Monday, March 7, 2011

Chapter 5 - What Are We Waiting For?

When the Jaredites left the tower of Babel and headed for the Promised Land, they built barges and sailed some distance before coming to the shores of a great sea.  I have no evidence of this, but it seems like they may have sailed the length of the Mediterranean Sea and stopped to rest on the shores of the Atlantic, perhaps on the Iberian Peninsula.  At this point they settled down for a while.  They pitched their tents and went about local living for the next four years.
“And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him.  And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.[1]
I’ve always taken this to mean that the Brother of Jared had stopped praying for four years.  Looking at this experience through the lens of my own experience though, I’ve come to believe that the Brother of Jared had probably said his prayers.  He and his family had continued to bless the food and go through the motions of prayer.  What I suppose he had failed to do was to ask the Lord for further direction.  It had been a long arduous journey already.  They had come a great distance and still not found the Promised Land.  Then, upon arriving at the great sea, they camped to rest. 
Certainly, they strongly suspected that their journey was not yet complete.  Surely, the need to cross the frightening obstacle before them kept niggling in the back of their minds.  Apparently, too fearful to ask, they just settled in and ignored the problem.  Don’t we often do the same thing? 
Most of us have encountered a problem that was too frightening to address.  We build our lives around it, hang decorations on it and try to camouflage its existence so we don’t have to deal with it.  We hesitate to bring it up with the Lord because we’re pretty sure He’ll expect us to deal with it.  We know we’d rather not and so we falter.
Mahonri Moriancumer (the brother of Jared) faltered in such a way for four years.  Certainly, he did so with the full support of his family.  I have faltered longer than that.
I too said my prayers.  I told Heavenly Father what I wanted.  I was happy to direct Him around the universe, but I was wholly unwilling to let Him direct me. 
I suppose that in the Jaredite’s collective imagination, the task of crossing the ocean was completely terrifying.  Clearly the vessels they had previously built weren’t adequate for such a voyage.  Most likely, they hadn’t a clue as to how to build vessels that were.  Probably, they were exhausted by the journey that brought them this far.  They likely thought, they deserved to kick back a while and get some rest.  Weeks turned into months, months into years and still they lingered on the plateau of their previous accomplishments, so very far from the summit of success.
They may well have needed a break, a time of recuperation, but they didn’t trust the Lord to see it that way.  We’ll deal with that in the next chapter.  For now though we need to address the issue immediately at hand.  The issue we all face; are we willing to take direction from the Lord or not?  Are we willing to approach our Goliaths?  Are we willing to climb our mountains?  Are we willing to do what it takes to reach the Promised Land?
Toward the end of my mission to the Philippines I was released as a Zone Leader and sent to spend my final three months as District Leader to the Marikina-Pasig District.  Our District had two Sisters and four Elders.  I was assigned a new missionary to train.  And, I was called to serve as the Branch President of the Marikina-Pasig Branch.  I was overwhelmed. 
The evening of this call I was also directed to attend a meeting of all the Branch Presidents in the city.  Mine was the only Branch presided over by a missionary.  The District President announced plans to build a new chapel in Quezon City.  It would be the second chapel to be constructed in that great country.  Each Branch was given an assessment for a portion of the building’s cost.  It was a time when some of the funds needed to be raised locally.  I was given the assessment for our Branch and then informed that we were expected to raise it before I departed for home in three short months.  I was stunned to say the least.
I could not imagine how on earth such an enormous project could be addressed in so short a time.
I went from that meeting to a transfer meeting where I was introduced to my new Greenie.  Greenie was an unfair term to describe Elder Hapi.  He was a man of faith, accomplishment and courage and he hit the ground running.  I don’t think he had a ‘green’ moment the entire time I worked with him.  He was the first student outside the United States to receive the David O. McKay Scholarship.  He’d been captain of the Church College of New Zealand rugby team.  He’d been recruited to play for the All Blacks and had come on his mission instead.  His Maori heritage included the boy who while receiving a name and a blessing by Apostle Matthew Cowley, had also received his sight.
I remember complaining that I couldn’t possibly accomplish what had been asked of me and being told by Elder Hapi that I didn’t have to.
“This is God’s work,” he explained in his rich New Zealand accent, “And He is able to do it.  All you have to do is be His voice and His hands.”
I had no idea what he was talking about.  I immediately went into denial.  I had plenty to accomplish and lots to keep me busy.  It was easy to ignore the terrifying task of raising such a substantial sum of money.  I excused myself saying, “I haven’t got the skills.”  “It is too much to ask to so short a time.”  “I was called to do missionary work, not fund raising.”  “How convenient it is for the District President, to have me to dump his responsibility upon.”  “I have too many responsibilities already; I certainly don’t need one more.”  Never once did I take the matter up with the Lord.  I suppose I told Him what He should do to fix the situation, but I never once asked what He would “have me to do[2].”
Elder Hapi could see that I was ignoring the elephant in the room, so he suggested we fast and pray, which we did.  I considered that fast to be the price I was going to pay to bribe God into doing the whole thing without me.
Then one day, out tracting, we encountered a man who was manager for the U-Tex professional basketball team.  At this discovery, the Spirit gave me a nudge which I ignored.   Then Elder Hapi gave me a nudge.  I ignored that too.  He nudged me again.  “What?”  I asked impatiently.
“Here is your answer.”
“Here is my answer to what?”
Seeing that I was clueless, he requested permission to proceed without me.  In my confusion I granted that permission.
Elder Hapi asked the fellow if his basketball team might be willing to play an exhibition game as a fund raiser to help us build a church building.  He told us he thought they might. 
The next two months were a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, setbacks and miracles that culminated in a wonderful occasion that not only raised our assessment, but bolstered the Branch budget and proved to be a remarkable missionary opportunity.  Elder Hapi, while graciously acknowledging and protecting the fact that I held the Priesthood keys for the task before us, carefully, kindly, taught me how to serve the Lord by asking Him what I should do, rather than spending my prayers telling Him what to do. 
Our loving Heavenly Father gave us plenty of practice.  We had to negotiate with government officials and church officials.  We even negotiated with the head of the Philippine Basketball Association who happened to be a Catholic Priest from Ireland.  So many times I was tempted to just give up, but on our knees, as Elder Hapi besought the Lord for direction, I began to learn how to receive that revelation and to have the faith to step into the unknown to carry it out.  I was terrified that the priest would turn us down, but his reply only verified what Elder Hapi had been trying to teach me.  “Go with God me boys!” he encouraged in his broad Irish accent.  “And tell’em a Jesuit sent ye!”
I was grateful for the good priest’s blessing, but I knew then who sent me and I finally and fully was willing to go.
We are all given such crises in our lives; problems and challenges that seem bigger than we can manage.  Circumstances that indeed are bigger than we are.  We are given opportunities that teach us to rely upon the grace and goodness of God.  
You may have one before you right now.  You might be ignoring it; that elephant in the room.  What are you waiting for?  In his book Promise Me, Richard Paul Evans makes a wonderful observation:
"Why do we delay the changes that will bring us happiness?  It's like finally fixing up the house the week before you sell it."
Do you wish your challenges would magically go away?  What would you learn from that?  You’ve probably prayed that God would take it away, like I did in the Philippines.  Won’t you consider asking God what you should do instead?  Let the Jaredites show you that “whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies[3].”
I am learning that my prayers get answered much more quickly and effectively when rather than giving God counsel, I take counsel from His hand[4].

[1] Ether 2:14
[2] Elder Ezra Taft Benson, Think on Christ, BYU Speeches,  1 Oct 1983
[3] Elder Thomas S. Monson
[4] Jacob 4:10

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