NT 13: Finding the Faith-promoting Narrative

As I read the story of the Gentile woman in Matthew 15 last week I felt tempted to approach the scriptures from a feeling of indignation. But that did not seem like a productive effort. To read the Gentile woman’s experience in Matthew 15:21–28 as solely an example of victimization is to perpetuate the historical narrative about women and reaffirm women’s victimhood––all without providing any deeper, faith-promoting insight. To only focus on one side of the story is to miss the beauty of the exchange. To only see the woman as a victim is to miss the manifestation of a strong, inspiring character.

There is so much good to learn from this story! The Gentile woman demonstrates incredible determination in pursuing a miracle from Jesus, even after the disciples have tried to get rid of her. She shows amazing faith by pursuing healing at the hands of someone with whom she had no social, cultural, or religious intercourse. Her motherhood shines as she pushes against socio-cultural norms to save her daughter’s life. Her wit excels as she accepts the appellation “dog” without reaction and turns it back to Jesus to again request the miracle within the context of His analogy. And you know how the story ends…she gets her miracle.

Though stories about women are comparatively few in the scriptures, the Gentile woman stands out to me as a story of strength and resilience. Over the years, women of faith, wit, and goodness have blessed my life in countless ways. Maybe that’s the new narrative we can write, one of women uplifting others, women carrying others’ burdens, women strengthening each other, women blessing humanity.

Can you think of time when your life has been blessed by a woman?
Can you think of opportunities in which you might be able to bless humanity?

 

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.

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.

Day 72: Labor exceedingly

3 Nephi 19:1-3

I find it so instructive and inspiring how the Nephites and Lamanites reacted to the appearance of Jesus Christ among them in the Americas. By chapter 19, Jesus has appeared and provided ample proof of His identity to the people (3 Nephi 11:1-17); instructed them (3 Nephi 11:28-41; 11:12-15); called and set apart disciples (3 Nephi 11:18-26); prophesied (3 Nephi 16); ministered to the children (3 Nephi 17:11-25); healed the sick (3 Nephi 17:7-10); instituted the sacrament (3 Nephi 18:1-12); and more. He ascends into heaven at the end of the day, promising to return the next day.

And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ascended into heaven, the multitude did disperse, and every man did take his wife and his children and did return to his own home.

And it was noised abroad among the people immediately, before it was yet dark, that the multitude had seen Jesus, and that he had ministered unto them, and that he would also show himself on the morrow unto the multitude. (3 Nephi 19:1-2)

The people who have already seen Jesus don’t just go home to bed. They spread the word eagerly across the land that Jesus has come and that He will come back the next day. This got me thinking: I have come to know the Savior in my own life through various experiences, scripture study, and prayer, but have I done my part to share that with others? Have I “noised abroad” all the good He has brought into my life? Have I made sure that my friends and family know where and how to find Jesus for themselves?

Yea, and even all the night it was noised abroad concerning Jesus; and insomuch did they send forth unto the people that there were many, yea, an exceedingly great number, did labor exceedingly all that night, that they might be on the morrow in the place where Jesus should show himself unto the multitude. (3 Nephi 19:3)

As I continue to learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, live it, and practice my religion daily, I think on the Nephites and Lamanites who did not see Jesus when He first appeared. They heard about the miraculous appearance after it had happened (at night) and many of them “did labor exceedingly all that night, that they might be on the morrow in the place where Jesus should show himself unto the multitude” (ibid.). Do I “labor exceedingly” to be in the places, doing the things, that will allow me to “meet the Savior,” to increase my knowledge and testimony of Jesus Christ? We know that prior to Christ’s arrival in the Americas, much of the infrastructure had been destroyed (e.g. roads, cities, etc.); I can only imagine that it was very difficult to travel from nearby regions, let alone from great distances. And, yet, the people heard that Jesus would be in Bountiful and they worked hard––through the night!––to get there in time.

I can follow the example of the Nephites and Lamanites. I can do a better job of sharing my testimony and knowledge of Jesus Christ with everyone. I can do better getting to the temple monthly, making time to study the scriptures, preparing Family Home Evening lessons, and researching the new family home study program. Just as the Nephites and Lamanites witnessed great miracles as a result of their diligent efforts to share and be where Jesus would be, we will experience great spiritual growth and witness miracles in our own lives.

