Saturday, December 26, 2009 1 comments

Lessons from the Amlici Threat

Recently I was reading in Alma 2, which recounts the incidents surrounding the attempt of Amlici to take over as king, and as I read about the battle, I realized this was another one of those relatively bald accounts that seems hard to derive meaning from. We don’t have much “and thus we see”s to help us here. Not only that, I began to wonder why Mormon included so much detail about the battle when it seems fairly straightforward.

Here's a summary:

Amlici seeks to be king and gathers many followers. There is a huge debate and Amlici’s bid for kingship is rejected. His followers make him king anyway and he commands them to make war on the Nephites. The Nephites fight Amlici and defeat them with a body count of 1:2 (N:A). Amlicites flee into the wilderness. Alma sends spies to watch them. Spies return next day warning the Amlicites have joined an army of Lamanites and are attacking the city of Zarahemla. Nephites fight huge host of Amlicites and Lamanites on banks of Sidon river, pray for deliverance and are strengthened. Alma fights Amlici, prays for deliverance, and kills him. Nephites defeat Lamanites and drive them into the wilderness.

It occurred to me that there must have been something singular about this account for Mormon to decide that it merited inclusion. So I started looking for notable aspects.

The first thing that stuck out to me was these verses about the second battle:
27 And behold as they were crossing the river Sidon, the Lamanites and the Amlicites, being as numerous almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea, came upon them to destroy them.
28 Nevertheless, the Nephites being strengthened by the hand of the Lord, having prayed mightily to him that he would deliver them, therefore the Lord did hear their cries, and did strengthen them, and the Lamanites and the Amlicites did fall before them. (Alma 2:27-28)
It is hard for us to get a sense of the true gravity of the situation when we are just skimming along the text, and this time when I was reading it occurred to me that the combined army of Amlicites and Lamanites must have been so large that just seeing the numbers caused the Nephites to cry out to the Lord to be saved. The numbers must have been so large that only God could help them. We often take it for granted that the Nephites armies will win in these accounts, but in this case it must have seemed by no means certain. Rather, it must have seemed a near-hopeless situation with imminent destruction practically staring them in the face.

So when it says that the Lord heard their cries and strengthened them, we are being told of a miracle.

Then I noticed something else that happened a little earlier in the text. Here’s what the spies said when they delivered their report:
Behold, we followed the camp of the Amlicites, and to our great astonishment, in the land of Minon, above the land of Zarahemla, in the course of the land of Nephi, we saw a numerous host of the Lamanites; and behold, the Amlicites have joined them. (Alma 2:24)
It struck me that that it was very interesting that when the Lamanite army met an Amlicite (apparently Nephite) army they joined together. Armies can do three things when they meet. They fight, they flee, or they join together. If a Lamanite army meets an army that looks Nephite in the wilderness, you’d think the Lamanite army would automatically fight the Nephite army. Instead the two armies join together. Armies will only join if they are on the same side. If there are no negotiations before joining, we can only conclude that they already know that they are allies. Because this seems to have happened with the Amlicites and Lamanites, it hit me that the Amlicites must have formed an alliance with them around the time that Amlici was made king.

Then something else occurred to me. I thought it was very interesting that Amlicites, when they were beaten, fled off into the wilderness. Interesting that they seemed to know exactly where to go to meet the Lamanites. And why didn’t the Amlicites wait until the Lamanites got there before they fought the Nephites? Could it be that the first Amlicite battle was not supposed to be the real battle at all? What if it was actually supposed to be a decoy, a diversion? It certainly could have ended up that way if the spies hadn’t been sent to follow the Amlicites to see what they would do. With the Nephite army clear out in the wilderness, Zarahemla would be wide open for invasion.

That has to be what happened. The Nephites almost were defeated with a diversionary strategy worthy of Captain Moroni. What saved them? Nephite spies were sent to watch the fleeing Amlicite army. Those spies warned the army in time and the army got to Zarahemla in time (to realize just how outnumbered they were). Who sent the spies out? Alma the Younger, who was the prophet.

So now we have a better idea of why this account was special. The Nephites were at a major disadvantage, being unaware of a clever diversionary plan to decoy them away from the city, and being far fewer in number than the invading armies of Amlicites and Lamanites. The deck was certainly stacked against them. And yet.. they won. With the help of the Lord they won.

