Monday, September 29, 2008
Diligence is defined in the dictionary as a constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken, or a persistent exertion of body and/or mind. During my senior year of high school I had preemptively decided in my mind that I was not going to be accepted into BYU Provo, and was fully prepared to enter into studies at BYU Idaho. Mathematically, I was going to be completely financially prepared to attend the latter university through a single job I had already made plans for having that summer after graduation. Therefore, against the advice of parents, friends, and even direct council from my own bishop, I did not take any necessary precautions to prepare myself financially beforehand that I might be more fully capable of meeting any unexpected challenges to come my way. However, regardless of this financial scenario, and it having always been a dream of mine to attend one of the lords’ universities, my higher aspirations reached towards BYU Provo.
My home bishop gave me great council and advice throughout my senior year. I informed him of my dreams to attend BYU in Provo. He quite bluntly told me that my academic standings did not qualify me and that I would more than likely not be accepted. However, he said he likewise felt strongly that BYU Provo was where I ought to earn my general education and seek a degree. We both set out a plan for me to attend BYU Idaho for a semester and earn the grades that we both knew I was truly capable of. “If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.” (1 Nephi 15:11) He told me that it would take great diligence not only in my studies but in keeping the Lord’s commandments, that I might receive personal revelation from the spirit to know how I ought to go about accomplishing my goals, or if they truly were the right thing for me to do. I was advised to not even spend the extra money necessary to apply for BYU in Provo.
Due to the timing of applications, only the first semester of my senior year would count for my GPA that the university would be reviewing. I knew I was capable of academic excellence if I could only diligently discipline myself and prioritize what was truly important. Going against my bishops’ advice I spent the extra thirty or so dollars to apply for BYU Provo regardless of my unhelpfully unimpressive academic background. “And thus they labored with all diligence, according to the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard.” (Jacob 5:74) I promised the Lord that I would work to my fullest potential for that final semester which no college application was even going to witness. I promised I would work with full diligence, not asking for anything in return except that the right path that I should take would be made known to me.
When the acceptance letter from BYU Idaho came, I was overjoyed and gave thanks in prayer that the Lord’s plan was matching so well with my own expectations. “And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize.” (Mosiah 4:27) A week later I received the acceptance letter to BYU Provo. I was stunned! If I had prayed for thanks beforehand then my prayers were that much more sincere this second time. But this time I had a question to partner my thanks. How can I financially make my dream possible? I felt a deep pang of sorrow as I realized that this was the fault of my own pessimistic thinking, lack of preparation, and my absence of actual actions to couple my faith. My greatest test of diligence was still ahead of me.
Thus far I have spoken selfishly of my own experiences and my own diligence in receiving answers and working to accomplish a goal. This is the dictionary’s example of diligence. Almost every reference that the Lord has throughout the scriptures couples the word diligence with keeping the commandments. In Alma 7:23 it states: “And now I would that ye should be humble, and submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.” I bear testimony that this process works exactly as stated. I had humbled myself and submitted to the will of the Lord; I had given up sports, countless hours of time that might have been spent with friends (something that had been previously prioritized so highly among my schedule and daily routine), and gave hours to study and homework during the school year, and working multiple jobs, (sometimes over 70 hours per week, from 4am to 10pm at least three times a week) during the summer.
The majority of my request of the Lord might be considered more temporal than not, I wanted to attend a university for personal reasons that often overlapped the more spiritual and correct aspirations. At the end of my senior year upon receiving acceptance, I feared that I would not be able to accomplish my dream due to finances, but gave thanks regardless, and committed to working again with diligence, both at work (one of my jobs was paid off commission) and keeping the commandments. I truly believe that if I “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, [that] all things might work together for [my] good…” (D&C 90:24)
Thursday, September 25, 2008
In the Fourth Article of Faith, it states that faith is the first principle and ordinance of the Gospel. Faith is not an easy thing to acquire, and at times it often requires diligence in performing the seemingly mundane things that LDS Saints learn as Primary children. As a child, my parents always taught me that no matter how hard things got, they could always get worse. My job was to endure and to be diligent in seeking out the Lord and in finding my own testimony, or faith. This has never been easy. Sometimes I think I’m just not cut out for the job, and it’s when I am in this frame of mind that I must work harder than ever to endure. But as Nephi says, “according to [our] faith and diligence…we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.”2 The “Primary Answers”, which seem so small and simple compared to the great lengths some must go through, have brought about great changes in my life.
For a long time, I was fairly inactive in the Church. I scorned and laughed at those who were active, especially the “Molly Mormon” girls. I thought I knew the best ways to go about living. That was until a trial came my way that I did not know how to deal with. I had to revert back to my Primary days to find answers to questions I thought I already knew the answers to. Questions such as “Who is God?” and “What is faith and why do I need it?” had to be answered before I knew what to do. Had I been diligent in reading my Scriptures and praying, as the other Young Women in my ward seemed to be, I wouldn’t have had such a hard time getting through that trial. As I discovered the answers to those questions, my burden began to feel lighter and I often felt as if someone was beside me holding on to me, even when I was alone. Even though I still have difficulties with some aspects of my spiritual life, I have complete faith in the lessons about persevering that my parents taught me as a child.
