Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Lord, I Believe"

Following Jesus' feeding of the five thousand, the apostles boarded a boat and started across the Sea of Galilee while Jesus went into the mountains to pray. As they were crossing, the sea became "tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary" (Matthew 14:24). In the midst of this peril and their ensuing fright, the apostles saw Jesus walking on the water towards them. Jesus said, "Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid" (Matthew 14:27). Upon recognizing Jesus, Peter said, "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water" (Matthew 14:28). Jesus beckoned Peter to come to Him and Peter stepped out of the boat and briefly walked towards Jesus. But soon the "boisterous" waves frightened Peter. In the midst of the ferocious storm, Peter's doubt overcame his faith and he began to sink. He cried out, "Lord, save me" (Matthew 14:30). "And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Matthew 14:32). I wonder whether, when Peter saw a wave come crashing towards him, he looked back at the boat rather than staying focused on the Savior and thought that it was safer in the boat than walking towards Jesus. Did his doubt cause him to lose focus on the Savior?

Storms are a part of life's experience and moments of doubt may not be uncommon during such times. For me, the question is not whether I will experience such periods, but what I do during those times. Doubt must not snuff out my faith. I must carefully nurture my faith or doubt will grow and may cause me to lose focus on the one Person who can rescue me. Just like Peter I need to turn to the Savior saying, "Lord, save me”.

The faith to endure does not come as a single event. Rather it grows day by day as we nurture and nourish it. Alma compared growing our faith to the act of planting a seed. He said, "Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me" (Alma 32:28). I believe he phrase “if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord" provides an interesting insight into faith. While I don't presume to know precisely what Alma meant, to me it says that doubt is not uncommon in the process of growing my faith, but I must not allow doubt to prevent the seed of faith from germinating and I must be careful not to allow the poison of doubt to stunt the growth or kill the plant. Faith requires constant nourishment and protection. My experience is that as I continue to nourish my faith through study, prayer, and obedience during those moments of doubt my faith becomes stronger.

The tender account of the Savior healing a child afflicted with an evil spirit provides additional insight in protecting faith from doubt. In retelling this story, Elder Jeffery R. Holland said,

"On one occasion Jesus came upon a group arguing vehemently with His disciples. When the Savior inquired as to the cause of this contention, the father of an afflicted child stepped forward, saying he had approached Jesus’s disciples for a blessing for his son, but they were not able to provide it. With the boy still gnashing his teeth, foaming from the mouth, and thrashing on the ground in front of them, the father appealed to Jesus with what must have been last-resort desperation in his voice:

'If thou canst do any thing,” he said, 'have compassion on us, and help us.

'Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

'And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief' [Mark 9:14-21 and 22-24].

"This man’s initial conviction, by his own admission, is limited. But he has an urgent, emphatic desire in behalf of his only child. We are told that is good enough for a beginning. 'Even if ye can no more than desire to believe,' Alma declares, 'let this desire work in you, even until ye believe' [Alma 32:27]. With no other hope remaining, this father asserts what faith he has and pleads with the Savior of the world, 'If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us'' [Mark 9:22]. I can hardly read those words without weeping. The plural pronoun us is obviously used intentionally. This man is saying, in effect, 'Our whole family is pleading. Our struggle never ceases. We are exhausted. Our son falls into the water. He falls into the fire. He is continually in danger, and we are continually afraid. We don’t know where else to turn. Can you help us? We will be grateful for anything—a partial blessing, a glimmer of hope, some small lifting of the burden carried by this boy’s mother every day of her life.'

“If thou canst do any thing,' spoken by the father, comes back to him 'If thou canst believe,' spoken by the Master [Mark 9:22].

