Week 33 is scheduled for study August 10-16, 2020. This week’s lessons are titled to focus on God’s preserving power. But His power cannot be demonstrated in our lives if we don’t exercise belief, faith, and a lot of work to receive His mighty miracles. Our responsibilities in accessing that power is the focus of the individual lessons.

Day 1

Alma 53:10-22; 56:43-48; 55-56; 57:20-27; 58:39-40 – As I exercise faith in God, He will bless me by His marvelous power.

The accounts in Alma 53-63 can help you see the consequences of living gospel truths or rejecting them. As you read Alma 53-63, record promptings and ponder ways you can live the truths you learn.

In this lesson I don’t plan on directly answering the manual’s questions or filling out their table. I think I need, instead, to talk about the nature of miracles, especially as they relate to the stories of the 2060 stripling warriors.

When can we expect miracles?

By definition, miracles are events we cannot explain. They can be invited by our actions, but cannot be predetermined. I will explain (which is no miracle, but perhaps a wonder. lol).

The stripling warriors were young. To use an old Church analogy, think scout camp or high adventure young. Can you imagine sending more than 2,000 14-18 year olds to fight armies of tens of thousands of seasoned military veterans who had been killing people in hand to hand combat for a couple of decades? Talk about your lamb to the slaughter scenario! This truly is a David and Goliath story on a grand scale.

Where do you think the miracle came from in their story? They seem to have all the requisite elements. They were being obedient to the Lord’s commandments, and they were in an impossible situation for them to gain the upper hand over their enemies on their own. It is in just such circumstances that the Lord has promised to come to our aid. The key elements here are obedience, effort on our/their part, and no possibility of being able to control the circumstances in which they found themselves. These three things are almost universal requirements for miracles to occur.

The point of a miracle is to reward faith. Miracles are rarely successful in generating faith (think of the plagues of Egypt and how they failed miserably in producing faith in the children of Israel), but are given routinely as confirmations of faith well placed in the teachings of the scriptures and the prophets.

These young men were taught by their mothers to believe God could do anything He promised to do. The lives of their own parents were great examples of what powerful conversions look like. They had gone from being an indolent and blood-thirsty people to having no desire to sin. They had exercised their faith in Christ in dramatic ways by letting themselves (at least their friends did) get slaughtered in cold blood rather than lift a weapon in their own self defense. These young men had seen great faith in the examples of their own parents. The faith they were exercising didn’t come out of nowhere, it was based on the lives and faith of their own parents who were living examples of what those young men were now themselves exhibiting.

Can I control my miracle?

Do you think these young men expected miracles? Perhaps, but their hope would have been based on a desire to be preserved in battle. But how that was supposed to happen they couldn’t have imagined at the time. What about us? Can we pick and choose the miracles that happen in our lives? The answer is both yes and no. Sometimes we fast for rain. That is a specific need for which we have no control. We can go to the Lord having been obedient to His commandments, and having done all in our power to make ready for the rains to come, but we cannot actually make it rain. That is in God’s hands only. In such cases we can ask for a specific event to take place. It is a miracle because we have no idea how to do it ourselves, but we know that God can do it if He chooses to do so.

There are times in our lives when all we know is that we are in a corner and can’t get out. We may have done all in our power to pay our bills and satisfy our debts, but it just wasn’t enough. We were obedient to the commandments and had expended all our energies in trying to help ourselves be independent, just as the Lord has taught us to be. But this is now out of our control, the debts must be paid somehow. Only a miracle can fix this.

Only rarely can we specify how we want the miracle to be presented to us, and that is always done because of exceeding faith on the part of the person asking for it. Most of the time when we take this scenario to the Lord we don’t have any idea how to fix it, so we leave it up to the Lord to show us a way out of our predicament. There are a number of possibilities. The account can suddenly show up as being paid, and we never find out how that happened. We might receive a check in the mail or a rebate or refund from something that will be just enough to cover that cost. Sometimes our bank balance shows that we do indeed have the money to make that payment, though you have been over that account a hundred times and were sure the balance was close to zero dollars. That has actually happened to me more than once in the meeting of my financial obligations when I chose to pay my tithing first. I don’t know if the Lord’s math is different than mine, but His is definitely better.

Our Stripling warriors exercised their faith that God would preserve them, and He did. But how that happened was neither predictable, nor comprehensible beforehand. No one knew how it was physically possible for so many clumsy teenagers to go through vicious hand-to-hand combat time and again, and all of them come out alive in the end. In their case the miracle they put their faith in occured over and over again. This was the same kind of miracle given to Mosiah when he trusted the lives of his sons to the Lord’s keeping during their 14 year mission. The Lord promised they would be safe, and against all odds none of them were killed, and all returned home having done the Lord’s work gloriously.

Do you have an instance or instances in your life that were beyond your control where you were blessed in remarkable ways that sometimes you were at a loss to explain? Chances are you were being obedient to the Lord’s commandments at that time in your life as well. I hope you have written of your experiences for the sake of your children, friends, or family. Such miracles need to be shared to bolster the faith of others, as well as to remind you of your own times of intimate blessings from your God.

The main point in seeking miracles is that we do as much as we can, go as far as we can go on our own before turning to the Lord and asking that the remainder be done in some way, or that a door of opportunity be opened that isn’t currently available that will allow us to continue on. We don’t ask for miracles just to see the Lord make our lives easier. We only seek for miracles when every other avenue has been exhausted. That is important. If we start looking for miracles just because it would be so much easier that way then we are seeking for signs to satisfy our desires, and that attitude is condemned by the Lord. Asking the Lord for help is something He wants us to do so He can bless us, but we are expected to do everything in our power to be ready for that blessing before we come before His throne to petition for it.

