As I Was with Moses, so I Will Be with Thee

Before he stood in Pharaoh’s court to petition for the release of the Children of Israel, before he parted the Red Sea, and before he brought the Ten Commandments down from Sinai’s summit, Moses stood before the Lord and told Him that he wasn’t qualified for the job. Knowing that the Children of Israel would need a leader who could inspire, motivate, and guide them to a land of promise, Moses worried that he lacked the voice such a leader would need to have. Said he to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent…but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). When the Lord offered His encouragement, Moses struggled to see past what seemed to him an insurmountable deficiency in his ability to lead the people to freedom. Thus, the Lord gave Moses an alternative solution: “Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well…. And thou shalt speak unto him and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do…. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people” (Exodus 4:14-16). With Aaron’s help and voice, Moses was then able to unite the Lord’s people, confront Pharaoh, cross the Red Sea, and put the Children of Israel on a course to their promised land. Without Aaron’s talent for speaking, Moses might have failed in his prophetic role. Without Moses’ gift for leadership, Aaron might not have ever amounted to more than a maker of pretty speeches. Without the cooperation of those two men with complementary skill sets, the Children of Israel might never have escaped Egyptian slavery.

I think we all face, at one time or another, demands and expectations that dwarf us and leave us, like Moses, feeling like we just don’t have the skills to succeed. Sometimes, I look around and wonder if I shouldn’t leave my talents aside and work on developing the skills of those whose success seems more apparent to me than my own. But the Lord didn’t say to Moses, “Moses, I want you to be a prophet, but unless you learn to speak better, I’m going to have to find someone else,” and He surely wouldn’t turn to me or to you and say, “You know, I really hoped you’d have a successful career, but unless you start figuring out neurosurgery, I’ll have to give that success to someone else.” The Lord called Moses because He knew Moses; He knew the unique gifts that Moses had and the difference he would be able to make. The Lord wasn’t worried about the eloquence that Moses lacked: He was more interested in the faith, obedience, persistence, humility, and wisdom that Moses had in abundance and that he would use in leading the Children of Israel to freedom. Similarly, the Lord isn’t interested in casting us aside because of the traits we don’t have; rather, He aims to help us to become our best selves and to use our best traits in unique service to those around us.

The Lord looked to Moses’ strengths and not to his weakness when He called him to lead His people to freedom. (lds.org)

When the Apostle Paul taught the Saints in Corinth, he compared the Church to a body and the individual members to particular body parts. He explained:

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him.

In a similar way, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.” He also explained that any belief that “each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other…would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father.” That is, while we may all have similar objectives and aspirations, we do not always have the same roles. While our Father in Heaven expects us to keep the commandments, live well, and walk a course back to heaven, He does not expect us all to walk the same path. Of course, there are mandatory stops along the way: the Savior taught, for example, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” demonstrating the necessity of baptism (John 3:5). After baptism, the Lord expects us to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all mankind” (2 Nephi 31:20), but there is more than one way to fulfill that responsibility. One may press forward by organizing humanitarian relief efforts, another may press forward by composing inspiring and uplifting music, and yet another may press forward raising a family according to righteous principles.

We may, at times, look around and judge our gifts—not according to the time we have put into developing them—but according to the gifts we see in others and not in ourselves. We may look to a gifted musician and lament our lack of talent, unaware of the talents we have that the musician lacks. To borrow from Paul, if all were singers, who would care for the sick? Of course, that’s not to say that being a doctor is the best option: if all were doctors, who would teach children to add and subtract? It matters little, I think, what we do as long as we do all we can to use our unique abilities to improve our lives and the lives of those within our sphere of influence. The doctor who cures the critically ill does just as much good, I imagine, as the teacher who inspires a young mind to greatness or as the mother who comforts and quiets her crying child.

We shouldn’t, then, imagine that God wants everyone to conform to a single ideal of character. Rather, a loving Father who knows each of His children perfectly and personally provides counsel and commandments so that we can become our best selves. Especially through the example of His Son Jesus Christ, He has taught us the importance of faith, of hope, and of  love. We will never be diminished by keeping the commandments or by following God’s will. When He asks us to control our temper, it isn’t to turn us into docile doormats, but to protect us from anger that would otherwise disrupt our judgment and limit our ability to do good in the world. When He asks us to abandon vice, it is not to excise some essential aspect of who we are, but to remove a habit that holds us back from achieving our potential. Because He loves us, He wants to help us. He will never force us, but He will support us as we strive to be truer to ourselves and to Him.

