Calloused Hearts- 2 Kings 5:10-11, 13-14

And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

COMMENTARY

But Naaman was wroth, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper
I mentioned yesterday that when I pray for a fire in my heart, God usually responds with a prompting of something good I should do. As it turns out I have a specific and recent example of this.
I shared recently about my desire to gain a healthier relationship with food and my body.
But when I tried to force that healthier lifestyle on myself things backfired. I became more unhealthy and I felt this calloused heart grow within me. I lost my burning to be my best self. I kept praying for God to wake up my heart, to change me so that I could just do the right things again, to win this fight for me. But I still wasn’t getting anywhere, and that was the whole reason I began this very study.
When I read these verses from 2 Kings I realized that Naaman is a perfect example for my feelings. I had faith, I asked for what I was supposed to ask for, I thought God would come out and give me the cure! So now I felt bitter instead.

My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
I can also relate to Naaman that if there was not an immediate, miraculous healing, then at least I would expect some great sacrifice or test to unlock the blessings I sought. I asked God what He needed from me and then listened for something large and related to my physical health…but He didn’t ask for that.
Then, while listening to a sermon in Church this Sunday, I finally understood. Praying and asking for a vibrant heart was only half the recipe. I needed to meet it with a deliberate, good action. Not some epic sacrifice, though, just one of those small, little things that seem of no consequence, but which we feel in our hearts are just right to do. Ask for help, show my faith by my works, and God could work with that.
I’m only three days into this new approach but it already feels more pure and more effective. I went through all the things that I’ve felt I ought to be doing but could take care of later, and started implementing them now. Things like getting to bed on time, removing distractions from work, and getting the house clean. These have very little to do with changing my relationship to food, but everything to do with repairing my relationship to God. And already the desire to do all other good things is growing within me. I would say that I have dipped in the river Jordan once, but like Naaman this is going to take multiple washings.

Calloused Hearts- Mark 9:23

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.

COMMENTARY

If thou canst believe, all things are possible
The father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief

I love this example of a father being open and honest about his lacking. He truly wants to have more faith but he just doesn’t. And Jesus is able to work with that. In fact, by waiting to perform the miracle until after the man had made this vulnerable request Jesus was able to heal both child and father.
Sometimes the best prayers I’ve offered have been along the lines of “God, I really wish I didn’t feel so spiritually closed off right now…but I just do.” Rather than trying to push through the spiritual barrier alone or pretend it isn’t there we can call it out directly. We can bring it onto the table so that He can start working with us on it.

Leading to Water- Give a Man a Fish

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

This, of course, is a very famous proverb. It teaches an important principle about how a person in need is benefited more by improving their faculties than by just improving their immediate situation. But while the principle is obviously true the proper execution of it remains a hotly contested subject.

Some say that giving beggars a handout makes them reliant on an unhealthy system. Others say it is hard for a beggar to care about improving their situation over time when their belly is empty today. So where is the line between teaching someone and becoming their crutch?

Well the problem with debates like these is how they seek a one-size-fits-all solution to a very nuanced problem. Good principles can be applied universally, but the execution of them will always be individual. The correct way to teach Jack to fish will be different from the correct way to teach Jane. Jane might flourish best when learning with a full belly, while Jack might need his hunger to motivate him.

It is better to help people now, even imperfectly, than to wait until you are perfect. Just use your best judgment today and then be ready to adapt your methods as needed.

Leading to Water- Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

COMMENTARY

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He restoreth my soul
He preparest a table before me
He anointest my head with oil
My cup runneth over
I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever
Psalm 23 describes what is the great desire of us all: to feel so meticulously cared for by the Lord, so provided for in all our needs. Each of us should feel that He really is our good shepherd.
But there can be barriers to receiving such opulent care. The Lord cannot be our caring shepherd if we do not elect to be His sheep. And we fail to be His sheep when we are not willing to fully rely on Him.
This might come in the form of depending on the testimony of others instead of seeking out our own. When we believe simply because our parents or pastor believed, then we make them into our shepherd instead, depending on them as an intermediary between us and God. This might also come in the form of saying we do not need anyone. We are our own shepherd, already having all the answers and perfectly capable of providing for ourselves. This mentality pushes away anyone, God included, who might have been a help to us.
Of course friends and mentors are good, and self-reliance is good, too. But each can be taken to an excess. Better to have each built on the foundation of our relationship to God and not the other way around.