“Straightway,' the scripture says—not slowly nor skeptically nor cynically but 'straightway'—the father cries out in his unvarnished parental pain, 'Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.' In response to new and still partial faith, Jesus heals the boy, almost literally raising him from the dead, as Mark describes the incident [Mark 9:24-27]. (Jeffery R. Holland, "Lord, I Believe," Ensign, May 2013)

Those words, "Lord, I believe; help though mine unbelief" is a plea that applies to all of us at one time or another. Elder Holland shared the following three observations about this account:

“Observation number one regarding this account is that when facing the challenge of faith, the father asserts his strength first and only then acknowledges his limitation. His initial declaration is affirmative and without hesitation: 'Lord, I believe.' I would say to all who wish for more faith, remember this man! In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. In the growth we all have to experience in mortality, the spiritual equivalent of this boy’s affliction or this parent’s desperation is going to come to all of us. When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. It was of this very incident, this specific miracle, that Jesus said, 'If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you' [Matthew 17:20]. The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.

"The second observation is a variation of the first. When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your 'unbelief.' That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle...

"Last observation: When doubt or difficulty come, do not be afraid to ask for help. If we want it as humbly and honestly as this father did, we can get it. The scriptures phrase such earnest desire as being of 'real intent,' pursued 'with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God' [2 Nephi 31:13].  I testify that in response to that kind of importuning, God will send help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief.” (Jeffery R. Holland, "Lord, I Believe," Ensign, May 2013)

I add a fourth observation about this account. The father did not ask "why did God do this to my son" or "why did God let this happen." These questions challenge God, fuel unbelief, and don't build understanding. Contrast these questions to asking "help me understand why this is happening". Such a pleas is not a  challenge to God but a faithful request to seek understanding.  Such understanding will strengthen our faith.

Carefully nurture, nourish, and grow your faith. Faith in Christ and His Atonement will sustain us and rescue us from the storms, whether minor or boisterous, of life.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Building a Sure Foundation

In elaborating on the allegory of the good Shepherd for His disciples, Jesus likened Himself to the door into the enclosure where the shepherds kept the sheep. He said, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture" (John 10:9). With this metaphor, Jesus taught His disciples that it is only through Him and His Atonement that they or anyone else could receive the greatest blessing that God, our Heavenly Father, has to give--life with Him through eternity. At the last supper, Jesus taught this doctrine again when He said to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Peter testified of the paramount importance of Christ in our lives when, after healing a lame man at the temple, he declared to the Sadducees and Jewish rulers, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). King Benjamin succinctly taught the same doctrine: "There shall be no other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent" (Mosiah 3:17). Likewise Paul said, "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh..." (Hebrews 10:19-20). It’s clear it is only through Christ that I have hope of returning to live with our Heavenly Father.

Because Christ is the only way back to Heavenly Father and Eternal Life, Helaman counseled his sons, Nephi and Lehi, to, “Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12)

I love the imagery of building our foundation on the rock of Jesus Christ to help us weather the storms of life. I once worked on the 56th floor of the 57 story Key Tower in downtown Cleveland. When the winds blew off Lake Erie, the building would creak and sway but thankfully it never toppled to the ground. I’m grateful that the contractors dug deep into the earth and poured the buildings foundation on bedrock so that it would bear the weight of the building and keep it secure against all the elements. Similarly I must build the foundation of my life on the rock of our Savior in order to weather the storms and floods of life.

I have asked myself the question: "But how do I build my foundation on the rock of Jesus Christ our Redeemer?” The Savior provided the answer, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6: 46-49, emphasis added)

In answer to my question, it's clear that I need to: 
  • Come to Christ. I must seek Him, have faith in Him, trust Him, and come to truly know Him (John 17:3).
  •  Hear His words. I won't hear His voice if I don't put forth the effort to listen to His words. How can I listen? I hear His voice as I read and ponder the scriptures, study the   teachings of His prophets and apostles, and listen to the whisperings of the Spirit.
  •  Live what His words teach me. Listening and study will only make a difference in my life if I am willing to humbly submit my will to His and do what He asks me to do.
By following these practices and building my foundation on the rock of Christ, I can:
  • Be forgiven of my sins when I repent;
  •  Receive Christ's grace, which can change my heart and enable me to become someone I can't through my own efforts;
  • Be succored, aided, and supported by Christ in times of trial and need. 

I want these blessings for me and my family. I know that as I build my foundation on the rock of Jesus Christ, I can receive these blessings and one day inherit the greatest of all the gifts of God--Eternal Life (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7).