Individual Trials- Deuteronomy 30:19, Joshua 24:15

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

COMMENTARY

I have set before you life and death, therefore choose life
Choose you this day whom ye will serve
Yesterday we observed how the most common trial God places before us is the trial of our own nature. But the war with ourselves is certainly not some singular event, rather it is broken up into many skirmishes spread throughout each day. Therefore the trial of our nature is further divided into the trials of our individual choices.
Some daily decisions are made easily, but even if we dismiss all of these, there yet remain numerous times where we want one thing, but our conscience wants another. Each one of those is a trial. They might seem like small ones, but each one is a question from God that asks “will you choose Me, or will you choose you?”
That realization has aided me greatly when my small, daily trials come to bear. It is so much harder to deny God when I consciously know that that’s what I’m doing.

Individual Trials- Exodus 32:1, 7-8, 21-22

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves:
They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.

COMMENTARY

They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them
Thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief
We have previously examined that God tests His people with afflictions, but also with blessings. This is not all, though. Of all the ways that we are tested, perhaps the most prominent method is that of being tested by our own nature. Each one of us has our predisposition for sin. Some of us are drawn towards the bottle. Others are firm teetotalers, but then are drawn towards pride. Others are well able to remain humble, but fall prey to their lust. Doesn’t matter what it is, we all have our Achilles’ heel.
Throughout the scriptures we see people that are called to become something more than what they were, but are then tempted to slip back into their old nature. As we see in these passages from Exodus 32, the newly-freed Israelites struggled to cleave to God. Many times they turned back to their idols. In Numbers 22-24 Balaam was convinced by God to pronounce a blessing upon the Israelites, but then in Numbers 31 we learn that he went back and taught the Midianites how to corrupt the Israelites. In John 21 Peter returned to the provincial life of fishing, rather than answer the call to lead the church.
Yes we do have extraneous forces that tempt and try us, but by and large the old adage is true: we are our own worst enemy. The path to exaltation is attained less by powering through intense moments of adversity and blessing, and more by consistently looking ourselves in the mirror and choosing the better part.

Individual Trials- 1 Kings 3:13-14, 11:9-11

And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.
And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.

And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice,
And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the Lord commanded.
Wherefore the Lord said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.

COMMENTARY

And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour
If thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments
Many of us think of trials as being forms of adversity in our lives. But as seen with the story of Solomon, they can also come in the blessings that are given to us. God gave Solomon great blessings: wisdom, riches, and honor. These were given to him with a charge, that he remain ever faithful.
At first Solomon performed the Lord’s will, and prospered greatly because of it. The initial blessings increased, and he became a most powerful sovereign.

And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God
But of course, in time Solomon’s heart turned. His great wealth and influence introduced him to strange wives, and they seduced him into idolatry. His very blessings proved to be his own undoing, and thus we see how those blessings were the trial of his soul.
Perhaps we wish that we could be tempted with riches and power like Solomon, instead of with pain and loss. But in the end, the outcome is the same. Either we are saved by our trials or we are broken by them. Either our soul is exalted, or it is lost. Whether we achieved that culmination by worldly pain or pleasure makes little difference in the eternal perspective.

Individual Trials- Question

A word that we commonly use in Christianity is “trials.” By this we mean the times that we are tested to see if we will remain faithful or not. This word typically has a negative connotation, being used to express an unpleasant, yet necessary process.

Trials are different from consequences, in that they are actively put on us by another, not because we did something wrong and are just reaping the natural result of that. Usually those that mention trials are discussing some form of illness, persecution, doubt, or even death.

But I do believe that the tests we are subjected to in Earth life are much broader than just that one category of “affliction.” Trials can take the form of inherent weaknesses and personality traits. Trials can take the form of being given a choice, where we are tempted by that which is easy but wrong. Trials can even take the form of receiving a blessing.

I would like to examine all these different ways of experiencing a trial, how each tests us in its own manner, and how each is meant to help us develop into the person we were born to be. In the meantime I am curious to hear how you have been able to gain a healthy appreciation for trials in your own life. In what ways have they reassured you that your life is following a plan? In what ways have you come to know yourself better through them?

