Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Courage with Eyes Wide Open

One of the many powerful stories of the Old Testament involves the prophet Elisha.  Elisha was chosen at a time when Israel had fallen into apostasy and tremendous efforts were being made to restore them to their covenants.  As prophet, Elisha demonstrated his priesthood power by parting the Jordan River, just as he had seen his predecessor Elijah do, he restored water to Jericho, multiplied the widow's oil, raised her son from the dead, directed Naaman in his healing from leprosy, etc.  What got the attention the most, however, of the Syrian king was Elisha's ability to somehow anticipate his battle strategies.  The Syrian king would tell his captains to set up camp in a certain Israelite land, and Elisha would be forewarned by the Lord in order to inform the king of Israel so that the Israelite army could avoid an attack.

After this had happened several times, the Syrian king was furious and demanded to know who was leaking information.  A servant replied, "Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber" (2 Kings 6:12).  As soon as they learned of Elisha's location, the king of Syria sent an army to destroy him.  And, in deed, the Syrian army was well prepared, arriving at night, surrounding the city was horses and chariots.

When Elisha's servant arose in the morning and discovered the danger, he alerted the prophet with, "Alas, my master! how shall we do?"  Naturally, the servant was terrified at what looked like their impending death!  What could they do?  How could they do anything in such a situation?

Elisha's answer teaches us many things.  He replied, "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them" (v.16).

And when Elisha prayed for the young man's eyes to be opened, spiritually, they were.  "And, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (v. 17).  He then prayed for the Syrian soldiers' eyes to be spiritually closed so that they would not know him or recognize where they were. He then led them deep into Samaria, fed them, and sent them back home unharmed, thus securing safety for Israel through his merciful acts.

What we can learn is that not only is God with His faithful in their moments of need, not only do we need spiritual sensitivity to see God's hand and power in our lives, and not only should we have courage and faith, but that the Lord's anointed are given special gifts along with their authority.

Elisha had already watched the mighty prophet Elijah work with real power from God.  Before Elisha joined Elijah, Elisha had likely heard about, if not seen, the contest between Elijah and the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18), where fire burst down out of heaven "and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench (12 barrels-worth)" (v.36).  The idolatrous Israelites were finally becoming convinced that the Lord was the God.

Elisha's years of tutelage and service under Elijah informed, prepared, and consecrated him to do what he would later need to do in order to save Israel.  And not just national political deliverance, but individual salvation.

When Joseph Smith was called by God the Father and Jesus Christ in vision in the spring of 1820 to assist in the work of reestablishing the true Church, he was but a young boy of 14 years.  He had no prophet, bishop, or mission president to teach him and prepare him, so angels and Divine Beings were his tutors.  When we study Church history, we can see that Joseph did not right away understand that he was being called to be a prophet. At first all he wanted to know was which church to join so that his soul could be saved.  Then he was given charges and assignments. Then he was given priesthood authority and keys.  And the Church of Jesus Christ was, step by step, restored to the earth.

Along with those priesthood keys and the authority to exercise them, the Lord and subsequent angelic beings, opened Joseph's eyes by degrees until he came to fully comprehend the future of the Church.  He literally had visions opened to him so that his understanding could increase.  Several sections in the Doctrine and Covenants include commentary of Joseph studying a passage of scripture, seeking greater understand through prayer, and then having a glorious manifestation of additional light and knowledge.

Section 2 is important for many reasons, and one of them is for its censure by the Lord to Joseph for not trusting Him enough to refuse to lend the translation manuscript of the Book of Lehi to his friend and scribe Martin Harris, which had then been lost or stolen.  "For, behold, you should not have feared man more than God … you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble" (vs.7-8).  After a season of repentance, the task of translation was returned to Joseph Smith.

However, the Lord reminded Joseph that he had given him "sight and power to translate" (v.12).  This was literal sight to comprehend the ancient engravings on the gold plates of the Book of Mormon in order to translate them into English.  He had been given literal sight to behold the face of God Almighty and the Savior of the world.  He was given literal sight to view many other sacred and marvelous things that would add to the Restoration of All Things.

The early years of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often described as an "infancy."  Everything had to be built from the ground up.  Every principle, ordinance, organization, and point of doctrine had to be carefully established, readjusted and fine-tuned to become exactly what God intended it to be. For example, when vicarious baptism was initiated, they were baptizing in a river, and often times on behalf of someone of the opposite gender.  When the temple was completed enough for work to begin in earnest, river baptisms were discontinued, and eventually only women could be baptized for women and men for men.

In October 2012 at the Saturday morning session of General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson, the man anointed as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and who currently holds all priesthood keys for the Kingdom of God on the earth, announced that the age requirement for young men and women to serve missions would be universally lowered.  Elder Holland expounded that the reasons were for "accelerating the fulfillment of that mandate" to preach the Gospel in all the world and because "God is hastening His work" (Press Conference, Oct. 6, 2012).

In the year since, the number of missionaries serving throughout the world has risen from 56,000 to over 80,000.  The feeling of momentum has become tangible!  It no longer feels that the Church is toddling as in the early days, and hasn't for many years, but now it is clearly running.  The newest Church Handbook of Instruction demonstrates the incredible care given to every detail in the administration of Christ's Church.  The vision is clear and unobstructed for those who are called to carry out this great work on the general level.  That vision can also be given to the humble lay-servants of the Church, all of the rest of us, as it was for Elisha's servant.

Having our eyes opened to see the power of God and His work will be a result of our own faith and will come as a gift from God Himself.  Humility will be the jointly-vital characteristic of the recipient.  Pride would invariably conflict with the ability to see exactly what God would want us to see.  Our pride or vanity would certainly obstruct if we were only looking for what we want to see and/or refuse to see what we do not want to see.

The Doctrine and Covenants opens with a strong voice of warning and counsel from our loving -- but powerful -- Savior, "And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets ad apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god … which shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall." (D&C 1:14-16).

To see God and the glorious future for His Kingdom, clearly and completely, we must harken to His voice and give heed to the words of the anointed servants, the prophets and apostles. 

Historically, prophets and apostles have had literal authority conferred upon them to act in God's name.  They have historically been given power to do His work.  They have historically seen what needs to be seen and done what needs to be done.  That legacy continues today.  We can honor Joseph Smith as the prophet of the Restoration.  We can know that he was a tool in the Lord's hands to reestablish His covenant and His Kingdom.  We can have faith and confidence that those who are now serving as prophets and apostles are divinely authorized, divinely inspired, and divinely directed.  We can have faith and humility to see what they see, enough, in order to have courage and resolution to stay true to our ordinances and not deviate.

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