By J. Kenneth Doty
These are troubled times. We see economic problems all about us. People are losing jobs or experiencing extended layoffs. Some are trapped in the morass of increased costs of living. Many are discouraged as savings dwindle and the dollar buys less and less, and as interest rates spiral upwards, seemingly out of control, and the prospects of owning a home loom even further out of reach of many families. We witness increases in both business and personal bankruptcies. We are further troubled by a general decline in the moral fiber in our society, even among highly placed public officials. Crime and violence continue to increase alarmingly.
It is, therefore, no surprise to find many struggling with much worry and concern as we let ourselves dwell on these things. Some are pushed to the edge of despondency and hopelessness.
What, then, can we do to insulate ourselves from these problems, these fears, these dilemmas? What is the answer?
President Spencer W. Kimball said it all in a very short statement in the welfare session of an April session of General Conference. I quote: “Let’s get back to the basics.”
So I ask: What is more basic than faith? It is, after all, the first principle of the Gospel and should be the foundation of our lives and certainly the safety valve of our sanity and escape from despair. Problems are visible – real. They are upon us and all about us. But, I believe, we too often worry unnecessarily.
“Faith,” as the Apostle Paul said, “Is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So, with faith, we have some “unseen” strength; we have some “hoped for” strength to help us fight our fears. We have some “unseen” and “hoped for” barriers to protect us from problems. That is what faith is all about. It is Niebuhr who is credited with the prayer: “O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.”
To implement such an attitude requires faith; faith in a heavenly power that is a very real source of comfort. It was faith that protected Moroni in his wars with the Lamanites. It was faith that preserved Helaman and his 2000 stripling warriors. It was faith that brought the pioneer saints across the plains and through the persecutions of the early days of the Church. And it is faith that can deliver us from our trials today.
But many falter in the face of trial and worry – worries that are often only imagined; trials that are not yet upon us. Fear of things that have not happened or may not happen will lead us to do things that are contrary to the commandments that God has given us to live by, and that will lead us to weakened testimonies and the breaking of sacred covenants. That should be our greatest and, actually, our only fear.
When we do what we know to be right in the sight of God, we need not fear. Obedience will never go unrewarded. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10).
Trials and tribulations are not sent by God, as some would have us believe. Natural disasters, such as the flood and the earthquake, are beyond our control. But most of our problems are the result of our own mistakes or misdirected desires. But trials, whatever their source, do present an opportunity to develop and test our faith in, and obedience to, Him by which divine strength, protection, and wisdom may be had in abundance when truly needed.
King Saul of the Old Testament learned the hard way that “obedience is better than sacrifice and to hearken [meaning to listen to the direction of the Lord] better than the fat of rams.”
Faith is the courage and commitment to do what the Lord expects us to do no matter what other conditions may be thrust upon us. It is laying it all on the alter; it is what we call sacrifice. This is such an important subject that I was prompted at one time to write a poem on this theme.
Throughout the days of God’s great plan,
One grand theme comes through to man:
Father Adam, earth’s first man,
Banished from Paradise, starts the plan
Though very young and very shy,
Enoch lifts a city to the sky
Noah, Man of Ancient Days,
Built an ark to save a race
‘midst ridicule and Sacrifice.
Abraham, the chosen one,
Desired from God a worthy son
Israel’s children, freed from bondage,
Built a nation with their courage
The Son of God fulfilled the plan
To give salvation to every man
with HIS Sacrifice!
His Apostles remain, the Church survives,
Until persecution demands their lives
Joseph, prophet boy, key to restoration,
Ushers in this dispensation
with total Sacrifice!
Driv’n by mobs from homes so dear,
The humble saints turn pioneer
Today in affluence I stand
And pray, “Lord, what do you command
Then comes the Voice of Life and Light,
“A heart that is broken and a spirit contrite,
this is complete Sacrifice!”
Adam was asked why he was making sacrifice. His reply? “I know not save the Lord commanded it.”
It wasn’t raining when Noah started building his ark.
Abraham was fully prepared, I believe, to sacrifice his son.
The Savior, His early apostles, Joseph Smith, all knew where their roads would ultimately lead, but they walked them without hesitation.
In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob tells us that it was by faith and great anxiety that it was made manifest what would happen to them, thus producing great prophetic revelations.
It is faith, as President Kimball tells us, that precedes the miracle. Is it healing of physical ills that you desire? Faith must prepare the way. Is it inspiration that you need to determine the solution to your problems? Faith will prepare you to respond to the still small voice. Are there problems in your marriage, your family, in your business? Faith can find the solution!
Alma tells that as we are faithful unto the Lord, the Lord will never suffer us to be destroyed – not that he will remove all trial or suffering. Let me read the lesson from the 101st section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 1-8. “I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions; yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels. Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified. Behold, I say unto you, there were jarring, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances. They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble. In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but in the day of their trouble, of necessity, they feel after me.”
So let me suggest that if we are struggling, in any area of our lives, perhaps the first place to start is an evaluation of how we are responding to the Lord and His prophet today!
Do we rationalize about tithes and offerings? Do we excuse ourselves from assignments in ward and stake projects because we have other pressing duties? Do we exempt ourselves from Temple ordinances because we can’t afford the time or the gas? Do we excuse some minor sins or faults in ourselves when we know full well what we should do? Do we avoid the call to serve in the Church because it is not what we would prefer to do or because it does not meet the convenience of our schedules? In short, are we esteeming lightly the counsel of the Lord?
The problem with many of us is that we expect to see the end from the beginning. Moroni tells in Ether 12:6, “Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” We must walk to the edge of the light and even a few steps into the dark, with our faith, and then we will find the light moving ahead of us. We should not expect the Lord to tell us everything. We are instructed in the 58th section of the Doctrine and Covenants that the power is in us, that we are agents unto ourselves. When we learn to live the commandments, to walk closely to the Lord, then shall our confidence wax strong and our fears, our worries, and our tribulations will begin to diminish and disappear.
Remember, faith, the first principle of the Gospel, is the basic solution. If we can build a strong faith and keep it working constantly in our lives, we have the great promise from the 101st section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 35-38. “And all they who suffer persecution for my name and endure in faith, though they are called to lay down their lives for my sake, yet shall they partake of all this glory. 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. And seek the face of the Lord always that in patience you may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life.”
I commend that sacred promise to you as I add my witness of its truth and divinity in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.