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- Matthew 26:33-34, 16:18

Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

COMMENTARY

Jesus said unto him, This night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice
Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it
Previously I shared how Peter thought he was ready to die for Jesus, but when his moment to prove it came, he was found lacking. Clearly he had misjudged himself. Today I reflected back on that story, and I realized that there was another lesson to be found within it.
Yes, Peter misjudged himself in that moment, but Jesus saw him rightly. After his failure, Peter became understandably discouraged, and following Jesus’s burial he returned to his old lifestyle as a fisherman. Perhaps that was all he felt he was cut out for anymore. But if so, then once again he was misjudging himself. For even before Jesus had rightly predicted Peter’s failure, he had also rightly predicted his eventual triumph. In fact, it was Jesus who gave him the name Peter, which means “rock,” and testified that this disciple would become the foundation of strength for the gospel moving forward. And Jesus was right.
I suspect that many of us, like Peter, are both weaker and stronger than we think. Our Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother truly know us better than we know ourselves. Jesus revealed Peter’s true nature to him, and he is ready to also reveal yourself to you. You only have to be ready to receive it.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- 2 Kings 5:10-13

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.
Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
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?

COMMENTARY

My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?
Yesterday we examined Peter, who felt he was ready to lay down his life for Jesus, but stumbled when the actual danger arose. Peter had something in common with Naaman: both believed that they were ready to undertake some “great thing,” and openly invited a test of their resolve. Where their paths diverge is that Peter was actually invited to risk his life, whereas Naaman was only asked to do something small and basic.
Peter fell short of the great sacrifice, but even Naaman almost failed to do the small and simple thing! The fact that he was almost tripped up by the little thing makes me suspect that he, like Peter, may not have been as ready for the greater sacrifice that he thought he was. I once had a missionary who firmly avowed that he would gladly die for Christ’s gospel. At the time I couldn’t help thinking “but you and I are struggling with even the basic missionary rules right now, so why would either of us be ready for a sacrifice like that?”
I love the scene from the Karate Kid, where Daniel expresses his frustration at his teacher. He came to him to learn martial arts, but instead he has been assigned many menial chores. He does not yet realize that it is in the small, repetitive tasks that the reflexes of a warrior are being developed within him.
It is easy to view scripture study, prayer, acts of service, and obedience to the commandments as meaningless chores, things which have no bearing on one’s ability to undertake great spiritual causes. But in truth these practices are absolutely essential and fundamental, the little things that make all the difference.

Divided from God- Summary

My previous study was about needing to make time for God. As I was writing it though, I wanted to address the times where I have wished that that process was simpler. Because at the outset, coming to God often does not appear to be very straightforward. It is understandable to get frustrated by this perceived divide.

One of my reasons for writing this blog is to not only explore spiritual epiphanies, but also the spiritual frustrations that precede them. I think we are mistakenly afraid of being blasphemous if we admit that following God was, at times, aggravating.

But saying that something is aggravating is not the same as saying that it isn’t worth it. All relationships come with friction and frustration, but in them we also derive the greatest joy. And that includes our relationship with God. Do I wish that things were easier…a part of me wants to say yes, but a part of me knows it just couldn’t work that way.

We Are Twice Divided From God

When we are in the womb we maintain a direct connection with our nurturing mother. No effort is required for us to maintain sustenance, we acquire it freely. After birth, the mother’s body continues to provide nutrition for us, but the direct tether to her is severed. We can still be nourished, but now, and forever after, we’re going to have to work for it.
I do not believe that there is any coincidence for how well this reflects the separation from God brought about by the fall, and the effort now required of us to now reconnect with Him. It is our common lot as humankind.
But that only accounts for one of our separations. The second is that which we bring upon our own selves. Guilt and shame that have nothing to do with what Adam or Eve did, but rather what sins we, ourselves, have chosen to commit.
Romans 6:23- For the wages of sin is death
Alma 42:9- Therefore, as the soul could never die, and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord, it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.

There are Reasons and Wisdom Behind This Divide

Going back to the example of the newborn, the only way for an infant to remain tethered to its mother would be by stunting its growth forever. It could never grow to the full measure of a man or a woman while remaining so linked.
Character is defined by the things that we do when we do not feel another’s eyes peering over our shoulder. Character growth occurs when we do good things because of our own volition. In this way it is wise for God to allow enough separation for us to act and grow on our own.
Also, our separation from God ebbs and flows. Sometimes His presence is nearer and sometimes it is farther, depending on our own actions. This ingenious state of change provides an essential feedback loop for measuring our own behavior. When I sin, I feel more withdrawn from God, and that unpleasantness motivates me towards better choices. These, in turn, draw me nearer to Him.
2 Nephi 2:24- But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
Doctrine and Covenants 6:28- For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

