Gaining Faith: Openness and Action

In Helaman chapter 9 we read the story about the 5 men who were sent to confirm Nephi’s prophecy about the chief judge being murdered. From their experience we can learn a little about how faith works.

In verse 2 they speak to each other as they are running to the judgement seat, saying “we do not believe that he (Nephi) hath [prophesied]; yea, we do not believe that he is a prophet…” So they started out with unbelief. Yet in verse 5, they behold the chief judge, murdered, according to Nephi’s prophecy, and “when they saw, they believed.”

We usually talk about how miracles do not produce faith, but merely confirm it. How, then, do they gain faith from seeing? There is a different principle at work here. Actually, two.

Back in verse 2 we read them talking to themselves about how they don’t believe Nephi, but then they say “nevertheless, if this thing which he has said concerning the chief judge be true, that he be dead, then will we believe that the other words which he has spoken are true.” We see here that they were willing to believe Nephi. They hadn’t already decided to disbelieve him. Sometimes, when we hear something new, we choose immediately what we’re going to think about it, and we’re never open to it. These five men were.

Sometimes it takes us a little while to be open to the idea. This relates to Alma’s teaching about having even a desire to believe and letting that desire “work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27). Sometimes, we have to create room in our hearts in order to believe. We have to be open to that idea.  This opennness is the first principle.

But being open to Nephi’s teachings wasn’t all that these 5 men did.  They acted.  They ran to go and check.  Even as they were on their way they were talking about how they didn’t believe, so obviously believing is not a prerequisite to acting on that belief.  And we can act while we still have doubts.   They were willing to try it out.  John 7:17 says “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  In other words: not sure if something is true?  Try it out!  The proof is in the pudding and the truth is in the doing.  There’s nothing wrong with trying something while being unsure whether or not it will work.  But remember that you’ve got to be willing to believe that it’s true while you check.  Don’t be closed off to the idea completely, going through the motions of trying it out without believing in the possibility of it being true.  You have to be willing to accept the signs that this is true (more about these signs, the fruits of the spirit [see Galatians 5:22] in future post).

Which brings us back to Alma’s analogy of the seed in Alma 32.  We’ve got to be willing to give place for the seed to grow.  Now, the seed isn’t faith, faith is what you’re doing when you decide to plant the seed (the word, the possible truth) while not completely sure if it is true or not.  Sure, you can have your doubts, but you act anyways.  You give place to the seed, and, more than that, you heed Alma’s warning about not casting it out due to unbelief.  Be willing to nurture that seed – it needs help to grow just as your idea of truth needs help to grow.  Read the scriptures, pray about it.  Remember, though that spiritual things are “spiritually discerned” (see 1 Corinthians 2:14), meaning that if we want to know the truth, we need to grow in spiritual truth, not just through a study of facts.  God speaks through His Spirit, giving the fruits of that Spirit to testify of Truth.  These fruits of the Spirit can then bring us great joy and peace throughout our lives as we live by the true principles that we are learning.

What, then, is the fruit of faith?  Well, for one, repentance, for as we believe truth we will change our lives accordingly.  But the 5 men who were open to and acted to check Nephi’s prophecy were blessed with another thing before they repented.  In Helaman 9 verse 18, we read that these 5 men defended Nephi against all of the judges who condemned him.  In fact, “they did contend with them one by one, insomuch that they did confound them.”  Now, these judges must have been some pretty learned men, but these 5 were able to confound them because they were blessed with understanding from the Spirit.  They understood clearly the principles at hand only after they were open and acted to gain faith.  This principle is also found in the story of the children of the people of King Benjamin.  Those too young to understand his speech, or who were born after it was given began to fall away from the faith and “because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened” (Mosiah 26:3); Faith precedes understanding.  Fortunately, when we are taught the word, we can remember the example of these 5 runners who were open to believe it, and who acted to try it out.

 

In summary, as we have a Desire to believe, we will be Open to the word, we will Act on that, and then we will Believe and come to Understand.