The message I see in this story is that we don’t need to fear being outnumbered. We don’t need to fear the strategies against us. If we follow the prophet, we’ll be safe and we will be led to defend exactly what is under attack. If we pray for help, we’ll be strengthened at those times that we are outnumbered.
Sunday, December 13, 2009 3 comments

Charity and Spiritual Gifts: How Do They Mesh?

Here are some verses which have puzzled me for quite a while.
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)
I get the part about charity being the greatest, but I always wondered what was meant by the statement that prophecies would fail, tongues would cease, and knowledge would vanish. What is this about knowing in part, prophesying in part, and then doing away that which is in part when perfection comes? It seems to be saying that other spiritual gifts are only part of something and that they will cease. It seems to say that spiritual gifts are the childish things and charity is becoming like an adult. It seems to say that spiritual gifts are like seeing through a glass darkly, but charity is seeing face to face. How is this the case?

After some wrestling, the idea that I finally came to was that every spiritual gift possessed by man is a piece of the ultimate spiritual gift of charity. Like maybe if you put together all the spiritual gifts in one person, the gifts run into each other until you can’t distinguish where one ends and another starts and the whole together is charity.

[W]hen that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away – If we think of charity as just another spiritual gift we might tend to think that if we don’t have it then it’s just not our particular gift. But if we think of all the other spiritual gifts as parts of charity, then we have greater motivation to acquire more spiritual gifts so that we can be a greater blessing to those around us, knowing that it will bring us closer to the perfection of charity. Certainly charity is the bond of perfectness and peace. The parts are done away in the whole.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face – When you think about it, it is true that we have a hard time seeing each other for who we really are. Spiritual gifts help us get a little better view of each other as precious children of God, but charity has to be the pinnacle of heavenly vision.

So if all the spiritual gifts together are charity, maybe that’s why it is said that the church is the body of Christ with all the members needed, each with their spiritual gifts. Maybe that’s why we are given the church organization so that we can all come to the perfect man and the stature of the fullness of Christ.

And what are the spiritual gifts except special ways of showing love and being of service?
Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12)
The whole purpose of the gifts is to edify and benefit the church. Charity!
11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
15 And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men.
16 And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal.
17 And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom.
18 To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge.
19 And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed;
20 And to others it is given to have faith to heal.
21 And again, to some is given the working of miracles;
22 And to others it is given to prophesy;
23 And to others the discerning of spirits.
24 And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues;
25 And to another is given the interpretation of tongues.
26 And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God. (Doctrine & Covenants 46:11-26, emphasis added)
Do you see how all of these gifts can be used to benefit others? And if all have not every gift given to them, it means some gifts have to be worked for and prayed for. And we are encouraged to seek after spiritual gifts to help others and not to consume it on our lusts.
30 He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh.
31 And again, I say unto you, all things must be done in the name of Christ, whatsoever you do in the Spirit; (Doctrine & Covenants 46:30-31)

School your feelings. Schooooooool your feeeeelings.

I have to hand it to President Monson. Talk about prophetic. You know, the longer I live, the greater respect I come to have for the prophet (and the apostles) for their willingness to speak out on important issues. The talk that I’m particularly grateful for right now is his talk “School Thy Feelings, O My Brother”, which he gave in the priesthood session. In this talk, he urged the priesthood to cultivate a proper spirit at all times by choosing to refrain from becoming angry.

I testify that this talk was both timely and needed. In the last little while I have witnessed or heard about at least four anger incidents just in the lives of members of the church, one incident of which I was involved in. Reading his talk made a big difference for me and helped me get back on track.

President Monson pointed out various causes of anger such as the following:
  • When things don’t turn out the way we want
  • Reaction to something said about us
  • Reaction to something said to us
  • When people don’t behave the way we want
  • When we have to wait for something longer than we expected (Hello, road rage on slow-moving highways!)
  • When others can’t see things from our perspective
  • When we feel we have been hurt or unjustly treated
Some other choice tidbits:
A man’s a fool who takes an insult that isn’t intended.
There are as many reasons for anger as there are people on the earth. (But there are also as many reasons to refrain from anger.)
The Apostle Paul asks in Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 26 of the Joseph Smith Translation: “Can ye be angry, and not sin? let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
I ask, is it possible to feel the Spirit of our Heavenly Father when we are angry? I know of no instance where such would be the case.

