Day 38: Steps into the Darkness

Alma 8-14

Having finished Alma 14 today, I see a good moment to pause and reflect on two themes exemplified in Amulek’s experience as a reactivated church member and new missionary.

1. When God asks you to do something, He doesn’t give you every detail in advance.

Amulek says he had heard the call to repent and turn back to the Lord many times (Alma 10:6). He ignored it. But when God sent the angel with the brief message to receive into his home a hungry prophet of God, he acted (Alma 10:7). The brevity of the angel’s instruction to Amulek and the scarcity of information provided really stands out to me. Amulek acted with faith to follow the angel’s instructions. He expresses his faith to Alma upon their divinely directed encounter, stating simply, “I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house” (Alma 8:20).

What stands out to me is that Amulek likely had no idea what was going to be expected of him once he took this faith-filled step into the darkness. God didn’t include advance notice that he would be asked to “go forth and prophesy unto this people” (v. 29), nor did He provide lesson plans, a warning about how the people would react, or instructions for the coming days and weeks. The only instruction provided was, “Thou shalt receive [Alma]” (Alma 8:80; Alma 10:7).

God will extend many invitations to us over our lifetimes. Let’s be like Amulek and act in faith, knowing that whatever He asks will ultimately “be a blessing unto [you] and [your] house.”

2. Doing God’s will does not guarantee that you will be kept safe or avoid unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even dangerous situations.

I used to tell myself that if God had told me in advance everything I would experience on my mission, I never would have gone. And, yes, pre-mission me had a right to feel really nervous and scared about serving a mission. But I would never trade the joy I experienced helping others repent nor the covenant friendships I forged as a missionary.

The Book of Mormon doesn’t share much about Amulek’s state of mind or feelings about becoming Alma’s mission companion except to record that he willingly took his step into the darkness and faithfully acted on God’s invitation and instructions. The people we’re asked to serve in the places we’re asked to go have their agency. They are free to act as they want and see fit. When we accept an assignment from God to go serve, doing God’s will does not guarantee that people are going to be nice, welcoming, accepting, or even polite.

Amulek learned first hand about being rejected in the harshest ways possible: he and Alma were plotted against (Alma 10:13), he was called a liar (Alma 10:28), they were “bound with strong cords” (Alma 14:4), they were unjustly accused and illegally tried on false charges (Alma 14:5), they were forced to watch people they taught be burned alive (Alma 14:8-10), they were attacked and beaten multiple times (Alma 14:14, 20, 21, 24, 25), they were imprisoned while tied up with no clothes (Alma 14:17, 22), they were starved (Alma 14:22).

Just the potential for this kind of suffering while doing God’s work is reason enough for almost anyone to refuse an assignment. But when we really believe deep in our souls that God is real, that His work is vital, that the Plan of Salvation is in effect, that the human race has the opportunity to live with God forever OR be cast off to suffer eternally, then the potential for earthly suffering on God’s errand takes on a whole new perspective. Taking the chance on potential (temporary) suffering to bring even one person to Christ has to be worth it.

God may or may not protect you while you are on His errand, He won’t interfere with anyone’s agency, you may or may not have to go to dangerous places, you may or may not be required to have many unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences; but God does guarantee blessings, He does promise that His righteous works will be fulfilled, He does promise that suffering and misery are temporary, that they will end and be replaced with peace and joy.

Elder Holland spoke to this principle years ago in October 1999 General Conference. I’ll end with his closing words:

I testify that God lives, that He is our Eternal Father, that He loves each of us with a love divine. I testify that Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son in the flesh and, having triumphed in this world, is an heir of eternity, a joint-heir with God, and now stands on the right hand of His Father. I testify that this is Their true Church and that They sustain us in our hour of need—and always will, even if we cannot recognize that intervention. Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. (Holland, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come,General Conference (Oct 1999.)

Day 33: Stand Fast in the Faith

Alma 1:24-25

Alma the younger was serving as the High Priest of the Church and as the first Chief Judge over the Nephites when the Church began facing a crisis of membership. Persecution, pride, sin, and apostasy began to take their toll and even “many [members] withdrew themselves from among them [the Church membership]” (v. 24). The emphasis on community and interpersonal relationships in this chapter suggested I pay attention to the family and friends who take part in and/or observe a loss of faith.

I have seen people withdraw from Church involvement in my own lifetime and noted what happens to the family members and friends who are closest to the individuals. As a youth I watched helpless as a friend left the church, only to be followed by her parents and siblings. Recently I have watched friends leave the Church, their spouses and young children remaining active for a time but eventually leaving the Church as well. I was a ministering sister to a couple who left the church years ago soon after three of their children “withdrew.” I sensed that my friends’ inactivity was a result of feeling hopeless: They wondered what they could have done more for their children but no longer saw a point in remaining active in the Church.