The Divide Can Be Closed

If we were to directly see God in our daily lives, there would surely be far greater feelings of fulfillment in our hearts and far less evil performed in the world. But also we would be stunted children, just as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden.
God planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden to allow for the reality of today. It was a gift. Now we truly and independently act. We make choices, feel God’s presence grow nearer or farther, and by that steer ourselves as we see fit. And if we choose to steer ourselves back to God, then regaining His presence will really mean something. It won’t just some default state that was premortally chosen for us. It will be the destiny that we have chosen for ourselves.
Mother birds have been known to push their young out of the nest. But they do not this so that the child will never return to the trees, rather so that when it does it will do so upon magnificent wings!
2 Timothy 4:7- I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
Philippians 4:13- I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Faith vs Fear- Matthew 14:29-31

And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

COMMENTARY

But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid
O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
Faith and Fear is a dichotomy. It is a choice between which side we put our trust in, the power of the world or the power of God. Whichever side we trust in the power of we also give power over us.
Peter was filled with faith and he walked upon the water. The only reason why he got into any trouble was that he acknowledged the storm. He had been defying the laws of physics, but in that moment he regarded them, feared them, and gave them power. In that moment the storm, not the miracle, defined his reality. And he sank.

And he said, Come.
Jesus knew that Peter could do the miracle. He knew that Peter had the faith, even if only for a moment. Though Peter may have slipped, the Lord did not cease to invite him to keep exercising faith. Though Peter would slip again in the future, still Jesus called on him to lead the others.
“And he said, Come,” is therefore not a one-time invitation. Perhaps we will succumb to fear at times in our own discipleship as well. It is alright, the invitation to rise again remains forever in full force.

Faith vs Fear- Psalm 56:4, Matthew 10:28, Doctrine and Covenants 101:36-37

In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.
Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul.

COMMENTARY

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul
Therefore, care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul
As we have mentioned, part of replacing fear with faith is acknowledging that God possesses all power, and that He can save us from every threat imaginable…if it is His will. The other element of surrendering our fear, then, is to accept the times when it is not God’s will. We need to believe that even in those moments we are still preserved in what really matters.
Many the faithful disciple has prayed for relief from sickness, oppression, and even death, yet been told “no, this trial is one that you are supposed to pass through.” At first this might sound like being abandoned back to fear, but in reality it is being lifted to greater faith.

For in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full
If our hope is that depending on God will shield us from every pain, then our happiness is still tied to worldly security. We are still living in the “fear of the world.” And even if God did circumvent all worldly pain and give us all worldly pleasure, our joy would still be unfulfilled, because this world simply does not have what it takes to provide completeness. Fulfillment of the flesh is a game you just cannot win.
God wants something better for us. He does not want to merely mask our fears, He wants to help us overcome them. So sometimes He isn’t going to give us worldly comfort and He isn’t going to spare us worldly pain. What He is going to do, though, is help us through worldly pain with spiritual comfort. In this way He is bit-by-bit weaning us from the flesh and supplanting it with the soul. And in the needs of the soul He does provide all and we do find fullness of joy.

Trial Before Blessing, Pleasure Before Anguish- 1 Kings 19:11-12

And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

COMMENTARY

But the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire
When one endeavors to try to become something better, they may be surprised that the Lord does not bless their efforts immediately. In fact, often it is Satan who comes to us first.
I have had my own journey through addiction recovery, at the beginning of which I was excited to finally meet the healthier, worthier me. I was shocked, then, when I instead met a very different version of myself: one that was extremely pessimistic and cruel. This version assured me that I would never get any better, that deep down I didn’t even want to get better, that soon I would fail, and that recovery would never work because I just happen to be fundamentally flawed to my core.
This voice was one that raged, too. One might say it came in like a great wind, or an earthquake, or maybe a fire…but the Lord was not in these furies at all. After that harsher version of me passed, another identity came. A still, small one that rang truer and far more hopeful. The one I had been waiting for.
I feel I have very good company in this pattern that I lived. Jonah tried to run before he eventually carried out his mission to Nineveh, Peter sunk into the water the first time he tried to walk on it, Zacharias doubted his son’s birth but later defended that boy, Moses doubted his abilities before leading Israel to freedom. It seems most all of us have the self of doubt before the self of faith.
The problem is when people meet that first doubting self and then assume that that is all there is. They may start to believe that some people have a good core, and others an evil, and there’s just nothing you can do about that. The truth is everyone has both identities, and the test is simply whether we will hold out long enough for the good to make itself known.