“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12).
I received an e-mail in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that paints a poignant picture of one member’s experience with the kind of loss has that become almost commonplace as one natural disaster after another make headlines. Shannon eloquently wrote, “The summer before Hurricane Katrina we fell in love with a beautiful little town and moved there in the middle of July. Bay St. Louis quickly felt like home to us and we looked forward to many happy years there. We lived five miles from the beach and went there often as a family. Little did we know that everything we loved about this coastal town would soon be washed away.
“We followed warnings to evacuate on the Saturday before the Hurricane Katrina. We crammed what we could into our two-door car and drove three hours north to my parents’ home. I’ll never forget the feeling I had pulling out of our driveway wondering what would be left when we came back.
“Last week my husband and my dad made their way back to our home. They were hopeful at first because our house was still standing and didn’t look too bad from the outside. But once they opened the front door they faced a scene of total ruin. Everything was in complete disarray. The floodwaters picked up and moved all our things and covered them with thick mud–and now mold. The water line was an inch from the ceiling. Our home was now uninhabitable.
“Most of the time it doesn’t seem like this is really happening. Other times the grief is overwhelming as the surge itself. I grieve for tangible things like my brand new couch, the antique dresser Jim gave me as a wedding present, our daughter’s toys. I grieve for things that can’t be replaced: journals I’ve kept since my youth, Olivia’s baby clothes, mementos from her life, pictures and letters from friends, love letters from my husband. But mostly I grieve over the intangibles–the loss of our independence, the disruption of our schedule, the loss of the simplicity of our life before the storm. I miss the people of our ward. I miss the sound of seagulls overhead. I miss being able to sleep peacefully. Is it selfish to miss such things when others have lost family members?
“Yet, the goal isn’t to compare the size of the loss but to empathize with the suffering that is part of the human condition. There is one thing we each have in common–if the losses we endure do not make us better, more compassionate people, then the suffering was in vain. May Heavenly Father continue to bless us with the strength to carry on.”
What if Shannon and her family had been disobedient to the counsel to evacuate? How much greater would their losses have been? And what about the losses suffered by those who are disobedient to counsel to get out of the way of spiritual storms? Our society is sick with the anguish of such losses.
Spiritual Storm Analogies
Americans barely had time to assimilate the tragedy of Katrina when other hurricanes struck. My bishop gave a thought-provoking talk about spiritual storms the Sunday after Hurricane Rita that I have continued to think about. He reminded us of the dangerous spiritual storms the adversary has unleashed in our society. He compared prophets and apostles to weather forecasters who give us spiritual warnings and counsel to leave behind worldly influences and prepare spiritually and temporally for storms that are coming.
The bishop mentioned how much greater the suffering from Hurricane Katrina had been because of lack of preparedness on every level. He promised us spiritual refuge through spiritual preparation-through obedience to counsel. He expressed his concern when we take lightly the small and simple things we are asked to do. “I estimate that at least 50% of those within the sound of my voice are not following repeated counsel to hold family prayer, family scripture reading, and family home evening. When we ignore these spiritual storm warnings we leave ourselves open to the full surge of the spiritual storms swirling all around us. These storms are only going to get worse. We can’t afford to ignore the things that offer us spiritual protection.” He also cautioned us not to be like the storm chasers and reporters who choose to get as close as they can to the danger.
The bishopric message in our ward newsletter reinforced the bishop’s message with such quotes as, “Mankind can survive all forms of natural disaster: houses can be rebuilt, bones can be mended, supplies can be replenished. And even where death has occurred, there is the hope-even the absolute reality-of resurrection and of life beyond the grave. But to lose one’s faith and turn from the ways of the Prince of Peace to the wickedness of the master of misery is a disaster of eternal consequences” (Hoyt W. Brewster, Behold, I Come Quickly: The Last Days and Beyond, chapter three}.
Shannon, who I quoted at the first of this article, has lost so much, but she is turning to the Lord for strength, recognizing the opportunity to become a more compassionate, refined person because of these adversities. The aftermath is much different for those who make opposite choices-and for those whose lives are torn apart by spiritual hurricanes of disobedience.
Storm Warnings in Past Conference Talks
Bishop Glenn L. Pace said: “Of all the disasters taking place during the last days, the hurricane of disobedience is ultimately the most deadly. The whole world seems to be in commotion. Today’s news is filled with accounts of large-scale famine, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Even more devastating in the long run is the spiritually destructive hurricane of disobedience to God’s commandments that is engulfing the world. This horrible storm is blowing the moral fiber out of the nations of the earth and leaving the land in moral desolation. Many people seem to be oblivious to this hurricane and have become so desensitized they don’t even feel a breeze” (Ensign, November 1992, p. 12).
