The faith to move mountains

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The purpose of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is to change us. In the words of the scriptures we are to become a “new creature” (Mosiah 27:26; see also 2 Corinthians 5: 17; and Galatians 6:15) in Christ. This process of becoming a new creature is best illustrated in The Book of Mormon following King Benjamin’s discourse. The people who heard this last sermon went through the sanctification process; they humbled themselves and prayed the atoning blood of Christ would take effect in their lives. The Holy Ghost came upon them and filled them with joy; they experienced a change of heart and had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). This isn’t a one-time event but is something that needs to be constantly developed. 

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? (Alma 5:26). 

This continual and ongoing renewal reflects the importance of developing the lifelong relationships with Christ and the Holy Ghost. Only through their influence can a person hope to become a new creature and receive salvation. Parley P. Pratt once described the process of becoming a new creature/receiving sanctification, the Holy Ghost:

…quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. [He] inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. [He] inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. [He] develops beauty of person, form, and features. [He] tends to health, vigour, animation, and social feeling. [He] invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. [He] strengthens and gives tone to the nerves. In short, [he] is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being (Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology , 61).

It is not just a passive process, but one where ‘bad’ qualities are replaced with Christlike characteristics. This new birth and it’s continued renewal has been called many things- perhaps most recently it has been described as the covenant path. This is an important understanding and one that should not be glossed over, but as I think about the process, the phrase that sticks most in my mind is that of discipleship. A call to follow Christ is a call to discipleship. Discipleship is an ongoing process in each of our lives as we strive to live as the Saviour lived and draw close to him. 

Alongside my identity as a child of God, my identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a central aspect of who I am. Being in a relationship with Him enables me to be find purpose in my life. In reflecting on my discipleship I was reminded of the words of Dieter F. Uchtdorf:

…it is not enough merely to speak of Jesus Christ or proclaim that we are His disciples. It is not enough to surround ourselves with symbols of our religion. Discipleship is not a spectator sport.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we put Christ first in our lives. In every aspect of our lives we stand as a witness of Christ.  We stand in is stead; do what he would do, say what he would say and place him at the front and centre of everything we do. We place him, and our relationship with him, before everyone and everything else. This may seem a bold statement to make, but it echoes President Joseph Fielding Smith:

Who should we love above everything else in the world? … The Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Love him more than we do our own lives, or our own fathers and mothers or children; … because without his blessings we would have nothing (Take Heed to Yourselves, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971, page 296).

How is that possible? Surely it is impossible to love anybody more than we love our spouse and children. I remember pondering on the quote, and praying that I could have an understanding of such an instruction. I then heard wonderful instruction, that as we love the Saviour our capacity to love other people so much more. Loving Jesus enables me to have a deeper and more abiding love for all those people around me. At a very basic level, I am able to love my family longer (for eternity) as I place the Saviour in the forefront on my life. However, the quality and expression of my love becomes so much more sincere and deeper as I focus on the Saviour. This love is not just limited to our families, our ability to love others and show that love is enhanced.

As we see the transformational power of the Saviour, his atonement, and of our relationship with the Holy Ghost in our lives we begin to recognise the power of each of these to transform every aspect of our lives, not just the Churchy bits. As I think about the power of discipleship in our lives, it is also the power of faith. In our recent General Conference, President Nelson highlighted this power in our lives:

Alma asks us simply to experiment upon the word and “exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if [we] can no more than desire to believe.” The phrase “particle of faith” reminds me of the Lord’s biblical promise that if we “have faith as a grain of mustard seed,” we shall be able to “say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto [us].”

It’s interesting that when I Googled ‘faith to move mountains’ every result I found highlighted the fact that the Saviour was being metaphorical- and he was, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. We read in Ether 12:30:

For the brother of Jared said unto the mountain Zerin, Remove—and it was removed. And if he had not had faith it would not have moved; wherefore thou workest after men have faith.

