NT 11: A Centurion, A Servant, and Humility

Ever since reading the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 last week I have reflected on it over and over again. The centurion’s initial request for help (in person, according to Matthew’s account) precedes what struck me initially as a statement of ego: “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).

Was it really necessary for him to tell Jesus how influential and powerful he is in his sphere? Certainly Jesus understood that the centurion occupied a higher social status. But on the heels of the centurion’s self-identification “Jesus…marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). What about the centurion’s statement expressed such great faith?

Upon rereading the passage I couldn’t help but equally marvel at what I discovered. First, the centurion seems to have been working out his expression of faith, describing that he believes Jesus can just speak and perform a miracle because that is how the centurion operates in his own life. He recognized in Jesus something of a peer, a powerful man whose order would be immediately obeyed, just like him in his own household. The centurion understood the mechanics of directive and obedience, and therefore could believe in the application of the system to his request for help.

Second, I began to recognize in the centurion’s statement a profound humility. The centurion, in describing how he is obeyed in his household, was expressing his willingness to abase himself and become like one of his servants, ready to obey Jesus’ command, do whatever Jesus instructed in order to save his servant.

If only we would voluntarily give up status and accomplishments, the trappings of social position with which we pad our identities, and place them at the feet of the Savior, as readily as the centurion. What miracles could God work in our lives if we in faith expressed our willingness to obey God’s directions with the alacrity of the centurion’s servants?

Last year when my husband didn’t get the job we had been anticipating for six years, we had no backup plan. My husband applied to other academic jobs and began following leads from friends. As the weeks dragged on with no immediate prospects, we began praying to know what commandment we could keep more perfectly in order to qualify for our desired miracle. We focused on spiritual improvement within our family, expressing our willingness in prayer to do whatever God required of us. Within three months my husband had received and accepted an offer for an amazing job.

This lesson came full circle for me this week as another New Testament reading led me to Psalm 55: “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (v. 16-17, OT). When we can make such unequivocal statements as “the Lord shall save me” and “he shall hear my voice,” we express our firm belief that doing God’s will results in miracles. Just like the centurion we can acknowledge God’s power, cast aside illusions of personal greatness, willingly perform God’s instructions, and receive the miracles and blessings He waits to bestow.

NT 10: Finding a Way Back

I’ve been absent for a couple of weeks, feeling like I had lost my way in scripture study and the blog. But I’m recommitting to daily study and weekly posting! My family needs this spiritual boost every day, and I need it to stay sane, be a halfway decent parent, and keep myself focused on spiritual things. Sometimes we lose our way and think that’s it, there’s no going back. But the Gospel teaches us that every day––every moment of every day––we can start fresh. Seeking forgiveness and help through the Savior’s Atonement allows us to find our way back to God and the path He wants us to walk.

Last week I intended to post some ideas for teaching children specific principles from the Sermon on the Mount. Here they are:

  1. Matthew 6:6, 17-18     One central idea I took from these verses was the need to not seek recognition for good things we do. We don’t need praise to justify good deeds or righteous choices…we just do/make them. Secret service can be a lot of fun for families to do together. Select one or more individuals or families and identify one way your family could serve each. Perform the service secretly and/or anonymously.
  2. Matthew 6:22-23      “[I]f therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” Make two large eyes, one from dark (opaque) construction paper, one from vellum or another translucent but sturdy paper. On the opaque eye with the help of your children write a list of bad choices within the realm of their understanding. Hold a light behind the opaque eye. Can you see any light? Can that light illuminate anything through the eye? Make a similar list on the translucent eye but of good choices (e.g. praying daily, sharing, attending church as a family). Repeat the exercise with the light. Read the scripture and discuss.
  3. Matthew 7:7    “Ask, and it shall be given you.” Have a child stand on one side of a door and you on the other. Tell your child the goal is to reenter the room where you are but without pushing the door/turning the knob. Once s/he has figured out knocking and asking, invite her/him into the room and share the scripture. My girls did the object lesson at the same time and worked through the dilemma together. I testified that God hears their prayers and will answer them. Understanding that God does hear our prayers and questions, and will provide answers establishes an important foundation for additional Gospel understanding. For example, today we revisited Matthew 7:7 while talking about Joseph Smith and the First Vision.

