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Last week we had a great conversation in church about Lehi’s Vision in the Book of Mormon.  For those not familiar with the vision, you can find all the details of the vision in 1 Nephi chapters 8 and 11.

In the vision, there is a part where mists of darkness arise around people who are striving to reach a tree with fruit that is most desirable and fills ones soul with joy.  The tree, according to scripture, represents the love of God.

In the Church, I feel that when we discuss the mists of darkness that arise in Lehi’s dream, we often correlate that with temptations, sins, and distractions from Satan that take us off of our path to God and to wayward paths.

However, last week, as we discussed and read about the dream, I thought about times in my life when I have literally had mists of darkness arise when experiencing depression or discouragement.  I’ll paraphrase one experience that I wrote about in the book Discovering Light:

There was one day while I was experiencing extreme depression and doubt.  I was driving in the rain and crying from the heavy weight that I was feeling.  Thoughts were swirling around in my mind and I pulled over and offered a mighty prayer in desperation, asking God to intervene.

Within a couple of minutes, my Grandfather called me, out of the blue.  Hearing his voice as he said “my boy!” immediately snapped me out of my downward spiral of negative thinking and I smiled as I remembered the fun times I had with him growing up next door.  Images of riding horses together, working together, singing together, etc. came into my mind.

I shared with him my emotional state and how depressed I felt.  He opened up to me and shared with me how intimately he understood my situation and shared some very personal experiences of a time when he was depressed right after my Grandmother had passed away.

He then shared his testimony of how God carried him and helped him through and he knew God would do that for me too.  This conversation gave me hope for that day and was a testimony to me that not only did my Grandfather care for me, but my Heavenly Father did as well and had sent Grandpa as an angel to rescue me.

 

This experience reminds me of something Russell M Nelson, from the Quorum of the 12 Apostles recently wrote in his book “Accomplishing the Impossible”.  He writes:

…angels are at work. Often our members are “angels” to neighbors in need. Home teachers and visiting teachers, as ordinary people, frequently render service that seems angelic to grateful recipients….I am among the many who have often referred to the loving acts of an “angel mother” or an “angel wife,” or the priceless love of “angel children”.

Do we believe in angels? Yes! We believe in angels-heavenly messengers-seen and unseen; and earthly angels who know whom to help and how to help.  Gospel messengers, or angels, can include ordinary people like you and me (pg 25).

 

I’ll forever be grateful for my Grandfather who was close to the Spirit and listened to a prompting from God and acted as an angel to my prayer when I was in the middle of a “mist of darkness”.

From personal experience, I know that darkness, doubt, and depression can be overpowering and make one feel like it is impossible to accomplish the task of even getting through another day.  I know that with God’s help, we can all accomplish the impossible to either have strength to hold on while we are experiencing “mists of darkness” and eventually make it through.

One of life’s important questions is “Who am I?” But even more important is “Who am I becoming?” to answer that question satisfactorily, we must keep one eye on where we are and the other eye on where we will be.  Most people don’t do that.  They have one eye on where they have been and one eye on where they are now…If you are determined to change and to live a life above and beyond average, know that you need to do things differently as you look ahead…(John C Maxwell, pg 192-193 Sometimes you Win, Sometimes you Learn)

I like this quote.  The other day, I was with a friend who is struggling with some set-backs in life and we had a conversation surrounding not comparing ourselves to other people-including who we once were.  Rather, looking at where we are now and then looking forward to who God wants us to become.

There is a great scripture in Doctrine and Covenants that teaches this principle.  It reads:

And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. (D&C 88:67)

According to this, looking ahead means looking towards God’s glory.  If our focus is single to His glory, then we’ll be filled with light and be able to comprehend all things-including who we are and who we can become.

There is another scripture that discusses what God’s glory is.  It is in the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price and reads:

For behold, this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39)

If God’s glory is man’s eternal life, what do you think it means to have our eyes single to His glory, and what are the blessings for doing so?

1 Peter 3:15 discusses the importance of always being ready to share our testimonies of the gospel of Christ.

That time came for me unexpectedly (which it usually does).

We are getting ready to paint our house and I have had painters over the past few days coming over to give us quotes on pricing.

The other day, the doorbell rang and there was a clean-cut young man standing there.  His image was much different than the last painter who came 1/2 hour late and who clearly was suffering from a hangover.  This young man was punctual and actually dressed nicely.  More importantly, he was friendly and very professional as he assessed the property, making small conversation and asking the right questions.  He was also very thorough in his process of putting a proposal together.

