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Increasing Your Faith Through Adversity

Have you ever had one of those days that just won't end when no matter what you do it just seems to go wrong and nothing you can do can make it right? You've heard of the old adage "when it rains it pours"? I've had one of those months that day after day just seemed to bring more problems and struggles through no fault of my own but were due to others who work for me. I believe that we have experiences in life that teach us lessons I just wish my lessons would end for a little bit; kind of like half time in a football game. I often hear people talk about difficult experiences in their lives and have observed that some people use adversity to build faith while others seem to allow adversity to put them on a destructive path that leads them away from the Lord. This morning I would like to share some of my observations of those who have used adversity to build their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

A son's experience

A few years ago my oldest son, excited to start his junior year in high school, looked forward to starting football. He had been playing as a sophomore and there were great expectations for him entering into his junior year. Many colleges were writing him and it seemed as though he was riding on top of the world.

During football camp he was doing well until the last play of a inter squad scrimmage when a lineman rolled into his leg resulting in a compound fracture and ending his junior year in sports. To make things worse he had to have two operations, the second to correct the mistakes of the first. The junior year is important, as it is when colleges determine whom they are going to recruit during the next year.

It was a lonely time during the healing period you really find out who your friends are doing difficult times. He was left to himself wondering why me, why did this happen. He was living righteously, going to seminary, attending church and got his Eagle Scout award. He made a covenant with the Lord that if He would heal his leg so that he could play sports again he would serve a mission.

He could have blamed the Lord for his problems but kept faithful finished his senior year having a great year in athletics.

Many colleges were interested in him but withdrew their scholarships when he told them he planned to serve a mission. As a result he applied to other schools that he normally wouldn't have. One of those was Princeton University, where he was accepted. I don't think it was a coincidence that during one of the most difficult times in a young man's life that he experienced some adversity that in many individuals lives can cause discouragement and to the question, why me.

I think of the prophet Joseph Smiths experience in Liberty jail when the Lord said to him "And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." (D&C 122: 7)

He was called to serve a mission in Taipei, Taiwan where he learned Mandarin Chinese. He had a lot of success as a missionary in Taipei. He has since returned to Princeton and is studying economics and plans to go China using his language skills and where I'm sure the Lord will be able to use him to build up the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Our experiences in life can either bring us closer to God or separate us from Him. President David O. McKay said: "There are those who have met disaster, which almost seems defeat, who have become somewhat soured in their natures; but if they stop to think, even the adversity which has come to them may prove a means of spiritual uplift. Adversity itself may lead toward and not away from God and spiritual enlightenment; and privation may prove a source of strength if we can but keep the sweetness of mind and spirit." (Treasures of Life, comp. Clare Middlemiss [1962], 107-8)

Consider the experiences of Laman, Lemuel & Nephi

In 1 Nephi 2:11 we read "Now this he spake because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart."

This is the experience of three brothers. Of the three brothers it was Laman and Lemuel who murmured when they left their homes and left all of their positions behind. Nephi was growing closer to the Lord while Laman and Lemuel allowed their experience to do as President McKay said: "There are those who have met disaster, which almost seems defeat, who have become somewhat soured in their natures."

We learn that they then were told to go back to Jerusalem to acquire the brass plates from Laban. "And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord. Therefore go, my son, and thou shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured. And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." (1 Nephi 3:5-7)

Here are three different people having the same experience but two of them chose to look at the experience negatively instead of trusting in the Lord and relying on him that he would help them achieve what ever they we asked to do. They were focused on taking the easy route not realizing that the Lord gives us experiences that shape our lives and that will be for our good if we allow them to.

Finally they murmured when Laban rejected them and they had to go back again and figure out a way to get the plates. We read in 1 Nephi 3: 31, "And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?"

Well you know the rest of the story, Nephi, trusting in the Savior, not knowing before hand what he should do, trusted in the Lord that he would help him fulfill the commandment he was given. He goes back to Laban's home and the Lord delivers Laban into his hands.

