Monday, December 21, 2015

Turn To Him and Answers Will Come - Elder James B. Martino

I don’t often reach out to conference talks as often as I should when I’m going through hard things these days but with the end of year close by I feel compelled to sit down and jot out some thoughts.  Since my release from the TFOT calling in our Relief Society I have served in a myriad of other places and even had some substantial time off from any callings.  I don’t know that I understood why at the time, but as I sit here writing, the message from Elder James B. Martino’s talk “Turn to Him and Answers Will Come” resonate in the back of my head. 

You see this past year has been one REALLY difficult year at my house – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I hit a personal wall with things – and being a divorced person, coupled with young adult children issues, and a weak support system of family, friend, and/or ward members, I became very discouraged and fell prey to feelings of bitterness and loneliness.  For one of the first times in my life I understood my single/divorced friends who voiced how hard it was to be active and present in a church so flooded with hope and eternal family messages – sometimes they just don’t feel like they apply to me.  I stumbled back and forth between holding on to eternal hope and facing mortal reality.

In an effort to feel better I made it a point to listen to all the sessions of General Conference – reaching to grasp on to the spirit I knew I would feel when messages I yearned for were shared.  The most poignant for me were:

Turn to Him and Answers will Come – Elder James B Martino
Faith is not by Chance, but by Choice – Elder Neil L. Anderson
What Lack I yet? – Elder Larry R. Lawrance
God Is at the Helm – Elder M. Russell Ballard
It Works Wonderfully! – President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Why the church? – Elder D. Todd Christofferson

I keep returning to Elder Martino’s message – it struck some strong chords for me.  So tho I do not have the TFOT calling anymore I thought I’d share some thoughts.  At the beginning of his talk Elder Martino speaks about when he first was faced with the question of the truth of the Book of Mormon as a young man.  He did accept the challenge to pray, but received no answer.  In time he learned, “God does answer our prayers about the truthfulness of the Gospel, but He answers them when we have a sincere heart and real intent”.  He does not answer just to respond to our curiosity.

Likewise, when we have things in our own life – and we aren’t quite sure how to answer there are steps to receiving that personal revelation. 

1. Receiving Revelation Depends on the Condition and Intent of Our Hearts

I don’t know that I gave much thought about this before listening to Elder Martino’s talk.  I think I fell into a common trap of asking in whatever mode I was in – if I asked for clarity at all.  His example of Laman and Lemuel who, like Nephi, were “born of goodly parents” and “taught in all the learning of their father” made me feel a little better – since like them, I had fallen to moments of murmuring.  And like them, I had I had begun to question the things of God because my own understanding and foundation had been rattled.  Elder Martino points out that their choices had actually allowed them access to potentially faith-building exercises.  This raised the question in myself – haven’t I been making faith-building experiences?  I mean they left home and riches, and suffered in the wilderness and had to build the boat and then agree to journey on to an unknown land. 

I had made many of the same choices (minus building a boat), but I hadn’t stopped to reflect on them as faith-building.  In fact, I hadn’t stopped to reflect on them at all.  And of course as a result, much like Laman and Lemuel I began to grow more cynical and troubled and angry.Like many other messages I’ve heard in my adult life, he reiterated that Life is not easy for any of us.  We are here to be tried and tested and it is only our response to the experiences that will influence our testimonies.

2. Continuing Obedience Allows us to Receive Answers

Nephi’s reply to his brothers is a key for us to receive continual answers to prayer.  He asks, “How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord?  How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?”  “Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? – 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 will be made known unto you.”

It took me a little while to absorb this part of Elder Martino’s lesson.  Not because I didn’t understand the application but because I had to actually open up to the potential that I had personally drifted down a path of “outer darkness” and allowed myself to fall into common traps Satan sets for us.  Nephi’s questions are a good check and balance system for ourselves if we’re struggling.  I hadn’t considered if my heart had hardened, and I wasn’t participating in daily spiritual habits often enough to remind me of times I had personal revelation. 

It also drove me to define what a hardened heart was.  I wasn’t outwardly defying the church or basic gospel principles. I didn’t hate God.  I wasn’t rude or mean or rebelling.  I wasn’t breaking any rules or guidelines that I knew to be true.  So, what is a hardened heart?  Hardened is defined in the dictionary as cold, insensitive, unfeeling, and unyielding.  In one article I read that being shocked or amazed or surprised at a miracle was an indication of a hardened heart.  This search to understand if I had a hardened heart led me to defining it for myself – A lot of bad things happened, and so I had bruised faith in things I used to know.  And because I could not see things the same way I began to doubt the validity of other points.  Satan uses this doubt to limit our vision, to cause more doubt, to narrow our focus, to cut off our association and make us unable to remember the things we once knew. 

I had a hardened heart.