While he was putting together a few scenarios for me, we discussed his goals in life.  I learned that he was preparing to go to college.  We discussed this for awhile and it came up that I had gone to BYU.  At this point he seemed a little interested and asked me about my experience there.  I told him about what I had majored in and what I had learned.

He went on to tell me that he used to attend the Mormon church until he was 15 when his parents were divorced.  He decided to move up from Nevada to the Seattle area with his mom, where he didn’t feel he had the support he needed or friends at church, so he fell away.

Immediately I had a lot of questions in my mind such as: by falling away does he mean falling away from God or the Mormon Church?  How has his life been since falling away?  Is he considering coming back?

However, since we were in a business situation and I also had a meeting I needed to get to, I didn’t delve deeper into the conversation.

When he left, I felt the need to help him and wondered if I made the right decision in that moment, or if I should have dug a bit deeper.

What would you have done?

If you are like me, there have been times in your life when you have prayed for an answer over and over and it appears that no one is listening.  Sometimes you may wonder if there is even a God at all.  Sometimes you may wonder if the Divine experiences and revelations you have received were something contrived by your own mind, or not.  Some may feel they haven’t ever felt God’s love in their life due to terrible circumstances. If you feel that God isn’t answering your prayers, ther is a great talk by Neal A Maxwell, former Mormon apostle: “Thanks be to God“.

Here’s an excerpt taken from the talk:

Yes, even in our prayers, we can, unintentionally, ask “amiss.” (2 Ne. 4:35.) No wonder humility is such an everlasting virtue. For us to accept God’s “No” as an affirmative indication of his love—rather than a lack thereof—and as a signal that we have asked amiss, this is true humility!

How often have you and I in our provincialism prayed to see ahead and, mercifully, have been refused, lest our view of the present be blurred?

How many times have we been blessed by not having our prayers answered, at least according to the specifications set forth in our petitions?

How many times have frustrating, even gruelling, experiences from which we have sought relief turned out, later on, to have been part of a necessary preparation which led to much more happiness?

“And now when Alma heard this … he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word.” (Alma 32:6; italics added.)

How many times have we impatiently expressed our discontent with seemingly ordinary and routine circumstances which were divinely designed, shaping circumstances for which, later on, we were very grateful? Alas, have there perhaps not also been those times when we have been grumpy with God or, unlike Job, even “charged God foolishly”? (Job 1:22.) How many times, naively, have we vigorously protested while on our way to a blessing?

Therefore, our faith in and thanksgiving for Heavenly Father, so far as this mortal experience is concerned, consists—not simply of a faith and gladness that he exists—but also includes faith and thanksgiving for his tutoring of us to aid our acquisition of needed attributes and experiences while we are in mortality. We trust not only the Designer but also his design of life itself—including our portion thereof!

I really like this quote because many times in my life I’ve prayed for something I think I wanted and God was patiently waiting for me to be ready to receive it. 

For example, I prayed for a number of years to meet a good lady to marry and start a family with.  However, whenever I met a lady who I thought would be good, I felt God was telling me to wait.  Sometimes I would try and force a relationship against the will of God and of course the relationship wouldn’t work.  It wasn’t until I humbled myself and realized I had some personal issues with feelings of abandonment and anxiety that I needed to overcome that I realized God was being merciful to me (and the girls I had been trying to force things with) by not giving me the “green light” so to speak to get into a serious relationship.  After I had dealt with overoming my feelings of anxiety, depression, and abandonment (which you can read more about in detail here), did God place a lady in my life.

What experiences have you had with feeling that God wasn’t answering your prayers, only to find that He really was listening?

 

Today I became somewhat reminiscant of my thoughts and feelings 10 years ago during the tragic events of 9/11.  At the time, I worked for the grounds crew at BYU and rather than taking the lawn mowers out that morning, we huddled around the radio and heard the tragic news of the airplanes crashing into buildings.

Personally, I felt hollow and empty and amazed.  Later, I felt angry, helpless, and ultimately united.  I felt united with my fellow Americans as we united on many levels.  We united in a mix of emotions, but ultimately, for a few months after the events, we united in a belief in God.  In fact, some studies state that after 9/11 events, 90% of Americans identified belief in God and religion as a good thing.

Today, I personally believe that we have strayed away from this unification as a Nation under God.  In fact, we seem more divided and things seem more chaotic as we struggle with economic and financial stress as a nation and our leaders seem to shy away from openly recognizing God in rhetoric.

It reminds me of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon who were united in Christ for 400 years after Christ’s visit to them but as they became more wealthy and self-sufficient they strayed from God and were ultimately destroyed.  I fear that if we do not remember God as a nation, we will also be destroyed and we may already be decaying slowly with the debt issues, etc. we’re having.

