Faith, trusting in the Lord

I had the opportunity to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting last Sunday. I’m not one who enjoys being in front of people like that, but I was actually excited when I saw the topic – “Faith, trusting in the Lord.” That is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. :)

Funny thing – I found out a little over a month beforehand and almost immediately had a basic outline come to mind, based on the thoughts I’d been having about the subject already – an outline strongly based on our own experiences with faith. I was content with this rough outline until about a week beforehand and then started to try to write it. “Try” is the right word for it. It just wouldn’t come out. I tried for hours, many days through the week. Saturday arrived and I was still trying, for hours, and still getting nothing. Finally, at about 8pm I just gave up and said “OK, so apparently that outline wasn’t right. What should I say?” And then it came, fairly smoothly. I was still up horribly late though. I guess that’s what I get for being so stubborn before. :)

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A few years ago, as I was trying to better understand faith, I found myself drawn to the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. They were told to worship an idol or they would be burned. Their response was “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:15–18). “But if not.” That phrase jumped out to me. They knew that God could work the miracle, and they believed that He would. I wonder if they realized how far their faith would be tested. Did they picture being protect in the fire? Perhaps they pictured the deliverance being the ability to escape before the fire. But their faith wasn’t dependent upon the miracle. Their faith was in God, not in the mortal outcome.

Job also had this kind of faith. Despite losing all he had materially been blessed with, as well as family and friends, he declared, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” (Job 13:15).

Thinking of this “but if not” faith, I am reminded of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. They faced death when, knowing other Lamanites were coming to attack them – because of their faith – they chose to keep their covenant with the Lord and did not fight back but rather knelt down and prayed. Unlike the other examples, they were not all spared before death. A thousand and five of them were killed, praising God even as they died. Their faith wasn’t weaker than Job’s or Shadrach’s, but they did not receive the same mortal deliverance. But as the other Lamanites saw the righteous example, they stopped their killing and many repented.

“And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those who had been slain were righteous people, therefore we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved… thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people” (Alma 24:26–27). I love this verse, as it reminds me that part of trusting in the Lord is realizing that He sees things on an eternal level. That sometimes we do not receive the blessing we seek in this mortal life because He has a bigger plan that spans beyond this mortal life. By trusting in the Lord even through sufferings and death, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis were able to spread the gospel to those who weren’t open to the teachings previously, though most probably they didn’t know that they were doing that. The slain were all faithful, all had repented, and therefore all were prepared to meet God in joy.

When we trust in the Lord, miracles do happen. But they are not always miracles of physical deliverance. Sometimes the miracle is the strength we receive to endure the trial.

To illustrate this, let us remember the people of Alma. These were the faithful people who defied the wicked king Noah and were converted and baptized, risking their lives to do so. They had to flee for safety, leaving behind their homes. But they were blessed – “and the Lord did strengthen them, that the people of king Noah could not overtake them to destroy them. And they came to a land, yea even a very beautiful and pleasant land, a land of pure water” (Mosiah 23: 4).

Their situation became better than it had been before. They were now able to live with other righteous people, able to openly living their religion without fear, able to be led by a righteous man rather than a wicked king. From the record, it sounds like they had a true Zion community. And “they began to prosper exceedingly in the land” (Mosiah 23: 18–19). Their faithfulness had been rewarded.

But the story doesn’t stop there. Mormon wrote, “Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith. Nevertheless – whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people” (Mosiah 23:21–22)

As these faithful people were going about their work, they were discovered by an army of the Lamanites. They were afraid, “[b]ut Alma went forth and stood among them, and exhorted them that they should not be frightened, but that they should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them” (Mosiah 23:27). So they replaced their fears with faith and prayed for safety. And they were spared. The Lamanites took possession of the land, but did not harm the people. The Lord had blessed them for their faithfulness. And yet they were no longer free. In fact, the person given command of them was Amulon, one of the wicked priests of king Noah, who hated Alma and the church. Amulon “exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put taskmasters over them. And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God. And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death” (Mosiah 24: 9–11) They could no longer pray out loud, but they continued to pray in their hearts.

“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24: 13–15).

They had faith, they trusted in the Lord. They were not immediately delivered from their struggles, in fact, as far as we know, their tasks weren’t even affected a little bit. But they were strengthened to be able to bear it. And they continued to have faith and trust.

And then they were delivered. When the time came, the Lord caused their captors to sleep so deeply that they didn’t notice the entire people leave the city. And the people were protected until they were able to reach the safety of the rest of the Nephites.

As I read this story in preparing this talk, I thought a lot about the situation – the people had been delivered, even miraculously, and given an amazing blessing – a beautiful land in which they could build a faithful community. And then it was taken, and not because they had stopped being faithful. How easy it could have been for them to doubt then, to wonder if the Lord really cared. And especially when, again, living the gospel brought on persecution, even threats of death. How easy it would have been for them to focus on all they had lost – kicked out of their homes twice. And yet, how different the Book of Mormon would have been if they had not suffered both losses.

