Our Own Reality- Alma 18:24-30, 33

And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?
And he said, Yea.
And Ammon said: This is God. And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?
And he said: Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.
And Ammon said unto him: The heavens is a place where God dwells and all his holy angels.
And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

COMMENTARY

And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
Yea, I believe that he created all things which are in the earth; but I do not know the heavens.
Previously we considered the example of King Agrippa, who was “almost” converted by the testimony of Paul. Here we see the example of another king taught by a missionary: King Lamoni.
King Lamoni was very ignorant of the gospel being shared with him, even of its most basic tenets. His reality up to this point had been very different from what Ammon was teaching, and for each of us it is far easier to hold to the realities we already have than to let go and embrace something new. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest after all.

And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken.
Yet it is possible to change or paradigms. Sometimes a new philosophy strikes our hearts as simply being too true to deny. Sometimes our prior perspectives bring us to rock bottom, and we have to enact an intervention just to survive.
For whatever reason, King Lamoni was ready to embrace the new gospel being shared with him. No matter how strange or alien it must have sounded, he felt the truth of it nonetheless. In his quiet simplicity he was willing to do what King Agrippa was not.

For Our Own Good- Alma 5:12-13, Jeremiah 31:33

And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.
And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.

COMMENTARY

According to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart
After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts
I do believe that most of us try to follow our conscience and live as best we know how. We may all be at different stages of how well we adhere to that pricking of our heart, but we are at least trying to follow it to some degree. And I believe most of us would like to take that guide in our hearts, and ever strive to improve on that, and that alone.
Yet the scriptures speak of a different experience. They speak of “mighty changes of heart.” They speak of people who thought they knew what they were supposed to do, and then discovered that they ought do something else instead. Saul’s problem was not that he needed to follow his convictions more firmly, it was that he needed to throw them out and replace them with entirely new ones!
Our hearts are good and our consciences are wonderful. We will do very well just by adhering to them alone. But we are also somewhat flawed and misaligned, and if we are ever to find our true potential we have to accept that there are convictions of ours that have to be released, and convictions that aren’t ours which have to be adopted. A mighty change of heart is necessary for us all.

For Our Own Good- 1 Timothy 1:9-10, 12-13

Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

COMMENTARY

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief
Yesterday we discussed that the proper attitude towards the commandments requires one to sincerely want to change who they are. Until then, our pride will prevent us from taking the gospel’s advice at face value.
When I came to admit my own failing, when I felt the guilt of my wrongs, when I genuinely wanted to change…I found that I didn’t know, by myself, what the right way forward was. That isn’t to say that I didn’t have opinions for how to “fix” myself, but I just didn’t trust my perspectives anymore. I didn’t want to follow the advice of an addict like myself, I wanted to be guided by someone who had a clear mind and a pure heart.
And so I started giving the gospel and the lifestyle it teaches the benefit of the doubt. Some things I still didn’t understand the immediate importance of, but it was coming from a source that I trusted, so I would try it. Like Paul, I felt that Jesus was enabling me, that following his principles were changing me from what I was before.

Worthy Vessels- Isaiah 45:9 (NIV), Jacob 4:9-10

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?

For behold, by the power of his word man came upon the face of the earth, which earth was created by the power of his word. Wherefore, if God being able to speak and the world was, and to speak and man was created, O then, why not able to command the earth, or the workmanship of his hands upon the face of it, according to his will and pleasure?
Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.

COMMENTARY

Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?
It is against our nature to be commanded by another. We seek to be independent, to do all things according to our own choosing. This is inherently a good thing, as God expects us to take the initiative for many things in our lives.
Yet at times this attitude can be taken into our relationship with Him, which is never appropriate. It is well for us to have and act upon our own ideas, but when God says He has another path in mind, we must remember who is still the master here.

If God being able speak and man was created, then why not able to command the workmanship of his hands?
Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand.