Desire –> Openness –> Action –> Belief –> Understanding

Noah and Abinadi: A Comparison of Influence And Character

While starting to read the story of King Noah, and of his personal prophet Abinadi (he got rather personal with him in his prophecies) I was greatly impressed by the difference of character between these two men.  Noah, the son of the first king of his people, inherits the kingdom for nothing, and immediately begins to exercise his selfish desires upon the people, whereas Abinadi, a practical nobody who shows up later, shows great courage and charity as he boldly proclaims the truth.

The first 15 verses of Mosiah chapter 11 tells us all of the changes that King Noah makes to the kingdom as he beings his rule. He began a stiff tax system (20% of all income and goods to the king!).  With all of the money he gained he built useless towers and opulent temples and throne-rooms; he focused greatly on physical possessions and beauty.  He planted vineyards and became a “wine bibber.”  He spent his time with harlots and even encouraged his subjects to do the same.  He fired the old priests and hired new ones that would support him in his wickedness.  In short, as it says in verse 4, “he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.”

What I find the most interesting, however, is the affect that his reign had upon his subjects.  Take a look at verse two which reads:

 2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and aconcubines. And he did bcause his people to commit sin, and do that which was cabominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit dwhoredoms and eall manner of wickedness.

Because of his position, he was able to influence many people to commit much sin. These were people who, not too many years before when war and destruction did threaten them by way of the lamanites, “did go up in the strength of the Lord to battle” (see Mosiah 10:10).  These were people who knew the Lord, and yet, because of the unrighteous example of their leader, were led astray.  This reminds me so much of a prophecy made by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who said in his ninth chapter:

16 For the aleaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are bdestroyed.

This is true also in our day, and very much so.  We need to remember to choose good leaders for our government, for our schools, for our churches, and for all of the groups to which we belong.  We cannot underestimate the influence that these leaders will have upon us, and we cannot underestimate the influence that WE have upon those within our own circles.

That leads me to my next character for inspection–Abinadi.  In verse twenty we come into first contact with Abinadi, who is described as simply as a man who “went forth among them, and began to prophesy.”  And did he ever!  He starts right of with the wo be unto you’s and the exhortations to repent.  He prophesied of bondage and even said that when the people eventually did repent that the Lord “will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and [the Lord] will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies” (verse 24). In the next chapter Abinadi practically commits high treason against the crown attacking the king’s character personally, saying, “the life of king Noah shall be valued even as a garment in a hot furnace” (Mosiah 12:3, and it is interesting that this verse prophecies of Noah’s later death by fire).   If Abinidi was trying to win the next “Land of Nephi Popularity Contest” he was definitely on the wrong track.

Noah sought only to fill his selfish desires, whereas Abinadi must have had not only great courage but great love for his people in order to say what didn’t want to be heard.  The best way to overcome fear is through love.  Mormon, in a letter to his son Moroni, encouraged him to courage despite the wickedness around them:

16 Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having aauthority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for bperfectclovedcasteth out all fear.

Abinadi had this love for others, and that is what made him a great leader.  Many people look at his ministry and say that he didn’t have much of an affect on those he taught.  But to get a better view of his influence, I like to look at it this way: his one convert was Alma who baptized hundreds and later thousands and was instrumental in re-establishing the true church with in the land. Alma’s son was Alma the younger who, with his friends, served a fourteen year mission and converted tens of thousands of some of the strongest and most faithful saints in the whole history of the gospel. Alma the younger’s son was Helaman, the prophet-general who led the young sons of these newly converted faithful members in battles that saved thousands of innocent lives and proved an example to many more thousands in their day as well as in ours. Helaman’s son was the prophet Helaman, whose sons were Nephi and Lehi (who converted thousands of lamanites who later willingly gave up their homes to return the land of Zarahemla to the nephites to whom it belonged). And, lastly named here but not least, was Nephi’s son Nephi who was the chief of the 12 disciples of Christ among those in the western hemisphere, and who helped usher in three generations of complete and utter righteousness.

