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 51: Building Your Spiritual Defenses

Alma 50:1-6

Yesterday I was reading another blogger’s reflections on putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:14-17, NT). Putting on the armor of God isn’t a new concept to Christians and the need to take defensive spiritual measures is increasingly important in today’s world. It reminded me of a direct corollary in Alma 50, where Captain Moroni carefully fortifies not just the Nephites’ weakest or most strategically prone cities but “every city in all the land” (Alma 50:6).

Moroni’s vision for city defenses expanded well beyond increasing the size of a city guard or building taller walls. First, the army built earth works around every city upon which they constructed “works of timbers built up to the height of a man” (v. 2). Then they built “a frame of pickets” that was “strong and high” (v. 3). Finally, they built secure towers that could serve as protection as well as provide strategic positioning for armed response (v. 4-5). In several instances, the Lamanites were so taken aback by the fortitude of Moroni’s defenses that they ran away rather than risk sure defeat (Alma 49:4-11).

Just as we can put on “the breastplate of righteousness,” gird our loins about with truth, dress our feet with the Gospel, shield ourselves with faith, wear the helmet of salvation, and wield “the sword of the Spirit,” we can build significant spiritual defenses for ourselves and our families. If we (and our families) are the city, what initial activities build our spiritual life and foundation? What daily, weekly, and monthly practices can act like the earthworks, timbers, and pickets to strengthen our testimonies and conversion to Christ? Who can provide additional defense and act as resources to help us on our journey through life?

In one area on my mission we found and used a handy visual aid for teaching the principle of personal spiritual defenses. (NB. I can’t take credit for this visual aid; another missionary had left it behind.)

Alma 50 Visual Aid

Our initial spiritual defenses include Baptism by Immersion by proper authority, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, temple ordinances, and access to priesthood. We fortify ourselves with daily prayer, scripture study, repentance, and the exercise of faith. Consistent obedience to the commandments, regular fasting, participation in missionary work, and service to others increase spiritual strength and resistance to temptation. The support of parents (family), teachers, Bishops (local Church leaders), and the guidance of living prophets and apostles provide additional critical defense in the form of warnings, counsel, and encouragement.

To parody Alma 50:6, “Thus [we can] prepare strongholds against the coming of [our] enemies.” Whether we’re shoring up against a known personal weakness or fortifying ourselves against Satan’s standard but relentless attacks, we can apply Moroni’s example of thorough defense to ourselves and our families.