Sunday, May 19, 2013

Christlike Part 1: If Ye Have Faith Ye Can Do All Things

In 1842, as part of a document later to be known as the "Wentworth Letter", Joseph Smith summarized the basic beliefs of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Of all the aspects of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the lives that members of the Church lead, Joseph did his best to summarize these things into thirteen short, concise statements so that people who are not members of our Church could gain a pretty basic understanding of who we are in a relatively easy and convenient manner.

In the fourth one of these statements--known as the Articles of Faith--we read, "We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost."

As the prophet taught there and as is taught throughout scripture, faith is the first and most fundamental aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the foundation upon which our belief is built. As the ancient Apostle, Paul, wrote, "For we walk by faith, not by sight". Faith must come first for without faith we will not receive a witness of the truth. But for the purposes of this blog post, I want to turn to a different aspect of faith; that of a spur or motivation to what we are capable of accomplishing.

What is Faith?
In order to truly understand how important this aspect of faith is, it is necessary to understand what it is and the role it plays in our lives. In his epistle to the Hebrews, Paul writes a great chapter about this. He speaks of the miracles that have happened as a result of faith. But before the miracles, he explains that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Or to put it into the words of the Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, "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."

From both of these two definitions, it is plain to see that faith is a lack of evidence, a lack of knowledge, a lack of the empirical. Instead, it is the presence of the divine; a manifestation of a confidence and trust in God, His will, and His timing; and the presence of humility.

But faith is so much more than a simple belief or trust. Faith is that belief which prompts us to act. "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead". If our faith in Jesus Christ is belief alone, it is no faith at all. Our abiding trust in Him must be accompanied by an action, otherwise it is nothing more than a hollow declaration of belief and contains no power nor lasting influence. Without true faith, nothing is accomplished. With true, complete faith, miracles are performed and experienced by all!

We also learn from the words of the Lord,, through modern revelation, just how important it is for us to have both faith and action and how closely they are related. In a revelation to Oliver Cowdery, scribe to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord says, "Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right".

Even seeking for truth cannot be an act of faithful prayer alone. All faith is accompanied, side-by-side and  hand-in-hand with action.

Results of Faith
All of the scriptures are filled with examples of faith. Every book of scripture, and I would dare say every chapter of scripture, contains some sort of faithful event. There are many great examples, but two of my favorites come from the New Testament.

In Mark 5 we read of a woman who was utterly desperate. For twelve years she had been afflicted with an "issue of blood" and had done all that she could with the technology available to get it figured out but nothing helped, in fact all of her efforts had actually caused the situation to get worse rather than better. If this had been me, after twelve years of trying to get my health under control and watching the situation get worse, I definitely would have lost hope and probably would have simply given up!

But not this woman. When she heard of Christ and who He was, she had a new idea: "If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole." This thought showed the trust and faith that the woman had in the Savior. We have no previous record of her ever interacting with Him, yet she believed what she had been taught concerning His abilities to heal. But that wasn't good enough. It wasn't simply "I believe that He can heal me". Her belief caused her to have a desire to act and to have contact with the Son of God.

In the proceeding verses we learn that "the fountain of her blood was dried up" and she immediately knew that she had been healed of her long-lasting infirmity. It wasn't in the belief alone that caused her to be healed but in acting and moving upon that belief. Therein was the cure to her ailment.

The second example is for me one of the most tutoring lessons that exists regarding the power of faith. Following the miraculous feeding of five thousand people on five loaves of bread and two fishes, Christ ushers His Apostles into a boat and tells them He will meet them at the destination once He has had some time in prayer with His Father.

On their journey, a mighty storm arises and much chaos and confusion ensues. In the midst of all of this, very late in the night, they see a figure walking on the water towards them. As Christ identifies Himself to them, Peter calls out seeking confirmation that it is the Savior by saying "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water." Lovingly, Christ sees the desire of this faithful Apostle and invites him to come and walk on the water.

If I had been in Peter's shoes, in the midst of a mighty tempest with winds and waves throwing the boat in all sorts of directions, with the very Son of God inviting me to walk on the water, my response probably would have been something along the lines of "You know what, I'm good here. I trust you and I believe that I could walk on the water, but do you see all of the waves? Do you see how bad the weather is? It would be so easy for me to drown. I believe that I could do it but I don't really want to take my chances. I will just stay in the relative safety of our boat. So thanks but no thanks." (I guess that is exactly why it was Peter in this instance and not me :P)

Thankfully for our profit and learning, that wasn't Peter's response. Instead of doing what I would have done, Peter response immediately by acting on the Savior's invitation. He trusted the Savior enough to act upon that trust. He got out of the boat and he started walking toward the Savior.

The reason I love this example so much is because his faith caused Peter to be able to do what is literally impossible on our own. Sometimes we are able to find cures and solutions to things on our own. Someone could argue that in the example with the woman and her blood, one of the medical treatments caused the cure and it just happened to be at the same time that she touched Christ's clothes. But such an excuse is not possible in this situation. This is something that could only be accomplished through the miraculous power of God which, as we learn from Moroni, "it is by faith that miracles are wrought". Peter's motivating trust in the Savior which prompted him to act allowed him to be able to walk on the water, an event that can only be described as miraculous.

