Thursday, October 10, 2013

Encouragement in Times of Trials - Talk given in Mesquite RS Meeting

I want you to know that I have studied, pondered and sought counsel and affirmation from the Spirit and feel I do have a message that is to be delivered.  With that said, I share a few of the questions that have been stirred up in my mind as I have prepared.  Would my remarks be applicable to the sister whose trials greatly surpass normal life’s challenges and difficulties?  Would this be helpful for those who suffer trials because of their own doing, as well as for those suffering trials because of the actions and decisions of others?  Does my talk address the trials and hardships that  result from just living in a wicked world?

With lots of re-dos and starting overs, I finally realized that what I needed for this particular talk was an “equalizer”; something that would level the playing field and be applicable to every person here in this room tonight.  An equalizer that would pertain to all of us, regardless of who was responsible, and for all varying degrees of trials, no matter how small or significant they may be.  With that realization and understanding, it was apparent that there was only one “equalizer” who could provide that assurance.  I hope and I pray  tonight that the Holy Ghost will turn our hearts to our Savior Jesus Christ, who is truly the Great Equalizer; He, who can  level the playing field and makes things right and whole with each one of us.

I have chosen to use the hymns of the gospel to help convey my messages.  There is a reason for this……..hymns just speak to my heart and I find myself singing them every day, especially at times when I am troubled or frustrated. It really is my default for when I am out of sorts.    The words to some hymns have been very present during this month of study, so we will sing them together tonight.
In fact, if you could grab a hymn book and turn to hymn # 85; we can learn a lot about trials from the familiar hymn #85, How Firm A Foundation.
I want to focus on your verse 5.  The words are descriptive and poetic and can teach us much.    
The first phrase reads:  “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie.”  The pathway spoken of in this context is the course of our lives.  The “fiery trials” spoken of suggest that they are intense and significant challenges. 
The next phrase reads: “My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.   The words of this verse are spoken in the first person as if the Savior is saying them directly to us.   In the Bible Dictionary we read that grace is in part: “an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”  Elder David Bednar gives further clarity and understanding to this “enabling power of the atonement”.    He says: “I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the Atonement.”                                                                                                      “…grace represents that divine assistance or heavenly help each of us …desperately need….”   
Elder Bednar mentions two powers of the atonement.  1. Redemptive power that save us from our sins.  2. Enabling power, or grace, that assists in times of need.
The enabling power of the atonement is manifest time and time again in the Book of Mormon.  One great example is found in the 24th chapter of Mosiah.  We read of Amulon,  who was given the assignment by the Lamanite king to rule over the people of Alma. Vs. 8 “And now it came to pass the Amulon began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children…. And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.
Vs. 13.  …I will …ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage…
v. 15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
Notice that the Lord did not take away the trial from Alma and his people, rather “the Lord did strengthen them” or in other words, they received the enabling power of the atonement so they could withstand their trial.
Let me read this phrase again.  “His grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply”. The enabling power, along with the redemptive power of the Lord’s atonement is sufficient; it is enough.  It is infinite.  It is what we need to not just endure, but endure cheerfully and with patience as did the people of Alma.
Two weeks ago today my father died from a 6 day bout with bacterial meningitis.  This trial obviously was not removed or taken away from my mother.  My mother is a strong, brave woman.  But shortly after the doctor diagnosed my father, he requested  a copy of my father’s living will.  My mother and I returned to her home to look for it.   If we couldn't find the will, it would not be hard  to get a copy.  I knew my father’s attorney  and I could  call him and request he email one over.  Upon not finding it at the house, my mother turned and looked at me and with searching eyes she began to cry.  Through her tears, she said:  “Oh, Lorri, what am I going to do?”  I knew this wasn't about a will; it was about so much more. The redemptive power of the atonement was not needed, but the enabling power was.   I motioned for her to follow me to the couch and said:  “Mom, we are going to pray for help”.  It was a very sacred, tender experience kneeling with my mother and praying in her behalf.  The Saviors grace was sufficient and in supply at the very moment she needed it.
The thought of attending the viewing  proved to be another particularly rough trial for my mom.  She expressed  that she did not think she was going to be able to stand and talk to others. Her legs were aching and she was so tired and could not bear the thoughts of being there.  This time however, it was  my mother who gathered her three daughters into her bedroom.   We listened as she tearfully implored the Lord for His enabling power.  And  again, those pleas were heard.  Her legs were strong and able to bear her up; her heart open so she could be comforted by others and He gave words to her mouth so that she could freely speak.  His Grace was evident, sufficient and in supply. 
I have sung the third verse of the hymn Did You Think To Pray? over and over during these past few weeks.  There is a beautiful reference to the “enabling power of the atonement in this verse.   The words and even the melody testify so  beautifully of this power.  Please turn to hymn 140 and sing the 3rd verse.