Because in the end, we already are His vessels, and no matter of gaining power and capability will ever change that fact. The greatest men and women that ever lived are still raw clay that He breathed life into. Thus we do not need to become His creations, we only need to become His obedient creations. God has given us our independence, but if we are living right, we are using it to submit back to Him.

Worthy Vessels- Acts 9:15, 1 Corinthians 1:28

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:

COMMENTARY

But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me
When Ananias protested going to bless Saul, God informed him that the man was a “chosen vessel,” and indeed one can see how Saul would be considered a powerful asset to God’s cause. He was intelligent, effective, and tireless in his pursuits, even if those pursuits were momentarily pointed in the wrong direction.
And yet the man that Ananias found in need of a blessing must have been a far cry from the self-powerful tyrant that he had been afraid of. For at this point Saul had had his preconceptions of God shattered, been rebuked by the true Lord, completely blinded, and left to wallow three days and three nights without either food or water. In short, God had broken the vessel that Saul once was, and the “chosen vessel” that he referred to, was going to be a new creature. One that would be called Paul.

And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen
Paul himself later avowed that God did His work with the base and the despised, the humbled and the broken. He spoke of how the “foolishness” of God was greater than the wisdom of man (1 Corinthians 1: 25). He knew this because he had been directly at the receiving end of it! While still wise in the ways of the world, he had been broken by the same Savior he had voraciously denied. And now he had thrown in his lot with those that he once considered “base and despised.”
In short, Saul, the brittle vessel could not have done anything for God, only Paul, the humbled clay could. It has been said that God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called. He has no need for our power, only for our will.

Worthy Vessels- Matthew 5:16, 3 Nephi 18:24

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.

COMMENTARY

Let your light so shine before men
Yesterday I shared how I have seen in myself a desire to become a powerful champion of the gospel, and that I have done so by working on the qualities of persuasion that the world seems to value. Whenever I encounter a religious question, I rack my brain, trying to come up with the “correct” answer. Thus I perceive spiritual discussion as a sort of performance sport, one where I need to be powerful enough to push my theologies more strongly than any others. In all this I have tried to let my light shine…and tragically misunderstood the actual meaning of that scripture.

Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up
Because God is not asking us to pump the crank on our own sixty watt bulb. Frankly that light is insufficient to do anyone any lasting good. Even if I did manage to wrest up a convincing enough argument to satisfy one soul at one time, I would never be able to feed 5,000 this way.
Also, I rather suspect that God has little respect for our worldly debates and arguments, competitions where his children use the guise of “proclaiming the truth” to indulge their own egos.
This is not the shining forth that God ever intended for us to do. He intends for us to hold up His light, He wants us to say His words, He wants us to rely on His intelligence. Not ours. The next time I encounter a religious question I am going to suppress my default instinct to cast around in my intellect for the ‘right answer’ and instead humbly ask Him “what would you say?”

Worthy Vessels- Question

At the end of my last study I considered how our role in life is to be a worthy vessel, one through which God can pour out His goodness. The image of a vessel is used many times in the scripture, and many times it is to reinforce this image of our relationship to God’s goodness.

The notion of only being a conduit for good is in direct contradiction to a part of our nature. Each one of us wants to be inventors, artists, performers, athletes…someone who creates something and does it all on their own and receives all the credit for it. We desire fame and recognition, and wish for other people to call us good.

Yet even Jesus refused to be recognized as such (Mark 10:18). If the only perfect man that ever lived testified that even he was merely a conduit for the goodness of God, then perhaps we ought to start recognizing the great honor that is in that calling.

As I explore this topic more I would be curious to hear what it means to you to be a worthy vessel? How do you live a life of accomplishment, but still give the glory to God? How do you remain humble, without trying to debase yourself?

What Chance Do I Have?- Summary

There was a part of me that wondered if I ought to conduct this study at all. I wish to be cautious about ever introducing a new doubt to a mind that has never considered it before. What if there is a reader who never questioned their ability to hold firm, but now that I have given them the idea they can’t get rid of it?

