The Voice of the Lord

Every April and October, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints broadcasts its General Conference via radio, television, and internet. At the semi-annual conference, the general leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ—including a living prophet and twelve modern-day apostles—teach us, as prophets of old once did, the truths that God wants His children to know. In addition to teaching, the speakers’ mission is to uplift us and to point us towards our Savior, Jesus Christ. Indeed, every conference I’ve watched has left me feeling a little more confident in my faith and a bit more prepared to face the challenges of life. I trust that October’s conference will be no different: it will be a strength and a blessing to all who listen.

Because God is our Father, He is concerned for each one of us individually, and, though the conference will broadcast generally, it can convey personalized messages to each one who listens. The Holy Ghost can and will highlight words and underscore feelings in order to help us to know and feel that God is our Father, that He hears our prayers, and that He wants to help us to achieve the good that we desire.

conferenceisforyou-conference

In April of this year, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, taught about our relationship to God and His role as our Father. I remember listening to his remarks and feeling the truth of his words. At a time when frustrations abounded in nearly every one of my pursuits, I heard in President Uchtdorf’s words a reminder that God would be my ally and helper, a reminder that illuminated the future with hope. Declaring that we are all children of God, he explained:

We have all seen a toddler learn to walk. He takes a small step and totters. He falls. Do we scold such an attempt? Of course not. What father would punish a toddler for stumbling? We encourage, we applaud, and we praise because with every small step, the child is becoming more like his parents….

[C]ompared to the perfection of God, we mortals are scarcely more than awkward, faltering toddlers. But our loving Heavenly Father…urges us not to be discouraged—never to give up or flee our allotted field of service—but to take courage, find our faith, and keep trying.

I know that God is our Father and that He does want to help us. I know that, somewhere in the messages of General Conference this weekend, there will be words meant just for me, and I know that all who watch—even just one of the sessions—will come away with a brighter hope and a firmer faith that God is their Father and friend.

I invite you, then, to watch the live stream of General Conference (with sessions at 10:00 a.m. MDT and at 2:00 p.m. MDT on both Saturday, October 5th, and Sunday, the 6th) and to hear the voice of the Lord.

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Another Testament

In the first chapter of the Book of Mormon, the ancient prophet Nephi writes, “[B]ehold, 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” (1 Nephi 1:20). About a millennium later, the last prophet to write in the record, Moroni, invited those who would read his words to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3). Indeed, from start to finish, the Book of Mormon provides a clear and accessible witness to the mercy and goodness of God. It is another witness of Jesus Christ, parallel to the testimony of the Bible, aimed at the “convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” It is a witness to the truth that God is our Father who loves us and who continues to work and speak for our benefit and salvation.

The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ's ministry in the Americas. (lds.org)

The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ’s ministry in the Americas. (lds.org)

Ask a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints why they believe that they’re a member of the only church led and authorized by Jesus Christ, and the answer will likely center around that member’s experience with testing the promise outlined in the introduction to the Book of Mormon: “We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost.” I don’t want to undercut the importance of asking God for a confirmation of truth, but for me and many (if not most) of those who have read the Book of Mormon and asked God about its truthfulness, the answer that came wasn’t accompanied by fireworks and ticker tape but was, rather, very quiet and almost imperceptible. Asking and receiving an answer was not an event that determined the trajectory of my life—it was, rather, a nudge in the right direction.

The Book of Mormon begins with Nephi’s account of his father’s prophetic call. His father, Lehi, was instructed by the Lord to call the people of Jerusalem to repentance: they had strayed from their commitment to the Lord and to His commandments. However, the people of Jerusalem rejected Lehi’s correcting counsel and even threatened to take his life. As a result, the Lord told Lehi to flee the city with his family and take refuge in the wilderness, promising that He would lead them to a choice land. Lehi obeyed and took his family with him into the Palestinian desert on a course to the sea. After a time in the wilderness, some of Lehi’s sons, pining for the pleasures of home, “did murmur many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart” (1 Nephi 2:11).