Day 68: The Arm of Mercy

3 Nephi 9:3-14

While the death and destruction of 3 Nephi 9 are pretty devastating, I was struck by the Savior’s words as he speaks from heaven to the Nephites and Lamanites. In verses 3-11, Christ names specific cities, describes their destruction and the reasons for it. The Savior was intimately aware of even the minute details of people’s lives, behavior, actions, geographic location, and more. And despite all of the wickedness, despite the ways in which the people rejected Christ and His prophets, He invites them “we ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? … Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you” (3 Nephi 9:13-14).

Have you ever carried an emotional, spiritual, or other weight around with you for a while, long enough that you have forgotten what it’s like to live without that weight on your shoulders? I have. I also know the relief and freedom of finally having that burden lifted, realizing what I have lost while carrying it around, and rejoicing in my new freedom. This is what it’s like when the Savior heals you. Sins weigh us down, whether or not we recognize it in the moment. When we repent and seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ, those spiritual burdens will be removed; the difference will be stark.

No matter what you’ve done, the Savior is eager to help you repent and heal you. He has satisfied the demands of justice and, if you turn to Him for help, He can apply mercy. And He will heal you.

Day 67: Season of Miracles

3 Nephi 7:15-21 and 3 Nephi 8:1

As I read these verses today, I reflected on President Russell M. Nelson’s prophetic invitation to the women of the Church during October General Conference. In extending the invitations to fast from social media, read the entire Book of Mormon by the end of the year, establish a pattern of regular temple attendance, and fully participate in Relief Society, President Nelson promised an increase of spiritual power in our lives. As President Nelson suggested, miracles can happen when we turn to Jesus Christ.

The prophet Nephi (the third) demonstrates in 3 Nephi 7 and 8 how this process works. Nephi lived during a tumultuous time in Book of Mormon history. Large numbers of people were converted to Jesus Christ, then turned to wickedness quickly and en masse. Some converted back. The government was overthrown; society made a huge shift in its basic organization. Nephi had his work cut out for him preaching repentance, prophesying of Christ’s anticipated death and resurrection, and trying to ready the people to meet their Savior.

Nephi had incredible access to God’s power in the midst of this upheaval. He ministered “with power and with great authority” (3 Nephi 7:17). He testified boldly and diligently. “[S]o great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily” (3 Nephi 7:18). Everything he did––casting out “devils and unclean spirits,” raising his brother from the dead, and many more––he did “in the name of Jesus” (3 Nephi 7:19-20). The key to working miracles? Faith in Jesus Christ, and spiritual purity. “[A]nd there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity” (3 Nephi 8:1).

The invitations President Nelson extended will bring God’s power and influence into our lives because those activities not only draw us closer to the Savior but they also cleanse us spiritually. During this season of miracles, let’s identify ways in which we can improve our spiritual health so that we can work miracles in the lives of those around us.

Day 41: Silver Linings

Alma 20:29

In Alma 20:29 we learn of the intense suffering of Ammon’s brother Aaron and some of his mission companions. After trying to teach different communities of Lamanites and being harshly rejected, the group ended up in prison where they experienced “hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions.” “All kinds of afflictions.” We each know what it is like to suffer. Whether disappointment, chronic pain, abuse, uncertainty, fear, afflictions hound our mortal lives.

The circumstances of Aaron’s imprisonment and release put me in mind of a phrase from the Doctrine and Covenants: “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). The Lord turned a terrible experience for Aaron and his companions to great good for King Lamoni and his father. Lamoni became an independent ruler and was able to proclaim religious freedom in his land. Aaron and his companions were able to teach King Lamoni’s father, help him repent, and then aid him in establishing Christ’s church among his people. Aaron and his brethren eventually “brought many to the knowledge of the truth” (Alma 21:17). If you look at the sequence of events in Alma 19-20, you can see the Lord’s hand.

I don’t want to minimize anyone’s suffering. But I do want infuse hope into your experience. The Lord promises that if you “[s]earch diligently, pray always, and be believing…[and] walk uprightly and remember” your covenants, “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). Remember that the Lord is bound by His promises. When we keep the commandments and fulfill our covenants, the Lord can open the windows of heaven. If we will be “patient in all [our] sufferings” like Aaron and his brethren, we can move forward with our lives, trusting in the Lord to turn even the worst suffering into great good. No experience will be wasted. He is a God of miracles who will transform all suffering, all sorrow, ALL afflictions into something of great worth that will be for your good.