But then I ask myself, who is there among us that has never questioned our ability to hold firm? Perhaps the way that self-doubt has chosen to phrase itself in my heart is different from how it has for you. I asked myself “if other spiritual giants could fall, what chance do I have?” but you might have asked yourself the same question in a different way.

Either way, though, the matter of self-doubt is universal, and so I felt I did not need to be shy of addressing it. The message of the gospel is one of hope and triumph, because it is able to directly answer these questions of despair and defeat. I will share what ways I have found that it does so in this study.

Our Fears Come From Our Weakness

Back when I was dating the woman who would become my wife, we had a conversation about her nephews and nieces. They were young children then, and she spoke of how much she loved them, and how she was delighted by the boundless confidence that they showed. They had a certainty that they were important and powerful. She observed that such feelings tend to fade in children, though, and she wondered why, and she wished it could be prevented.
I, too, wish that the innocence of children could forever remain unshattered…but I think that that is impossible. Each one of us, even the most innocent and brilliant of children, is flawed in our own way. And in a fallen world every flaw is eventually exploited in a way that crushes our hearts. We will fail, and we will know that that failure came about because of our weakness.
Where it was once effortless to believe in ourselves, our default state becomes far more cynical after being beaten down by the harsh realities of life enough times. Pessimism starts to sound synonymous with wisdom, our bright future is splashed with bleak colors, and it becomes supremely difficult to believe in ourselves for anything lasting and good.
Judges 16:17- He told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
Moses 1:10- And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

Our Weakness Make Us Humble

Despair is a natural result of defeat, but it is not the only possible result. There is, also, the possibility for humility. To be humble is not to put oneself down, but rather to see oneself as one really is. And what one really is is flawed…but still good.
Where youthful innocence might be totally aware of one’s goodness, but oblivious to the fact of also being flawed, despair goes to the other extreme of totally seeing one’s flaws and becoming oblivious to the fact that one is also still good. Humility strikes the correct balance between the two, still able to appreciate the inherent worth in every soul, but acknowledging that that worth is currently limited from its full expression.
The appreciation of one’s goodness gives us hope, while the appreciation of one’s limits makes us open to receiving help. Both of these elements are necessary for one to be teachable. If one feels they are already perfect they will not be open to receiving the Lord’s help, and if they have no hope they will not either.
Moroni 10:22- And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.
James 4:6- But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

Our Humility Leads Us to the True Strength

And finally, if one is humble, then they can be receptive to God’s grace lifting them back to where they were before. Even lifting them beyond it.
To recognize the inherent flaws of mortality and to doubt the strength of men, even to doubt the strength of oneself, is not amiss. But that should never make one doubt the strength of God coupled with a willing soul. The only time that man has ever failed was when he tried to stand alone. He fails if he tries to stand alone from the beginning, he fails if he tries to stand alone after having walked with God for a time. One must ever remember that they are good and capable of doing good, but also that they will forever need help along the way.
Men and women can take sincere pride in knowing that they have the capacity to become a worthy vessel. They can show joy at being one that is pure and refined. But they should remain humbled by the knowledge that they are still only the vessel. They might be utilized as a conduit for good, but they are not the good that pours forth. So long as they keep that distinction in their mind, they can walk with God and never fall.
Mark 10:18- And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
Alma 26:12- Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

Individual Trials- Summary

I first thought of this series during my study on Free Will vs God’s Control. At the time I wanted to explore trials as a simple curiosity, not because of an abundance of trials in my life. Then, while in the process of actually doing this study many trials began to stack up on me. They came on the global level with COVID-19, the local level with a flurry of earthquakes, and on the personal level with guilt and doubt.

Conducting a gospel study is useful for educating oneself and better understanding the workings of God. But it is also useful in how it allows God to seed preparation for what He knows will soon befall you. If we let Him, He will steer our focus not only to what we need to know for today, but also what we will need to know for tomorrow.

The principles that shone most brightly through this study are also the principles I have needed to implement in the trials that came my way. Eventually my hardships will pass me by, no matter what I choose to do in the midst of them. The only question is whether I will emerge better or worse for the experience.