If we follow the footnote to 1 Nephi 16:293, it takes us to Alma when he is speaking to his son Helaman: “Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey.” Alma was explaining to Helaman that the Liahona only worked when Nephi and his family were diligent and faithful, and then it also brought great miracles to pass. A personal definition of diligence for me can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants: “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.”5 Therefore, if we practice that type of diligence and faith in the Lord, our own miracles shall be brought about through him.
Diligence, however, is not a simple quality acquired by saying “I’m going to do this or that”. Diligence is devoted and painstaking effort to accomplish what is undertaken.6 To be diligent, one must believe in what they are doing, whether it is a spiritual aspect or temporal aspect they are trying to better. A good and slightly humorous example of diligence in temporal things is the way my Grandfather met my Grandmother. Back before WWII, my Grandfather was riding the bus to work when he saw this beautiful woman sit a few rows ahead of him. He tried to look at her hands to see if she was wearing a ring on her finger, but, alas, she was wearing a pair of rabbit-skin gloves. He watched her for the entire bus ride to see if she would take off her gloves, and when she finally did she had no ring. Encouraged, David watched to see where she got off. This ended up being the TNT factory downtown. David asked all the people he knew who worked there if they knew her name. Finally, someone remembered her name was Mary Alice. Later that night, he and some of his buddies snuck into the office at TNT to find her file so that David could learn where she lived. Once he achieved his goal, David began to court Mary Alice in earnest. If my Grandfather had not been so diligent in learning my Grandmother’s name and address, I would not be here today.
The hymn that I posted at the beginning of this essay makes the point that diligence also brings about the blessings of Heavenly Father’s love and strength to us. One of the scriptures used as inspiration for that hymn is also found in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.”7 The very last part of that scripture is another definition of spiritual diligence. If we are faithful and keep His commandments, then God shall let us inherit His kingdom. Doctrine and Covenants 101:78 tells us that every man shall “be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgement.”8 And God is bound by his promise, found in a Doctrine and Covenants Scripture Mastery, that he is “bound when ye do what [He] say[s]”.9 Which means not only shall God let us into the Kingdom of Heaven, he must if we are truly faithful and penitent and always remain diligent in our service to him.
Diligence brings about miracles in our lives. For some, it is the miracle of simply graduating from high school or college. For others, such as my Grandfather, it brings about the miracle of love. For myself, it brought me back into the Church. Eventually, I was able to receive my Patriarchal Blessing because of the miracle my Heavenly Father wrought in my life. My Blessing is the most important thing to me. Never will I hold something as sacred as that personal scripture revealed to me through Patriarch Garcia’s inspired help. I am grateful for the principle of diligence in my life. For the help it has given me and continues to give me. I know that this is the true Gospel on the earth today. I know that Joseph Smith persevered through his own trials to translate the Book of Mormon and retranslate parts of the Bible. I am grateful to him for his gifts to us as Latter-Day Saints and to our current prophet, President Monson, for his diligent testimony of the Gospel and of Christ. I pray that we may all strive to be diligent in our own lives as Nephi was as they crossed the deserts and oceans to reach the Promised Land. May we learn to not murmur and doubt as Laman and Lemuel did, that we may achieve the eternal goal of the Celestial Kingdom. In the name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Redeemer, amen.
1 LDS Hymns #128, When Faith Endures
2 1 Nephi 16:29
3 Footnote ‘b’ to 1 Nephi 16:29
4 Alma 37:41
5 D&C 123:17
6 Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
7 D&C 6:36-37
8 D&C 101:78
9 D&C 82:10
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
If we are doing our best to keep the commandments and live righteous lives then not only are we doing what is right we are building our faith. We can develop our faith by studying the scriptures and the words of the latter day prophets. By continually studying the words of Christ we come to love them and find a place for them in our hearts where they can grow and increase our faith. How wonderful do we feel when because we were diligent in keeping the commandments we are blessed. This wonderful feeling of being blessed increases our faith. “Faith cometh not by signs but signs follow those that believe” (D&C 63:9).
It is hard to always have faith. I can think of many times when I was struggling with something and have been left to rely upon my faith. My most recent experience with this was my admissions process to BYU. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to attend Brigham Young University, so once my senior year of high school began I started to fill out the necessary paperwork to apply. I worked hard to make everything perfect for the priority deadline (I wanted every helping hand I could get in aiding my acceptance) on December 1st. Because of my hard work I was able to finish everything in time to turn it in. So I sent my papers away and waited. I waited and waited and nothing had come. My friend also had applied to BYU and had received a letter saying that he was accepted and while I was extremely happy for him I was also very sad because I had not yet received a letter. I took this as a sign that I was not meant to go to BYU so I began applying to other schools. I applied to Utah Valley University and was accepted and received scholarship money, because this all worked out this is where I felt I was supposed to be. But much to my surprise about a month after I had been accepted to UVU I received a letter from BYU saying that I had been accepted. I was so happy and thankful, I felt that the Lord was blessing me because of the faith that I had put into his will. One scripture stayed with me throughout this whole process. “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the things which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).