From 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, we read:

“There shall be no disputations among you. . . . For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.”
It is my conviction that it doesn’t matter if you were right or wrong if you have the spirit of contention. You have to get rid of that spirit.
To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible.
Anger, Satan’s tool, is destructive in so many ways.
May we ever be exemplary in our homes and faithful in keeping all of the commandments, that we may harbor no animosity toward any man but rather be peacemakers, ever remembering the Savior’s admonition, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” [emphasis added]
“School thy feelings, O my brother;
Train thy warm, impulsive soul.
Do not its emotions smother,
But let wisdom’s voice control.”
As I read that bit of verse, one word that sticks out to me is “school”. We must “school” our feelings, not “smother” them. What is involved in schooling our feelings? I think it involves careful self-talk, figuring out what it is that we feel, giving it a label so that we know what it is, figuring out what exactly is causing it, analyzing what the extent of it is, thinking about how we’d like to react, thinking about whether that would change anything for the better, pinpointing any unreasonable feelings and talking ourselves out of them.

“Self, I know it feels like you are being insulted, but she didn’t mean it.”
“But what if she did?”
“Then do you want to give her the satisfaction of knowing she got to you? But, you don’t know what she intended, and you don’t have control over her. You only have control over yourself.”

When we school our feelings, we teach ourselves what to feel, how to feel it, and how to express it. We teach ourselves when it is time to walk away and cool down. We teach ourselves what tone of voice to use and what words and actions are totally off limits.

“Self, you will NOT raise your voice, and you will NOT call names. You also will NOT use profanity, no matter what happens.”

“Self, you are starting to hate her. You need to go pray for help to forgive her and pray to not be angry.”

“Self, you will NOT send that email today. You will wait 24 hours and then read through it again and edit it.”

Elder Kent D. Watson also gave a great talk on temperance in conference called “Being Temperate in All Things”. Elder Watson indirectly highlighted one particular area that temperance is needed when he describes the age Joseph Smith lived as he was seeking answers to his questions. About the community of converts to various religions, “All their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.” This shows us that temperance is needed in religious discussion. That word “contest” shows where the intemperance can come from. When opinion-sharing becomes a contest, temperance flies out the window and spiritual manipulation and abuse can creep in.

This suggests some other ways that we can acquire temperance. We can temper our perceptions so that we are not easily offended. One way that I have found that helps me temper my perceptions is by working hard to remember that the person I am talking to does not mean to be offensive or cause me pain. When I am talking to person who is part of an organization, I try to remember that the person has certain rules set by the organization that they have to follow which may dictate the way that they interact with me. If they can’t help me, keeping the above in mind helps me keep from feeling like they are trying to make my life hard just for fun. Instead, I try to find out what policies they may be working around in hopes that we can negotiate a way to both meet our goals.

Of course there are times when people do things just to try to push our buttons. At these times, temperance is important because it allows us to choose our actions, rather than reacting in a way that we may regret later. I found that one skill that laid a foundation for me to acquire temperance in this respect was that of controlling the volume of my voice. When I was a teen, there were times when I got upset with my parents and started arguing with them. I would get louder. My dad could keep his voice perfectly level and he would tell me, “Please lower your voice.” I had to. (And he was keeping his voice down, so I always felt like I had gotten out of hand.) Another thing that helped me become more temperate was when my mother would tell us not to call each other names. This meant we had to find other ways of communicating displeasure with someone. (And of course, I learned from watching my brother get his mouth washed out with soap that profanity wasn’t appropriate either.)

Elder Watson compared temperance to the qualities of tempered glass.
Tempered glass, like tempered steel, undergoes a well-controlled heating process which increases strength. Thus, when tempered glass is under stress, it will not easily break into jagged shards that can injure. Likewise, a temperate soul—one who is humble and full of love—is also a person of increased spiritual strength.
If our windshields were not made of tempered glass, any bit of highway gravel thrown up at them might shatter them into thousands of sharp pieces and hurt everyone in the car. However, because windshields are tempered, the small things that hit it during everyday driving seem to have no effect. At most we may see a small crack, which we can then repair.