Trials Can Come in Any Form

A trial can be thought of as any an event or situation that shows us who we are and where we stand. It is a test of some specific aspect of our character. We have trials of our faith, of our resolve, of our loyalty, and of every other virtue we hope to obtain in this life.
Anything that is put upon us to strain these virtues is therefore a trial. We feel a tension, one that seeks either to pull us down or lift us up, and the question is whether we break, move, or remain stationary. As the amount of tension is increased, the option to remain stationary is lost. At certain forces we must either break or move.
The trial might come in a single moment of intensity, it might endure as a constant weight for a very, very long time. It might weigh us down with pain, it might tug upwards with blessings. It might pull at us in both directions at the same time with a difficult choice. It might be external, or it might be pushing and prodding at us from within.
What a trial is not, though, is an equal and opposite reaction caused by us bashing ourselves into a wall. That is a consequence.
Abraham 3:24-25- And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

1 Corinthians 3:13- Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

Trials LEAD US TO BECOME OUR TRUE SELVES

A trial is not some final exam to prove what strength we have already obtained. A trial is the process by which that strength is discovered. It is not the moment when a blacksmith strikes his finished weapon to verify its resilience, it is earlier when the blacksmith melts the ore in its crucible.
Let me back up with that analogy. For a long time the ancient world knew that there were processes by which iron could be refined into something stronger. Specifically they were looking into ways to have it bind with carbon, which if it done perfectly would result in an entirely new type of metal, one many times stronger than the original iron. But how to perform that binding was a mystery that took centuries to solve. Eventually Indian metalworkers learned that the iron and carbon must be placed within crucibles, heated to astronomical temperatures, and then they would melt and bond together into that entirely new metal: steel.
The crucible is not just a test of force, and steel is not just stronger iron. The crucible is the process of transforming something old into something new, and steel is the result of permanent change. Our trials are the crucible by which we are broken down, until at last we are able to bond with God into an all-new alloy.
Peter 1:7- That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Jeremiah 9:7- Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?

Defining Trials EXCEED US

It is true that we can increase our moral resolve by constantly exercising it, like the gradual buildup of a muscle. We can achieve a greater strength by our own efforts, and be able to endure things that we could not endure before. This is a good thing, but there are limits to how far it can take us. Eventually there are things that we simply cannot endure, and it isn’t a question of needing more “spiritual exercise” to get there. At some point spiritual exercise needs to be joined by spiritual transformation.
You might remove as many impurities as you can from iron, and improve its strength by so doing, but eventually it will reach the limit that is inherent in the material. Eventually iron can only get so far. As I mentioned before, iron becomes steel only by being bonded with something else. It isn’t enough to just be near to the something else either. You cannot merely stack the iron on the wood and have the same strength as if you burned both down and fused them as one.
Our greatest, defining trials do not ask us to prove our own strength, and they do not ask to us to stand against that which we cannot withstand. They ask us, rather, to melt…into God. We have to bow, or else we will be broken. But if we lean into the Almighty, then we are transformed. And after the transformation we will rise again, resurrected as something new.
Alma 26:12- Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

2 Corinthians 5:17- Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Individual Trials- 1 Corinthians 10:13, Alma 26:12

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

COMMENTARY

God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape
Does God never allow us to be tempted more than we can bear? Or does He never allow us to be attempted more than His escape can overcome? As I consider this scripture under the context of other passages, I believe that it means the latter. God does allow us to be tempted with more than we can handle by ourselves. But He does not allow us to be tempted with more than we can handle with Him.

As to my strength I am weak; but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things
The purpose of our life-defining trials is not for us to solve them. In fact they are specifically given to us for the very reason that we can’t solve them on our own! They are designed to just be too big for us to handle.
Because the real purpose of our life-defining trials is for us to let Him solve them. It might take some humbling before we are ready to accept that. Many of us will break ourselves in two trying to move those mountains first. But hopefully, after being sufficiently humbled, we’ll finally submit, and tearfully ask God if He will do it for us. And He will.