, or does you not keep your promise?

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