1 Kings 18

mountain-ruins

Each of us for the sake of Heaven

Must be willing to challenge hell,

Placing all upon life’s altar

For consummation on Mount Carmel.

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Act of Faith-Ammon and the Struggle at Sebus

If you have grown up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, there are a few select stories from the Book of Mormon that you will know. You just will. The story of Ammon and his literally disarming conflict at the waters of Sebus is one of them. This story’s adventure is so dramatic, it is easy to overlook the lesson on faith that Mormon, the main editor for the Book of Mormon, is highlighting with this story.

The Nephite missionary Ammon went with his brothers to preach to their enemies, the Lamanites. Ammon’s first assignment from the Lamanite King Lamoni was to watch the sheep with some other servants. Unbeknownst to Ammon, this task was going to be anything but an idyllic shepherding scene from a romance painting. As they are out shepherding, another group of Lamanites scatter the sheep. Ammon is quickly made aware that losing sheep was an offense punishable by death. The difference in the reaction of the servants and Ammon is so contrasting that it is almost comical.

“Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already. Now they wept because of the fear of being slain…” (Alma 17:28-29).

I have never been in a situation where I could be put to death for something I have done, so I can only imagine reacting similarly. Fear is a powerful force and it is contagious, but for some reason Ammon is not only immune to their traumatic terror, he seems to be emboldened by it. His reaction is unexpected, to say the least.

“Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words” (Alma 17:29).

Ammon goes on to rally the other servants to gather the sheep again. When the raiders return, Ammon unhesitatingly contends with them and miraculously overcomes them in a armed conflict resulting in an armful of severed arms and some casualties from a sling. This act initiates a series of events culminating in the miraculous conversion of thousands of Lamanites. Somewhere in between the action adventure and the forcefulness of the protagonist’s larger-than-life character, Mormon is trying to teach us something.

Likely concerned that the reader could get the wrong message and simply believe that Ammon innately was just a brave person or did not feel fear, Mormon includes the reaction of King Lamoni to this dramatic event. After the king hears how Ammon took on a dozen armed combatants single handedly, he concludes that Ammon is more than human. Lest readers also come to a similar conclusion, Mormon supplies Ammon’s own words to refute this, “I am a man” (Alma 18:17, 34); just a man. Mormon later offers an explanation from Ammon, “I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things” (Alma 26:12).

Faith is supposed to be the focus here, not Ammon. It is important to ask on what Ammon was basing his faith? If faith is a “hope for things which are not seen”, we should ask what were the promises Ammon was hoping would come true? Mormon inserted these promises within the narrative, so that this story could teach us about an active, revelation-based faith.

Promise one:

After Ammon and his brothers informed their father Mosiah regarding their intention to go to preach to the Lamanites, Mosiah inquired of the Lord and received this revelation:

“And the Lord said unto Mosiah: Let them go up, for many shall believe on their words, and they shall have eternal life; and I will deliver thy sons out of the hands of the Lamanites” (Mosiah 28:7).

When Ammon went to confront the raiding party of Lamanites, he did so, believing that he would be delivered by the Lord. This promise is not specific enough; however, to guarantee that he would not be harmed though. This scenario could have played out very differently for Ammon. Instead, Ammon could have been brutally beaten up, almost killed, and left for dead. The servants then, might have delivered the severely injured Ammon to the king with an account of his bravery and dedication to the king’s service. The king, impressed by Ammon’s commitment and moved with pity by his plight, might have been humbled to the point of curiosity. This could have become Ammon’s opportunity to preach the word to a prepared king. Either of these scenarios might have worked as an act of faith and could have led to the miraculous conversion of the Lamanites.

Mormon, our action-adventure tour guide, does not inform the reader, what Ammon knew. Instead, Mormon reminds the reader of this first promise through a comment on what the marauders did not know (see Alma 17:35). Of course, simply the promise that he would be “deliver[ed]…out of the hands of the Lamanites” does not explain Ammon’s extreme reaction to the scattering of the flock, when “his heart was swollen within him with joy”. This response is also beyond mere enthusiastic optimism, this is the response of someone whose hopes are about to be realized. This kind of intense satisfaction might be expected from someone who has just won a gold medal in the Olympics or a lottery jackpot.

Mormon inserts more information into the narration in the form of another promise as a way to assist the reader understand Ammon’s motivation.