In a talk given by Robert D. Hales I learned that we have to continually seek faith we can’t let things such as trials and temptations bring us down. We cannot find Enos-like faith without our own wrestle before God in prayer. I testify that the reward is worth the effort. Remember the pattern: (1) hear the word of God, spoken and written by His servants; (2) let that word sink deep into your heart; (3) hunger in your soul for righteousness; (4) obediently follow gospel laws, ordinances, and covenants; and (5) raise your voice in mighty prayer and supplication, asking in faith to know that Jesus Christ is our Savior. I promise that if you do these things sincerely and unceasingly, the words Christ spoke to His disciples will be fulfilled in your life: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7). All the answers you need are there you just have faith that they are there and then seek them out.
“Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). Faith is not a perfect knowledge and you don’t always have to “know” something to have faith. “If ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more that desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27). If you even have a desire to have faith the Lord will help you find it. He knows your heart and intentions and is delighted when we seek to follow him. Having faith is not always easy but this is one of the many trails we will go through in this life. If we can put forth the effort to believe, the Lord will help us do the rest.
The Standard Works
Robert D. Hales, “Finding Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Nov 2004, 70–73
We all begin life at the same stage: An uneducated, blissfully ignorant little child with no clue what is ahead of us. We quickly find out that ignorance is not bliss once we lay our hand upon that hot stove for the first time. This is the first of many learning experiences in our life, and hopefully the only painful one. As directed in D&C 88:119, “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” So it is of God, and glorious to Him, that we should expand our knowledge of things both temporal and spiritual. Being learned is one of many items that entail Godhood, and doing all that we can to improve that helps become more like Him.
Learning is a process. The pursuit is a noble one, one that unfortunately has the pit fall of arrogance and pride. In Alma 1:26 we read, “ … and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, …” Learning allows an elevated state of mind, but we need not let that make us fall pray to arrogance and pride. As was stated in Alma, the teacher is no better than the learner, and thus they were all equal. Our knowledge is for our betterment and the betterment of others, not so we can be condescending. I have personally dealt with this. I had friends throughout high school who had to work ten times harder than I did to understand things that came naturally to me. I recognize that I have been blessed with intelligence as one of my gifts from God, and that they are by no means unintelligent, their talents are in other areas that I may lack in.
Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Learning is not only a process, but it is a process that requires our effort. God has bounteous blessings to pour out upon us, if we but only do our part. We need only knock, and he shall open up the door to infinite knowledge. We must have a sincere desire and the work ethic to go along with it. This was plainly evidenced to me my last semester of senior year in high school. I had a rough first semester in my AP Statistics class. Concepts just weren’t clicking, homework was piling up, and test grades were downright dismal. After a semester in squalor, I was humbled enough to get on my knees and pray for direction. I promised to do all that I could to turn this class around if God would help me. Doing so in faith, I was utterly shocked at how rapidly I improved in the class. Where once I was on the verge of failing, by the end of the year I had practically pulled off an A. I knew that this was because I had done my part, I kept my end of the deal. God was faithful and upheld His end in turn.
We can also draw upon a spiritual aspect of learning. 1 Nephi 19:23 reads, “ And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” While we have temporal knowledge we gain through schooling, we also have spiritual knowledge gained through the reading of scripture. Scripture is written in parable and allegory, that stories have their literal meanings and at the same time can be applied to more modern situations. In these ways the scriptures are also for our learning, that we may avoid some pitfalls in life if we hearken unto their words. I can’t count how many times I have found answers to my prayers in the scriptures that carried me through difficult, seemingly unbearable times. It is by this that I can testify of the truthfulness of them, and how utterly applicable they remain to this day.
In 2 Peter 1:5, Peter emphasizes the importance of learning, “ And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge.” He goes on further to say that if you lack in these things that you are blind, for these are essential in fulfilling your callings in life and in this case the church. Knowledge is so universally important, I can attest to how all areas learning intertwine. Throughout my various calling in church, among them being president of my Deacons, Teachers, and 1st Assistant in Priests Quorum, I found that I was able to call upon skills of management and delegation that I had acquired through being a leader in the academic setting at school. This lead to an overall level of efficiency in these quorums during my tenure that I know would have not gone as smoothly had this not been the case.
Knowledge is not tangible. We can’t physically touch it. It isn’t something you can “see.” But it is there. More than that, it will always be there. It is numbered among the few things we can take with us in to the next life, and that more so than anything, is reason to get as much as we can during this earthly life.
 Doctrine and Covenants 88:119, Pearl of Great Price (Book of Mormon)
 Alma 1:26, Book of Mormon
 Matthew 7:7, The New Testament (Holy Bible - King James Version)
 1 Nephi 19:23, Book of Mormon
 2 Peter 1:5, The New Testament (Holy Bible - King James Version)
This came from George F. Richards when he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve. For centuries, our Heavenly Father has used many methods to communicate with his children. One of these ways is through dreams. As mentioned above, the Lord warned Lehi "even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness". (1 Nephi 2:2) Because Lehi was obedient and heeded this counsel, he and his family were able to escape the captivity of the Babylonians. Similarly, we can escape captivity, though not of a physical nature, if we heed the promptings we receive. We can escape spiritual captivity.