Day 2

Alma 58:1-12, 31-37; 61 – I can choose to think the best of others and not be offended.

The accounts in Alma 53-63 can help you see the consequences of living gospel truths or rejecting them. As you read Alma 53-63, record promptings and ponder ways you can live the truths you learn.

The nature of those who are righteous is to look for the good in others, and to forgive and overlook weaknesses they see or perceive. The nature of those who are not keeping the commandments is to assume the worst in others and to look for offense even where none is offered. You can see this all around us in the current political climate. People will find any excuse to be offended. It is like a game of one-upmanship in who can be the most outraged over some pretended offense. And if there is no offense out there, they make something up.

Moroni and Pahoran were two peas in a pod when it comes to having large, forgiving hearts. Both loved their country. Both believed in the promises of God that He would prosper their people in the land if they kept His commandments. And both of these men’s hearts burned with the desire to see their people free and happy. When Moroni, who could not possibly know what was going on in the center of their land, since he was on the edge of their country fighting an insufferably long war, wrote his letter of censure to Pahoran, he knew Pahoran might take offense to what he said. But Pahoran agreed with everything Moroni said.

Instead of taking offense at the threats Moroni made to him, Pahoran rejoiced that Moroni was still alive, and still as vigorously defending their country as he ever had in the past. Pahoran was beginning to feel he was all alone in his fight to preserve the Nephite’s freedoms. The kingmen had, in effect, turned Zarahemla into a sanctuary city. They had driven out the government and had established their own government, complete with a new king and everything. We know what that is like by looking at the news today. Pahoran overlooked the threats. Why? Because they would only have offended a wicked man, someone who didn’t have the people’s best interests at heart.

This willingness to overlook seeming offenses and look at the motives behind the statements or effort to communicate are hallmarks of those who are pure in heart. Pahoran knew he had nothing to fear from Moroni. He rejoiced in the generosity and greatness of spirit of his general.

What do we do when someone writes or says offensive things to us? Are we more concerned with feeling the hurt they may or may not have intended, or do we take their words or actions as signs that they are frustrated or distressed, and are not very good at expressing themselves in gentler ways? How we frame in our own mind and heart the behavior of someone else is up to us. Nothing another person can do can force us to be offended. Offense must be chosen and nurtured in order to thrive. It doesn’t matter if the giver meant to offend or deliberately tried not to offend. If I choose to be offended, I will find my own reason for being offended.

I prefer to look at the generous spirits of these two great leaders. They focused on the good qualities of each other, instead of the words written in the letters. They recognized that they both wanted the same thing, and they weren’t going to let a little conversation spoken in the heat of the moment interfere with their friendship or their admiration for each other.

Scripture Study/Family Home Evening

Alma 61:2, 9, 19 – Pahoran

I love Pahoran’s comments in these and other verses. First of all, he let’s Moroni know that he found no offense in what was written as a censure. He thanks Moroni for his greatness of spirit and his desire for the freedom and welfare of the people. This is what Pahoran wants as well. It is the third point in verses 19-20 that I love the most.

Pahoran had been ousted from his own judgment seat. He was in hiding and trying to gather an army, but he questioned whether it was right for him to go to war with his own people. In Moroni’s letter to Pahoran Moroni answered Pahoran’s question. Pahoran seems to be breathing a sigh of relief that the Lord commanded Moroni to go against his own people if that is what it took to defend their families and their freedom. If the people would repent then there would be no need to compel them to take up arms to defend their country. Moroni’s letter was actually an answer to prayer for Pahoran. How could he possibly be offended with that?

Alma 62:39-41 – Our ability to choose

The object lesson is a great example of how the same circumstance can change people one direction or another. But there is a basic difference we need to address in this object lesson that isn’t covered in the manual. It is the nature of the potato, when boiled, to soften. It is in the nature of the egg, when boiled, to harden. But it is NOT in the nature of people to automatically do one or the other when the circumstances of life happen to all of us. We choose whether or not we will harden our heart or soften our heart.

One of the reasons people think that God does that to us is because the scriptures in the Old Testament were mistranslated over the course of thousands of years. When Moses went to Pharaoh and told him to let Israel go, it says over and over again that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But look in the footnotes. In the Joseph Smith Translation Joseph Smith said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. It is a basic law of the gospel that God cannot, and will not, interfere with our agency until the day of judgment when we have to answer for the moral agency He gave us. God cannot, by His own laws, make us be unbelieving or make us be believing. That is something we must choose for ourselves.

It is a basic law that belief is a choice. Nothing can compel us to believe something we choose not to believe, just as nothing can make us not believe in something we choose to believe. Truth has nothing to do with belief, for belief is a choice. How many times have you seen someone choose to believe a lie that defies all rational thought, or reject something that is so obviously true that you can’t figure out why they can’t see the truth? Whether we are soft hearted (believing) or hard hearted (unbelieving) is a choice each of us must make over and over again.

But like any habit or muscle, the more belief is exercised, the easier it becomes to continue to believe. The more our choice to believe is left to atrophy in the corner, the more difficult it becomes to choose to believe in even the most self-evident things. The Lord, I believe, is far more concerned with those who choose not to believe than He is concerned with the sometimes wild things some of us choose to believe. Once we damage our ability to believe we cut ourselves off from being able to put our faith in Him.

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BoM Week 33

(Alma 53-63)