When Moses had finished his work as prophet, the Lord called Joshua the son of Nun to be Moses’ successor. Over the many years that Moses had led the Children of Israel, he had done many mighty things and had established a divine law among the people. Then Joshua was called to fill the shoes of the head of the Exodus and of Israel’s lawgiver, and, like Moses before, Joshua must have expressed some doubt that he had what it would take to lead the people and to settle the Promised Land. Ever kind, the Lord did not reject Joshua because he was different from Moses. Instead, the Lord encouraged His new servant, saying, “[A]s I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage” (Joshua 1: 5-6). It is my testimony that our Father in Heaven knows us each as we are. He understands our thoughts and feelings, and He knows our aspirations and reservations. Beyond that, He knows our potential, and He knows how to help us to reach it. He expects us to work hard to be our very best selves by developing our talents and refining our skills. Just as He blessed Moses for his strengths and promised to uphold Joshua for his, He will bless us as we exercise our gifts for good. Surely, as He was with Moses, so He will be with us: He will not fail us, nor forsake us. So let us be strong and of a good courage, ever relying on the Lord for help to be our very best.

For the Labourer is Worthy of His Hire

In April of 2012, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the account found in Matthew 20:1-15, saying:

I wish to speak of the Savior’s parable in which a householder “went out early in the morning to hire labourers.” After employing the first group at 6:00 in the morning, he returned at 9:00 a.m., at 12:00 noon, and at 3:00 in the afternoon, hiring more workers as the urgency of the harvest increased. The scripture says he came back a final time, “about the eleventh hour” (approximately 5:00 p.m.), and hired a concluding number. Then just an hour later, all the workers gathered to receive their day’s wage. Surprisingly, all received the same wage in spite of the different hours of labor.

Though some of the workers had labored for twelve hours and others for only one, each and all of them received the same day’s wage. It’s important to recognize that those who had worked the entire day weren’t shortchanged at the end: they received full payment for a day of work. It’s much more thrilling, though, to recognize that those who had worked for only an hour didn’t end up being shortchanged just because they weren’t lucky enough to have been hired earlier in the day: they received payment for the full day of work that they had been ready and willing to perform. In the Savior’s parable, it didn’t matter when the laborers showed up to work—it mattered that they showed up at all. Extending the lesson of the parable to us, Elder Holland added that the Lord’s “concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there.” That is, rather than penalize us for not resolving a month ago to stop yelling at other drivers during rush hour, the Lord will bless and support our efforts for deciding today that everyone—even people who won’t drive as fast as we’d like—deserve our courtesy and respect.

provo-canyon-sunrise-769660-wallpaper

Of course, at the start of a new year, our aspirations are often a little grander than driving politely. If the new-year proliferation of advertisements for weight-loss programs, exercise regimens, and dating sites is any indication, a new year brings with it the winds of reinvention, of the hope that we can and will succeed in changing ourselves and our lives for the better. On the other hand, those winds are accompanied by an eddying undercurrent of satirical non-resolutions and cynical distrust of any aspiration that seems a little too dreamy—all as if to demonstrate a robust skepticism that we could ever really have what it takes to rise above our mundane and unremarkable routines. It’s clear, though, that the Lord doesn’t expect us to amount to nothing much: He commanded, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That teaching was echoed by the late Spencer W. Kimball, prophet and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when he said, “I remind you…that regardless of your present age, you are building your life; it will be cheap and shoddy or it will be valuable and beautiful; it will be full of constructive activities or it can be destructive; it can be full of joy and happiness or it can be full of misery. It all depends upon you…. And you…must not be just average.” From the mouth of the Savior Himself and from the  mouth of His latter-day prophet, we learn that there is much expected of us—much more than the world would lead us to believe.

