Saturday, August 17, 2013

Line Upon Line

Around 1440 A.D., a goldsmith in Germany's wine region forever changed the world. Adapting the design for screw-type wine presses of the day, Johannes Gutenberg used his metalworking skills and observations of local wineries to build a printing press with movable type. The press marked the first time in world history that the written word could be mass produced and made available for the common man. It triggered religious reformation and political warfare with the printing of the Bible. Science, art and culture spread quickly with the distribution of Grimm's Fairy Tales and academic texts from the world's leading minds. It was a revolutionary breakthrough in a time when the world desperately needed a break.

Less than four centuries later, Joseph Smith's earnest prayer was answered with the glorious appearance of God, our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. Joseph learned, and subsequently we have all been given the opportunity to know, the reality of God and a great deal about His nature. The knowledge that God is real, has a physical body of flesh and bone, continues to speak to men through revelation and is separate from His Son changes our understanding of humanity, our own purpose in life and the love and potential available for each is us in profound ways. The restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, beginning with the First Vision, is the most significant breakthrough for the progress of humankind since the resurrection of Christ nearly two thousand years ago.

Each of us benefit daily from countless big breakthroughs that have occurred over the last six thousand years. Vaccines and medications keep us healthy or improve the healing process; business breakthroughs give us more for our money and grow our investment accounts; technology breakthroughs help us communicate instantly around the world; social science breakthroughs improve our understanding of people and the societies they create; and our own personal breakthroughs build confidence and shape our outlook on life. In fact, big breakthroughs have become so common it's almost unfathomable to consider what the world would be without Edison's lightbulb, Franklin's essays on politics, Bell's telephone, Newton's laws of motion, Luther's common Bible, or Jobs' iPod.

Dealing so frequently with revolutionary things can sometimes make it hard to deal with revelatory things. We may become frustrated or confused when the answers to our prayers don't come as quickly as a microwaved meal or as loud as the movie theater surround sound. Revelations that don't come with a powerful spiritual affirmation may seem like they're not revelations at all or sometimes we may even feel like we've received conflicting guidance. Our feelings may be magnified if we know we are praying for something good or asking about something important like whom to marry, when and how to grow our families, which job to take or school to attend, or how to help someone who may have wandered astray from the Lord's path.

Elder Bednar has taught:

Let me suggest that many of us typically assume we will receive an answer or a prompting to our earnest prayers and pleadings. And we also frequently expect that such an answer or a prompting will come immediately and all at once. Thus we tend to believe the Lord will give us a big answer quickly and all at one time. However, the pattern repeatedly described in the scriptures suggests we receive 'line upon line, precept upon precept,' or, in other words, many small answers over a period of time. Recognizing and understanding this pattern is an important key to obtaining inspiration and help from the Holy Ghost.

In many ways, receiving revelation is a lot like riding a bicycle. You may get on the bike to reach a destination, but it takes a lot of pedaling to get there. Similarly, a baby chick's big breakthrough may be when the egg cracks, but a successful hatch requires a lot of prep work from the chick before it ever encounters the outside world.

The truth is that most of what we see as overnight breakthroughs are the result of a lot of prep work. The average business 'breakthrough' is seven years in the making. Gutenberg worked four years to make his printing press. Edison famously found 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb before he found the one that made him famous. Joseph Smith pondered the words of God on his own, with his family, and in several congregations before learning God's will for him. If we want to see the full picture, we have to be willing to assemble the puzzle.

Elder Bednar continued:

Sister Bednar and I frequently visit with students who wonder about career choices and how to properly select a school at which to study and receive additional education. Many times a student is perplexed—having felt as though “the” answer about a career or a school was received at one particular point in time, only to feel that a different and perhaps conflicting answer was received at another point in time. The question then is often asked, “Why did the Lord give me two different answers?” In like manner, a student may sincerely seek to know if the person he or she has been dating is “the one.” A feeling of “yes” at one time may appear to be contradicted by a different feeling of “no” at another time. May I simply suggest that what we initially believe is “the” answer may be but one part of a “line upon line, precept upon precept,” ongoing, incremental, and unfolding pattern of small answers. It is clearly the case that the Lord did not change His mind; rather, you and I must learn to better recognize the Lord’s pattern as a series of related and expanding answers to our most important questions. [“‘Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept’ (2 Nephi 28:30),” BYU–Idaho devotional address, 11 September 2001; emphasis in original]

In my own life it is incredible to look back and see how the Lord has put experiences and individuals in my life that have contributed to finding answers to my prayers. Often I have not seen them as answers because I have viewed them in isolation, but strung together they create a continuous pattern of revelation that has guided my life to better things than I would have dared imagine for myself.

