The Power to Get Back Up Again

We live in a fallen world and so we encounter failure. We try to “take up the cross, and follow [Christ] (Mark 10:21), but fall again and again. Sometimes we get tired. We may feel it is too hard. We may begin to think that our failures are not mistakes, but we are, that we fail because we are failures. This is exactly what Satan would like us to think. When we recognize that we have failed in some aspect of the gospel or we have sinned, we may come in contact with two different types of sorrow: the “sorrow of the world” (2 Corinthians 7:10) also described by Mormon as the “sorrowing of the damned” (Mormon 2:13), or “godly sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

The sorrow of the world comes from Satan, it is designed to crush us under its weight. This weight is unproductive and deliberately debilitating, because “[Satan] seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27). He wants us to feel like him, like we are damned, and there is no way out. The sorrow of the world is paralyzing, but Christ has “overcome the world” (John 16:33), including its sorrow, so that he could give us a different way.

Christ’s way allows us to feel hope even in the midst of our sorrows. Unlike the sorrow of the world, the weight of “Godly sorrow” is meant to be lifted, so we can become stronger and better. Godly sorrow leads to repentance and links us to the power of an “infinite atonement” (Alma 34:12), which is the power to get back up when we fall, no matter how far or often. Part of the significance of having an “infinite atonement” is to teach us about infinite forgiveness, infinite healing, and God’s infinite love, which “faileth not” (1 Corinthians 13:8). The painful process of the atonement is itself an example of the power we can have over sorrow and sin.

The account of Christ’s agonizing atonement in the garden of Gethsemane progresses through a simple sequence of actions. The narrative in the book of Matthew reads, “and he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39, italics added for emphasis). The scholar Kent Brown* has taught that the three main verbs “went”, “fell”, and “prayed” as narrated in all the synoptic gospels use the imperfect tense in the Greek original. This tense is used to describe either an action that was customary, something someone used to do, or an action that was iterative, something done repeatedly. The intended meaning here is that Jesus repeatedly went forward, fell down, and cried out for the pain to stop. This cycle was repeated over and over again as he suffered for our sins and sorrows.

The critical verb that is absent, but implied in this sequence of suffering is that he got up. Jesus fell down repeatedly, but he also got up again and again, and so can we. We will fall and fail, often and hard, but we don’t have to stay down, we can get up. We can always rise from the ashes of our mistakes through Christ’s enabling atonement.

References

*From the documentary, “The Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God”, produced by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, accessed on May 17, 2016 http://messiahjesuschrist.org/episodes/atonement. The script, also available on line, has the following commentary from Professor Kent Brown:

“So Jesus arrives with the eleven. Judas has already separated himself. They come inside the garden, somewhere on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives. He leaves eight near the gate, near the entryway, and takes three with Him farther into the garden. These are Peter, James, and John, those who have been with Him from the earliest days after He began to call the Twelve.

There are two basic things to notice about this. The first is the intensity of the suffering which now descends upon Him. And he, He says to the three that He is sorrowful even unto death. The weight of our sins, our mistakes, falling on a sinless man, in such enormity, brings Him to the point at which He wishes that He could push this away. He leaves them there, He goes farther into the garden and prays. And this is the second part. Each one of the synoptic gospels repeats his actions in the imperfect tense in Greek, which is the tense of customary action: he used to do this, she used to do that. And it also has to do with iterative action, repeated action. So that we read that Jesus went forward and fell and prayed, went forward and fell and prayed, went forward and fell and prayed.

This series of repeated actions that the verbs convey to readers indicates the intensity of the suffering He’s going through. He doesn’t just pray once. He must have straightened Himself up and trying to relieve Himself in some way, went forward and prayed again. This is a scene which is compelling to me, and tells me just in the way that it’s written, that Jesus suffers deeply, unfathomably at this moment, for you and for me.”

(http://messiahjesuschrist.org/messiah-the-narrative/messiah-script-episode-5/messiah-script-episode-5-part-2)

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A Burning Fire Shut Up in My Bones

Samoan Fireknife Dancers (1)
The Samoan fire-knife dance is a symbol of strength and fiery perseverance.
It can be hard to follow the Lord. At times it is easy to become “weary in well-doing” (Galatians 6:9). The gospel, as described in scripture, is pure and simple, until you try to live it. Life seemingly transforms elegant doctrine and principles into complex conundrums and sticky situations. In short, the gospel can get messy. For example, it is easy to love your enemies, when you don’t actually have any, but as soon as a loved one betrays you, a co-worker figuratively stabs you in the back, or a crazy driver cuts you off in traffic that principle gets exponentially harder to live. With the proper amount of pressure, we can grow faint and consider a full stop in our discipleship, but, a lot like the tragic prophet Jeremiah, we can also learn how to find strength for those times when we are without.