The response of the Nephite church members is instructive. “Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith” (v. 25). I appreciate that the writer here acknowledges how difficult (heart-rending even) it is to watch members of your church community (friends and family likely) lose their faith and withdraw from participation in the Church. But pay attention to how they deal with their disappointment: “nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God” (v. 25). In the case of my ministering family, I felt strongly that if they would renew their faith and be steadfast in keeping the commandments, they could bring so many blessings to their entire family. It would not be a hopeless case if they would keep the faith and honor their covenants.

I really believe that if we will honor our covenants, keep the commandments, be steadfast and immoveable, God will keep His promises to us, even to benefit and bless loved ones who have left the Church.

Day 29: Covenant Friendship

Mosiah 21:30-32

When I was a child, friendship became a sore point for me. I had trouble making and keeping friends. It seemed every friend I made at school eventually decided they would rather be friends with someone else. I did not have the worst or most lonely childhood, but I did often reflect on the nature of friendship and wondered if I would ever have enduring friendships outside of my family.

Friendship came to mind as I read Mosiah 21:30-32, in which the writer records a change of attitude toward Alma and his people. Alma and his followers had fled into the wilderness to escape King Noah and his goons. It is safe to say that Alma and his people had made themselves social outcasts by embracing the Gospel and entering the waters of baptism (the rest of their society was still wicked). It is also safe to say that Noah’s people were not friends with Alma’s people and they didn’t really care what happened to Alma’s group.

The change in attitude recorded in Mosiah 21 is striking. First we read that the envoys from King Mosiah feel sorrow for the loss of Alma and his people, “[y]ea they did mourn for their departure” (v. 31). Ammon’s group had never even met Alma! But because “they themselves had entered into a covenant with God” they “would have gladly joined with [Alma’s group].” Both Ammon’s group and Alma’s group had made covenants with God and it seems to me that Ammon’s group felt an immediate kinship with them. As I read verse 31, I felt that Limhi’s people were implicitly included in the kinship hinted at because “king Limhi had also entered into a covenant with God, and also many of his people” (v. 32).

I no longer worry so much about friendship, partly because I have discovered wonderful people to become friends with. But also because I have learned the power of covenant friendships. When I have lived and travel abroad I feel an immediate and close attachment to people I meet in whom I sense a deep commitment to God. Shared belief creates a foundation on which we build our friendship. My covenants lead me to try to see people as God sees them. I focus on service and Christ-like love. The shared experience of our faith knits our hearts together.

Day 9: Vows and Promises

1 Nephi 21

It’s no wonder Nephi loved these chapters from Isaiah. 1 Nephi 21/Isaiah 49 is chock full of the goodness of God. He is strong (v. 5); He is faithful (v. 7); He hears us, helps us, and preserves us (v. 8); He is merciful and will lead us to sustenance (v. 10); He comforts us (v. 13); He will not forget us (v. 15); He has graven us on the palms of His hands (v. 16); He will make us victorious over our enemies (v. 17). These tremendous promises by God to do all these things for us, His children, are confirmed in verse 18. God uses the phrasing of a vow or oath to formalize these promised blessings, “as I live, saith the Lord.” Because God is eternal, to swear by His life is like the ultimate promise. And He always keeps His promises.

This makes me want to do a better job keeping my word and teach my children how to keep promises. I’m going to review Sister Joy D. Jones’s talk “A Sin-Resistant Generation” from April 2017 General Conference.

Day 8: Happiness, Peace, Eternal Life

1 Nephi 20:17-19, 21-22

I love when Nephi recounts the miracles God performed for the children of Israel in the past and for Nephi’s family in the present. They were an essential reminder of several things, including evidence of God’s existence, proof of God’s goodness, and of how God always fulfills His promises to His covenant people. In chapter 20, Nephi records the words of Isaiah which follow this pattern.

As I read the concluding verses of 1 Nephi 20, a sort of parallel construction struck me. First, Isaiah testifies of the existence of the “Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” and some of His roles such as teacher and leader (v. 17). Then the Lord provides information about potential blessings that could have been available if the audience had been covenant keepers: peace and strength in righteousness, numberless posterity (v. 18-19). The turning point comes in verse 20 where “The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob” provides a sort of hinge. Verse 21 provides the evidence that the Lord has the power to fulfill the promises of verses 18-19: He led the children of Israel “through the deserts” and kept them alive in miraculous ways, like providing water from rocks. This miracle and others demonstrate God’s power and reliability. He always fulfills His promises, therefore we can believe His promises of peace and eternal life.

This setup is why verse 22 struck me so forcefully this time: “And notwithstanding he hath done all this, and greater also, there is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.” There is an irreducible truth to be gleaned here. Not even God, who has all power, goodness, truth, mercy, and knowledge can grant peace to the wicked. It is an eternal truth that happiness, peace, and eternal life can ONLY be granted on the conditions of repentance and obedience. ONLY covenant, commandment-keeping, righteous people fulfill the qualifications for these blessings. “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). God wants us to achieve lasting happiness, peace, and eternal life so He has instructed His prophets from the beginning of time to teach this eternal truth: happiness, peace, and eternal life ONLY result from keeping the commandments, making and keeping covenants with God, repenting, exercising faith in Jesus Christ, and following God.