In the same way, a tempered soul has the spiritual strength to deal with the thousand little stresses of everyday with self-control and poise and the act of dealing well with the small things increases strength to handle the big problems.

I testify that these words about temperance and schooling our feelings are needed TODAY. Following the words of the prophets will allow us to escape the wrath of God when it overtakes the wicked.
Friday, December 11, 2009 1 comments

Great Resources for Teaching Church Lessons and Family Home Evenings

I have a tendency to put myself on the list of volunteers to substitute teach in primary classes, and as a result, I have substitute-taught a fair number of different classes this year. I’m not always content with the attention activities in the book; my goal is always to find object lessons and approaches that are both memorable and strongly tied to the purpose of the lesson.

Technology sometimes plays a part in my lessons, but I really dislike the prospect of checking videos and things out from the library because I have to do it during church while the class may be running wild. I don’t even like checking pictures out. I feel more relaxed as a teacher when I come to church completely prepared with all the resources I need.

I remember one time I was asked to sub in the CTR 8 class. The lesson was about how Heavenly Father loves all his children and contained several stories of children in different countries and how they lived the gospel. As I was reading over the lesson I strongly felt that I needed lots of pictures. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the lesson book. The lesson listed some pictures I could use, but I didn’t care for the idea of having to get them from the library.

Finally I got the idea to make a power point presentation and get lots of pictures from the internet that would work with the lesson stories and put them in the presentation and then bring in my laptop and show the pictures as a slideshow as I told the stories that went with them. It made me laugh to think of subjecting the 8-year-olds to a Powerpoint presentation, but I knew the pictures would interest them in a way that would make it possible for the Holy Ghost to work on them. And I was right. (Of course I later found out that I may have broken some copyright laws by using images not owned by the church.. DOH!! Guess I can’t do that anymore..)

Something the lesson suggested I do was sing “Children All Over the World” with the children. As I was studying the lesson, I knew from past experience that it feels uncomfortable to sing even a well-known primary song without some sort of accompaniment. So I downloaded an mp3 of the song from the church’s website onto my laptop and when teaching the lesson, all I really needed to do was hit play and then it felt more natural for everyone to sing. (I love that the church has primary songs for download!)

I’m very grateful for the technology tools that we have that can solve some of these problems and create an environment for the Holy Ghost to be present and teach.

One new resource that I’m excited about is the church’s Old Testament Visual Resource DVDs. My mother-in-law got us this for Christmas (and she had us open our gifts early). Today I decided that I wanted to try the DVDs out to see what they were like. The thing I was most excited about was the videos that were included. These are high quality videos, many of which I remember watching when I was in seminary and which had a big impact on me. (In fact, there have been occasions when I wished I had access to some of those videos to use in some lessons I’ve taught.) I can see these videos being useful in both church lessons and family home evenings.

Another thing I liked about the DVD was the charts. They are called “charts”, but what they really are is a series of slides that list scriptures and ask a question about those scriptures for you to think about when you look them up and read them. After each question slide is an answer slide. Of what I saw, there was a chart about the difference between true prophets and false prophets, a chart about prophecies of Christ that were in Psalms and then places in the scriptures where each prophecy was fulfilled. I think these charts would be a really good thing to use in family scripture study or family home evening. They can give children valuable experiences of searching the scriptures for answers and get them used to doing it.

There’s a sizable booklet that comes with the DVDs that acts as an index for everything on the DVDs. It goes by topic, and it also shows what kind of visual each thing is. There are videos, music videos, charts, audio quotations, video quotations, text quotations, and paintings.

I kind of wondered why paintings and text quotations were included in the DVD, since the church has a booklet of just pictures that can be used for lessons and church lessons tend to have choice quotations included with them. I looked at the booklet though, which had a list of all the copyrights and I saw that most of the paintings are fairly new ones that have been produced within the last 30 years. This means that these pictures not going to be the usual ones we’ve seen so often.

For small children, there is another DVD included with narrated slides of pictures from the book Old Testament Stories. (I remember my mom reading to me and my siblings from those books over and over when we were little.) I took some time to watch a few chapters from it and it was funny how much it took me back to my childhood. I listened to those simple words and I tell you, I felt the Spirit. This is a great way to familiarize children with scripture stories and it is something they can watch on Sunday (and any other days too).