God has never told me what career I should pursue, but he has shown me that I like teaching, given me leadership opportunities, and even used a pretty girl and an upset parent to steer me toward a graduate program I never would have considered otherwise. Before He confirmed I should marry my wife, He first showed me the fun we'd have, gave me glimpses of her divine nature, helped me mature and be a man, and blessed me with a heart brimming over with love for her. And just as Gutenberg's press and Edison's lightbulb have been the foundation for many wonderful inventions since, the Lord continues to build future revelations upon the answers He has already given us.

The greatest architecture on the planet was constructed brick by brick; the grandest literature is printed page by page; and even the best football teams have to move the ball up the field to score a touchdown. The answers to our prayers may not often be the completed book, but the Lord will give us the next page or two if we seek it. He has promised:

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Parable of the Town Drunk

There's a story of a town drunk that had two sons. One of the sons was very successful in business and in life; the other was a no-good drunk like his father. When people inquired why the second son had become a drunk, he'd say, 'What else would I be? Look who my father is!' Tellingly, when those same people would ask the first son why he was so successful, he'd answer, 'What else would I be? Look who my father is!'

Each of us have different circumstances in life. Some have had a difficult past, others face hard situations today, and most of us will find ourselves in difficult circumstances at some point in the future. The Lord has taught us through the prophet Lehi that it isn't our circumstances, but our choices that matter: 'There is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon... Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself' (2 Nephi 2:14, 16).

Lehi continued:

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself (2 Nephi 2:26-27).

In a way, we face the same choice as the sons of the town drunk. We can make an excuse of our circumstance and allow ourselves to be acted upon, or we can  "gird up our loins" and use the redeeming power of the Atonement to act for ourselves. We can allow the passions of our flesh to determine our destiny, or we can have the strength through Christ to be anxiously engaged in good causes and a disciplined life.

This is the choice we face every morning when we get out of bed. What will you choose today?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

It's Okay for Life to be Hard

Let's face it: most of the time, we want life to be easy. We want to sleep in every morning, love our work, have kids (and siblings and parents and in-laws and...) that always get along, be the picture of health despite a few indulgences, have lots of free time and always have enough money for everything. Sometimes falsely imagining that money alone brings a life of ease, we glamorize wealthy actors and athletes who we suppose live such a life and dream about what it must be like. We yearn with Fiddler on the Roof's Tevye: 'If riches are a curse, may God smite me with it! And may I never recover!'

Tevye's prayer concludes with a pleading question to which most of us can relate:

Lord, who made the lion and the lamb,
You decreed I should be what I am;
Would it spoil some vast eternal plan,
If I were a wealthy man?

We know we are on earth to be tested, but must life be so hard sometimes? Would it be so bad to catch a few more breaks?

Elder Oaks answered Tevye's inquiry in a 2003 General Conference address. 'Yes, Tevye, it might,' he said. 'The revelations, for which we are grateful, show that we should even give thanks for our afflictions because they turn our hearts to God and give us opportunities to prepare for what God would have us become... Let us give thanks for what we are and for the circumstances God has given us for our personal journey through mortality.'

The Lord does not allow difficult things in our lives to punish us or make us miserable. Rather, He taught Moroni, 'I give unto men weakness that they may be humble.' If we humble ourselves and have faith in Him, 'then will I make weak things become strong unto them' (Ether 12:27). The Lord has told us we should 'fear not', 'let [our] hearts be comforted', 'rejoice evermore', and 'in everything give thanks' because the hard things in our lives will 'work together for [our] good' (D&C 98:1, 3). He is in control; we can trust Him to make even the bleakest challenge a great blessing in our lives.