"When sore trials came upon you, did you think to pray?  When your heart was full of sorrow Balm of Gilead did you borrow at the gates of day?  Oh, how praying rest the weary. Prayer will change the night to day.  So when life gets dark and dreary, don't forget to pray."
Returning back to  hymn # 85 we read: “The flame shall not hurt thee."  This is written as  a promise from  the Savior, asking us to trust him  so that He can change us.  D&C 122:7 we read similar words spoken by the Savior to his prophet Joseph Smith while he was imprisoned in Liberty jail.  “…Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good .
I only design thy dross to consume” Dross is impurities that are found in minerals such as gold and other precious metals. The removal of these impurities is done through a heating process, leaving behind the purest form of the mineral.  By Divine design and plan, our trials are a means given to us to turn to the Savior so that he can consume are pains, sorrows and impurities.    In our recent General Conference our prophet taught:  “Such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were, better than what we were, more understanding than what we were – with stronger testimonies that what we had before.”  It is this process that allows for us to find “encouragement” even joy in times of trial.
Sisters, think about the greatest trial you are facing at this time and how you are experiencing it.  Are your impurities being consume by the Savior?  Are you enduring the trial well, even submitting cheerfully as the people of Alma did?  Are you a better person because of what you are going through?  If the answers are no ……..then ask yourself why? It takes “courage” to seek encouragement in our trials
The day that LaNae Griffiths called to ask if I would accept this assignment, I was in despair.  I was feeling frustrated as a result of a trial I was not enduring well.  I had actually had feeling of hopelessness, never thinking I was going to find relief. Because I accepted LaNae’s request to speak, I started to study, read, ponder and pray about the topic she assign me.  I began to examine this very specific trial in respects to what I was learning .   I didn't just want to stand and give a talk on the subject; I wanted to be changed so I could testify.   A few days after LaNae's call, I received my Sept. Ensign in the mail.  I was intrigued by an article titled: The Healing Balm of Hope.  Listed in this article are ten strategies for cultivating hope in times of trial and despair.  These strategies were all very good, but one in particular resonated in my heart. The strategy  was titled: Identify and Challenge Negative Beliefs. In the article it says: “Negative thoughts are the termites of the soul”.  Although painful, I took courage as I admitted to myself that I had riddled my soul with negative thoughts.  I had been quick to dwell on the worst.  Upon further scrutinizing my reactions to my trial, I realized I had found comfort and even a sense of entitlement as I focused on everything that was wrong.   I embarked upon a plan to identify my negative beliefs and challenge them.  It was hard.  I had to retrain my thought process.  I had to work on catching myself and have the courage to remove that negative belief; no matter how justified it made me feel.    I sought the redemptive power of the atonement as I asked for forgiveness of such negative and destructive behavior.  I have sought the enabling power of the atonement as I have prayed over and over again, day by day and sometimes even hour by hour,  to strengthen me and help me focus on what is positive and good.  It has taken courage but I am now finding “encouragement” in this trial.  I am even excited to see and feel the changes that are taking place in my mind and my heart. The Savior is consuming my dross, one negative thought at a time.  No, the trial has not been removed, but I feel a renewed hope as I try to endure it well, even cheerfully. 
The very last phrase of the verse reads:  “And thy gold to refine.”  I share with you this true account of events by President David O. McKay as given in a Conference Address by Pres. James E. Faust.
“Some years ago President David O. McKay told from this pulpit of the experience of some of those in the Martin handcart company. Many of these early converts had emigrated from Europe and were too poor to buy oxen or horses and a wagon. They were forced by their poverty to pull handcarts containing all of their belongings across the plains by their own brute strength. President McKay relates an occurrence which took place some years after the heroic exodus: “A teacher, conducting a class, said it was unwise ever to attempt, even to permit them [the Martin handcart company] to come across the plains under such conditions.
“[According to a class member,] some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.
“An old man in the corner … sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.
“In substance [he] said, ‘I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.
“‘I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.’” He continues: “‘I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“‘Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.’” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1948, p. 8.)

The trials of the early Saints were trials that consumed their dross and left souls of the purest of gold.   Let us never make the mistake and think that our trials today will not do the same for us.  They will. That is their purpose.    The verse of this song teaches correct principles. And those principles bring us hope and peace in times of suffering and sorrow. I hope whenever we sing How Firm A Foundation, our eyes will scan down to the 5th verse and we will be reminded of that hope and peace. 

I would like to end by singing the first verse of hymn #100, Nearer My God To Thee.  One night, alone with my dad while he was in the hospital, I sang this verse to him.  The words were significant and calming. "Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee.  Even tho it be a cross that raiseth me,  still all my songs shall be nearer my God to thee. Nearer my God to thee.  Nearer to thee."  

The crosses we bear are the trials we endure and when we allow for it,  they raise us up to be nearer to God. Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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