Monday, July 10, 2017

Short on Faith? Make a List

Alma 9:20+

Background: Alma has been instructed to return to the city of Ammonihah after having been unsuccessful in calling them to repentance. He meets Amulek and asks for shelter and food. Amulek had been prepared by an angel to receive Alma and complies with the angel's instructions. It seems that Amulek was not a religious man, but a man of integrity. Therefore, he enjoyed a good reputation in the community. While he had thoughts of religion, he was busy building his business and had little time for anything else, it seems. The visit from the angel and then from Alma allowed his spirit to be open to receiving the message of repentance and living the standards of the gospel.  Alma stays with him and teaches him for some time. He is a quick study and obviously has learned spiritual concepts deeply. He loves and teaches them as he accompanies the high priest of the Church.

Alma and Amulek step out to teach the people and to call them to repentance. Alma begins in an interesting way. He restates how many times God has blessed this people, provided spiritual gifts, prosperity, provided prophets, revelation, visions, healings, relief from famine, delivered them out of bondage, and preserved them in battle. It is quite a long list of only some of the blessings received by the people of Nephi as well as the others who joined them as recorded in Mosiah. Reading it, my thought was that if they were not touched by this recitation,  they would have predetermined that no matter what this prophet said, they would not hear, but would reject it out of hand. "...your hearts have been grossly hardened against the word of God..." (v. 30)

Many times I have thought about why in moments of weakness I have chosen to hold fast to faith. This time the thought occurred to me that I have had numerous spiritual blessings in my life when I was especially inspired, blessed, healed, provided blessings, received direction, was in the right place at a time when someone needed my insight, and other gifts of the Spirit.

If that is the case, maybe I should do like Alma and write them down. I hesitate to do so here, as it may appear prideful or it may expose sensitive spiritual blessings that should be kept sacred. I am fine with sharing them on a personal basis, so when we meet sometime, you may ask and I will do so.

As I think of something that is a direct blessing of the Spirit or an answer to a prayer or fulfillment of a blessing, I write it down in a notebook that I carry with me. So far, I have written 28 instances. I know there are many I have not yet remembered and more to come. It has been a blessing to me on so many levels. I know many who keep a gratitude journal, and this is similar because these are experiences for which I am profoundly grateful, but different in that I am not recording everything for which I am grateful (though I am glad that so many do), just about those instances where divine intervention of one kind or another has been evident in my personal life.

I recommend it. I don't know how long I will keep it up, but for now it is an amazing blessing of strength and joy.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Joy without Affliction and Sorrow

Alma 7: 5-6
5 And I trust, according to the Spirit of God which is in me, that I shall also have joy over you; nevertheless I do not desire that my joy over you should come by the cause of so much afflictions and sorrow which I have had for the brethren at Zarahemla, for behold, my joy cometh over them after wading through much affliction and sorrow.

6 But behold, I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren; I trust that ye are not lifted up in the pride of your hearts; yea, I trust that ye have not set your hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world; yea, I trust that you do not worship idols, but that ye do worship the true and the living God, and that ye look forward for the remission of your sins, with an everlasting faith, which is to come. (Emphasis added)

The chapters of Alma comprising his leaving the office of Chief Judge and acting only as high priest over the church are filled with insights about the need for authority to administer ordinances and ordinations; the need for repentance, being born again, retaining the Spirit in our lives, and the power of testimony, among other important principles. As I re-read these chapters, I find my focus is not as sharp as it ought to be, because I have already read, highlighted and commented in the margins about those principles and concepts. I have tried to be alert to promptings as I read, now, because I have a good deal of experience that tells me that I will learn more that I missed in previous reading.

Yesterday, I read chapter 7 and was struck by the verses above. Again, experience has taught me that 2Nephi 2:11+ is true. Without opposition in all things, we would not appreciate the good, happy, building, strengthening experiences in life. I have wondered, however, if joy must always follow affliction. I remember distinctly a few years (now they seem like short years) when life was particularly abundant. I also remember being exceptionally grateful at that time. I knew it could not last forever, because life is meant to be a test and we have to struggle if we are to grow. But for that time I felt happy, content and very grateful.

Here, Alma expresses a similar feeling. The people in Gideon were open and receptive to his message. They were willing to listen and to repent. They were prepared to receive counsel, to establish the church with proper offices and the Spirit confirmed to Alma that they believed the words he taught.  and in v. 17 he concludes, "...great is my joy."

Alma had experienced joy in Zarahemla, but only after a good deal of contention, affliction and sorrow. He would experience persecution, affliction and sorrow again in spades as he entered Ammonihah, but for this brief period in Gideon, his joy was full.

We do have to experience affliction in order to appreciate joy; that is obvious. I am grateful for Alma's insights, however, that we do not have to always have affliction precede joy. Previous experience will sometimes suffice. The key, it seems to me, is to be constantly open to joy, whether it is fleeting or lasts for a longer period. We are open to joy, when we are constantly grateful. Being available to others with the love of Christ increases our opportunities for both the harsh and the joyful.

"They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Psalm 126: 5-6