There are times when you come to a fork in the road and you will have to decide which path you are going to choose. Laman and Lemuel's problem was that they were focused on themselves and not on the Lord.

I have found in my own life that my faith is only increased after I've been tested and then if I do as I'm supposed to do then my faith is increased.

The difference between Nephi and his brothers is his great faith in God and his focus on the Savior Jesus Christ. He expressed faith first in God and then because of his faith he was able to accomplish many great things and his faith increased. This increased faith allowed him to accomplish many great things later on in his life. I believe that the Lord knows us personally and He knows what we will do in any circumstance. However we need to learn for ourselves through experience. It's only through personal experience that we gain knowledge for ourselves and our faith in our Heavenly Father is increased.

Joseph of Egypt

I've always admired Joseph who was sold into Egypt by his brothers. He was highly favored of his father. One night he had a dream that his family would pay obeisance to him. Because he was favored by his father and the Lord he was hated by his brothers and one day when his father sent him to see if his brothers were well and that the flocks were well also, his brothers seeing him coming conspired against him to slay him. (Genesis 37: 18)

He was sold into Egypt by his brothers, where he ended up in Potiphar's home, the chief captain of the guard. Joseph was favored of the Lord and became a prosperous man and Potiphar seeing that Joseph was favored of the Lord put him in charge of all he had.

He was then pursued by Potiphar's wife, who tried to commit adultery with him. He not wanting to commit sin ran from the house but Potiphar's wife being angry lied about Joseph's intentions to her husband. He was sent to prison and became favored of the prison guard and was responsible for what happened in prison. He later interprets Pharaoh's dream and is put in charge of all that Pharaoh had.

In spite of the many lies and adversity Joseph experienced in his life he used the experiences in his life to bless the lives of others and to make the best of a bad situation. When his family went up to Egypt to seek Benjamin's freedom Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and its Joseph's response to them that separates those in life that use adversity to enhance life and those that use adversity to sour them. We read in Genesis 45: 5-8, "Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt."

My experience as a Bishop

Several years ago when I was newly called as a Bishop of the Kaneohe 3rd ward I received a phone call from my employer who told me that they were closing down the branch that I was working at. I was in shock. They gave me a few options, all of which would mean moving to the mainland and leaving behind my recent call as a bishop. I had a strong belief that I had been called by the Lord and to move would mean not having faith in the Lord that he would provide. I talked to my wife and we decided that we would trust in the Lord and that all would work out. You can imagine I was nervous wondering how I would support my family and what would happen if I couldn't find a job, and one that would allow me to serve as Bishop. I called my employer and told them of my decision to stay in Hawaii and trusted that the Lord would provide. What happened next changed my life forever. A couple of weeks before the office closed I got a call from my current employer. I was offered a job that started the Monday following my last Friday at my previous employer.

I learned from that experience. At first I wondered why was this happening to me. I was just called as Bishop and I thought the Lord would take care of me as long as I did what I was supposed to do and yet I was being tested. I think the Lord knew what decision I would make, but I had to learn that if I put the Lord first in my life and expressed faith in Him, He would provide. Since that experience I have learned that through adversity we have the choice to draw closer to the Lord or move away from him. The experience gave me confidence that when I counseled members of my ward that I could without hesitation tell them to trust in the Lord. My faith was increased just as Nephi's was as a result of relying on the Lord to support and sustain me.

Years earlier I had a much smaller but no the less important experience. I was serving as a counselor in a Bishopric. I was looking for a better job then I currently had so I could support my family better. I went to a job interview and was chosen for one of two positions. There were two different schedules one that was from Sunday to Thursday and the second one Tuesday to Saturday. I was called back for a second interview and asked to take the schedule beginning on Sunday. I told the person hiring me that I could only take the job from Tuesday to Saturday and if the only opening was the Sunday schedule I would have to decline the offer. Two days later I received a phone call telling me that I had been offered the Tuesday schedule and when could I start? The Lord was testing me to see what I would do in that situation.