For me, this adds power to the metaphor- there isn’t anything so big as a mountain in our lives, and if a literal mountain can be moved through faith in, and discipleship of, the Lord Jesus Christ, then the metaphorical ones shouldn’t be an issue for the Saviour in our lives. I do not know what your mountains are, and they could be physical, emotional, spiritual, mental. For each of these, while we must seek the appropriate professional help, there is also hope available through the atonement of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

One of my favourite examples of the importance of hope is found in the memoirs of Rabbi Hugo Gryn. 

As I light the menorah in my comfortable London home, surrounded by our children, the oldest of whom is getting married tomorrow, I go back to Chanukah forty-two years ago, the bitter, cold winter of 1944, to a miserable Nazi concentration camp called Lieberose in Silesia. From our less-than-meagre rations we saved our margarine, from bits of wood carved out bowls for oil lamps, and out of blanket and uniform threads fashioned wicks of a sort. Then on the first night of Chanukah, in our crowded barrack-room (Block 4 it was), the melted fat in its place, we sang the blessings about God’s miraculous saving power. And then disaster! Margarine  does not burn! It just fizzled out. 

And my anger over precious and seemingly wasted calories, and the less than good-natured teasing of non-Jewish fellow prisoners. Though I was then a middle-aged 14-year-old, I burst into tears. My father, who also saved his rations, and whose idea the celebration was in the first place, and without whose support I would certainly not be alive to tell this tale, tried to comfort me.

‘You and I,’ he said, ‘have seen that it is possible to live as long as three weeks without food. We once lived almost three days without water. But you cannot live properly for three minutes without hope!’

The idea that we ‘cannot live properly for three minutes without hope’ has been the catalyst for much study and prayer in recent weeks. The celebration of Chanukah is the Jewish festival of light, where a candle is lit each evening. This fire, this light, in the Old Testament times was and is a symbol of God’s presence. We recognise, that even in the darkest times we can find the presence of God, the light of Christ, the Holy Ghost that will give us hope for our current circumstance and for the future.

As I think of this hope, this faith that we can all find in our lives I am led to leave the theoretical and consider: “What is one of my mountains?” Although there are people here who have known me for well over thirty years, there is one thing that only a couple of people know about me and I’m going to share that with you. I suffer from imposter syndrome, I used to think it was shyness, but it is more insecurities and anxieties. I live my life worried that someone is going to expose me as a fraud- someone is going to discover one day that I can’t do all the things that I suggest I can. Somehow, I have blagged my way through life, and really I’m a big fraud. I know logically this is ridiculous, but this does not stop me thinking that I’m rubbish, or that I’m not worth the nice things that are sometimes said about me. 

Let me share with you how faith and discipleship has helped me move this mountain a short distance, I think it’s important to realise the mountain isn’t quite out of my line of sight yet. Over the last twenty years while I have served as Bishop or in other callings, the passage of scripture I have turned to the most in my interviews has been Alma 7:

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succour his people according to their infirmities (vv 11-12)..

As a Bishop I often used this passage of scripture to talk about the blessings that the atonement brings outside of forgiveness of sins. That all the pains and sicknesses are taken up through the Saviour’s love, as I reflect on my own mountain I recognise that the atonement can remove these feelings of inadequacy. 

But it is only recently that I came across another scripture that caused me, as Joseph Smith, to reflect on it again and again:

And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel. And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true (Mosiah 4:11-12).

If I want, not just my sins, but my feelings of inadequacy to disappear then I must turn to the Saviour. As we turn to the Saviour and understand who we are, and who he is can we hope to find peace in our lives. We can recognise our relationship to God, as expressed by Elder Uchtdorf:

This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.

It is not enough, however, to just have a logical knowledge of these things; as Elder Uchtdorf mentioned ‘discipleship is not a spectator sport’. I have to allow these truths to sink deep into my heart and to act on them. It takes conscious effort most of the time to remind myself of this, but I have experienced and live in hope that it becomes a natural part of who I am, to allow this knowledge to unconsciously affect every aspect of my life.

With regard to the faith to move mountains there is a saying that I often think about when I read this:

            If you ask the Lord to move a mountain, don’t be surprised if he hands you a spade.