I imagine that Nephi, with the  hope of a promised land eclipsed by the then-present reality of living in a tent in the desert, might have wondered if his father really had been guided by the Lord into the wilderness. Rather than complain about the inconvenience of living in the desert or debate his father’s reasoning for fleeing Jerusalem, Nephi sought a confirmation from the Lord. He did, at the crossroads of his life, what the Book of Mormon invites its readers to do at the crossroads of theirs—ask God which road to take. He writes, “[I]t came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord…” The experience Nephi then had is, I believe, representative of the way God works. He continues, saying, “[A]nd behold [the Lord] did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers” (1 Nephi 2:16). In his account, Nephi doesn’t describe the Lord’s answer as a vision, voice, or visitation; in fact, he hardly describes the Lord’s response as any kind of distinct answer. Instead, Nephi relates that the Lord helped him to believe the words of his father. With that encouraging nudge, Nephi was able to go forward with trust (faith) in the Lord and in His purposes.

Decades later, after having lived in the promised land for years, Nephi described the experiences he had had with the Lord in the intervening decades:

I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me. Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me. (2 Nephi 4:20-24)

The first time that Nephi approached the Lord seeking an answer, the Lord only helped Nephi to believe the truth in question. However, Nephi trusted that quiet feeling and continued to trust in the Lord, turning to Him when new questions and difficulties arose.  What is remarkable about Nephi’s knowledge of the truth is not that it came in epiphany, but that it came after years of following quiet impressions with imperfect, though trusting, understanding. Eventually, Nephi’s knowledge and faith grew to the point that he began to see visions and angels—but that is not where he started.

When I first asked God if the Book of Mormon was true, no angel told me it was His word, and no voice from the heavens announced the truth of it. Rather, like He did for Nephi before, the Lord helped me to believe. As I’ve continued to seek the Lord’s guidance and strength, He has blessed me with  countless corrective and encouraging nudges. The accumulation of quiet witnesses of the truth has formed, for me, a certain foundation of faith. I don’t know everything, but I do know that God has heard and answered my prayers, strengthening and supporting me through life. Often, the answers and courage I sought have come from the pages of the Book of Mormon, further confirming my testimony that it is the word of God, a book that will bring us close to our Heavenly Father through the teachings and testimonies of Jesus Christ and His prophets.

Ezra Taft Benson, former president of the Church of Jesus Christ—and prophet of God—until his death in 1994 taught that we can really only enjoy the blessings of knowing that the Book of Mormon is God’s word when we begin to seek and apply its teachings:

It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which begins to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life,” and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.

Our Father in Heaven respects us too much to force us to believe in the truth, but, as we show our willingness to believe in and live according to the bits of knowledge He gives us, He will help us to know and understand ever greater truths.

My knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is rooted in the experience of practicing the truths I’ve learned while studying it: as I’ve applied its teachings, I’ve found greater joy and confidence, and I’ve come to understand and appreciate God’s love more completely. I haven’t seen angels or visions, but I have felt the Lord’s helpful nudges as I’ve tried to find the right path to follow. I know that, as President Benson promised above, anyone who sincerely seeks the Lord through the Book of Mormon will find a greater abundance of life and will be on a surer course to knowledge and joy because, surely, “by the power of the Holy Ghost [we] may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).

For those who have not yet read the Book of Mormon, click this link to request a free copy.

Or, read the Book of Mormon online.

Let There Be Light

Faced with the creation of a world and of all the life that would live on it—including His own children—God did not waste time stewing or worrying over what could have gone wrong. No, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep…. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3). With authority, God acted, and the darkness dispersed.

Faced with new opportunities, circumstances, and challenges, I think we, on the other hand, often respond more with trepidation than with authority (if my own tendency is any indication). Sometimes, it can be hard to commit when we doubt our own ability to succeed: in such situations, it can seem easier to resign to failure than to risk failure. Of course, those who give up will never overcome. Spencer W. Kimball, a former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, taught that “[our] altitude, or the height [we] climb, is dependent upon [our] attitude or [our] response to situations.” But how can we cultivate an attitude of determination and hope in new and difficult circumstances? How do we resolve to conquer a bad habit or to develop a good one? What justifies our confidence that things will work out even if we seem to be seriously outmatched by our situation?