If they had been left alone in peace in the land, they would not have joined the rest of the Nephites, at least not at that time. And the Nephites would not have benefited from the great care and preaching of both Alma and later (after conversion and repentance) his son Alma the Younger. The sons of Mosiah would not have been present then as the angel corrected Alma the Younger. And it was that experience that kindled in them a desire to serve as missionaries. And it was because they served as missionaries that thousands of Lamanites were later converted to the gospel, repenting of their murderous ways so completely that they would not kill even to save themselves. How much would have been lost had the people of Alma not been pressed to move onward, away from the land where they had found peace for a time, to the Nephites?

Alma the Younger told his sons, “[W]hosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 36:3).

When we have faith, when we trust in the Lord, we are sometimes blessed with outer peace, with prosperity, with health. But when we truly trust in the Lord, we learn to trust in Him no matter what happens, and we receive inner peace, no matter what happens. We learn that sometimes what seems best to us at the time isn’t what we need. We learn that sometimes we have to go through hard experiences to become stronger, or to better be able to bless those around us. I know personally, if my family had been given all the righteous desires we had, we wouldn’t be here –our family would be back in Utah with Bryan working as a seminary teacher. We wouldn’t have ever known this area, or the people here. We wouldn’t have learned what it was like to experience unemployment, and therefore we would be less able to lift up others who may experience it. We would not have met and learned from all the wonderful friends we have here.

The scriptures are full of examples – both times in which the righteous were miraculously blessed and delivered – Daniel; David; Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego; and times in which they were not, such as was the case of many prophets as well as many of the people of Ammon. But, through the scriptures, we can see that always the Lord was there with them, strengthening them even when they had to endure.

The greatest example of true, complete trust in our Father, comes from His Son. One of the comforting qualities of our Savior is that He understands our heartache, our struggles, our pains. But He gained this understanding through the Atonement. Had He not had to experience the Atonement, He would not have been able to completely provide that comfort. In Gethsemane He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me” (Mark 14:36) “nevertheless not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). And He was not saved from His pains. He endured them to the end. And because He did, He then emerged stronger, with power to reach out and lift up all of us. In the eternal perspective, His pains, though incomprehensible to us, lasted but a moment and enabled Him to experience incomprehensible joy that He was able to offer hope to us. Thus can be our experience when we learn to fully have faith, to fully put our trust in the Lord, no matter what may come.

I know these things to be true. I know that our Father in Heaven loves us. I know that we can trust him completely, and that when we do so He will work miracles in our lives. The miracles may not always be ones we see immediately, or even ones we see in this life, but they will be there. I know that when we trust Him and submit ourselves to His will we will be blessed, we will be able to grow in ways we could not have known otherwise and be able to be instruments in His hands in serving others of His children. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Another funny thing – as I prepared to post this, I found another post I wrote years ago on the same subject – http://www.beckmanfamily.net/2008/08/cassias-sunday-musings-08-24-08/. I had not memory of that post until now. I guess the topic has been on my mind for a very long time. :)

This concept was planted in me during my pregnancy with Kathryn, when I was praying for her safety yet also aware that while I knew it was right to go ahead and have another baby, I didn’t know what else His will entailed – whether she would be safe or whether we were to walk a very hard road. I’d previously had the idea that if I wanted a miracle I needed to have faith that it would happen and that any doubt could weaken the chances of seeing the miracle, yet this kind of intensely focused faith seemed at odds of the need to say “Thy will be done,” especially knowing that if it wasn’t His will, I wouldn’t see the miracle no matter how much I was sure it would happen. I knew He could work miracles, but I didn’t know if He would in my particular circumstance. This idea of faith in God and acceptance of whatever He sent us brought me peace and eased my fears – I could hope for the desired blessing, and express my complete knowledge that it was in His power to work it, yet also realize that even the hard road could end up being the blessing I actually needed and that if I did end up facing that I could turn to Him for strength and comfort. We did end up receiving the desired blessing and Kathryn was protected, much to the surprise of the doctors we were working with. I was very grateful for that! But also so very grateful that I didn’t know that for sure from the beginning, that I’d been given the opportunity to learn to trust.

That struggle to understand faith then blessed me a few months later as Bryan tried to transition from school to the workforce. I still had moments of fear in that uncertainty, but I was mostly able to hold to the peace I’d felt earlier – that I didn’t know what would happen, but I could trust that as long as I continued faithful that we’d be OK. What OK meant may not be what we hoped for, but we would still be blessed and strengthened.