"It is not out of place for us to have important dreams. . . . As a result of that dream, I had this feeling that no matter what might be required of my hands, what the gospel might entail unto me, I would do what I should be asked to do even to the laying down of my life." 1
Lehi was not the only one to be warned in a dream, though. One of the Jaredites, Omer, was also warned "in a dream that he should depart out of the land". (Ether 9:3) He, however, escaped destruction and murdering usurpers who wanted to take his kingdom and his life because "the Lord was merciful unto Omer". (Ether 9:2) While we will likely not have our physical lives saved by a dream, the direction and course of our lives can be altered through the Lord’s mercy. When I was trying to make a decision about staying on the dance team at my high school, it was through the Lord’s mercy that I was saved from making a life-altering, potentially spiritually-fateful decision.
Jeffrey R. Holland commented on Joel 2:28-29 ("I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.") as pertained to our revered prophet Joseph Smith: "Dreaming dreams and seeing visions. The Lord’s spirit upon all flesh—sons and daughters, old and young, servants and handmaidens. I may be wrong, but I can’t imagine an Old Testament verse of any kind that could have helped this boy prophet more." Joseph endured so much more than I can possibly imagine and he was comforted by a mere verse about revelation. How much more comfort can we, as fortunate members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, take from the fact that we can receive modern revelation through dreams?
Another Joseph who had the Lord’s spirit with him, especially as far as dreams went, was Joseph in Egypt. "Joseph was able to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream. The Pharaoh, being so impressed, made Joseph one of his servants. Again the Lord was with Joseph. Soon Joseph rose to a position of being second to the Pharaoh in all the land of Egypt. There was something special that distinguished Joseph from all the other servants. Pharaoh remarked what made Joseph different from all of the others when he said, ‘Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?’(Genesis 41:38)"3 Because of the Spirit of the Lord, Joseph’s unwavering faith, and the God-given gift of interpreting dreams, he was able to shine his light no matter where he went, no matter the circumstances.
If children of God listen to the Spirit of God, whether in dreams or just in our feelings, we can do as Christ asked in Matthew 5:16 and "let our light so shine before men so that they may see our good works" and we can declare with Joseph of Egypt, Joseph Smith, Jr., and George F. Richards, "I believe in dreams!"
1- Spencer W. Kimball (quoting George F. Richards), "The Cause Is Just and Worthy," Ensign, May 1974, 118
2- Jeffrey R. Holland, "However Long and Hard the Road," New Era, Sep 1983, 38
3- L. Tom Perry, "‘Trust in the Lord’," Ensign, May 1978, 51
The Book of Mormon
In chapter 8 of 1st Nephi, Nephi and his brothers had all just returned from Jerusalem to retrieve the brass plates and were settling back down after their long journey. Lehi goes up to them proclaiming, “I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision” (1st Nephi 8:2). He describes in his dream seeing a tree bearing fruit that “was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted...Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.” (1st Nephi 8:11) Lehi then saw an iron rod that led to this tree, and he noticed that people we following this path. He wanted his family to follow the path to reach this greatly desired tree, but only Lamen and Lemual did not. They fell away because of the worldliness and pride.
We learn that this iron rod is the word of God, that by taking a hold of this guide, it will lead to the tree. The tree in Lehi’s vision is the Tree of Life, which symbolizes the Love of God.
In Genesis, we read of the story of the Garden of Eden. God commanded to Adam that “…of every tree of the garden though mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) Then Satan came to Eve in the form of a serpent and tricked her into partaking of the tree of knowledge saying “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5) “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.” (Genesis 3:6) God then immediately banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
God uses the tree of knowledge as a source of wisdom and truth that, when Eve took of the fruit of the tree, allowed her to see between right and wrong. This act has been viewed as the "Original Sin", that if she had not of done it, we humans would not be in such as sorrow state. God knew this was going to happen though. If it did not happen, the plan of salvation would of never went through.
Through out the scriptures God uses metaphors and everyday items as tools of understanding for the average person. At times these items are used more then once but with different meanings each time. This all depends on what the people need to know at that time. God uses the tree at the beginning of the bible as an item of knowledge and understanding. In the Book of Mormon, He once again uses the tree in Lehi’s vision as a symbol of His love, not as a symbol of knowledge. Both are effective in delivering the message for that point in time.
1. Book of Mormon
-Chapters 8 and 11
2. Old Testament
-Chapter 2 and 3
Nephi was a “doers of the word.”[iv] He went forward doing things even when he knew not b the things which he should do. However, one of the roots of the word “do” is accomplish. Nephi was steadfast, he used his faith saying, “…I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”[v] Nephi did more than just believe; he acted.
