Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Praying (and Persevering) for a Promised Land

More than four thousand years ago, two brothers had a dilemma. They lived in a city founded by one of Noah's grandsons in the middle of modern-day Iraq. Both men were fathers and providers for their families. They were righteous men, but the city where they lived had become wicked. They knew the Lord was not pleased with what was going on around them. They also knew that the Lord's pending wrath meant the people would be scattered and their languages confused-- and that they might not ever see, or be able to understand, each other again.

Faced with this difficult circumstance, one of the brothers, whose name was Jared, did what every older brother and fearless leader would do: he delegated. 'Cry unto the Lord,' he told his brother, 'that he will not confound us' (Ether 1:34). When the Lord had promised not to confuse the language of Jared and his brother, Jared asked his brother to pray again for their friends and a third time, accepting that they may be scattered like the rest of their people, for direction on where they should go.

To this third inquiry, the Lord responds that he would, 'go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth' (Ether 1:42). Though the land would be choice and their descendants were promised to become the greatest nation on earth, the work didn't stop there. This small group was not yet ready to receive that ultimate blessing. Preparation would take at least, but likely much more than, five more years.

That preparation included four significant moves-- first north to the land of Nimrod, then out into the wilderness 'where there never had man been', on to the land along the beach, where they lived in tents for four years, and finally across the ocean to reach their ultimate goal. Their travels included building barges to cross the water on at least two separate occasions (with earlier builds likely enhancing the quality of the vessels that would cross the ocean), finding and preparing food for themselves and herds of animals they had brought with them, and solving problems of insufficient light, steering, and air on the eight water-tight barges built to cross the ocean. They were spiritually prepared as they sought answers to their prayers, followed the Lord in a cloud across the wilderness and, after they had been faithful for many years, as the brother of Jared saw the premortal Christ and all things from the beginning of the world to the end.

The final leg of their 6,000-mile journey isolated three or four adults, if they were divided evenly, with their children and animals in eight windowless, water-tight barges for just over eleven months as they crossed the ocean. The ocean waves were like mountains and the winds were fierce. The craft were tossed and frequently submerged under the water, sometimes only coming up for air after they had prayed for relief. The people, now unified as 'Jaredites', had learned to trust in the Lord, so they filled their time with grateful singing and praises to God.

When they finally landed on the American continent, the 'promised land' they had been working for years to achieve, there was more to be done. After rejoicing and thanking the Lord for what he had given them, they set about the work of dividing the land, tilling it to plant their crops, and establishing a government. Their lives were not likely very easy by our standards, but they had achieved something far greater. 'They were taught to walk humbly before the Lord,' the scripture says, 'and they were also taught from on high'. Becoming what the Lord wanted them to be, and knowing him well enough that he could teach them his will and doctrine, was far a greater prize than even the land they had acquired.

Whether a physical place or a goal to achieve something significant in our lives, each of us is striving toward our own 'promised land'. In our striving, it is useful to take note of the pattern that is prevalent in scripture. Of all the stories of peoples led to promised lands-- be it Abraham, Moses, Lehi, the modern pioneers or one of the others-- each began in the face of a difficult situation. Abraham was nearly murdered by his father; Moses was left for dead in the deserts of Arabia; Lehi was troubled by the prophecies that Jerusalem would be destroyed; and Joseph Smith wrestled with the question of which church he should join.

What separates these men from their peers, why they were led to great blessings and ultimately empowered to obtain 'promised lands' when others facing the same challenges around them were destroyed, is twofold: first, these men took their challenges to the Lord with faith that He would respond; and second, having received an answer from the Lord, they worked hard to accomplish His will for them.

None of these examples initially prayed for a promised land, either. The brother of Jared prayed to preserve the language of his family and friends; Abraham desired to be saved from his father and then to receive the priesthood; the Israelites prayed for freedom; Lehi prayed in behalf of his people; Joseph prayed for truth. Each received the desires of their hearts, but then submitted themselves to the further counsel and direction given by the Lord.

A period of temporal and spiritual preparation ensued in every case. Most of the stories we read in scripture come from these refining periods in the lives of the faithful. The Jaredites wandered over five years to reach their goal, learning shipbuilding and the nature of God as they went; Moses and the Israelites witnessed many miracles and received the Ten Commandments that would be the basis of their government while wandering the desert for 40 years; the early Saints received the restored gospel through the Book of Mormon and learned how to build temples in the 27 years it took to reach the Salt Lake Valley and are still waiting to build the New Jerusalem in Jackson County, Missouri.

It should be no surprise that reaching significant goals also takes significant time and effort. It takes an average of nine months for a baby to be born and an average of eighteen years to teach that baby to be an adult; great companies take an average of four years to define their values and another seven to fifteen years to realize their greatest successes (and five years of research just to figure that out); successful military campaigns are rarely won in a day, the best crops do not come from the first or second or third year of planting, marathons are rarely ran the first time a person gets off the couch, and the faith to see God does not come from a single, thoughtless petition to 'bless the food' or 'drive home safe'. Even when these goals are achieved, it will be following the Lord's guidance for our lives that will bring blessings so great that we will sing grateful praises though we're tossed and submerged by the storms of life.

Like Jared and his brother, we are faced today with the most difficult of circumstances. Though our individual lives have different challenges, we share a fallen, sinful nature that is unworthy to return to our Heavenly Father. Whatever other promises you or I may obtain from the Lord, He has promised each of us a place in His kingdom if we will follow the pattern outlined in scripture.The journey begins with earnest prayers for ourselves and others that we may receive His promise, then requires a significant period of preparation as we repent, receive necessary ordinances and develop the traits and abilities needed to make the final leg of the journey. Finally, if we endure it well, it will be our privilege to go about our Father's business in the promised land of His Celestial Kingdom.

It is God's desire that we all obtain this promise, and with it, all that He has. It is possible if we will follow the example of the prophets by turning to Him in faith and, trusting in His divine wisdom, put our time and effort to accomplishing His will for us.

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