As the Apostle Paul taught, some gift, talent, or “manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (I Corinthians 12:7). Our Creator gave each of us some spark of His divinity, some noble trait that, though a gift from Him, is uniquely ours to develop and use to ennoble and inspire those around us. Whether our gifts be apparently great, like those that enabled Esther to make her daring defense of the Israelites before her husband, the King of Persia, or seemingly small, like those that helped Ruth to provide committed care for her mother-in-law, we can use our unique traits and talents to accomplish great things. (Though these two women served in vastly different capacities, they are both remembered in Old Testament books that bear their names.) Thus, with the beginning of a new year, we shouldn’t shy away from becoming our best selves, for there is something noble in each of us, and even those less-obviously gifted, “which seem to be more feeble, are necessary” (I Corinthians 14:22). Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ recently declared, “You don’t need to wait for permission to become the person you were designed to be.” And, surely, we don’t. Indeed, only we can decide to act on our desires to improve—to defy discouragement and ignore fear and take a decisive first step.

For her quiet commitment to her noblest qualities, Ruth was remembered for centuries.

For her quiet commitment to her noblest qualities, Ruth was remembered for centuries.

While all of the laborers in the parable showed up to be hired, many of them probably found that the rest of their day did not go as planned. Some of those who had hoped to be hired in the morning didn’t find employment until the end of the afternoon, and some of those who were hired in the morning had to endure the heat of the sun at noon and the rigors of working in a vineyard for many hours. They all took the first step in showing up that day, but they couldn’t, just by taking that first step, guarantee that their second and third steps would land them where they hoped. Similarly, while we can decide to take the first step towards a goal, we cannot guarantee that our second or third—or even tenth—steps will be as flawless as our first. As we progress, we may not get the recognition we think we deserve, or we may not achieve the success we think we have earned. That doesn’t mean that our first step was somehow flawed or that we’ve set the wrong goal. It only means that change is hard and that we have to keep to trying. President Uchtdorf explained, “Another thing we need to remember when it comes to setting goals is this: We almost certainly will fail—at least in the short term. But rather than be discouraged, we can be empowered because this understanding removes the pressure of being perfect right now.” More often than not, sadly, I interpret an upset or failure as a signal that I’ve taken the wrong course. I let the bumps in the road persuade me that I’ve chosen the wrong road, and I forget what President Uchtdorf taught on another occasion, saying that “our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.” Surely, if we let the bumps and potholes along the way spook us off the path to success, we’ll never reach our destination. If we take each bump at a time, however, and circle each hole as it comes, we’ll progress consistently and end up where we hoped to be—maybe not all at once and surely not without wrenching work and determination, but, without doubt, we’ll eventually arrive. Not all of the laborers in the parable were hired when they had hoped or ended up working under ideal conditions, but they were all hired—and they all received the same generous reward.

“My beloved brothers and sisters, what happened in this story at 9:00 or noon or 3:00 is swept up in the grandeur of the universally generous payment at the end of the day,” Jeffrey R. Holland said. “The formula of faith is to hold on, work on, see it through, and let the distress of earlier hours—real or imagined—fall away in the abundance of the final reward. Don’t dwell on old issues or grievances—not toward yourself nor your neighbor….” He adds:

We consume such precious emotional and spiritual capital clinging tenaciously to the memory of a discordant note we struck in a childhood piano recital, or something a spouse said or did 20 years ago that we are determined to hold over his or her head for another 20, or an incident in Church history that proved no more or less than that mortals will always struggle to measure up to the immortal hopes placed before them….

I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but 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.

Sometimes, we resolve to make changes that will help us to look better or to earn more money more quickly. Sometimes, though, we feel we need to make deeper changes, ones that will bring us closer to God. Whatever we may feel that we need to improve, we can have the confidence that He will help us, for He did not create us to flounder and fail—but to flourish. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). We too can rest on that hope, for I know that, whatever hurdles we may face on our way to fulfilling our noble potential, Jesus Christ will help us and strengthen us every step of the way. Opposition will mark the way and seem to mar our efforts, but, as we press on with faith, it will be powerless to impede us permanently. “So don’t,” as Elder Holland put it, “hyperventilate about something that happened at 9:00 in the morning when the grace of God is trying to reward you at 6:00 in the evening—whatever your labor arrangements have been through the day.” It doesn’t matter in the end if we’ve never tried before or if we’ve tried before and failed. What does matter is that we refuse to accept failure and that we then continue on to success because, ultimately:

[The Lord’s] concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there.