Nephi did not just act upon his faith this one time. Act by act, big and small prepared him to make that commited statement. This brings us to another root to the word do, prepare. Following the word of God each day of his life prepared him, so he was ready for whatever circumstances God gave him, trusting that God would not give him anything he could not do. In my life I know it is often the little everyday actions which have brought me to where I am today.
My family, too, has been blessed by doing simple things daily that have ended up blessing us richly.Two years ago my aunt was killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver. In this time of sorrow, my family could have turned bitter and cold, blamed the inebriated woman or even God. However, our day to day actions in the past had already brought us close to God. So although many tears were still shed, it was a time of peace and comfort. It helped us gain appreciation for the plan of salvation and brought our family on earth closer together. Our small deeds led to great comfort and blessings. Like Alma says in chapter 37, verse 6 "By small and simple things are great things brought to pass."
The word do is much more important than often seen at first glance. It is the drive, the power that helps us learn, accelerate, progress and become truly Christlike. President Eyring said it best when he said"It will take unshakable faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to choose the way to eternal life. It is by using that faith we can know the will of God. It is by acting on that faith we build the strength to do the will of God. And it is by exercising that faith in Jesus Christ that we can resist temptation and gain forgiveness through the Atonement." Faith spurs the action, but without any action we cannot progress and progression is one of the key things in this life.
[i] Lectures on Faith, 3
[ii] Preach my Gospel, 122
[iii] John 2:18
[iv] James 1:22
[v] 1 Nephi 3:7
[vi] Henry B. Eyring, “Spiritual Preparedness: Start Early and Be Steady,” Liahona, Nov 2005, 37–40
We are taught, that we will “receive no witness until after trial of faith”. In Luke, a woman with an issue of blood touched Jesus’ garments and was immediately healed. Jesus turned to her and said, “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace”. A similar experience occurred when I needed faith to be healed. I injured my foot, and doctors told me that I would not be able to walk correctly ever again, and that I would not be able to participate in sports. This was a devastating blow. As the doctor told me this, I started crying, but not because of my physical pain. Unsure of what to do, I asked my dad for a Father’s blessing. He said I would be healed and when school started again in the fall, I would be capable of participating in sports. This seemed impossible because of the torn tendons and ligaments and broken bone in foot. However, I had faith in this blessing and immediately acted on the promptings I was felt. Three months later, I was on the soccer team at my new school. I know that I was healed because of my faith. Without this trial, my faith, especially my faith in the power of the Priesthood, would not be as strong.
Sometimes it is tough to have faith while facing adversity, but “remember that faith and obedience are still the answers—even when things go wrong, perhaps especially when things go wrong” . These times are often trials of our faith, and we must endure to the end in order to gain the reward. Jesus suffered and went through trials, and because of His atonement, He understands me. When I had to move to Utah my Junior year of high school, I torn. I knew I should not be angry or bitter and that I should trust in the Lord, but it was a hard decision. I chose to have faith in Him and as a result, He was able to comfort me in ways no one else could and my faith increased. Once again my faith was tested when I moved to Hong Kong for my Senior year of high school, but this time I had no doubts and my faith was unwavering. I have been blessed because of my trials and looking back, I would not trade those experiences. Because of these experiences, I know that Heavenly Father has a plan for me, and if I exercise faith, He will direct my path.
Having faith, especially in this day, is essential. The adversary constantly threatens us and “as members of the Church, we are engaged in a mighty conflict. We are at war” . Through the battle of life, we must vigilantly watch as the devil attempts to device us. Being one of the few LDS members in my high school, I did not have many friends with the same standards I had. I was stuck in the middle of this war. I had not yet fully committed myself to the Lord’s side, and as a result, Satan was trying had to get me to lower my standards. I knew I had to make a firm decision to follow Heavenly Father, because He has said, “they who are not for me are against me”. Everyone one around me drinking and smoking and in Asia those are social norms. I made it clear to my friends that I abstained from alcohol, but that did not stop them from pressuring me to drinking. As I continued to abstain, unbeknownst to me, I gained the reputation as the ‘Mormon girl who didn’t drink,’ and my choice to serve the Lord was visible. The devil used many means to try to make me lower my principles, but I knew his plan and fought against him. I had “full determination to fight the good fight of faith and continue steadfast to the end”. I continued to fight because I had faith, even though sometimes it seemed like I was fighting a losing battle and it would be easier and more fun if I just drank and joined in partying with my friends. However I stayed strong, and just before I moved, I was rewarded. I attended my friend’s birthday party and her older brother was passing out drinks and when he got to me, he started to hand a can of beer to me, and then said, “oh, you don’t drink,” and then handed me a bottle of water. I was surprised that he knew my standards and was willing to accept them. I won that day and will continue winning if I just have faith. It is not always easy, but I know through my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I can be made strong.
I love President Hinckley’s statement, “We reach toward the unknown, but faith lights the way. If we will cultivate that faith, we shall never walk in darkness” , because it gives me hope. I know if I cultivate my faith, and endure to the end, I will be able to stand proudly and like Paul say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” .