The Lord called Jeremiah to preach to a people who would not listen to him. He “[was] in derision daily” and mocked by “every one” (Jeremiah 20:7). His harsh message of repentance brought him into conflict with the most prominent people of power in his day. At one point Jeremiah felt that he had suffered enough, he declared, “I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name” (Jeremiah 20:9). He was just going to stop, until he found that he could not.

He explained “But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” (Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah found that he could not stop as easily as he thought. The fiery insistence of the word overpowered his failing will. This is not an example of the Lord merely forcing someone to do his will against theirs; instead, this burning fire was a power reserve Jeremiah had stored for himself.

The word did not find its way into Jeremiah’s heart by accident, he had planted it there. He wrote in a previous chapter, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). Jeremiah’s love of the word had given him light in his darkest hour and rekindled his faith in his time of doubt.

We also can populate a similar power reserve within us, when we relish God’s individualized, simple, and sublime revelations. Our love of the word, the Lord’s revealed will to us, can qualify us for additional power to persevere when our circumstances become severe, when living the gospel gets messy, or when our hopes shatter before our eyes.

The emphasis of our own role in this process is mainly for motivational purposes, because our efforts, no matter how critical, are merely the preparation of an altar, the fire has always “fell” from heaven (see 1 KIngs 18:38). Christ brings the word to life, and with our consent he can power us like “a burning fire shut up in [our] bones” to work miracles in his name.

Thank you to my Uncle Adolf in Samoa for providing the picture of the Samoan entertainer with the fire-knife. According to my dad, one of the ways of referring to this routine in Samoan is gaifi ailao. 

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The Joy of Reverence

rugged mountains of the Basque Country
The rugged mountains of the Basque Country (Euskal Herria) can easily instill a sense of reverence in a visitor. 
Fear and reverence are two different reactions to the unknown or the misunderstood. Historically speaking, no one or no thing has been misunderstood more than God, and sadly this has led to fear much more often than reverence. The irony is saddening, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2Timothy 1:7). Instead God has given every human the gift of faith, which allows us to face uncertainty. Faith by definition, presupposes a certain amount of uncertainty, it is not “a perfect knowledge of things”, but it is to “hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Through faith’s singular eye, we are able to perceive the goodness of God, and we “shall be filled with light” (D&C 88: 67). Whereas fear cometh from disbelief, not just from ignorance or misunderstanding; these bring darkness to our minds and hearts.

We are commanded to believe that “man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9). Yet, even within the faithful, for some not knowing everything, may be barely bearable, while for others it can be wonderful. Like Nephi, we can accept “not know[ing] the meaning of all things”, because we can “know that [God] loveth his children” (1Nephi 11:17). According to Nephi, this “love of God” is “the most desirable above all things”, and “the most joyous to the soul” (1Nephi 11: 22-23).

In the scriptures, the word joy is often used to describe the feelings of those who encounter the Divine. Joy can be traced back to the theoretical Indo-European root gau-, “to rejoice, to have religious fear or awe,”. For me, awe is an apt term to describe my response to those sublime moments of revelation, “when the arm of God is revealed” (D&C 123:17) or when in spiritual stillness I am made to know that He is God (see D&C 101: 16). This intense joy not only “passeth all understanding”, but also surpasses my ability to express them (Philippians 4: 7).

Although God is mysterious, He is not a nebulous cloud. He is real and revealable to those who diligently desire to know Him. He is tangible, with “a body of flesh and bone” (D&C 130:22). He feels, and therefore, in the scriptures we can see His wrath and His compassion; He has been seen to weep for our sins (Moses 7:27-33), to respond with tenderness to our pleas. Indeed, He loves us to the extent of allowing man the agency to inflict atrocities on others, and then He was willing to suffer the punishment for these sins, so that he could understand us and save us, if we would but listen.

And by this He understands humanity; and He will have us all stand before Him to give an account of our life here on earth. This is a monolithic event, one for which, if we are not prepared, we shall fear (see D&C 38: 30). This is one of our great missions on earth, to prepare to meet God. This preparation is done through repentance, the process of perfection, the remarkable gift given through the atonement of the Christ. For some receiving a remission of our sins is truly mysterious. Enos after crying unto God “in mighty prayer…for [his] own soul”, heard a voice tell him “[his] sins [were] forgiven”, in amazement, he said, “Lord, how is it done?” (Enos 1: 4-7).

Religious mystery is not mysterious, because religious truth is irrational or ineffable, but because it is sacred and wonderful, just like the experience of Enos. In fact, the word Mystery, for early Christians designated ordinances that were sacred. This connection between ordinances and mystery can be seen in D&C 84: 19-21:

“And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh”

This is the great mystery of the kingdom of God; that is, we come to know God and prepare to meet Him through the ordinances of the gospel. This begins with the ordinances of Baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. The covenants associated with them are renewed every time we partake of the sacrament. The sacrament is a sacred moment where we symbolically partake of the form of Christ in preparation for that day “when he shall appear” and “we shall be like Him” (Moroni 8: 48). Ordinances and their covenants whether baptismal or in the temple, all give us opportunities to glimpse the promises our hopes rest upon, this hope as Paul describes, “entereth into that within the veil” (Hebrews 6: 19).