Promise two:

Upon entering the land of the Lamanites, the missionary party prayed and received this revelation:

“Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.” (Alma 17:11)

Due to this revelation, Ammon was looking for adversity to strike. He knew that right behind the trial would be an opportunity to accomplish his heart’s desire, salvation for his brethren the Lamanites. This was a cause he was willing to give his life for, a cause he had faith would succeed. He had promises from God. He had faith based on revelation. Mormon cleverly contrasts Ammon’s faith with the other two groups of Lamanites: the raiding party who did not know about the promises, were not afraid, but should have been; and the servants who also did not know about the promises, were afraid, but did not need to be.

If we are not constantly seeking revelation, a trial may catch us unprepared as well, and we will either fear unnecessarily or act too confidently. Like Ammon, our faith is a key for unlocking miracles, but our trials generally provide the torque necessary to turn the key. Because Ammon acted on faith, the atonement enabled him to act beyond his natural powers. This additional power is defined as “grace” in the Bible Dictionary, and it is a tender mercy accessible because of Christ’s atonement. Faith precedes the miracle, but is also a miracle itself, because both are driven by atoning power. Christ is the object of our faith and its source.

Mormon uses the story of Ammon and others to define what an active faith could be. Ammon proactively sought revelation, received promises from God, very specific promises without specific details, and he acted on them. Active faith begins with seeking first the will of God. We approach him in prayer continually to ask him to reveal his will to us. We seek out personal revelation in daily scripture study. As he reveals his will to us, and we act upon his words. His revealed will to us becomes “the substance of things hoped for” by our faith (Hebrews 11:1). His revealed direction in our lives is the promises we will have faith in; it is the context to an active faith.

Ammon’s active faith led to this act of faith, and his trust in revelation revealed a miracle. The Book of Mormon encourages us again and again to do the same.

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Active Faith

Imagine for a minute a single rain drop accelerated through the sky by gravity. At the end of its descent, envision the rain drop’s sudden impact upon a patch of earth. You can predict the change the water can make to the ground as it is absorbed. If given the right conditions, it can catalyze the miracle of life. God’s words fall upon our hearts like rain and are specially designed to make an impact (see Isaiah 55:10-11). Sometimes God’s word is a falling mist that gently caresses the ground, and sometimes it is an impaling flurry that makes the flowers kneel before him, but in every occasion his word is calculated to change us, to bring new life to the sometimes barren wastelands in our souls.

His words are the beginning of our faith (see Romans 10:17). Revelation makes our faith possible, so our faith, which often precedes the miracle, is also a miraculous gift itself. At the most fundamental level it is a “desire to believe”, which essentially is a choice to believe (Alma 32: 27). We feel his spirit, his words, and we choose to act on them or not. Our choice to follow God’s revealed word is simultaneously a trial of our faith and its primary builder. Interestingly, humans are designed by nature to overwhelmingly prefer sight over our other senses to observe reality; therefore, faith as “the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) or as a “hope for things which are not seen” (Alma 32:21), is something that will be a trial for us.

Faith is also different than optimism, where you just generally expect the most favorable outcome from a situation, it is a trust in revelation. Faith should not only push us to act on past revelation, but seek continual light. The Lord wants us to seek guidance for our own specific mission assignments here on earth. Sometimes we misunderstand faith and misapply our efforts, which can lead to situations where we are under-utilizing atoning power in our lives. We can treat our faith like optimism at times, where we might live with a generic belief in God, and believe he will take care of us, but do not seek him out for specific guidance in our lives. Our only prayers might be the infrequent, but urgent prayers of the desperate. This is a passive faith, where we are acted upon, instead of acting in faith first.

Active faith begins with seeking first the will of God. We approach him in prayer continually to ask for him to reveal his will to us. We seek out personal revelation in daily scripture study. As he reveals his will to us, and we act upon his words, we will be on “[his] errand” (D&C 64:29). In this way, we seek first the kingdom of God by building it errand by errand. His revealed will to us, his living word becomes “the substance of things hoped for” by our faith (Hebrews 11:1). His revealed direction in our lives is the promises we will have faith in; it is the context to an active faith. Having a revealed context for our lives gives us perspective, a frame of reference, so that we can see the events of our lives including our trials as a part of a bigger picture or as something playing a role in a grander scheme.

Faith, although not used as a verb in English, can transform us into a verb when we act as prompted by revelation.

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