I look forward to using the Old Testament Visual Resource DVDs in future lessons and I recommend it.

While I was at the church website, I happened to find more videos that are offered; these are on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History and they can be found here. Since we are studying the Doctrine & Covenants in Sunday school this year, I’m surprised I haven’t heard of anyone showing these in class.

Another resource that I recommend for teachers is a booklet put out by the church called “Teaching, No Greater Call”. (It can be accessed from the church’s website here.) It has a number of lessons on the following topics:
  • The Importance of Gospel Teaching in God’s Plan
  • Prepare Yourself Spiritually
  • Improve upon Your Talents
  • Love Those You Teach
  • Teach By the Spirit
  • Teach the Doctrine
  • Invite Diligent Learning
  • Create a Learning Atmosphere
  • Use Effective Methods
  • Prepare Every Needful Thing
  • Teaching Different Age Groups
  • Teaching in the Family
  • Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching
  • Teaching in Leadership Settings
It also has significant discussion on methods of teaching, along with a huge list of teaching methods! This list is so big you’ll wonder why you ever let your teaching get in a rut.

Here’s a small sample:
  • Case studies
  • Demonstrations
  • Dramatizations
  • Guest Speakers
  • Maps
  • Music
  • Puppets
  • Role Playing
  • Work sheets
Does that sound FUN or WHAT?!!

So why should we care about our teaching methods and whether we use resources or not?

Here’s a fabulous story that addresses this question. It’s from the “Teaching No Greater Call” manual (p222-223) about Elder Boyd K. Packer when he was a mission president:
We scheduled zone conferences. For each one, Sister Packer baked a three-tiered cake,…decorated beautifully—thick, colorful layers of frosting, trimmed beautifully, and with ‘The Gospel’ inscribed across the top. When the missionaries were assembled, with some ceremony we brought the cake in. It was something to behold!

As we pointed out that the cake represented the gospel, we asked, ‘Who would like to have some?’ There was always a hungry elder who eagerly volunteered. We called him forward and said, ‘We will serve you first.’ I then sank my fingers into the top of the cake and tore out a large piece. I was careful to clench my fist after tearing it out so that the frosting would ooze through my fingers, and then as the elders sat in total disbelief, I threw the piece of cake to the elder, splattering some frosting down the front of his suit. ‘Would anyone else like some cake?’ I inquired. For some reason, there were no takers.

Then we produced a crystal dish, a silver fork, a linen napkin, and a beautiful silver serving knife. With great dignity I carefully cut a slice of the cake from the other side, gently set it on the crystal dish, and asked, ‘Would anyone like a piece of cake?’

The lesson was obvious. It was the same cake in both cases, the same flavor, the same nourishment. The manner of serving either made it inviting, even enticing, or uninviting, even revolting. The cake, we reminded the missionaries, represented the gospel. How were they serving it?

After the demonstration we had no difficulty—in fact, some considerable enthusiasm—for the effort to improve the teaching of the discussions. A few months later I thought the missionaries might well be reminded of the lesson, so I sent out a bulletin with a sketch of the cake.

When I met the missionaries again, I said, ‘You received a bulletin recently, didn’t you?’

‘Yes indeed.’

‘And what did it say?’

Invariably the missionaries said, ‘It reminded us to sharpen up on presenting our lessons and to do more studying, to learn the lessons carefully, and then to help one another in our procedure for having them taught.’

‘You got all that out of one picture?’

‘Yes, that’s one lesson we won’t soon forget!’

I should, of course, add that I was happy where necessary to pay the bill to clean the elder’s suit!
It is my conviction that Heavenly Father has inspired the creation of many helpful resources for us to use in teaching the gospel, and using the right presentation and teaching methods and resources for the situation can make a big difference. As just a little instance, I have learned that one of the reasons we have appropriate attention activities at the beginning of our church lessons is to not to entertain (although that can happen), but to pique interest and curiosity. When we become interested and curious, we want to learn and we open our hearts to receive. We become humble and meek and teachable. This allows the Holy Ghost to work on us and teach us the things that the Lord really wants us to know, which may or may not be included in the actual words of the lesson.