So, my fellow readers of the holy scriptures, whenever we doubt our influence, whenever we feel insignificant and of little worth, let us remember the examples of these two men, Noah and Abinadi, one of whom led a sad, selfish and miserable life that ended violently, and the other who had love enough for those around him to take the hard choice and stand up boldly for what he believed to be right.

Like Abinadi, we might not see the results of the example we set, but be not dismayed. The Lord is working with those whom we love when we see not. He takes and gladly accepts our contribution and continues to use it to do His great work. Remember “by small and simple means are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6), and though you and I may sometimes feel that the little we can do is hard and hardly worth notice, that it can be just what the Lord needs to work a Mighty Influence for good among those that both we and He loves.

Mormon and Benjamin: Faith Through The Cycles of Life

Right now I am reading several chapters from the Book of Mormon each day in order to finish on May 1st, half way through the year. Because this is also the day that I will be flying to Mexico to begin my field study, I am also reading the same chapters from El Libro de Mormón. As you can see, adding this blog to my list of scriptural tasks is going to take some work, but I believe that it will be highly beneficial for me as it forces me to study the scriptures rather than just read them; you need to have an insight in order to blog about it, and I did promise my best.

Today, quite coincidentally actually, I read the chapters where King Benjamin is introduced. Rather fitting as I am now beginning my “Book of Benjamin.” I love how the prophet Mormon says that King Benjamin labored “with all of the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul” for his people, “and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.” It doesn’t get much cooler than that, but I digress.

Omni begins his book by telling us that he is a wicked man. He takes another verse to say that he has see much war and bloodshed in his day and then passes the record on to his son. The next several generations can pretty much be summed up in verses 5-7, and I’m not abridging much.

 5 Behold, it came to pass that three hundred and twenty years had passed away, and the more wicked part of the Nephites wereadestroyed.

6 For the Lord would not suffer, after he had led them out of the land of Jerusalem and kept and preserved them from falling into the hands of their enemies, yea, he would not suffer that the words should not be verified, which he spake unto our fathers, saying that: aInasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall not bprosper in the land.

7 Wherefore, the Lord did visit them in great judgment; nevertheless, he did spare the righteous that they should not perish, but did deliver them out of the hands of their enemies.

I like these verses because we can see the manner that the Lord works among His children. If we remember Him in trials and especially when we are experiencing blessings and prone to forget, then we will receive His mercy and His love.

I love what Omni’s descendant, Amaleki, says about coming to the Lord:

 26 And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should acomeunto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and boffer your whole souls as an coffering unto him, and continue in dfasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.

This is excellent advice from a prophet of God. You see, we usually go through a cycle of remembering the Lord. When we repent the Lord blesses us, but when we should be the most grateful, we forget Him and what He has done. It is important for us to constantly turn  ourselves to Him through fasting and prayer and “offer our whole soul” unto Him.

Centuries later the prophet Mormon is abridging the history of the Nephites and he finds this smaller record. He feels prompted by the Holy Ghost to add these small plates to his record, even though they cover that which he has already abridged. He admits to not knowing really why he is adding these to the record, but in verse 7 he says, “And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord cknoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he dworketh in me to do according to his ewill.” What a great example of faith in the Lord.

Mormon had faith to follow the Spirit even when he didn’t know why. Yet this prepared the way, centuries in advance, for the work of the Lord to move forward when Martin Harris lost Mormon’s first record.

Sometimes I wonder how as we “go and do the things that the Lord has commanded” we are actually preparing the way for things to come. There are those in our future, our descendants and future associates, who are depending on us making these right choices now. We need to be ready and willing to turn to the Lord at all times, and heed the counsel we receive from the Spirit even when we don’t know why.

 6 But the Lord aknoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all bpower unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen.      (1 Nephi 9:6)

We will continue to go through those cycles of trials throughout our lives, but if we want to have continual peace, even through our times of trial, then we must be like King Benjamin, and fight for it all the days of our lives (see vs 17-18).