Of course, it is not the ordinances alone, but our attitudes towards them and our faithfulness to the covenants we enter into, which allows our “confidence” to “wax strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121: 45), and then in turn makes it possible for his presence to wax strong in our lives.

At this point, we cease preparing to meet God, and are merely preparing to see him again, for we already know Him. He has made himself known to us, through our own actions.

As a young boy when we partook of the sacrament, I often mistook my Dad’s bowed head and silence as a sign of fatigue rather than of reverence. Upon completion, he would sometimes look at me with glazed eyes and an odd smile that I thought was an admission of guilt for sleeping. But as I have awoken spiritually, I have realized my dad’s expression was wrought by a renewal, a cup that was emptied and one that was filled till it ran over glazing his eyes with emotion. He has never told me this, but I know him well enough to understand the reasons for his reverence. For I too know that God lives, let us prepare to stand worthy before Him, so that we may enter into His rest.

A lightly edited version of a talk given in 2008.

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The True Order of Prayer


When we are first taught to pray, we are often given an order of things to say. We may be instructed to: first, address our Heavenly Father; second, express gratitude; third, ask for blessings we need; and lastly, close in the name of Jesus Christ. As we gain experience in communicating with God, our prayers may change. The order of our prayers may change too as we face disorder in our lives.

This is especially true when the last drops of our faith are being wrung out under the weight of our sufferings. When the gravity of our circumstances force us to weigh whether our desperate prayers are working or not, we should realize that “prayer is a form of work” (Bible Dictionary, p. 753). It isn’t supposed to work, we are.

In desperation, we might take the approach of “wrestling with God in mighty prayer” (Alma 8:10), but do it incorrectly. We may expend a lot of spiritual sweat before we realize that we cannot pin God down into giving us the blessings we want or think we need; rather, we need to “ask for things it is possible for God to grant” (Bible Dictionary, p. 753). This can be frustrating, because “we know not what we should pray for”; fortunately, “the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8: 26). We can find peace in knowing that “it shall be given [us] what [we] shall ask” by the Spirit (D&C 50: 30).

We don’t wrestle against God, but with Him as we “labor[…] in the spirit” (Alma 8:10) to “feel” and understand the “still small voice” prompting us to ask for those blessings the Lord can give us (1 Nephi 17:45). Sometimes we need the rending wind, the earthquake, or the fire of our sufferings before we can hear this voice or even want to hear it (see 1Kings 19:11-12). Regardless of our circumstances, when we recognize His voice, we need to listen. Just like a child who initially repeats the promptings of a parent when he or she learns to pray, we can be open to the Lord’s voice and repeat His promptings in our prayers. This order of prayer may be termed a “true order of prayer”, because it reflects the true order of our relationship with God.

The awareness of our relationship with God should change our prayers. Our prayers might lengthen as we punctuate them with pauses to listen for promptings. They may grow beyond the bounds of discrete events into a lifestyle change where our “hearts [will be] full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually” (Alma 34:27). Even our grammar may change. Like the Savior, we may consider subordinating our own will with the adverb “nevertheless” from “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus’ plea and subsequent submission in the garden of Gethsemane was not a moment of weakness, but of strength.

Our submissive prayers may not change our circumstances, but they will change us, strengthening us to meet our challenges with “sufficient” grace (Ether 12:27). With God’s additional strength, our burdens can “[be] made light” (Mosiah 24:14-15) or at least lighter. Even our longest trials can seem more like a “small moment” (D&C 121:7) when viewed in the context of an infinite timeline. Additionally, spiritual perspectives can help us glimpse the good a bad experience is doing for us (D&C 122:7) and fill us with gratitude.

Part of the equation for gaining answers to prayers is to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been” to us (Moroni 10:3). In the same way that the Spirit can prompt us to ask for certain blessings, he can also help us be thankful by bringing “all things to [our] remembrance” (John 14:26). Gratitude is a natural pride softener. When we are thankful, we are more likely to accept the answers the Lord knows we need, especially those times when the Lord’s will is at variance with our own. Thankfulness diverts our thoughts away from our own problems long enough to realize that there are others struggling under the weight of life’s burdens too. Gratitude may also prompt us to “look unto [our] God” in the midst of our trials to consider what God’s concerns are for us (1 Nephi 18:6).

God may not be interested in the problem itself but how he can use our trials to make us more like him and his son. Prayers are on-the-job tutorials for becoming more like Christ. As we recognize and follow promptings in our prayers we train ourselves to think and act like the Savior. When we close our prayers “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen”, we are making the statement that our prayers reflect the mind and will of the Lord. We are saying things for him and a little as him.

Thank you to my friend Katherine for her editing suggestions on this article and to my friend Brandon for the photo. 

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