It is human nature to look for the Magic Formula. Most of us are on the prowl for something that will change everything, making us slimmer, happier, richer, and more effective.
God has given us three keys. They change everything.
Vibrant faith in the Lord Jesus Christ changes our understanding of everything.
Sister Francine Bennion tells a story that continues to bless my life:
For the Dominion Day celebration in July, my parents and some friends arranged to meet in the afternoon for a picnic at Park Lake. My family and two others arrived first. Camp kitchens were filling fast, and we needed a stove for hamburgers and hotdogs. The men stayed at the entrance of the park to meet our other friends, and under a darkening sky the mothers and children walked some distance round the lake to a three-walled rectangular shelter complete with roof, two wooden tables, and a metal-covered cement stove for wood fires. A violent thunderstorm came up, splits and rumbles shaking the universe and us with light, sound, and finally a deluge. Under the sheltering roof we huddled in wonder, till an astonishing clap of brilliance, tingle, shaking, and smell came all together: lightning down the chimney and exploded our stove. Pieces of cement flew into bare arms, children were thrown against walls, purple-brown lines streaked down necks to ankles, and I ran out into rain and tall wet weeds screaming my question: “I thought Heavenly Father would take care of us?”
Let me interrupt Sister Bennion’s story. Often we humans ask ourselves “Why doesn’t He fix this or prevent that?” We face disappointments and pain. Anger grows, bitterness rules, faith wilts. Satan encourages our growing despair.
Continuing with her story:
No one was dead or permanently damaged, and my mother came into the rain answering me, “What do you think He did?” (p.108 in Bennion, Francine (1986). A large and reasonable context. In P. L. Barlow (Ed.), A thoughtful faith: Essays on belief by Mormon scholars, pp.103-116, Centerville, UT: Canon Press.)
I love the mother’s question! It suggests that, even in difficulties, God is protecting us from disaster. He is only allowing enough trials through to remind us of our desperate need for Him. Through the eyes of faith we see that God is providing exactly the challenges and blessings needed to perfect me.
We may shake our fists at heaven or we may thank Father for protecting us, blessing us, and teaching us!
In thousands of ways, Life blesses AND challenges us. Nancy and I have suffered unnumbered miscarriages. Some struggle with involuntary singleness. Some wrestle with same-sex attraction. Some are plagued by too much sexual attraction. Some are feeling the effects of poor parenting, dyslexia, chemical imbalance . . . we cannot number all the challenges that face the occupants of earth. What is certain is that each of us has different and customized challenges.
The faith that will help us turn the challenges into blessings is not thin, flavorless gruel. Faith is sterner stuff. It is the stubborn resolve to see God’s goodness in everything that happens. When God invites us to “receive all things with thankfulness” (D&C 78:19), I’m sure He is inviting us to welcome even the difficulties of life. They are designed to bless us—which we will only comprehend as we see them through the eyes of faith.
Repentance changes our relationships with God and His children . . . and prepares us for the great change!
I’m embarrassed to remember all the unkind things I did as a child. I teased my sister and tormented my brother. I snuck candy and Jell-O powder from the pantry. Of course I worked very hard to avoid detection of my misdeeds. If caught, Mom might put me in timeout. When she caught me saying something smart-alecky, she applied cayenne pepper to my tongue. (An unintended side-effect is that I love Mexican food!)
I thought of repentance as nasty and embarrassing business. The mark of success was to get what you wanted without being caught. I wish I had understood repentance as taught by a reactivated and re-energized Amulek:
And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. (Alma 34:15)
“Faith unto repentance.” The phrase used to bother me. I did not understand it. Now I love it! I think it means that we trust God enough to bring our messed-up lives to Him. Rather than hide from Him, we run to Him asking for cleansing and renewal.
Continuing with Amulek:
And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.
Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you. (Alma 34:16-17)
Alma was a great model of repenting (See Mosiah 27 and Alma 36). He shows us that repentance is not a dreary, miserable business; it is liberating!
God has gone so far as to institutionalize repentance. He invites us to a weekly rendezvous with Him at the sacrament table. In partaking of the sacrament we enter into covenant. We renew the sacred pledge made at baptism.
God invites us to come boldly to the throne of grace so that we can find mercy and grace to help in time of need (See Hebrews 4:16). The 20 minutes during which we sing His praises and renew our covenants may be the most important minutes of our lives! That is when we repent and are renewed by Him. What a glorious invitation! Our weeks should revolve around that sacred opportunity to be renewed. We should run to His open arms weekly.
The Holy Ghost teaches us truth, burns out sin, and facilitates the great change: making us new creatures in Christ.
I have a letter from 1892 that my great-grandfather Ben wrote to his son while serving a 3 ½ year mission to the Maori people of New Zealand. In the letter Ben writes words of love and counsel to his 12-year-old son. I cherish that yellowed and brittle letter among my most prized possessions. It hangs in a shadowbox on the wall of my office.
I have wondered whether I cherish messages from heaven as faithfully as I do the aged letter between my ancestors. When God sends a message to me by way of His Holy Spirit, do I pay careful attention to it? Do I record it? Do I reflect on its meaning? Do I make my decisions and guide my life by it?
Pres Eyring in his great General Conference talk “O Remember, Remember” offered a challenging invitation:
Tonight, and tomorrow night, you might pray and ponder, asking the questions: Did God send a message that was just for me? Did I see His hand in my life or the lives of my [friends and family]? I will do that. And then I will find a way to preserve that memory for the day that I, and those that I love, will need to remember how much God loves us and how much we need Him. I testify that He loves us and blesses us, more than most of us have yet recognized. I know that is true, and it brings me joy to remember Him. (Henry B. Eyring, “O Remember, Remember,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 66–69)
I keep a little journal with me all the time in which I make a note of heavenly whisperings. I don’t record routine doings. This journal is reserved for the things of my soul.
I find that God teaches me more and more as I better use what He has already given me. “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28:30)
One of the great tributes to God’s redemptiveness is the reality that, when the Holy Ghost visits us, He not only teaches us, He comforts us, and He cleanses us! Just as we might have expected of a messenger from God: He magnifies His calling to bless us in every way imaginable!
The three “simple” principles that we learned in Primary can change us in adulthood. The first principles are also the last principles. And the everywhere-in-between principles. They are principles with the power to help us deal with any challenge in mortality. We trust his never-failing goodness. We allow His peace to fill us. We turn our pains, failings, and disappointments over to Him. We welcome His counsel. We embrace His purposes.
God has given us the magic formula that changes everything.
* This article is a revision of a talk given to a YSA gathering in American Fork on June 7, 2008.