Monday, April 21, 2014

Messages of Peace

One of the most powerful tools that God has blessed us with in this day and age is the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon was translated by the power of God by a young man named Joseph Smith. The story of the history of the Book of Mormon is amazing, but it is a tale for another time. If you're curious, you can read the Introduction to the Book of Mormon here, Joseph Smith's first-hand account here, or a summary of its purpose and history here (links for days! I hope you have time to read my post after all those...).

What I want to focus on today is how the Book of Mormon has helped ME in MY life. I've talked before about how it helped me gain a testimony of Jesus Christ and of His church, but that is really only the tip of the iceberg. The Book of Mormon has brought peace, power, and direction to my life, both in the good times and in the hard times. I'd like to highlight this peace, power, and direction by sharing three stories of when I've learned specific lessons from the Book of Mormon.

The first story I'd like to tell took place my Junior year of High School.

During this time, I felt like I was doing pretty well, but I was frustrated in a few weaknesses and bad habits that I just couldn't seem to shake. I'd go back and forth, doing well for weeks and months, then messing up again and feeling terrible about myself. One night, when I was feeling particularly trapped and hopeless, I decided to turn to the Book of Mormon for comfort.

I opened it to Alma 32. In this chapter, a missionary named Alma has been preaching to the wealthier population with no success, but is suddenly approached by a crowd of impoverished people searching for a way to worship their Lord. They explain to Alma that because they can't afford nice clothes, the preachers have kicked them out of the synagogues which they helped to build, and now they have no way to practice their religion. Alma shares this insight:

" is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom;"

When I read those words, I was filled with peace. Suddenly something clicked, and I realized that the people being kicked out of their church could be a symbol of my repeated failures to kick a bad habit. I realized that even though my mistakes where bad, they did not exclude me from God's love. They were part of His plan! God allows us to make mistakes so we learn to rely on His power and His help. That verse of scripture sustained me for months to come as I continued to work on overcoming my weaknesses. To this day, it is a reminder that our shortcomings do not condemn us, they give us opportunities to humble ourselves and grow.

The next story happened only a few weeks ago. I wasn't going through any specific difficulties that I remember, but this passage was still a great strength to me, and I was able to share it with several people that I met with that week. The chapter was Ether 6. It is the exciting story of a group of people who are instructed to make wooden barges to cross the ocean to reach the promised land. At this point in the story, they have finished their preparations, and are ready to take a huge leap of faith and trust the Lord to guide and protect them. This reminded me of our decision to come here to Earth! Just like these people, we had to make the decision to trust God and come down here, knowing that there would be challenges and uncertainties that we couldn't imagine. Yet we came down anyway, trusting the Lord to guide us.

At this point, there is a bit of a plot twist. Almost as soon as these faithful people set off into the ocean, they are hit by a major storm. We are told that the Lord caused mighty winds to blow that tossed this little band of travelers every which way. I have to imagine that they are a little bit irked at that. Here they are, having followed everything the Lord asked them to do, and suddenly they're being buried by waves and tossed to and fro, and it looks like they won't survive the journey. However, they are patient, just as we must be in life. And, we are taught that their trials weren't without cause. Verse 8 says:

"And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters;"

I love that. These winds weren't useless, they were driving them towards the promised land! At the end of the day, we all hope to become like His Son by perfecting ourselves and overcoming our weaknesses, just as these people wanted to reach the promised land. Just as the winds drove them towards their ultimate goal, our trials, even though they don't always make sense, drive us towards our ultimate goal of living with God again.

The last scripture I'd like to share is one that I chose to memorize early in my mission. All through seminary, we were encouraged to memorize scriptures, but I never really understood why until my mission. Memorizing scriptures shows God that we care about His words. We don't want them just available to us, we want them to be a PART of us. When we memorize verses or even just phrases from the scriptures, we are treasuring up essential truths that are always there for us when we need them.

The scripture is 3rd Nephi 5:13, which says:

"Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life."

This scripture is simple, but I have gleaned a powerful message from it. It has to do with the repeated words "him" and "his", referring to the Savior. I have been called of HIM to declare HIS word among HIS people. To me, this has been a constant reminder that this isn't man's gospel. It is Christ's. This church isn't just some institution that I happen to work for. It is the kingdom of God, and I should be honored to be a part of it. The people that I teach aren't just strangers, they are children of Heavenly Father. Remembering this scripture has helped me stay devoted to my calling and remember why I'm here on a mission. It isn't for myself, it is for Him.

Anyone can have experiences like these with the Book of Mormon. They don't happen all the time, or even most of the time. But my experience has been that they come when we need them most. I have compared it to conversations you might have with one of your friends. Not every conversation is going to be deep, meaningful, and rewarding. Chances are, most are just going to be causal pleasantries. But every once in a while when you need your friend the most, he or she will be there for you.

I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and it is a powerful tool that He has given us out of love. I have shared three personal experiences, but I have had many, many more. I know that reading from the Book of Mormon regularly can bring us comfort and strength when times are hard. It can give us direction and guidance when we feel we're doing alright. It ties us to the Lord and helps us understand Him better.

Please share with me some of your favorite passages from the Book of Mormon (or the Bible!) in the comments! I'd love to hear what your experiences have been!