I pray that as we reflect on 9/11 that we also reflect on the feelings of unification we all felt as we were united under God after the events of 9/11.

I recieved the following message from a reader the other day:

Dear Friend,

I liked reading your letter on God and receiving his message through understanding of God´s manner of speaking.
I have been reading very much and watching Daystar programs considerably. All of these things are interesting but the more I read the Bible and meditate, pray, and listen for that voice of God— the farther and farther from understanding anything it seems.

If I continue to understand less and less as there is so much contradiction, the natural process would be to become an athiest. Something I am not hoping for.

But my simple and nieve question is– If God can do anything, why can´t he communicate with us?

After all that silly business of speaking in tongues is accepted as real and I think is nonsense. Is that God speaking to us?
I wish I could find some message that felt like it really represented our relation to God, if there is indeed a relation.

I have written about this in previous articles throughout the years.  Most notably Discerning between God Speaking and our Own Desires, and Receiving and Recognizing Answers to Prayers.  In these articles, I address various ways to understand God and how He has spoken to me.

I feel that it would be beneficial for the reader to see other people’s responses though rather than just mine.  Take some time to pray and ask God to help this reader before you respond.  I have faith it will help him.

Thanks for your help!

Periodically I read the blog Musings on Mormonism.  It is a blog from a former LDS member who is juggling family and spirituality and posts blogs that for the most part appear to be sincere.

The other day I read the post entitled “Can our Hearts be Trusted“.   She describes how praying and receiving an answer from God isn’t legitimate because our hearts can decieve us.  She then goes on to state the only thing we can trust is God’s word and nothing else.

This statement was very amazing to me for a number of reasons.  First, how are we to know God’s word if we can’t recognize and discern his voice?  Next, in my opinion it is borderline blasphemy to say that God can’t answer prayers and speak to our hearts through not only feelings, but in our minds and through scriptures as well.  Finally, I feel that it is a tool from Satan to deceive us into thinking that we do not need to pay attention to the feelings and promptings God gives us.  It states in scripture that God speaks to us in our minds and in our hearts through feelings, visions, scriptures, and other means such as prophecy.

The question then is how do we learn to discern between what our desires are and what God’s desires are?  Furthermore, if one claims to be a prophet and speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost as the prophets of the New Testament did, how are we to know if what they are saying is truth?  Many people may answer this by saying to look it up in the Bible and that will confirm the truth.  However, how is one to know what truth is when reading in the Bible or any other scripture for that matter?  Clearly the answer is through the Holy Ghost.  But once again, the question arises how do we know if what we are feeling is from God or just our own desires?  Worse yet, how do we know what we feel isn’t Satan trying to deceive us?

These thoughts caused me to reflect on a post I wrote about 2 years ago called “Receiving and Recognizing Answers to Prayers.”  In this post and especially in the comments by other readers, there are common threads on how we can live our lives in tune so we can receive and recognize answers to our prayers.

In one of the threads, it discusses how God will send us the Holy Ghost through feelings accompanied with a positive conviction.  Personally, I feel that all inspiration we receive should be backed up, as our “musings” friend alludes to with the scriptures.

From my own personal experience, I know this is a truth: God speaks to us through His Holy Spirit and we feel this many times as a burning in the bosom, or exceeding joy that is more than just our own made-up desires that confirms all truth.  We do need to learn and practice to discern from our own feelings and God speaking to us though. 

Personally, I feel that our friend over at Musings has it 1/2 right.  We do need to test our answers to the Word of God and not soley rely on a desire…especially if we’re not sure if it’s from God or not.  We shouldn’t rely soley on just our feelings and also it is important to have had a witness of what scripture is truth and this will come through an answer from the Holy Spirit as well.

I know we can learn to recognize and discern between Heavenly Father’s promptings and our own desires. 

What are your thoughts on this subject?

I’ve alluded in previous posts to problems I’ve dealt with as a result of issues from my early childhood.  One of my most often read posts is the one I wrote last year about overcoming anxiety and depression.  I’m grateful that God has been able to reach so many people through my experiences and I hope that the reference in this post will help as well.

Along with dealing with the depression that I previously wrote about, I was dealing with certain addictions (which, I feel were a trigger for depression I was having).  I won’t go into detail about the addictions I had to overcome, but I will discuss the process I went through in overcoming them.

As a young child I had some traumatic events in my life that affected my views on various things in life.  Unintentionally I formed addictions later in life as a result of these early experiences.  The funny thing is that I knew what I was doing was wrong but I would seem to always revert back to my addictive behavior over and over again.  It affected my self-esteem and the way I viewed the world and it went on for many years.

