God is merciful
May 1, 2016, 11:47 pm - James Farrer
It has struck me lately that God is incredibly merciful. This is largely a result of personal struggles I've had and has been, at least in part, distilled the last few days into a fairly concrete thought as I prepared and taught a lesson for church today.
Simply put, I've seen God's hand in my life recently and felt the cleansing power of the atonement. This even at times when I didn't see that mercy as fitting for my circumstances. Nonetheless, I am incredibly grateful for that mercy and the patience and love He has shown me this week, month, year, etc.
While reading Helaman 11 I was struck by the cycle of wickedness, rightousness, and wickedness that happened in the period of less than 10 years. We're talking significant changes in the level of rightousness in a society within a short few years for the same group of people.
This led me to realize how we all have periods of rightousness contrasted with periods of relative wickedness in our lives. Some of them span decades, some years, some months, some weeks, and some even days. Through all of this, as Elder Holland stated in the last General Conference, God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. He offers mercy and forgiveness even when we may not think we deserve it. But he sees our worth. He knows us. He loves us. He is arranging help for us through the growing process. We simply need to remember Him, do our best to keep the commandments and follow him, and then seek His help.
Before I consciously started preparing the lesson I shared today, I was struck by certain passages, thoughts, and events that led up to me being able to share a surprisingly coherent lesson accompanied by a strong and emotional testimony and a healthy dose of the Spirit.
I am grateful for God's constant love, guidance, and care in my life and hope and pray that I can live worthy for all of that to continue.
Recognizing God's hand in our daily blessings
February 2, 2016, 8:21 pm - James Farrer
Preface: This is my talk from church on Sunday. For our friends that aren't part of our church, members of the congregation are asked periodically to prepare talks or lessons to share from the pulpit during the main meeting and this week was our turn. More info here.
When was the last time you recognized God’s hand in your life? Today? Yesterday? In the last week? In the last month? In the last year?
So often God works by small and simple means. Are we watching for and recognizing those times in our day when God has a hand in it?
Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you”? (Matt 6:30) He has promised that we will be provided for and He knows what we need most.
It’s easy to get caught up in the thought that we aren’t being given what we need, whether economically, physically, spiritually, or otherwise. So often it is through the ongoing struggle that we are taught to consistently turn to Him for our succor.
Looking back over the last decade or so the part that God’s hand has had in my life has been increasingly coming into focus.
Early in my marriage and while I was still in college full-time and working part-time Shauna had just finished school and our oldest child, Abby, was about a year old. We were faced with a serious question of how to make ends meet. We were strapped for cash and health insurance costs were about to skyrocket and my paycheck wasn’t getting much bigger. I had another year or so of school left and things weren’t looking very good. We had tried really hard to do what we were supposed to and knew the timing of having kids and everything else up to that point was right but we had hit the end of our rope.
Fortunately for us God had a plan and we were taken care of. A full-time position was approved in the office I had been working in before school got out for the summer. They had been trying to get the position approved for years and it finally opened up. They had actually offered it to someone else who had turned it down. I found out about it, got the job, and everything fell into place with it providing just enough income for us to make ends meet along with the health and other benefits that we needed so I could finish school and take care of my family.
A while later we were again reaching a point where there was too much month at the end of the money. We weren’t sure what we were going to do to make ends meet and after many prayers a promotion came through that provided just the boost that we needed.
This happened several more times over the course of a few years as our family was growing and needs were changing and each time just when we really needed it a position came available or something else happened to allow us to take care of our needs. We rarely had much extra but we always had enough to be able to do those things that were most important.
A few years down the road and we were working towards buying our first home. We figured we had at least another year or two before we’d be able to do anything about it based on any reasonable look at our situation when Shauna and I both felt prompted that it was time to move. We weren’t expecting this and had no idea how we’d be able to pull it off but we decided to move forward and pursue it as far as we could and see what would come of it. That was a Sunday. The next day we started making phone calls and after a few days we started looking at homes. We quickly came across a small place that would meet our needs and we thought would be a stretch to get into if it was even possible. Even though it was still a construction zone it felt more like home than any place I’d ever home. We knew that was where we’d be moving and within a week of getting the prompting we had an offer on the new place.
It took an act of God (the prompting) and two acts of congress (state and federal for some grants) but we had some arrangements that we could make work. God knew the details would work out and we were able to go from a two bedroom apartment with 3 kids to a much improved situation in a 3 bedroom townhome that seemed to meet our needs just about right.
Little did we know that it wouldn’t be too long before we would be blessed with a fourth child and we would need that extra space. God knew what we would need and had already arranged the details to make sure we were provided for.
We had a similar experience when it came time to move here. I had changed jobs (another blessing just when we needed it) and I was working from home. But that meant that four kids, and two adults were crammed into our 3 bedroom townhouse. I was lucky enough to have a corner office...in the corner of our bedroom. We felt like we were busting at the seams but we did our best with the situation.