Leading to Water- Luke 8:41-42, 51-55

And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come into his house:
For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as he went the people thronged him.
And when he came into the house, he suffered no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden.
And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.
And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.
And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise.
And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat.

COMMENTARY

There came Jairus, and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come: for he had one only daughter, and she lay a dying.
And he took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway.
There is an a lesson in this story that is essential for all parents everywhere. Jairus is already a faithful man, he was a spiritual leader in his synagogue, but when his daughter was in the most dire straits he went directly to the source for help.
Of course it is natural for us parents to want to solve our children’s every problem, to answer their every question, to be everything that they need us to be. But sooner or later there are problems that we will never be able to help them out with. The most important things in life are beyond any mortal power to resolve.
And so it is important as parents that we, like Jairus, bring the savior into the room with our child. Even if we can resolve today’s matter by ourselves, now and again we should acquaint our sons and daughters with the one who can resolve all matters. Then they will know where to go when we are unavailable or insufficient.

Influence and Persuasion- Alma 17:8, 19, 21-22, 25; 18:21-22

And thus they departed into the wilderness with their numbers which they had selected, to go up to the land of Nephi, to preach the word of God unto the Lamanites.
And Ammon went to the land of Ishmael, the land being called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites.
And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael; and his name was Lamoni; and he was a descendant of Ishmael.
And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

And now, if thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee; and if it were needed, I would guard thee with my armies; but I know that thou art more powerful than all they; nevertheless, whatsoever thou desirest of me I will grant it unto thee.
Now Ammon being wise, yet harmless, he said unto Lamoni: Wilt thou hearken unto my words, if I tell thee by what power I do these things? And this is the thing that I desire of thee.

COMMENTARY

Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni.
I previously shared an example from the Book of Mormon where a missionary named Ammon defended himself a king and later his brother taught the gospel to him. There is a somewhat similar story just a few chapters before, where that same Ammon taught another king and I find his approach very interesting.
When he first has an audience with the king he does not immediately launch into proselyting. Rather he asks to be commissioned as a servant and to care for the king’s domain. He is put over the sheep and he faithfully watches over them. Shortly thereafter a band of thieves comes to steal the sheep, and Ammon manages to protect both the flock and the other servants against great odds. The fame of this battle is soon brought before the king.

If thou wilt tell me concerning these things, whatsoever thou desirest I will give unto thee.
Wilt thou hearken unto my words? This is the thing that I desire of thee.

And so the king calls Ammon to him and inquires how he possessed the power to stand against so many assailants. He even asks Ammon whether he is a god himself!
At this point the king is coming to Ammon of his own volition and asking to know more. Ammon’s audience is ready now, even actively seeking. And so it is here that Ammon finally delivers the gospel message that he has come to give.
I believe there is a great wisdom in this approach. On my mission I learned that most people really didn’t care about what I had to share…until they first knew that I cared about them and would sincerely serve them. In my experience, cutting overgrown grass, repairing fences, and erecting houses were better than sermons.