 Hebrews 11:1
 1 Nephi 17:45
 Ether 12: 12
 1 Nephi 16:28
 Ether 12: 6
 Luke 8:48
 David E. Sorensen, “Faith Is the Answer,” Liahona, May 2005, 72–74
 Bruce R. McConkie, “Be Valiant in the Fight of Faith,” Ensign, Nov 1974, 33
 2 Nephi 10:16
 “Chapter 17: The Great Plan of Life and Salvation,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 147
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “We Walk by Faith,” Liahona, Jul 2002, 80–82
 2 Timothy 4:7
As Nephi and his family were traveling through the wilderness looking for food, Nephi broke his bow and it seemed like they were destined to die in the wilderness. Some people in the group began so complain and question why God would punish them even though they were doing what He had asked them to do. In 1 Nephi chapter 16, Nephi described Laman and Lemuel's reaction to this harship they were facing: “And after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me.”  He noted other characteristics of their discouragement as well, stating that they were fatigued , murmuring , complaining , and fearful . All of these are outward signs of the discouragement they felt because they had let this challenge defeat them instead of looking to the Lord for help and strength. On the other hand, Nephi remained encouraged despite this hardship. Verse 28 describes him as having faith, being diligent, and heeding to the word of the Lord.
Just as Elder Holland stated in a recent CES fireside, even the most faithful members of the Church will inevitably face difficulties and struggles during their lifetime. We may not have the challenge of being unable to obtain food, but there is a great deal we can learn from Nephi and his brothers on how our response to these trials is crucial to our happiness and success in life.
We have each been frustrated when an obstacle is put in our path even if we are simply trying to follow God's commandments. It is easy to get down on ourselves, but we must overcome this feeling of discouragement. Elder Marvin J. Ashton stated, "One of Satan's most powerful tools is discouragement. Whisperings of 'you can't do it,' 'you're no good,' 'it's too late,' 'what's that use?' or 'things are hopeless' are tools of destruction. Satan...wants you to quit trying. It is important that discouragement is cast out of [our lives]. This may take a decided amount of work and energy, but it can be accomplished." 
We are given challenges so that we can grow as we overcome them. God will never require us to face something that is too hard for us to bear. He has promised that even in our trials, He will be right beside us. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands prepared for you; And ye cannot bear all things now; Nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along.” 
In the scriptures we learn of God's feelings about discouragement in the story of the Israelites who murmured because they were lusting for flesh instead of manna. “When the people complained, it displeased the Lord: and the Lord hear it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them.”  One way for us to ensure that we don't fall into the trap of discouragement is to be grateful for what Heavenly Father blesses us with. Alma 34:38 gives us this counsel: “humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatsoever place y may be in, in spirit and in truth; and that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.”
Last summer I spent several weeks in a small town in Mexico on a humanitarian trip. While I was there I witnessed firsthand the impact your response to trials can make on your level of happiness in life. During my time there I visited the homes of numerous impoverished women who were facing incredible challenges in their lives. In one of the homes lived an 87-year-old woman and her daughter and granddaughter. Their situation was precarious. The home was made of tin, cardboard, and scraps of wood. Each day they struggled to find food, obtain clean drinking water, and provide themselves with the basic necessities of life.
Despite this difficulty, the grandmother remained encouraged. She constantly tried to work for a better life and did all she could to avoid the rut of discouragement. She had terrible arthritis that prevented her from using her hands, yet she refused to let this disability drag her down.
On the other hand, her daughter often let these challenges defeat her. She was unwilling to find a job even though she was capable of working. She complained almost constantly about her circumstance. Overall, her countenance was very dreary. I wondered which of these two women I would be more like if I were placed in their shoes. Their lives were so difficult and I could understand how hard it must be to keep a good attitude.
As I observed the differences in the lives of these two women, I realized the huge difference your response to trials makes. The grandmother was infinitely more pleasant to be around than her daughter because of her cheerful attitude. Her example instilled in me a desire to choose to follow the Savior's example of casting out discouragement so that I will be filled with happiness.
It is crucial that we follow the perfect example of the Savior. He suffered greater trials than we will ever experience, yet he did not once get discouraged. “Even with such a solemn mission given to Him, the Savior found delight in living; He enjoyed people and told His disciples to be of good cheer. Remember the unkind treatment He received, the rejection He experienced, and the injustice He endured. When we, too, then face some of that in life, we can remember that Christ was also troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” 
 1 Nephi 16:18
 1 Nephi 16: 19
 1 Nephi 16:20
 1 Nephi 16:22
 1 Nephi 16:27
 Elder Marvin J. Ashton, Conference Report, April 1988
 D&C 78:17-18
 Numbers 11:1
 Elder Jeffery R. Holland, “This Do in Remembrance of Me,” Ensign 1995
The introduction of this tree is made in the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve. The first mention of the tree is in Genesis 2:9, in which God planted “the tree of life in the middle of the garden.” Accompanying the tree of life is the tree of knowledge of good and evil, in other words agency. The names of these two trees clearly point to what they symbolize. We learn that had our first parents partaken of the tree of life they would have lived forever. We also see from this ritual text in genesis that because they chose agency (knowledge of good and evil), we are all now as mortal children of God subject to death.