I could have rationalized like Laman and Lemuel taking the easier road. However I wouldn't have had the faith promoting experience if I hadn't kept my promises I made to the Lord at baptism to keep the commandments. The experience while small helped build my faith. Adversity can be a qualifier and bring blessings into our lives if we see them as opportunities and not wonder why me?

To make it through life's challenges and adversity there are a few things I have learned along the way.

First, develop a sound testimony that God lives and that Jesus Christ was resurrected and that He lives. Each of us must have our own personal conversion story. I find the difference between those that serve actively in the church and those who ride on the backs of others is the depth of their testimony. I can still remember the day and where I was the first time I felt the spirit of the Holy Ghost in my life. We were being taught the gospel by the missionaries and I remember sharing what I had learned with another and as I was sharing my thoughts an impression came over me that I can never forget that testified that the gospel was true. You must each receive such a witness in your own life.
No scientific experiment can change that. No significant finding in the world can change that, nothing found in our space exploration can change the fact that I had a personal witness that God lives and that the Gospel is true. I may not be able to explain the complex things of nature or how dinosaurs got on the earth and many other things. But I trust in God that all that will be explained in due time if I am faithful.

Second, decide to hold to the rod. In Lehi's vision of the tree of life we read the following:
"And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood. And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world. And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree." (1 Nephi 8:19-24)

We live in a world of darkness and only those who hold to the iron rod will make it to the Tree of Life. Some because of the pressure of the world will let go of the rod and we learn the sad fate of those who follow Satan's path.

A couple of months ago I was traveling to New York. While I was there I decided to take a trip to visit my brother who lives in Palmyra, New Jersey. I don't know how many of you have ever driven in Manhattan but it can be a frightening experience if you're not from the City. I decided to rent a GPS unit so that I could find my way out of the city and to the Holland tunnel which would lead my to the New Jersey turnpike. I put in the address of where I started and the address of where I wanted to end up. I was amazed that it told me how to get out of the parking garage and then on my way to the tunnel.

As I approached the tunnel the entrance was blocked and I had to find another way. As I drove past the entrance a friendly voice came on and said recalculating recalculating. I thought to myself hurry and recalculate because the people behind me are not very patient. I found my way through the tunnel and onto the New Jersey turnpike. Finally I got to the exit that would take me to Palmyra. As I was heading down the road I missed another turn, my friend spoke again, "recalculating, recalculating." I thought this was fun so I purposely missed a couple of more turns just to see if my voice would get me back on track. Well just like the GPS that recalculated my driving instructions, the scriptures help us to do the same and get safely to our designation.

Third, have a positive attitude. (Abr. 3: 25) If we understand the purpose of life, then we are in much better position to deal with the difficulties of it.

John A. Whitsoe said, "Attitude not aptitude determines altitude." In Abraham 3:25 we learn that we were sent to earth to be "proven." To see if we would live according to the commandments. Like the story of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. He could have been very negative wondering why he went through so many trials. But he remained positive and because of that he looked for solutions and relied on the Lord to help him through difficult times to make the best of every solution. I recently attended a meeting and heard the author of Last Lecture speak, Jeffrey Zaslow, about the life of Randy Pausch. What was amazing about Randy's story is his positive attitude about his circumstances. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and only had a few months to live. My take away from the meeting was we are all on a path that comes to an end called earth life. For some of us it comes sooner then for others but it will come for all of us. He decided that he would make the most of everyday of life. I pray that we will do so as well. The most important thing that we can learn from what I have said today is that these individuals stayed focused on the Lord, tried to keep pressing on through the mists of darkness in the world. It's much better to go through life looking at the glass as half full instead of half empty.

I bear my testimony, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth and that this is His Church. We are so fortunate to have the scriptures and this wonderful occasion to be at this devotional today, wonderful surroundings that protect you from the world where you can learn with other members of your faith, and you have wonderful professors and administrators who are concerned about you. Furthermore, you have a prophet, who leads this church and is concerned about your welfare and your ability to learn what you take here and go out into the world and to do like Joseph and to be like Nephi, and share the gospel to all the world. We are fortunate to have such great resources and our fingertips if we would but reach out and use them. In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.