The New Testament epistle to the Hebrews teaches that “the just shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38). It then goes on to catalogue the miraculous things that are recorded in the Biblical history, saying that, by faith, Enoch “was translated,” Noah “prepared an ark,” Abraham “sojourned in the land of promise,” Moses and the Children of Israel “passed through the Red sea as by dry land,” and “the walls of Jericho fell down” (Hebrews 11:5, 7, 9, 29, 30). Such a list can give the impression that the faithful are those who do fantastic things with their faith, or it can give the impression that the Lord’s approval is earned or manifest only through the spectacular. If we had more of the story, though, I think we would see that those miracles of Biblical proportions were preceded by lifetimes of diligent devotion, by habits of faith that prepared the people involved for the miracles they would later witness. Indeed, we would probably see that, rather than bless only those who manage to do a few marvelous things, God “is a rewarder of [all] them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
It is rarely the spectacle that fosters lasting faith. Even after having seen the Red Sea parted and Sinai’s summit aflame with the presence of the Lord, Israel famously wandered in the wilderness for forty years, building idols to worship and complaining that their lives had been better when they were slaves in Egypt. Despite seeing God’s hand at work in their lives, the rebellious in Israel did little to harmonize their lives with the will of the God who had delivered them from captivity. They were consequently blocked from entering the land of promise, having deprived themselves of the blessing of rest through their recalcitrance.
Contrast their experience with that of Alma as recounted in the Book of Mormon. The son of a prophet, Alma broke with his father and went about with the sons of the king, persecuting the faithful and fighting against the church of God. One day, however, “the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood” (Mosiah 27:11). The angel spoke specifically to Alma, saying, “Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more” (Mosiah 27:16). After his encounter with the angel, Alma lost his strength and remained as though dead for two days, and, when he recovered, he arose, saying, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit” (Mosiah 27:24). He then went on to be a great teacher of the gospel, the head of the church, and a prophet.
At first glance, Alma’s story seems to be one of miraculous conversion—an overnight change from critic to clergy. I don’t want to diminish the wonder of his encounter with the angel, but what Alma later taught about the origin of his faith has always surprised me: rather than tell the gathered multitude that his faith and devotion were the result of a spectacular intervention, Alma said, “Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true…. [T]hey are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true” (Alma 5:45-46). While the angelic visitation may have helped Alma to redirect his energies, it was his consistent devotion to small and simple acts of faith thereafter that solidified his conversion.
Alma’s experience has taught me that the secret of enduring faith is enduring action. The initial seeds of his faith might have been planted by the angel’s visit, but his faith only became deeply rooted through his commitment to pray, to fast, and to seek the Lord and His will consistently and often. Unlike the rebellious in Israel, Alma was willing to harmonize his life with the will of God, and that willingness, paired with action, brought about a change in his heart and in his life. Similarly, we can do much for our faith by doing small things consistently to show that we trust the Lord and that we want to know Him. The Savior Himself taught: “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). Surely, if we choose to trust rather than reject His teachings by committing to live according to them, we will come to know His love more clearly, and we will be blessed to see His hand at work in our behalf. Ultimately, our habit of faith will change us as Alma’s changed him. In the words of Elder Richard G. Scott, a modern-day Apostle, “With consistent practice, faith will become a vibrant, powerful, uplifting, inspiring force in your life.”
As important as it is to recognize that our faith doesn’t depend on our seeing the Red Sea part or the walls of Jericho fall, it is a blessing to acknowledge that we don’t need to build arks in order for our faith to be acceptable to the Lord. In fact, I’m confident that, at the end of this life, the Lord will be much more interested in what we have become than in what we have accomplished. As the Book of Mormon teaches:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19; emphasis added)
I don’t believe the Lord will look for a list of submissive things that we did or for patient things that we said; rather, He will look to see that submissiveness is a part of who we are and that patience is a component of our character. Thus, instead of looking for our accomplishments, the Lord will look to see how our habits of faith have changed us and improved us. Just as consistent acts of faith can foster belief, continuing commitment to such actions can transform us into saintlier beings. Elder Scott explained:
God uses your faith to mold your character. Character is the manifestation of what you are becoming. Strong moral character results from consistent correct choices…. Your faith can guide you to those correct choices. Clearly, it is what you do and what you think about that determine what you are and what you will become. Therefore, the choices you make need to be inspired by the Lord…. You need to ponder, pray, and exercise faith to willingly make choices consistent with the teachings of the Master. Such choices are made with trust in things that are believed and when acted upon will be confirmed.
Ultimately (and I might add mercifully), the Lord would much rather have us live lives of quiet devotion than to disregard Him except for a few dramatic displays of empty faith. What good are a few attention-grabbing accomplishments that go unreflected in one’s daily life when compared with a life of diligent, unyielding, and perhaps unrecognized faith? The value of developing habits of faith becomes clear to me when I consider that a habit of jogging for thirty minutes daily would do much more for my cardiovascular health than running a single marathon would do—unimpressive though any single outing may be when compared with the accomplishment of running a marathon.
As a final example of the power of habits of faith, Daniel, famous for surviving in the den of lions, did not start out with incredible miracles. When Daniel was first introduced to the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, he and his companions, committed to avoid defiling themselves with the king’s meat and wine, requested simpler and more wholesome food. Their overseer relented and fed them grains and water. Because of their commitment to a habit of faith in requesting wholesome food, the account tells us, “God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17). Later in Daniel’s life, his commitment to the habit of prayer put him at odds with the law to reverence only the king. In accordance with the law, Daniel was cast into the den of lions, but he was found safe and whole the next morning, saying, “God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me” (Daniel 6:22).
Such a spectacular miracle did not come about arbitrarily—it was a product of the faith that Daniel had accumulated through a lifetime of righteous habits. Because he had learned to trust the Lord through his consistent adherence to little truths, he had prepared himself to trust the Lord in larger matters, and the Lord honored his faith with marvelous blessings. Surely, as we develop our characters through unassuming habits of faith, kindness, and hope, we will prepare ourselves to accept the Lord’s will in all things and to receive His blessings at all costs. Indeed, by striving to develop habits of faith, doing what is within reach rather than overreaching for spectacular achievements that are beyond us, we will begin to see lasting and miraculous changes in our characters, in our hearts, and in our lives. We will come to trust more fully the promise that the Lord made through His servant Isaiah when He said, “[T]hou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me” (Isaiah 49:23).