I also know that as we prepare our lessons, Heavenly Father can help us know what will be the best methods to use.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009 3 comments

On struggling for a willingness and easiness to believe

34 And thus we see that the Nephites did begin to dwindle in unbelief, and grow in wickedness and abominations, while the Lamanites began to grow exceedingly in the knowledge of their God; yea, they did begin to keep his statutes and commandments, and to walk in truth and uprightness before him.
35 And thus we see that the Spirit of the Lord began to withdraw from the Nephites, because of the wickedness and the hardness of their hearts.
36 And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words. (Helaman 6:34-36, emphasis added)
I really liked Elder Ringwood’s talk (“An Easiness and Willingness to Believe”, October General Conference 2009) about easiness and willingness to believe because I ran across that same phrase he highlighted and it too made me pause and ponder. Here are some of the things he said that I felt were most helpful.

Believing examples help us
"This easiness to believe comes from the example of others who have soft hearts and who model this easiness to believe, such as Nephi and Lehi."
The generosity and great words of others can prepare our hearts to believe
“After Ammon simply requested that the king allow Lamoni to worship as he desired in his own kingdom, the generosity and greatness of Ammon’s words caused the king to be troubled in mind and heart”
Lamoni’s father allowed Ammon’s words to trouble him to the point that it humbled him and he became willing to seek for instruction and to repent.

Prayer can help us believe
“We are blessed with others in the scriptures who teach us how we can obtain an easiness and willingness to believe. Nephi, son of Lehi, is one example. His first act when he heard his father teach about the destruction of Jerusalem was to cry unto the Lord till his heart was soft and he believed all the words spoken by his father”
Hungering for truth helps us believe
“From Enos we learn the importance of allowing the words of God to sink deep into our hearts till we hunger for truth. An easiness to believe will come when the word of God is etched into our hearts.”
Also implicit in Elder Ringwood’s words is that we have to ponder the words of God often to get them to sink down into our hearts. When they have penetrated deeply enough, they will be etched on our hearts and we will find it easy to believe them because they will have actually become a part of our very identity that we act on.

Life circumstance can prepare us to want to believe
“Periods of significant change, such as marriage or the birth of a child; periods of intense service from a new calling or a mission; periods in our youth with a wonderful bishop, youth leaders, and seminary teachers; periods of trials; and periods of growth from learning for the first time about the gospel are all periods of an easiness to believe.”
We can allow our experiences and trials to humble us so that we become willing to believe. One of the best ways to use our circumstances as a springboard to belief is to carefully keep a journal and spend a little time each day writing about how we have seen the hand of the Lord in our lives that day, as Elder Eyring recommended several general conferences ago.

Commitment to living the gospel helps us believe
“If you are like me, you will find what really brought an easiness and willingness to believe were not the circumstances but the commitment to live the gospel during these periods of life.”
If it were truly the circumstances that determined our level of belief, then we would not truly be free agents. Rather it is how we act (not react) that makes the difference.

Obedience helps us believe
“I witness that this easiness and willingness to believe will come from doing those seemingly insignificant things taught to us repeatedly since our youth. Obedience will bring soft hearts and an easiness to believe in the word of God. I bear witness that an easiness to believe will bring an outpouring of the Spirit.”
Those Sunday school answers—pray, read the scriptures, go to church, keep the commandments—will change us if we do them with zeal and not complacency. Something I have noticed in my own life is that when I am truly zealous I find myself praying more often, reading the scriptures more often, and more intent upon doing my duty. And I notice that I’m not doing it with thoughts of “I’m so righteous; look how much I’m doing this” but because I find that I NEED to and WANT to. It becomes as necessary to me as breathing and I feel like I will wither and die without it. Belief becomes perfectly easy and natural.

Like Nephi told his brothers:
…if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and give heed unto it, that ye might walk uprightly before God, then ye would not murmur because of the truth...(1 Nephi 16:3)
This seems to show us that willingness to believe is part of what brings easiness to believe. I have found this to be true in my own life. But if you are having troubles finding willingness to belief in your heart, often an experience of opposition can help you. When I was recently going through a stage of wishy-washy-ness, I found myself faced with a school assignment that I found morally repugnant. I finally just said to myself, “I am NOT going to do this. Whatever happens, I’m not doing this.” Taking my stand with determination took me beyond realm of belief into faith (belief + action). Further, it galvanized me to try to exert a good influence on others.
31 Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?
32 I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.
33 Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above. (D&C 58:31-33)
This scripture tells us that belief is very much attached to our obedience. We normally think that belief is required for obedience, but Elder Ringwood pointed out too that the reverse is just as true. Obedience is required in order to believe too. Obedience leads to belief, which leads to obedience, which leads to belief, etc.

