Thursday, March 8, 2012

Headwinds and Tailwinds

As I've started riding my bike to work in recent months, I have learned a great deal about the importance of wind. The wind blows most every day across the fields and desert around my home and along the four-mile stretch of road to the building where I work. Unseen and usually unheard, the strength and direction of the wind can be the difference between riding to work in record time and arriving exhausted from a hard-fought commute.

Most often my ride to work begins with the hope for a tailwind. I want to be as Nephi, "driven forth before the wind towards the promise land". I want to go fast without as much effort and be able to share with those around me when I arrive just how fast I can go on my bike.

That's not usually how it goes, however.

Eighty percent of the time, there is a headwind. It bursts and blows and opposes my progress. Pedaling becomes more difficult, level road feels like an uphill climb and progress toward my destination seems unbearably slow. I can see reality on my speedometer-- it's not as grim as it feels-- but burning leg muscles and a pounding heart believe I'm in the mountain-splitting winds experienced by Elijah.

I'm grateful for the lessons the wind has taught me the last few months on my brief trek to work. In my own mind, the wind has served as a strong metaphor for life. The headwinds are hard to face, but riding in headwinds has improved my strength and ability more rapidly than riding in tailwinds, which I usually take for granted. Somehow the push of a tailwind is harder to notice and the resulting successes easier to attribute to my own strength and effort.

I've also learned that there are places I can look for help riding in the wind. From the main road I can see a large flag marking a new housing development about halfway down the road. The flag flies high above the houses and shows the strength and direction the wind is blowing. My cyclocomputer keeps reality and view, showing my speed, distance and how much time I have left to be at work. In a strong wind, shifting gears makes pedaling easier. In the dark of night, a headlight keeps my path lit and helps passing traffic to know that I am there. And when I am exhausted at the end of a long day or a long week, willing friends can load my bike into their pickup trucks and drive me home.

The same aids are available in life. Prophets and apostles share with us each conference and in the Ensign the way the storms of life will blow on the road ahead. Scriptures keep our minds filled with truth and free from the mental and spiritual traps in the philosophies of men. Frequent and faithful prayer keeps our paths lit and our spirits in tune with the still, small voice that will guide and protect us from danger.

And when we are exhausted, we can remember the words of Amos:

For, lo, he that formeth the mountains, and createth the wind, and declareth unto man what is his thought, that maketh the morning darkness, and treadeth upon the high places of the earth, The Lord, The God of hosts, is his name.

One night near the beginning of the ministry of Christ, a "great storm of wind" began to fill his ship with water. Christ's disciples awoke him from his sleep, panicked at the possibility of drowning in the storm-tossed sea. Christ arose, "and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm".

Just as Christ can calm the winds, he can lift the burdens in our lives. Through Christ, we can feel the relief of forgiveness, the strength to endure and the great calm of the Holy Ghost. As we put our trust in Christ, our friend, we will be able to exclaim:

Master, the terror is over.
The elements sweetly rest.
Earth's sun in the calm lake is mirrored, 
And heaven's within my breast.

Linger, O blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more,
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor
And rest on the blissful shore.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Most Joyous to the Soul

At some time in life, and to varying degrees throughout life, all of us seek to know if God is real and if he is mindful of us. The history of man is filled with accounts of men and women from every continent, ethnic group and generation seeking communion with an all-powerful, all-knowing deity. Something about it just feels natural.

We feel the stirring in our souls when we stare up at a star-filled sky or breathe in a scenic mountain sunrise. We feel peace in our hearts when we look out over a calm ocean horizon or stop to notice the great breadth of a clear blue sky. Paul explains that these feelings of gratitude and awe are from God, our Heavenly Father: "The work of the law [is] written in [our] hearts, [our] conscience also bearing witness" (Romans 2:15). And again, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with out spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16). No wonder our hearts reach out to God so often when we long for happiness and joy; our conscience testifies that such comes from God.

Nephi shared what he learned by the Spirit: "The love of God... sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore it is the most desirable above all things... and the most joyous to the soul" (1 Nephi 11:22-23). Using the superlative "most" in both cases should capture our attention. Our souls, regardless of our conscious thought, most want to feel the love of God. This is what would bring us the most joy-- more than any other thing we could do or say or think or feel.

So how do we obtain the love of God?

First, we must understand how God extends his love to us. John wrote that "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Elder Maxwell expounded:

Because of that profound gift of divine love, all mankind will be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:22). In truth, God 'loveth the world' (2 Nephi 26:24). He crafted this planet to be inhabited by us, His spirit children (Isaiah 45:18). We are, in fact, at the center of God's 'work and glory,' the very focus of which is to 'bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man' (Moses 1:39). What could be more indicative? More declarative? More redemptive? ("Whom the Lord Loveth", 36).

God extends his love to us through the Creation, the Atonement, the Resurrection and thousands of tender mercies, answered prayers and whispered directions in between. In short, we are safe to conclude that God extends his love to us through Christ, our Mediator, Creator, Savior and King.

So we may improve our question: "How do we access the love of God through Christ?"

Nephi's commentary is very useful in reaching this goal. Interpreting his father's dream, Nephi writes that the center figure of the vision, a tree bearing fruit, was symbolic of the love of God. His father, Lehi, describes the fruit as, "desirable to make one happy", "most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted", and "white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen". In the midst of fog, noise and confusion, two markers led the way to the tree: an iron rod and a narrow path.

The iron rod is symbolic of the world of God. So we know that the word of God leads to the love of God; or, that scripture points the way to Christ. Yet, knowing how to get there is not the same as being there. Holding fast to the iron rod, we must also walk along the narrow path. We must act upon what we know to be true. Several scripture passages emphasize that walking along the path especially includes having faith, repenting of our sins, being baptized by immersion for the remission of sins and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

Just as knowledge without actions is static, if we act without knowledge we can become lost in the fog and confusion of the world. If we are to experience the most joy our soul can possibly experience, we must combine the pursuit of knowledge through regular scripture study with a willingness to continually improve our ability to obey the commandments of God we find in scripture.

It is also of no coincidence that our pursuit of the love of God will require us to develop charity, the pure and everlasting love of Christ in our hearts. This is a very robust, sincere kind of love. As we learn to love our fellow man as Christ loves them, and as we learn and act more upon what we know, we will find that we have become a great deal like our Savior, Jesus Christ, and our Father in Heaven.

This is what brings the greatest possible joy to our souls. Putting forth the required effort, we become as He is-- granting us the same blessings that he now enjoys. Justified and sanctified by the power of the Atonement, we may recognize and feel the love of God.

Our incomprehensible potential should affect how we see the world. In the stars or the flowers or the smiles of small children we catch a glimpse of God's love-- reminders of what could be. In the commandments of God, we find the keys to our success and the map to our desired destination. In obedient and righteous action we bring ourselves nearer to the goal and expand our capacity for love and joy through frequent application.

What a joy it truly is, then, to be as involved as we possibly can in the learning and living of gospel principles! A work with so great a reward could never be a burden. With cheerful hearts and scriptures in hand, we can grab hold of the iron rod and take another step or two toward the greatest joy for our souls. We can do it today. We can start now.

May God bless each of us in our journey to become as He is.