Best of luck this week as you work on Matthew 8-9 and Mark 2-5!

NT 3: For Those Who Stumble

Last week for our daily scripture study I followed a suggestion to read 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hannah’s experience is a wonderful parallel to both Elizabeth and Mary. The miraculous births provide a clear picture of God’s power, grace, and love. Hannah’s words of praise for God capture this so beautifully:

My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord…. There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee…. The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven…. (1 Samuel 2:1, 2, 4, 5, OT)

I could hear the angel’s words to Mary echoing, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37, NT).

We had already spoken so much about Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, that I wanted to provide a summary lesson for the girls, something that would help them understand an important theme running through our week’s study. My imagination caught hold of verse 4, “they that stumbled.” I wanted to liken the scriptures to my kids and help them understand how God can work in our lives.

As I shared 1 Samuel, chapter 2 with my girls, I began by contextualizing the verses: Hannah was an old woman who had prayed for many years to have a son. I asked the kids, does this remind you of anyone else in the scriptures? They got the answer right away. She promised God that if He would bless her with a son, she would make sure he dedicated his life to serving God. Hannah’s son was born and he became the prophet Samuel. The kids remembered that Samuel was the prophet who anointed David to be king. She expressed her gratitude to God by praising Him and describing how He can do amazing things that seem impossible to the world.

I read verse 4 and suggested that we all stumble. We defined “stumble” and added that we all have weaknesses or difficulties in life that make it hard for us to do some things. But God will help us if we ask Him. I pulled out a 25 pound bag of rice and asked each of my kids in turn to carry it from one end of the kitchen to the other and back in a straight line. My three year old went first but only made it one length. I told her that when we ask God for help, He will answer. I took hold of one of the handles on the bag of rice and helped my daughter carry it back to the starting point.

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The scriptures came alive for my kids as we carried the bag of rice together back and forth across the kitchen. They were also able to make connections between different stories in the Bible. Now they have a reference point and beginning comprehension of an important theme that runs through so much of scripture: god can do anything, even the seemingly impossible. He will help us with our challenges if we make an effort and ask for His help.

Day 81: The wind never did cease

Ether 6

The Jaredite group received many tremendous blessings as recorded in Ether: The Lord agreed not to confound their language so that they could maintain established family and friend relationships; God led them away from Babel; God brought them to a promised land. Did you notice that God caused a great wind to blow the Jaredite barges to the promised land? The barges were out on the open sea. Even though God was in charge of the travel, the barges were still subject to the conditions of sea travel and the consequences of a “great wind” being active on the open water, including very stormy conditions. “And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters” (Ether 6:8).

“The wind never did cease.” God kept His promise to bring the Jaredites to the promised land and made it possible for the barges to arrive as quickly as possible. In fulfilling His promise and making blessings available, God also created interesting conditions for the Jaredites. I have experienced this in my own life, where I ask for a blessing that God readily promises but the path towards the fulfillment of the promise is fraught with unexpected difficulties. When we ask for a blessing, we need to be willing to accept the unasked for “consequences” of pursuing that blessing.

As we learn from the Jaredites’ experience, when God promises a blessing, He makes it happen. We can be assured that He will fulfill His promises. We also learn that we don’t need to worry too much about those unexpected “consequences” of pursuing a blessing. It strikes me that despite the constant wind and resulting storms, the barges were not impeded in their progress. The barges reached the promised land without injuries and without drownings. The people were kept safe during their entire voyage.

No matter what comes packaged with a blessing or answer to prayer, we need to stay the course and pursue the promise, knowing the God will keep us safe and follow through on all His promises.