The Book of Mormon tells the story of Jared and his brother. The Lord promised them that He would lead them and their families and friends “into a land which [was] choice above all the lands of the earth” (Ether 1:42). The Lord instructed them to build barges that would be able to survive periodic submersion in the rough seas between their home and the promised land. As the brother of Jared worked on the construction of the barges, he realized that watertight ships would also be miserably dark ships—an obstacle that seemed insurmountable. Recognizing that he was, perhaps, outmatched by his circumstances, the brother of Jared approached the Lord in prayer and said, “I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them” (Ether 2:22). He had followed the Lord’s instructions up to that point, and I suppose he could have decided that the oppressive darkness in the barges was proof that he had not been led by the Lord. The brother of Jared could have given up, saying that his hope of finding a promised land was a fantasy and not a promise from God. But he didn’t do that. Instead, he asked for help, “Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?”

The Lord responded to the brother of Jared’s prayer by confirming that light would not be easy to come by in the submersible vessels. Said He, “[Y]e cannot have windows, for they will be dashed to pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire. For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you” (Ether 2:23-24). The Lord continued, however, and offered His help, saying, “[W]hat will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:25)

Rather than simply solve the problem, the Lord responded by promising that He would help the brother of Jared to overcome the very real darkness that loomed in his future. The Lord prompted the would-be seafarer to try to solve the problem on his own and then present his plan to Him. Often, I think the Lord works in a similar fashion with us: rather than say, “Let there be light,” the Lord promises to illuminate our lives as we work out a plan to overcome the darkness.

The brother of Jared, then, started to work out a way to illuminate his vessels. The Book of Mormon relates that, fueled by his hope for a better tomorrow, the brother of Jared went to the mountains and “did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass” (Ether 3:1).

Thus, in his quest for light, the brother of Jared made rocks. By most people’s standards, I think it would be reasonable to argue that making rocks is a spectacularly embarrassing way to fail in an attempt to make light. The brother of Jared didn’t even think to bottle up fireflies—he made sixteen rocks.

However, the brother of Jared’s attempt would have been a magnificent failure only if he had stopped at stones. He didn’t, though. He turned to God, presented his stones, and proposed his solution, saying:

O Lord, look upon me in pity…and suffer not that [thy people] shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock. And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in the darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea. Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men. (Ether 3:3-5)

In response, “the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger,” and they began to give light (Ether 3:6).

Because the brother of Jared had the courage and faith to takes his rocks to the Lord and ask for help, the Lord responded by rewarding him with the light he had desired. Understood in this light, the brother of Jared’s rocks weren’t so much a sign of failure as they were a sign that he had done all he could do and that he was ready for the Lord’s help. In our own quests for light, we often end up making rocks—not because we’ve slacked off, but because rocks are all we’re capable of making. As I’ve thought about the brother of Jared’s experience, I’ve learned that it’s okay for us to make rocks as long as we remember to take them to the Lord in faith and ask Him to turn our rocks into lights.

Surely, Jesus Christ is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). We cannot achieve anything of eternal significance without His help: we can only make rocks. With His help, however, we can achieve great things. As we seek that help and believe that it will come, we will see His hand at work as he turns our embarrassing failures into brilliant successes. Of course, we have to be willing to make our rocks—to do all that we can do, even if it seems futile to us. As Elder Gene R. Cook taught, “We should have great hope in knowing, however unworthy we may feel or weak we may be, that if we will do all we can, He will come to our aid and provide for us whatever we may lack.” This is the grace of Christ, to turn our meager efforts into eternal blessings.  So, whether we face a new school year, a new job, or even a new resolution to do something more with our lives, I know that we can find hope and success as we turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and rely on the help that He will so graciously provide.