The Doing Muscle- Isaiah 40:31, Isaiah 41:10

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

COMMENTARY

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength
For I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee
Yesterday I spoke of our moral resolve as a muscle, and the need to strengthen it without trying to overwhelm it. It is fine to acknowledge that we have limits and temper our efforts according to them.
But…we also need to pair this prudence with a faith in miracles. God has promised to give us strength beyond our own, the ability to stand against storms that we simply do not have the power to face ourselves. It is possible to both set realistic goals for one’s growth, and still leave the door open for divine intervention.
In my own path of addiction recovery, I took care to set manageable, attainable goals for myself. I did not try to muster up the strength for perfection, only to keep my commitments for each new day. And while in the process of taking these small steps by my own power, I found myself being swept forward by the grace of God to beyond what my own efforts could accomplish. My mind and heart healed in degrees that made no sense. I found a restoration of the soul that I had not even come close to earning.
So it can be with all practices of self-improvement. You do what you can do, and you let God do what He can do.

The Captive Heart- John 5:2-9

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

COMMENTARY

Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool
Previously I examined our reluctance to admit when we are wounded or broken. But then, even when we are willing to admit as much, we still might struggle to know what to do with that fact. Once we know that we have a problem we tend to look for solutions, but if the correct solution is not immediately evident, we usually end up chasing fruitless remedies, or trying to medicate the pain with addiction and disconnection.
Such was the man at the pool of Bethesda, forever waiting for a healing that he was incapable of receiving. It was the place to go, the thing to do, the world’s solution for his problem. But it just wasn’t going to work for him.

When Jesus saw him lie, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
The man could not find his healing, because he could not meet the terms under which it was doled out. He was physically incapable of finding success. I have felt the same when I have said to myself I need to be healed by God, but I have to earn it first by becoming perfect. This is a physical impossibility, and if I insist on this path, I will only ensure that I am never healed.
Jesus comes with another offer, comes with terms that each of us can meet. It is simple: “wilt thou be made whole?” The simplicity of the way often makes us skeptical. True healing and change cannot come so freely we think. And normally, no, true healing isn’t and can’t be so free in our fallen world. That is why we call it a miracle.

The Virtue of Remembering- John 14:26, Doctrine and Covenants 6:22-23

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

COMMENTARY

The Holy Ghost, shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you
Did I not speak peace to your mind? What greater witness can you have?
We have seen how many of us begin our path of discipleship by remembering the good that God has done for others, and by that having hope that He will do the same for us. But this is not to be the end of our journey. Each one of us is meant to join the scriptural records with some personal accounts of our own.
Notice how Jesus left his disciples with the promise that they would be able to remember what he, himself, had said to them. All their lives they had had the story of Moses to reflect on, but that was not to be the only pillar of their faith any longer. Now they had their own personal experiences, words of the Savior spoken directly to them, to help sustain them as well.
Peter, James, John and the others had forefathers who had lived by the manna that was sent from heaven. But now Jesus was pointing out to them that they had a manna of their own to take courage from as well.
Each one of us must also come to see how God has nourished us directly, and then hold to the remembrance of that forever after.

The Virtue of Remembering- Hebrews 11:3, 7, 11, 17, 24, 29-30, 32-34

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
By faith Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house.
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed.
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac,
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

COMMENTARY

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God
By faith Noah prepared an ark to the saving of his house
Hebrews 11 is a wonderful treatise on faith, and well worth an examination just for that. But today I actually wanted to take a step back, look at Paul’s methodology in the chapter as a whole, and glean what we can from his teaching style.
What Paul is doing through this entire sequence is reminding the saints about miracles that have already occurred, even ones that occurred anciently and are only known because of the scriptural record that was kept of them.
Which I do believe is one of the exact reasons why God has kept and preserved the scriptures: so that we can be reminded of the good that He has already done, and thus feel empowered to ask Him to do new good works in us.
Which is exactly where most of us begin our path of discipleship. We didn’t have our own miracles to reflect on, so we had to reflect on the miracles of others instead. If He did all this for Noah, Sara, Abraham, Moses, and the Israelites, if He did all this for our pastor, our family member, our friend…then why not us as well?
Paul understands that reflecting on these stories, even though they are not our own, will still generate greater faith in our hearts, which leads us to take our own leaps of faith, which finally allows us to have our own miracles to recall.