Again, this is not to be taken literally, nor are we expected to move a mountain a spade at a time, rather that the important truth that we should: “Pray as though everything depended on God; work as though everything depended on you” (attributed to St. Augustine). This mountain isn’t something new, I remember these feelings of inadequacy as a teenager, as a missionary and when I returned home. The ways I have managed to allow these truths to sink deep into my heart and begin to transform these weaknesses into strengths have all been rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are linked with another talk that President Nelson gave at Conference. He shared:

Adversity is a great teacher. What have you learned in the past two years that you always want to remember? Your answers will be unique to you, but may I suggest four lessons I hope we have all learned and will never forget.

I’m going to use these four to highlight how these acts of faith have strengthened me over the years, but I am going to tweak them and their order slightly to suit my situation. I hope that they can help you understand how to allow yourself to continue to be transformed through your faith in Christ and your discipleship of Him.

We Hear Jesus Christ Better When We Are Still

We must take opportunities in our lives each day to ‘Be still’ and commune with God. As already explored, our most important relationships are with the Godhead. As I have studied, prayed and striven to emulate my Saviour, I have found myself in greater abundance. The scriptures promise us that through giving our all to the Lord, we will be blessed:

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Luke 9:23-24).

What this has meant for me, is that I take this time in study, prayer and worship. Whether that is in the home, the chapel or the Temple.

The Home Is the Centre of Faith and Worship

If I think about how I have managed to move the mountains in my life, and this one in particular I have been blessed with the love and support of my family. Our home, while far from perfect, is built on Gospel principles. We begin each day with a prayer and scripture. We share meals and discussions together. We attend the Temple together. Most of all, it is a place where I can experience and express Christlike love in all its purity. As I visit people’s homes I often leave with a variant of the prayer that the home can be a refuge. If we create a home where the living of the Gospel can flourish then we can face any storm in our lives. Through my relationships with each member of my family I recognise the love that they have for me, and as such I realise that maybe I’m more than I think of myself. 

We Need Each Other

Central to my understanding of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is all about relationships. Our relationship with God, our relationship with our family and our relationship with those around us. John Donne suggested that ‘No man is an island’. I am sometimes tempted to place myself on that island- maybe in a ward activity I’ll be found washing up because it’s less awkward to start conversations. We each need to be the strength that we can be to one another. Sometimes we fall short in our relationships with others; we might not reach out as much as we should- but if we experience that we need to be charitable and recognise that it may be more of an indication of where the other person is, rather than their feelings for you. We can’t get through this life alone, we must surround ourselves with people who encourage us to rise to the best that is within us, and in terms of ourselves we need to be such for others:

Next to a sense of kinship with God comes the helpfulness, encouragement, and inspiration of friends. Friendship is a sacred possession. As air, water and sunshine to flowers, trees, and verdure, so smiles, sympathy and love of friends to the daily life of man. To live, laugh, love one’s friends, and be loved by them is to bask in the sunshine of life (David O. McKay).

Your Membership in the Church  Is Meant for More Than Just a Meeting

The greatest opportunities for me to step outside of myself and focus on others has come through my service in the Church. Sometimes if we have mountains in our lives we can be tempted to step back from service. I remember my first year of service as a Bishop as a 24 year old. The ward went through a couple of months where a number of people died. The first was a stillborn child at whose funeral I was asked to both officiate and speak. Half an hour after the little boy’s birth I was at his mum and dad’s bedside as they cradled this little boy who seemed to be resting peacefully. This period of time was a busy one for me as I visited relatives and performed funerals. However, through the service I was able to give I felt a closeness to the Saviour I had never felt before. I knew it was because I was acting in his stead and standing as a witness of him. During these times of service I have often had some challenges in my life, but living as a disciple of Christ enabled me to find comfort, strength and solace as I served.

In exploring those four steps I haven’t really mentioned my mountain- but each one of those opportunities has helped me look outward to Christ, my family and others. As such through these acts of discipleship I am able to more fully see who I am. And who am I? I think a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains this most clearly:

Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my  cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which others tell me, or am I only what I know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is it something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.

In considering our faith to move mountains, who I am is God’s. Wholly and completely. By being his I can love more and be more.