Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Test of Ease

The July 2017 Ensign had a really good article from Elder Bednar called “On the Lord’s Side: Lessons from Zion’s Camp” (p27) that had a big section in it that I want to comment on.

The leaders of the Lord’s Church clearly have identified some of the collective or generational tests we can expect to encounter in our day and generation. As the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1977, President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) raised a prophetic voice of warning in a meeting of regional representatives. I now quote extensively from President Benson’s message and invite your focused attention on his timely counsel:

“Every generation has its tests and its chance to stand and prove itself. Would you like to know of one of our toughest tests? Hear the warning words of Brigham Young, ‘The worst fear I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution and be true. But my greatest fear is that they cannot stand wealth.’”

President Benson continues: “Ours then seems to be the toughest test of all, for the evils are more subtle, more clever. It all seems less menacing and it is harder to detect. While every test of righteousness represents a struggle, this particular test seems like no test at all, no struggle and so could be the most deceiving of all tests.

“Do you know what peace and prosperity can do to a people—It can put them to sleep. The Book of Mormon warned us of how Satan, in the last days, would lead us away carefully down to hell. The Lord has on the earth some potential spiritual giants whom He saved for some six thousand years to help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly, and the devil is trying to put them to sleep. The adversary knows that he probably won’t be too successful in getting them to commit many great and malignant sins of commission. So he puts them into a deep sleep, like Gulliver, while he strands them with little sins of omission. And what good is a sleepy, neutralized, lukewarm giant as a leader?

“We have too many potential spiritual giants who should be more vigorously lifting their homes, the kingdom, and the country. We have many who feel they are good men and women, but they need to be good for something—strong patriarchs, courageous missionaries, valiant family history and temple workers, dedicated patriots, devoted quorum members. In short, we must be shaken and awakened from a spiritual snooze.”7

Consider that affluence, prosperity, and ease can be tests in our day equal to or greater in intensity than the persecution and physical hardships endured by the Saints who volunteered to march in Zion’s Camp. As the prophet Mormon described in his magnificent summary of the pride cycle contained in Helaman 12:

“And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.
“Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity” (Helaman 12:1–2).

I invite you specifically to note the final phrase in the last verse: “and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.”

President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) likewise taught about the collective test of ease that we face in our day: “We are tested, we are tried, we are going through some of the severest tests today and we don’t realize perhaps the severity of the tests we are going through. In those days there were murderings, there were mobbings, there were drivings. They were driven out into the desert, they were starving and they were unclad, and they were cold. They came here to this favored land. We are the inheritors of what they gave to us. But what are we doing with it? Today we are basking in the lap of luxury, the like of which we’ve never seen before in the history of the world. It would seem that probably this is the most severe test of any test that we’ve ever had in the history of this Church.”

So, Elder Bednar notes that affluence, prosperity, and ease can be tests in our day equal to or greater in intensity than the persecution and physical hardships endured by the Saints who volunteered to march in Zion’s camp.

Many of us might listen or read these words and like Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” we might say, “Well, if wealth is a curse, may God smite me with it! And may I never recover!”

But that just shows we don’t understand the danger. So many of us are driven and motivated to action by the needs of the moment, driven to acquire what will enable us to live, driven by the needs of those who depend on us.  But what happens when we reach a state when our needs are all met, when no one makes any demands? It sounds wonderful. But where will you find motivation if you have no need?

That is the test. The test is to create your motivation and stay anxiously engaged in a good cause day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. The test is to keep it up, even though you don’t need to. The test is to sacrifice your comfort and ease to bring about righteous purposes. The test is to push out of ease willingly into a cause fraught with frustration, inconvenience, difficulty, challenge, persecution, pain, etc.  And it is a test.  The natural man and woman loves to loll about and will protest when you think about trying something know or doing something hard that you don’t have to do.  (At least mine does.)

It is true that ease puts people to sleep. When there’s no need, you feel like you don’t have to try too hard because the penalty for failure or laziness is low. That is how prosperity saps people of vigor.

Again, Elder Bednar points out the test of affluence, prosperity, and ease can be equal to or greater in intensity than the persecution and physical hardships of Zion’s Camp. Ponder that. Equal to or greater in intensity to mental and physical fatigue, bloody blisters, inadequate food, unclean water, disappointments, dissentions, rebellions, and threatening armies. In what way are they equal? The prophet Joseph Smith called these men to leave their comfortable homes and march to save others. In our day, the prophet will similarly call us to leave our comforts and ease and suffer inconvenience, difficulty, persecution, etc. to save others. In that way, the tests are equal.

That kind of sacrifice is the same that Moses made when he put aside his status as a prince of Egypt and chose to suffer privations with the enslaved children of Israel.

How to deal with this test? How to prepare for it? I think one way to prepare for it is to choose at least one good cause to engage in along with all the things we need to do, and keep at it. Keep at it even though there is nothing urgent about it because someday you’ll need that skill.  The labor of love will prepare you for the time when all your labors become non-urgent.

Another part of this test is that when needs are taken care of, one doesn’t quite know what to pray about. What to ask for? That puzzle may cause neglect of prayers. But if one is anxiously engaged in a good cause, then one finds more to pray about, and one realizes how much one needs help to fight the inertia of the natural man or woman.


Mex Davis said...

Our GD class viewed the video of this in conjunction with lesson 27 about Zions Camp. This is an excellent talk and really draws out the meaning of the camp and our lives today. Well worth any ones time.

Michaela Stephens said...

Sounds good. I may have to look it up. Thanks for stopping by.