Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On struggling for a willingness 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.

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)


Rebecca Irvine said...

Obedience definitely helps me to believe. Just looking at the blessed lives of those around me who are obedient it is easy to recognize that the Lord lives and rewards those who follow Him.

Allan said...

Thanks so much for this, I felt the spirit while I was reading it, I too have found that my desires, willingness, and attitude make all the difference in being a participant in the work of salvation. I have found that it can make the same tasks deeply rewarding or empty depending on my willingness/desire to do the task. When my heart is in the right place, I can feel his hand in the work and the blessings and growth are amazing.
You wrote this so well, this is such a very important principal for the growth of the saints, to become a Zion people, it is a great key.
It reminds of the scripture DC 88: 32 "And they who remain shall also be aquickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are WILLING to receive, because they were not WILLING to enjoy that which they might have received."

God our Father gives us all that we are willing to receive, Christ wants to us to be joint heirs with him, this is his whole desire, this is why he was willing to make the atonement for us and will plead our cause before the Father, we just need to be willing/committed to do what it takes to receive it, and when we do, the rewards are amazing, The plan is amazing, His love for us is overwhelming.

Michaela thanks so much for writing this and sharing, It helps us all become stronger and stretching further upward, this is his work, this is the work of salvation.

Tony said...

What a wonderful dissection of conference talks!
Thank you for the insights!