Strengthening Relationships
The only problem that I see with such situations is the fact that I don't feel like I have enough faith to have such instances happen to me. As I mentioned earlier, my cynical and skeptical mind most likely would have prevented me from acting upon the Savior's invitation in that instance. And I feel like I am not completely alone. I feel like there are many people that are in the same boat as me (pun intended). So the trick, then, becomes developing the faith to act on such invitations.

In my family, I am the youngest of six children. I have one brother who is the oldest--14 years older than me--and then four girls in between us. Because of such a vast age gap, my brother and I didn't spend much time together, especially in the frame of as far back as I can remember. I have very few memories of interacting with my brother prior to him getting married and moving out of the house. That is just how it has been and how our relationship has been almost from the beginning.

As a result of this, it has been a little harder for me to develop a relationship with him like I have with some of my sisters, especially the ones who are closer to my age. I spent a lot of time with my younger sisters and we have a lot of memories together. We had a lot of bonding time growing up and we are still very close to this day. My brother and I are still very close, but we never had the opportunity for that kind of bonding time as I did with my other sisters. And yet in spite of this, I trust him. I trust him more than almost everyone else in my life and possibly more than my parents.

I have often wondered why I trust him so much over those that I have had such long-standing and far-reaching interactions. Although I don't have many thoughts on the subject, there is one thought that always comes back to my mind. From a young age, my brother counseled me and taught me things. Because of our limited interactions, I realized that I needed to take advantage of this advice that he gave me. I could put off or ignore the advice that my parents or sisters gave because they were around. They could remind me of the advice in a week or two if I decided to act upon it then. But not my brother. With him it was either act on it now or don't, simply because we didn't have the availability to discuss it in depth or at length.

So from an early age I started following what my brother taught me and every time, it yielded results that were very positive and very encouraging, even if it was hard to get to those results. One such example is of a camp that I had been invited to go to. I used to absolutely hate doing new things and so I didn't want to go to this camp. But my brother encouraged me to go. Over the course of what I remember to be a few months, he told me how great it would be and how much fun I would have there. Because of the trust I had already developed in him, I knew that he wouldn't lead me astray so I went!

That decision has stood out to me as one of the most influential decisions of my life. That camp has changed my life forever. I have developed a greater appreciation for life, a new view on the world around me. I have made friends with some of the best and kindest people on the face of the planet. I have been reminded of who I am. All of these things, these blessings, all spawn off from a decision that I made as a result of my brother teaching and guiding me.

As a result of that particular decision, my trust in my brother is greater than ever before. Without any hesitation, I apply whatever he teaches me into my life. There have been numerous times on my mission where he has sent me a word of advice that he learned on his mission. As I have applied that, blessing are poured out upon me. I know that my brother has my back. I know that he is there for me. I know that he has my best interest at heart and that he loves me.

Increasing Faith
For me, it is easy to understand how to increase my faith when I think of it in a more relatable way. As mentioned earlier, the first principle of the gospel is faith, but not just any faith--Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. How can we do that? How can we have such a deep and abiding trust in the Son of God?

In order to have true faith in Him, it is important that we better understand our relationship with Him. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world, the "firstfruits of them that slept". Yes, these are all very true and very accurate titles and honors that are given to Him, but there is another title that is far more personal and more intimate than them all: Brother.

We are all children of God, spiritual creations of the Most High. Because we are all creations of the Being referred to as "Heavenly Father" that makes us thus brothers and sisters. Each and every one of us are spiritual siblings with a common parent. And that includes Christ. He was the first creation of the Father; He was and is our older brother.

Just as I have been able to strengthen my relationship with my earthly brother, so we are all able to strengthen our relationship with our wonderful heavenly Brother. Relationships are built upon trust. Trust is built upon experience.

I developed trust in my brother as I acted upon the things that he suggested. At first I didn't know him very well. There was that inherit trust that comes from being siblings, but there wasn't much more than that. Then he suggested I do something. I acted on it, saw the positive results in spite of the challenge it may have been, and my trust in him grew.

That is how it is with Christ. Initially there isn't a very strong and developed trust, but there is a little bit. The hardest part is that first step. Christ is always guiding us, always giving us counsel. We can find His guidance through prayer and through the scriptures. It is our decision if we want to follow that or not. As we follow it and see that the results are positive, our trust in Him grows and we are willing to do more. We are willing to do something a little bit harder and a little bit harder. Eventually this trust--this faith--grows to the point where we know that He is only seeking our benefit and our happiness and we know that we can always act on what He says and the results will be positive and beneficial, even though there may be a little growing pain along the way.

I testify that Christ is out Savior. Putting our abiding trust in Him is a process, but it is one that will yield the greatest fruits possible. It is challenging but it is possible. It may be hard at first but it becomes easier with time. As Christ taught, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing."

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