Overcoming the addictions I dealt with were a process.  First, I was in denial and I would put the blame on others such as my parents or the people involved in my addictive habits.  However, after a few years and a serious wake up call I realized I had a problem and needed to overcome it.  The only problem was that I couldn’t stop myself from the habits that had been formed even when I knew they were wrong.

To make a long story short, God helped me through blessing me with determination, patience, and guidance from the Holy Ghost for a number of years.  One day as I was driving the Holy Spirit told me in my mind to contact an old friend I hadn’t talked with in years.  When I called her I thought I was going there to help her on an errand from God but soon found out that she had recently gone through an addiction recovery program.  She became my sponsor for the program which was a major part in my addiction recovery. 

Looking back on it, I am deeply grateful that God knew me personally and cared for me deeply enough to guide me to the right program.  For me, it was very helpful and worked in the end.  However, I did feel a bit of a void especially when talking with my church leaders.  I would have loved to have been in a session with people who had similar views on God but I don’t think the leaders were properly trained or aware that the LDS church has an addiction recovery program.

The other day I came across this LDS reference and thought it would be very helpful for people to know about. 

Here they have support groups, counseling services and publications for addictions dealing with the following issues:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs (both prescription and illegal)
  • Tobacco
  • Coffee and tea
  • Pornography
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Gambling
  • Codependency
  • Disorders associated with eating
  • I encourage those of you who are either dealing with any of these issues or are in a leadership or counseling role to help others with these issues to use this website as a reference.  I think if I had known of this before-hand it could have saved me some time and I could have overcome the issues with much more support.

    If anyone else has ideas of good references for those dealing with addictions please feel free to share.

    The title of this article intrigued me when I saw it in the “Time out For Women” flyer my wife received yesterday.  This will be one of the topics in the upcoming conference and Camille Olson will be the speaker.

    As I reflected on the title, I naturally thought about the Book of Psalms in the Bible.  I thought of the word “psalm” and looked up the Hebrew translation for it.  Here is the translation directly from the dictionary:

    zâmar, zaw-mar’

    Definition: a prim. root [perhaps ident. with 2168 through the idea of striking with the fingers]; prop. to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i.e. play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice; hence to celebrate in song and music

    Translated as: give praise, sing forth praises, psalms.

    I thought of many of the Psalms in the Bible and how heart-felt and earnest they are.  The writers of the Psalms show the depths of their souls and their relationship with the Lord as they sing praise and also share remorse for sins committed.  When reading the Psalms, I definitely can feel their sense of yearning and dependance on God in joy, sadness, pain, and all walks of life.

    My thoughts then turned to the title “Your own Book of Psalms.”  I’m not sure what the speaker will be sharing, but I thought of how I can deepen my relationship with God by sharing Psalms with Him in three ways: prayer, writing in my journal, and writing music to the Lord.

    Prayer

    What my goal before I pray is to reflect on God and who He is.  He is my Creator and gives me life.  He loves me more than I can imagine and he loves all humankind and His creations as well.  Also, before I pray it is important to consider all the many blessings I’ve received from His hand each second of the day.  By doing these things I stir emotions within myself that cause me to feel humble before the Lord. 

    Next, I think about anyone who may need help and I try to imagine what I would feel like in their situation.  I consider if there is anything I can do to help them and this stirs more emotion of helplessness and dependance on the Lord, knowing that all things are in His control.

    I then think about myself and my family and the struggles we may be facing.  This stirs even more emotion and I am then ready to pray…pray with emotion like a psalm.

    Journal

    When writing in my journal I share emotions and get them all out on paper.  Sometimes as I do this I see things come out that I know I need God’s help with and I then use my journal as a means to pray and share my deepest feelings with the Lord.  Other times I just write in the journal and it feels good to get all my good and bad emotions out.

    Writing Songs to God

    I play the guitar and sometimes I’ll just start strumming some chords and my heart is full and words will come out.  Sometimes the words are from an earnest seeker, sometimes they are joyous, and other times they are songs of sadness.  I’ve found though that when I express my feelings through a prayer of music to God I have felt the Holy Spirit enter into my heart many times and I feel God’s love surround me. 

    In closing I thought it would be fun to share part of one of my “psalms.”  It is part of a song I wrote about Jesus called “Believe.” 

    He’ll pick you up if you take a step forward and don’t look back again.

    He’ll lift you up and carry you on until your journey’s end…

    Now all I have to do is give You my heart…it’s true!

    Open the door, get set free.  Give Him your heart….

    Once inside you’ll see.  And if you’re feeling doubt just believe.