The menorah is a physical symbol of the Tree of Life seen in ancient temples. Although modernly menorahs are used primarily by the Jewish faith, this symbolic candle was used in ancient worship. The description of this Christian menorah is found in Exodus 25:31-40 where it states, “And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side.” We also know from biblical scripture that this menorah was traditionally placed in the center of King Solomon’s temple, just as the tree of life was placed in the midst of the Garden of Eden. By placing this symbolic tree of life in the middle of the temple, God’s people were spiritually keeping the love of God and his desire for our eternal salvation at the focal point of their worship.
In the Book of Mormon this same tree of life is a key element in Lehi’s dream and used figuratively throughout the Book of Mormon. Upon first beholding the tree Nephi states in 1 Nephi 11:25, “and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.” Nephi also describes it as “precious above all”, to “exceed the whiteness of driven snow” and “exceed all beauty”. These images describe something that is unrealistic and beyond earthly comprehension unless seen with an “eye of faith”. This faith is exactly what God asks of us, to realize our own potential made possible by Jesus Christ’s atonement. Using the other image of the iron rod as the word of God we can understand that although Adam and Eve transgressed and were removed from the tree of life we, through obedience and holding to “the rod” in this life, can one day return to that tree and behold the glory of God.
The imagery of the Tree of Life seen in Lehi’s dream is applied throughout the Book of Mormon. Alma uses a slightly different analogy when referring to obedience to obtain the tree of life and the blessings it entails. He likens the word of God to a seed that needs to be nourished rather than an iron rod. But just as in Lehi’s dream, the energy and dedication invested in the word of God consistently leads to the Tree of Life which is the greatest of all. Alma teaches the poor of this principle in Alma 32. He states in verses 41-43,
“ But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.”
Here, Alma instructs us to be patient in “plucking the fruit thereof” indicating that nourishing the seed, or holding to that rod of iron is not an easy task and requires the help of the Lord.
The Tree of Life seen in these various passages of scripture and worship is an important symbol pertaining to our journey here on earth. The tree was present in the beginning and should be our end goal and the utmost desire of our hearts. We must keep the love of God at the center of our worship including Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us, just as Solomon kept the menorah in the center of the temple. Also, we should heed the council of Alma and Nephi and cleave unto the word of God, remaining diligent and patient. By progressing through mortality in our process towards the tree of life, we will one day be ready to partake of the delicious fruit and find peace beneath its branches
Brown, Matthew B. The Gate of Heaven : Insights on the Doctrines and Symbols of the Temple. Danbury: Covenant Communications, Incorporated, 2004.
Parry, Donald W., ed. Temples of the Ancient World : Ritual and Symbolism. Boston: Deseret Book Company, 1994. p. 127-129.
Parry, Donald W., and Stephen David Ricks. The Temple in Time and Eternity. Provo: F. A. R. M. S., 1999. p. 126-128.
Learning; What Is It?
I see learning as the process of taking in knowledge in order to be able to use it at a later date. We can learn many things; infinitely many. We can learn a skill, such as playing the flute, or playing soccer. We can gain learning in a particular field, such as Mathematics, or English. We can learn from what others teach us, or we can learn from experiences that we have gone through. Learning helps us to develop and grow; it’s a major aspect that separates us from computers or even other living things. No other type of mortal creature has the capacity to learn like we do. Scientists have tried to create intelligence, but have not been able to do so. I believe that this is because learning is a gift that has been given to us by our Heavenly Father. I also believe that we have an obligation to show our gratitude for this gift by using it.
Not only is the ability to learn a gift from God, but with this gift we have received a commandment. “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”1 Our Heavenly Father sent us to this earth to gain knowledge and experience, and to learn right from wrong. Our mission while we are here is to learn what we are supposed to do. Then, we will be tested whether or not we will do it, and thereby prove ourselves worthy to our Heavenly Father. Indeed, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”2 While on this earth, there are some things that we must learn if we are to be successful as human beings. We must learn how to talk, how to walk; How to think, how to read, etc. However, there are also many opportunities for us to learn of our own volition. We can learn a new language, a new sport, or a new hobby, just because we want to. I believe that this type of learning is very important, as it develops our character and brings out our hidden talents.