One of the bleakest times in Church history was the winter of 1838-39. While the members of the Church were persecuted and being driven from Missouri by the governor's 'extermination order', the Prophet Joseph Smith and five others were held in the cold, damp, cramped and smoke-filled dungeon of Liberty Jail. Joseph called it a 'hell, surrounded with demons... where we  are compelled to hear nothing but blasphemous oaths, and witness a scene of blasphemy, and drunkenness and hypocrisy, and debaucheries of every description'. They were poisoned four times in their food, 'making them so violently ill that for days they alternated between vomiting and a kind of delirium, not really caring whether they lived or died'. Only a little dirty straw insulated them from the cold stone floor while they slept and there were insufficient blankets for what remains the coldest winter in Missouri history. Unable to help their families through persecutions and a forced march to Illinois, the depression became so overwhelming that the prophet pleaded in his prayers, 'O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?'

The Lord responded with some of the most comforting language in scripture: 'My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes... for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.' Again the Lord assured the prophet that the hard things in his life were necessary and not in vain: 'If the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good' (D&C 121-122).

The sacrifices made in Liberty Jail were rewarded with revelations and peace even greater than the suffering. Despite the brutality and vile atmosphere, the prison became a sacred place, a spiritual temple of sorts, where the prophet received revelation for the Church and the faith of the incarcerated men was reinforced an hundredfold as they were protected and sustained by an Almighty God when no other thing prevented them from death. Five months of misery were followed by five years of the peace and prosperity of Nauvoo, a blessing that included many more revelations that may not have come as they did without the prison-temple experience of Liberty Jail.

President John Taylor was among those persecuted and driven from place to place with the Saints. He left his struggling family to serve missions in Europe without purse or scrip, witnessed the murder of the Prophet Joseph in Carthage, walked the plains to the Salt Lake Valley, and spent much of his later life in hiding. He taught, 'We have learned many things through suffering. We call it suffering. I call it a school of experience... I have never looked at these things in any other light than trials for the purpose of purifying the Saints of God that they may be, as the scriptures say, as gold that has been seven times purified by the fire' (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor [2001], 203).

The Lord desires to say of us what he has said of John Taylor, Joseph Smith, Abraham, Nephi, Isaiah and others: 'For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction' (1 Nephi 20:10). Can we expect to earn the same reward if we are not willing to pay the same price?

We live in an age of convenience and instant gratification. Few of us struggle to survive with what we can grow in gardens or build with our own hands. Our lives are generally easier than the billions who have come before us over the last six thousand years. Despite our many blessings, each of us must spend some time in our own figurative prison-temples.

Often these prison-temple moments are thrust upon us with a diagnosis, the loss of a job, the death of a friend or family member, or the actions of others. Other difficult things in our lives are brought on by our own choices, particularly as we let appetites overcome discipline or as pride engenders ingratitude and entitlement.

In this month's Ensign, President Monson cautioned us all against the dangers of taking life too easy. 'We forget how the Greeks and Romans prevailed magnificently in a barbaric world', he wrote, 'and how that triumph ended—how a slackness and softness finally overcame them to their ruin. In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security and a comfortable life; and they lost all—comfort and security and freedom.'

The descendants of the ancient Nephites that saw the risen Christ fell away because they knew only prosperity and so became proud and abandoned the principles that had brought their successes. We who live in the last gospel dispensation and carry the legacy of the pioneers in the world's most prosperous times cannot afford to meet the same fate.

The Lord has given us the difficult things in our lives to help us be humble and avoid the kind of spiritual and temporal destruction that met the Nephites. Our experiences will help us be disciplined and stand firm for truth and freedom. Our task is not to change the difficulty of our lives, but to have faith in the guidance we receive from God and gratitude for the circumstances God has given us for our personal journey through mortality.

The Lord to whom Tevye prayed loves each of us and wants us to become like Him. The experiences we have are gifts that give us the best possible opportunity of developing those traits that will make us happy and allow us to return to our Heavenly Parents. Therefore the Lord admonishes:

Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks; Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament--the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted. Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name's glory, saith the Lord (D&C 98:1-3).