Carefully patrolling our thoughts and feelings is also necessary to maintaining strong belief.

Elder Robert D. Hales said:
“[W]e must be careful not to constrain [the Holy Ghost’s] influence. When we do not do what is right or when our outlook is dominated by skepticism, cynicism, criticism, and irreverence toward others and their beliefs, the Spirit cannot be with us. We then act in a way that the prophets describe as the natural man.” (“Seeking to Know God, Our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ”, October General Conference 2009)
There have been times when I have been in church meetings listening to a talk or a song and I have been feeling the Spirit and then I start thinking critical or cynical thoughts. Too much of it, and then I feel the Spirit leave and I feel so empty. That’s when I realize what I did and I have to pray for forgiveness and then apply myself to listening more carefully, to receiving what is said, and to mentally assenting to every truth I hear. And eventually the Spirit returns.

Elder Tad R. Callister said:
“…some are willing to set aside the precious gospel truths restored by Joseph Smith because they get diverted on some historical issue or some scientific hypothesis not central to their exaltation, and in so doing they trade their spiritual birthright for a mess of pottage. They exchange the absolute certainty of the Restoration for a doubt, and in that process they fall into the trap of losing faith in the many things they do know because of a few things they do not know. There will always be some seemingly intellectual crisis looming on the horizon as long as faith is required and our minds are finite, but likewise there will always be the sure and solid doctrines of the Restoration to cling to, which will provide the rock foundation upon which our testimonies may be built.” (“Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration”, October General Conference 2009)
If I were to paraphrase Elder Callister, I would probably say something like, “A testimony in hand is worth two doubts in the bush.” That being said, I think there is a difference between doubts and questions. Doubts don’t really do anything for me except paralyze me. Questions? I have many questions of my own, but I have never lost sleep over them. I know that if I frame my questions with faith, eventually the Lord will answer them for my edification when I am spiritually prepared. Many posts on this blog represent questions I have had that have been answered.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:
“The Savior warned that in the last days even those of the covenant, the very elect, could be deceived by the enemy of truth….In Lehi’s dream an already difficult journey gets more difficult when a mist of darkness arises, obscuring any view of the safe but narrow path his family and others are to follow. It is imperative to note that this mist of darkness descends on all the travelers—the faithful and the determined ones (the elect, we might even say) as well as the weaker and ungrounded ones. The principal point of the story is that the successful travelers resist all distractions, including the lure of forbidden paths and jeering taunts from the vain and proud who have taken those paths. The record says that the protected “did press their way forward, continually [and, I might add, tenaciously] holding fast” to a rod of iron that runs unfailingly along the course of the true path….Remember this declaration by Jesus Himself: “Whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived”—and in the last days neither your heart nor your faith will fail you.” (“Safety for the Soul”, October General Conference 2009)
How will having an easiness and willingness to believe help us in a time when Satan is working so hard to deceive? Will having an easiness and willingness to believe make us more vulnerable? I don’t think easiness to believe is about believing everything you’re told by everybody unconditionally. I think that the key is to treasure up the word of the Lord as given by the scriptures, the church leaders, and personal revelation and measure everything by that standard. We know that by the power of the Holy Ghost we can know the truth of all things.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Unbelief can also be a product of pride, when our spirits are presented with greater knowledge from God but prefer to think that we already know best and prefer to discard it. In this case we are left to ever learn but never come to a knowledge of the truth.
26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward….
29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned. (D&C 58:26,29)
This scripture suggests to me that unbelief tends to stop our progress and we become unwilling to do good on our own impetus. And unfortunately that leads to being unwilling to do good even when commanded.

So…
Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. (D&C 64:34)
Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe. (Alma 32:16)
He that receiveth of God, let him account it of God; and let him rejoice that he is accounted of God worthy to receive. (D&C 50:34)
The final word on the matter:
Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed. (D&C 123:17)