Learning Benefits Us
Learning is essential in our lives, and the more we get of positive learning, learning that uplifts and enriches our lives, the better. There is always an opportunity to learn. Even physical action is not a prerequisite. Merely thinking about past experiences and events in our lives, doing what some call ‘meditating,’ is a form of learning, as it helps us gain new distinctions that can help us do better in the future. A related quote from the prophet Nephi shows us another avenue by which we can learn. “…for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.”3 The scriptures are an excellent source for gaining knowledge, as in them we are able to find the commandments of God, and learn about his will for us. Nephi describes this as his purpose for keeping records on the gold plates. “For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children”4 It was for this purpose that Lehi brought the plates of brass to the Promised Land. “And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records, that we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers; and also that we may preserve unto them the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, which have been delivered unto them by the Spirit and power of God, since the world began, even down unto this present time.”5 However, the scriptures weren’t only applicable to the children of Lehi. I personally have found great insight just perusing the pages of the standard works. My favorite places to go for wisdom are the books of Alma and Proverbs. As stated in 1 Nephi 19:23, I have found ways to liken scriptures such as Alma 41:10 and Proverbs 16:21. “Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.”6 “The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.”7
Our Learning Benefits Others
Not only does our learning benefit us, but we also must use it for the benefits of others. Paraphrasing President Gordon B. Hinckley’s “Be Smart,” we must get an education to learn how we can best be a productive addition to society, instead of a detriment. Also, opposite of the commandment to learn is the commandment to teach. “…and they shall teach with their learning…”8 One obvious example of the benefits of learning to others, and the importance of teaching, is that of missionary work. Young men go to the MTC and learn a language and how to teach the gospel to others in that language. Without their learning, millions would not know the message of the gospel, and the peace it brings. It has been said that ignorance is bliss, but I think the very opposite is true. The more we are enlightened, the greater peace we have. As a result of knowing that Christ lives, we know where we came from and why we’re here; what we must do, and where we are going.
A Learning Mindset
Throughout my life, I have been naturally inquisitive, and always eager to learn new things. This has helped me in my own process of growth and development. While my friends were playing on their Nintendo’s, I was reading “Popular Science”, or surfing the web, researching things like Bose-Einstein Condensates. Learning has kept me active, and passionate about life, always eager to find out more. I have personally verified the importance of teaching as well; by teaching, I find myself better able to learn. Some of my best memories of public school are when I was able to mentor and work with younger students. Throughout my Junior and Senior year, I had the opportunity, as part of a class project, to teach German to children at a Catholic private school. I realized just how much of the basics I had forgotten, and teaching the children was a great academic review. However, it also helped me to grow as a person, as I learned how to teach and interact with people who were significantly younger than me.
Learning is an integral part of human existence. Essentially, in order to live, we must learn and grow. We have been sent to this earth to learn what we must do in order to return to live with our Father in Heaven and our Savior, who have told us through a multitude of prophets about the importance of learning. I will close with a passage from the Doctrine and Covenants, along with my testimony that as we seek to grow in learning and understanding to benefit those around us, that we will be blessed for our efforts, “And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.”9
“Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”10
1.) D&C 88:118
3.) 1 Nephi 19:23
4.) 2 Nephi 4:15
5.) 1 Nephi 3:19-20
6.) Alma 41:10
7.) Proverbs 16:21
8.) 2 Nephi 28:4
9.) D&C 89:19
10.) D&C 130:18-19
We develop faith as young children. Upon being raised in the gospel, they see how to practice faith through the examples of their parents. They begin to believe, but cannot truly know without action on that faith. They learn songs which assist them in knowing how to develop their faith. "Search, ponder, and pray are the things that I must do."  This commonly sung line portrays the idea that we must take action and question our beliefs to know of the truth. In order to develop spiritually, we need to follow the advice that states "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." In following this advice, I was given opportunities to have the Spirit testify to me of the truthfulness of the gospel.
After we have sought the truth and have had it testified unto us, we must continue to build ourselves through acting on that knowledge. One important form of such works is living as an example. We are encouraged to uplift others through good works in order to more fully understand the gospel. We are taught that we will be judged and rewarded according to these works. "For they shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared." We also learn the importance of learning God's will and practicing it. "The great task of life is to learn the will of the Lord and then do it." I know I am blessed each time I learn about and obey the will of the Lord.
One important way to practice our faith is to be an example to those around us. No matter where you are, someone is always watching. I have had personal experience with this. When reading my yearbook, friends commented on how much they enjoyed being around me, because of my example. One especially appreciated the lack of profanity in my conversations with her. I never really thought that people would take notice of such actions, but they always did and I am glad that I upheld the Lord's standards. We have been told that "...faithful works and words contribute significantly to the building of this, the kingdom of God."  Another way to practice faith is through service. When I serve those around me, I feel a greater appreciation for the blessings I have been given. "When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves! In the midst of the miracle of serving, there is the promise of Jesus that by losing ourselves, we find ourselves!"  We can come to understand our true nature when we practice our faith through service.
When we combine faith and works, we are greatly blessed. The Lord has told us of some of these blessings. "...for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."  He has taught us that, when we are obedient, He will strengthen us so that we may prosper. We have all had such humbling experiences. I have undergone such experiences recently, where I was humbled. When I turned to the Lord, He built me up and allowed me to accomplish the difficult tasks that I had before me. We have also been taught that "...he that diligently seeketh shall find..."  When we struggle to know of the truth, He will help us come to that knowledge if we ask Him. I know that when I follow the council of the Lord and when I build on faith and action, I am greatly blessed.
1. Alma 32:21
2. Faith, Children's Songbook p.96
3. Search, Ponder, and Pray, Children's Songbook p.109
4. Matthew 7:7
5. Doctrine and Covenants 76:111
6. Ezra Taft Benson
7. Virginia U. Jensen, Ensign November 2000
8. Spencer W. Kimball
9. Ether 12:27
10. 1 Nephi 10:19