Five months into the job search he finally found what seemed to be the ideal job. And it came just as we literally reached the end of our financial means. We were filled with gratitude. And then, 3 weeks later, it was gone with an evening phone call – no warning, no real explanation beyond an assurance that he hadn’t done anything wrong, effective immediately in a “don’t ever come back – someone else will get your stuff for you” way. It was terrifying and confusing. We’d been given the blessing and it was yanked away in a very harsh manner.

We tried to start again and had some promising leads, but they all seemed to dissipate quickly. Bryan sent out application after application into the internet black hole, told by companies not to contact them – they would review the applications and contact those they were interested in. We again found ourselves at the very end of our financial abilities, not knowing what to do next. When he’d lost the previous job he’d been given a form for unemployment compensation but we’d received a notice that we didn’t qualify. Which didn’t really surprise us as we didn’t know if his previous employment through the school even counted. Then, just before Christmas (when we were out of money and had no idea how we’d pay January rent) we received another notice, that we did qualify in fact and that we’d receive back payments – enough to cover our necessities for the next two months, which then reached us until again got more help in the form of our tax refund.

We were grateful for the financial miracles that were happening – we were not rich obviously, not even “comfortable,” but we had enough to scrape by. But it was still a very dark time. Again, hopes for a job kept falling through – a friend’s company was hiring in a position that would be a great fit and the friend encouraged Bryan to apply. He didn’t get it and later learned that he was one of over 500 applications. Another person told Bryan he not only knew of a tutoring job but he’d talked to the person in charge and she had said she’d like to hire Bryan – a part time job, but a job nonetheless! But then Bryan couldn’t find it – he was told only the intersection of the company and a time to expect the person to be in the office but he searched all over and never found it. And then that person didn’t answer any more emails asking for more information. An internship opportunity came up, then took over 5 months to actually start. Bryan took a project management class, with the instructor very generously and kindly waiving the fee, as his previous employer had suggested that he may be good at that (since we couldn’t find jobs in his current field of training). The class had good information, but he learned he couldn’t take advantage of the certification because he didn’t have the required work experience.

During this hard time I struggled to keep the peace I’d felt. I mentioned to a friend that I was scared – we’d been able to make our rent payments thus far, but I didn’t know how long we could continue. I didn’t know what we’d do and feared the possibility of having to leave the home we were living in, not knowing where to go next. My friend told me confidently not to worry, that we were faithful and we wouldn’t have to endure that (though she then went on to tell of some other good friends she had who were being kicked out because they weren’t able to make payments). While I would have liked to accept that, I immediately felt she misunderstood. I knew that we could be faithful and still get kicked out of our home. Being good doesn’t take away all the struggle and pain of this world. And then I was again reminded of the trusting no matter what – perhaps, if we did have to leave, that we would find ourselves in another place that we were needed, that perhaps having to leave would give us a chance to learn from or help someone we’d never have met otherwise, perhaps having to leave would end up being a blessing later. I still didn’t want it though. :) But I tried to hold on to that trust.

And then Bryan got a phone call for the job he currently has. A job he’d applied to more than half a year before and had never heard back from. A job that never lists its openings online but fills them from internal referrals. A referral he had received from someone he’d met in that class that at the time had felt to be perhaps a waste of time since he couldn’t do anything with it. A class he’d never had been in were it not for the previous employer, for the job that had come and then ended at just the right time to put him where he needed to be to now have this job. The “blessing that was taken away” was actually a blessing that was given, we just didn’t know it or understand it at the time.

I don’t know what will come of this job. It is still going well and we currently expect it to continue going well for many, many more years. It may be the end of the unemployment trial. Or it may be still yet a step. But it’s where we need to be at this time, and it’s truly a blessing.

And this experience has further strengthened my “faith in God, not the outcome” mindset. We have now been able to see how the struggle was a blessing. We definitely couldn’t see that right away, nor for many many months. But we can see it now, and are grateful. We’ve had other similar experiences when we felt something was nearly perfect only to have it “taken away” (the idea of Bryan being a professor as well as nearly every big purchase we’ve made – our cars, van, and house) and then find that the original “nearly perfect” experience, complete with having it not work out, had prepared us to be ready to act when the “perfect for our needs” one that came after. Or, as in the case with the very healthy pregnancy with Emma that without warning developed a problem that would effect every pregnancy after, the struggle allowed me to learn and become a better and stronger person. The struggle was a blessing. And I know there are others that we don’t realize yet, perhaps that we will realize years from now, perhaps that won’t become clear as a blessing until after this life. But as we learn to truly trust in the Lord, we learn to be able to accept His blessings, both the clear ones and the not so clear ones, and learn to receive His peace and strength and comfort no matter our circumstances.

And I guess the personal experience-focused “talk” I’d originally intended has now basically come out. It just wasn’t the right time for it when I was writing the talk. :)

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