Again we thought we’d be ready in a year or two to buy a house and were working towards it, and again, God had a different plan for us. “Go find a house” was the impression we got. We went, not quite sure what we’d find or how we’d make it work. Through some ups and downs we ended up here in a great situation with a great ward and neighbors.
Similar to the time before, we wouldn’t have been ready if we were operating on our planned timetable. We were blessed with another baby and, just when we needed it, God had provided the room to welcome him into.
More recently Shauna and I were trying to arrange a time to go to the temple. It seemed at first that things just weren’t going our way. We couldn’t find a sitter and were about to give up when a seemingly unrelated church meeting got cancelled, which freed up a babysitter, which meant we could go to the temple that night. At first it seemed like a bit of good luck, but after a significant spiritual experience that night that led Shauna and I to know we would soon have another baby joining our family, we realized the hand God had in our lives that day. He knew where He wanted us to be and He made the arrangements.
When it comes to money, we’ve never had much extra, but we’ve always had what we needed. As I’ve reflected on this I frequently recall President Hinckley commenting in conference about how things always seem to just work out when you’re trying to do what’s right.
That’s not to say that life is always going to be bright and cheery. We all have our struggles. But sometimes it’s through our struggles over time that we learn the lessons best.
When Alma led the mission to the Zoramites and found many who had corrupted the gospel and had a rote prayer they would repeat up on their holy stand, the Rameumption. Those people wouldn’t listen, but the poor that had been cast out had been humbled and prepared to hear the truth through their struggles. As I’ve, time and again, turned to God for help with my questions and struggles he’s come through, though rarely on the timetable I had in mind.
God uses our challenges and weaknesses to teach us to rely on Him. Sometimes we need an occasional reminder and the challenge passes quickly, but often challenges are longer lasting.
Take the example of the Israelites. After miraculously leaving Egypt it took 40 years of relying daily on the Lord for Manna in the wilderness before they were blessed with their promised land.
Several years ago Elder D. Todd Christofferson shared an experience about some extended economic struggles he had. He said:
“Some time before I was called as a General Authority, I faced a personal economic challenge that persisted for several years. It ebbed and flowed in seriousness and urgency, but it never went away. At times this challenge threatened the welfare of my family, and I thought we might be facing financial ruin. I prayed for some miraculous intervention to deliver us. Although I offered that prayer many times with great sincerity and earnest desire, the answer in the end was no. Finally, I learned to pray as the Savior did: “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). I sought the Lord’s help with each tiny step along the way to a final resolution.
“There were times when I had exhausted all my resources, when I had nowhere and no one to turn to for help to meet the exigency before me. With no other recourse, more than once I fell down before my Heavenly Father, begging in tears for His help. And He did help. Sometimes it was nothing more than a sense of peace, a feeling of assurance that things would work out. I might not see how or what the path would be, but He gave me to know that, directly or indirectly, He would open a way. Circumstances might change, a new and helpful idea might come to mind, some unanticipated income or other resource might appear at just the right time. Somehow there was a resolution.
“Though I suffered then, I am grateful now that there was not a quick solution to my problem. The fact that I was forced to turn to God for help almost daily over an extended period of years taught me how to truly pray and get answers to prayer and taught me in a practical way to have faith in God. I came to know my Savior and my Heavenly Father in a way and to a degree that might not have happened otherwise or that might have taken me much longer. I learned that daily bread is a precious commodity. I learned that manna today could be as real as the physical manna of biblical history. I learned to trust in the Lord with all my heart. I learned to walk with Him day by day.” 1
Elder Vern P. Stanfill of the First Quorum of the Seventy taught us that: “When faced with questions or tempted to doubt, we should remember the spiritual blessings and feelings that have penetrated our hearts and lives in the past and place our faith in Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I am reminded of the counsel given in a familiar hymn: “Doubt not the Lord nor his goodness [for] we’ve proved him in days that are past.” To ignore and discount past spiritual experiences will distance us from God.” 2
On the other hand when we remember those blessings and points in the past where God had helped us, it gives us ability to more easily identify his hand in our lives today.
Elder Neil L. Andersen taught: “As evil increases in the world, there is a compensatory spiritual power for the righteous. As the world slides from its spiritual moorings, the Lord prepares the way for those who seek Him, offering them greater assurance, greater confirmation, and greater confidence in the spiritual direction they are traveling. The gift of the Holy Ghost becomes a brighter light in the emerging twilight.” 3
In other words God had promised that He will have a greater influence in our lives if we choose the right, keep the commandments, and follow God’s will. If we follow Moroni’s counsel at the end of the Book of Mormon to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been” to us, then we “may know the truth of all things” (Mor. 10:3,5) and we’ll be able to see God’s hand more clearly in our lives.
I pray that we will better learn to recognize God’s hand in our daily blessings, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
D. Todd Christofferson, “Recognizing God’s Hand in Our Daily Blessings”, Ensign, January 2012
Vern P. Stanfill, “Choose the Light”, October 2015 General Conference
Neil L. Andersen, “A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous” (Brigham Young University Education Week devotional, Aug. 18, 2015), speeches.byu.edu.