It hadn’t happened suddenly, instead it had built up over teeny tiny things.  It was my focus being diverted from daily, weekly and monthly spiritual renewal.   It was my lack of considering, pondering, and falling into a “natural man” explanation of things as the world sees it.  This is why it’s so important to prioritize those daily spiritual habits.  And something else – when I realized that my heart was actually hardened, and I was just like Laman and Lemuel - it occurred to me that while I hadn’t broken any rules or covenants, I hadn’t exactly been open to things in an obedient fashion.  

We are warned of this – in D&C 78:10 states “Otherwise Satan seeketh to turn their hearts away from the truth, that they become blinded and understand not the things which are prepared for them.”
Elder Martino compels us to “Remember the times when you have felt the Spirit in the past, and ask in faith.  Your answer will come, and you will feel the love and peace of the Savior.  It may not come as quickly or in the format you desire, but the answer will come.  Do not give up!  Never give up!” 

3. The Study of the Scriptures Tells us God’s Will

Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Mosiah had similar circumstances.  Both were raised in righteous homes, yet both strayed.  Both were called to repentance by an angel, so what was different with the sons of Mosiah?  Initially we read their “hearts were depressed, and they were about to turn back, but the Lord comforted them.” They were counseled by the Lord to “bear with patience their afflictions.”  In fact they faced their trials which pushed them to wax “strong in knowledge of truth… they searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God”.   See – one of those daily spiritual habits changed the entire outlook.  The difference is that with the strength that comes from daily renewal it was much easier to remain focused, and to hold on to the iron rod.  Staying close to what we know to be true allows us the gift of an open mind and the stirrings of the Spirit.

4. Prayer, Combined with Fasting, Invites Revelation

The difference in the sons of Mosiah was not just reading scriptures.  We know “this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation.” 

While I have a HUGE testimony of prayer, my own testimony of fasting is not quite the same.  As a born and raised member in the church, I’ve heard about fasting all my life and sometimes dutifully followed along my family of going without two meals, but don’t know that I’ve had any substantial lessons or gained any personal knowledge of what a proper fast is or why it’s needed.  And maybe this seems trivial since I probably SHOULD know it, but after talking with some friends (converts and born and raised alike) I wasn’t alone – so perhaps this bears addressing. 

Carl C. Pratt actually addresses “Proper Fast” in the 2004 Priesthood Session of October Conference where he too considers that “too many of us are either not fasting on fast day or we are doing so in a lackadaisical manner.”  He outlines the basics as “…in addition to occasional special fasts that we might have for personal or family reasons, we are expected to fast once a month on the first Sunday. We are taught that there are three aspects to a proper fast day observance: first, abstaining from food and drink for two consecutive meals or, in other words, 24 hours; second, attending fast and testimony meeting; and third, giving a generous fast offering.”

But Why?  Why is it not enough to donate a fast-offering and attend a fast and testimony meeting?

Historically people have fasted out of self-mastery or for health reasons.  We know from early scriptures fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself and deny the natural man’s appetite and instead focus on spiritual feasting and supplication.  We read in both the Old and New Testament about fasting.  Jesus reminded His followers to fast “when you fast” not IF you fast.  And by focusing our attentions away from worldly appetites (food and behaviors) for this day – we begin a more intimate relationship with Christ.  In short – it is a commandment.  (D&C 59:13-14).  

If we are in the mindset of doing more than just running through the motions, our obedience to this as a commandment should serve as enough reason.  Of course there are always exceptions for those who cannot physically fast due to medical issues, but an omniscient Father in Heaven has provided “every needful thing” (D&C 88:119) so that His children can call upon Him with confidence and feel His love. He provides tools to allow us to overcome the temptations that beset “the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19). One of the most powerful and often-neglected tools that God has given us is the law of the fast. 

5. Turn to Him

The lack of these same personal religious habits were a major reason Laman and Lemuel were left vulnerable to the temptation to murmur and doubt.  Obedience, scripture study, prayer, fasting – none of these are new suggestions to us.  In fact, they seem almost primary in substance and so we often will throw it out based on it being too simple an answer. Elder Martino tells us “If you have doubt that leads to unbelief, if trials seem more than you can bear, turn to Him.  If you are one who has turned away or rationalized your behavior, turn to Him.  Can you remember when He did “speak peace to your mind…?”  Ask yourself “am I as close to living like Christ now as I was before?”

I’ve had to work out some personal demons of late, but the struggle has been worth it as I’ve been able to “experiment upon the words”.  Like Elder Martino, the journey of asking questions and studying and considering and focusing on the things I once knew, and using the tools we’ve been given, my bitterness has begun go away.  My doubts have been strengthened as I have discovered new truths.  I’m not perfect and it’s a continual work in progress – but I find that I can more easily enjoy things as I did before hard stuff happened.  Satan still tries to get his foot in the door, but I’m learning to incorporate more daily spiritual habits to overcome him.  I can testify that with these simple things we can be more easily act in faith and feel the Spirit.

As I look to the new year I realize that it was in fact, a REALLY hard year.  And that’s okay.  I am stronger and feel happier along the way.  Do not give up!  Never give up!



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