    This may surprise you, but money is the primary competitor with God for our affection.  Jesus tells us we will serve–and love–one or the other…

    When the Crusades were fought during the twelfth century, the Crusaders purchased the services of mercenaries to fight for them.  Because it was a religious war, the Crusaders insisted that the mercenaries be baptized before fighting.

    As they were being baptized, the soldiers would take theri swords and hold them up out of the water to symbolized that Jesus Christ was not in control of their swords, that they retained the freedom to use their weapons in any way they wished.

    Many people today do a similar thing.  They hold their wallet or purse out of the water, an attitude that says, ‘God, I yield control of my entire life to you except in the area of money—I am perfectly capable of handling that myself.’ And without realizing it, this attitude hinders their relationship with God and harms their finances. (Howard Dayton, Your Money Map)

    I thought this quote from this Christian author was amazing and thought I’d pass it on to everyone who wants to learn to spend money the way the Lord would have us do.  People of all faiths and all countries struggle with putting money before God whether we’re rich or poor. 

    What can one do in order to put the Lord before our money?  I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ll share some things that have helped me.

    1. Acknowledge all things are Gods and I am a Steward  When you really think about it, everything we have comes from God.  The air we breathe, our families, our life, and of course our money.  We are merely stewards.  As I pray to realize and recognize this, I find that I am more careful with being frivolous with spending and have greater respect for the money God blesses me with.
    2. Be Grateful for Blessings and Tell the Lord  I’ve found that when I express gratitude to the Lord for any blessing He gives me, that my heart grows less hardened and more apt to use the blessing as He would have me do.  Regarding money, when I think about how grateful I am for the money he blesses me with and pray to use it how He would have me use it, I find myself become less attached to the money. 
    3. Pay Tithing  I’ve seen miracles by paying my tithing.  I feel the first two steps mentioned are the “mental” action steps and paying tithing is the first “physical” action step on how to spend money the way the Lord would have us do.  No matter what, pay your tithing and you’ll be blessed.  I’ve been blessed by paying my tithing because when I do, I become less attached to the money and more drawn to the Lord as I pray that the money will be spent how He would have it spent.  I also have seen physical blessings come as a result of paying tithing. 
    4. Give to the Needy  King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon talks about how we should always give to those in need.  We all see people on the streets asking for money (especially in the Seattle area where I live).  I’ve found that when I see this person if I ask him what he will do with the money I trust him if he says he’ll use it for food.  Who am I to judge?  However, some of them are honest enough to tell me they’ll spend it on drugs and beer and then I don’t give them the money.  In addition, our church (the LDS or Mormon church) has an option to pay additional funds for humanitarian causes and I pay towards that as well.  I’ve found that by doing this, I become even less attached to the money and grateful that the Lord has blessed me so abundantly and I pray the people that receive the money will feel the same way and be blessed.
    5. Pay Yourself  The next thing I do each month is pay myself in two ways.  1. Retirement funds 2. Emergency Savings
    6. Make Extra Payments Any debts I have such as student loans and car payments we pay extra money towards them.  This reduces the amount of time to be in debt as the Lord has commanded us to stay out of debt and pay our debtors.
    7. Do Not get into Credit Card Debt  I heard on the radio today the average American has $15,000 worth of credit card debt.If you have a credit card, pay it off every month.  If that is too hard, don’t use a credit card. 
    8. Avoid “Get Rich Quick” schemes I’ve been scammed a few times and it hurts.  If it sounds too good to be true it usually is.
    9. Live within Your Means My wife and I were talking yesterday about how our grandparents lived in small homes and raised big families.  Today we live in big homes and raise small families.  We need to be very honest with ourselves and really pray to see what our needs vs. wants are.  If we can afford to pay tithing, give to the needy, save money, and pay the other bills and still get a house, then get a house that is within your means.  Pay cash for purchases such as cars, furniture, etc.  If you don’t have the money, save up for it.
    10. Be Honest in Dealings  ALWAYS be honest in business dealings, on our taxes, etc.  It’s the right thing to do and keeps the Holy Spirit with us in our decisions.
    11. Pray for Strength against Pride As we give to the needy and express gratitude to the Lord, we’ll be blessed with more abundance (at least that’s what I’ve found).  When the additional blessings come, pray that you’ll stay humble and that you won’t be prideful.

    These are steps that have helped me, but I’m sure there are many more and I feel like I’m learning every day about how to be a better steward.  Are there any scriptures or any other things you do to help you be a better steward over the Lord’s money?

    Cleanse your Soul with Grace for Grace “Spiritual SOAP”

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