Think of the social and political storms that have come since then. Who would have guessed in the early 90s when Bishop Pace gave that address that our foundational institutions of marriage and family would so quickly be threatened and under such dire attack? Yet in those same years, such momentous progress has been made in missionary work and Church growth, Internet genealogy sites, etc. It truly is the best of times and worst of times. It is a time when the only safety is “on Zion’s hill.”
When the earth begins to tremble,
Bid our fearful thoughts be still;
When thy judgments spread destruction,
Keep us safe on Zion’s hill.
(Hymns, no. 83)
President Hinckley quoted that hymn at a priesthood session of conference. His address merits our careful and repeated study. He strongly forecast the storms that lie ahead of us. He pointedly reminded us that none is immune from the ravages of nature. He summarized many storm warnings from the past and read scriptures prophesying more devastating storms sure to come. Many conference addresses since then have giving us additional “spiritual storm warnings.”
Are we listening to prophetic storm warnings? Will we be safe on Zion’s hill?
Look and Live
Scriptures, too are replete with spiritual storm warnings. Alma 33: 19-21 reminds us of the brass serpent (symbolizing Christ) raised in the wilderness when the Israelites were being bitten by fiery serpents–with the promise that those who looked, would live. “Behold, he [the Son of God] was spoken of by Moses; yea, and behold a type was raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live…But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them. O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in disbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish?”
Alma said to his son Helaman, “O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever” (Alma 37:46).
Speaking of these Israelites who were invited to “look and live” Nephi said, “Because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Nephi 17:41).
Physically, will we perish because we did not “look and live” when the Brethren gave us the simple counsel-with plenty of advance notice making it “simple” and “easy”– to store a year’s supply?
Spiritually, will we perish because we have not been obedient to the simple, specific counsel of the Lord through the Brethren over the years?
What if the counsel we have received over and over and over to hold family scripture reading, family prayer and family home evening is part of our “look and live”? Will our families perish spiritually (or even physically) because we have not been willing to follow this simple counsel?
Zion Is Our Refuge
D&C 115:5-6 tells us “Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations; And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.”
Book of Mormon Refuge
There may be nothing more important we can do to prepare and strengthen ourselves and our families spiritually for the increase of storms-both temporal and spiritual-that will surely come than to daily immerse ourselves in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is a spiritual refuge.
Remember President Hinckley’s counsel to read the entire Book of Mormon? Was that part of our “look to Christ and live” counsel spiritually? Author Anne Perry said, “Like life, agency is ours, an immeasurably precious gift. We can choose what we do-but we cannot choose what the results will be. We can read the warnings, but if we ignore them, then we may pay a heavy price.”
“By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” (Alma 37:6)
Here are some of the great things that will be brought to pass if we are faithful to counsel, obedient to the storm warnings of our prophet forecasters, willing to do whatsoever is needful to be physically and spiritually prepared: “Yea, they shall not be beaten down by the storm at the last day; yea, neither shall they be harrowed up by the whirlwinds; but when the storm cometh they shall be gathered together in their place, that the storm cannot penetrate to them; yea, neither shall they be driven with fierce winds whithersoever the enemy listeth to carry them. But behold, they are in the hand of the Lord of the harvest, and they are his; and he will raise them up at the last day” (Alma 26: 6-7).
D&C 123: 16-17 “You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves. Then, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”
The prophet is at the helm. He gives counsel through the Lord to keep us workways with the wind and waves of every storm. If we cheerfully follow it, we can have the assurance of His watchful care. “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30). If we do not follow counsel we have no promise.
Boyd K. Packer made this principle clear when he said, “I repeat the promise that those who hearken to the voice of these men whom the Lord has raised up ‘shall not be moved out of their place’ (D&C 124:32). But the promise was followed with this caution: ‘But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest’ (D&C 124:45).” (Ensign, September 2005, p.20) The Lord declared, “For his [the prophet’s] word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth.” If we do the promise is sure, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory” (D&C 12:5-6).
Our obedience, our willingness to “look and live” is to be an example to the rest of the world-a standard for the nations. May the Lord bless us to be pure in heart Zion people, to be obedient, to be true and faithful. May we heed the spiritual storm warnings of our prophets, may we “look and live.” May we do all we can to prepare and find refuge from the storms, whether they be spiritual or temporal-those already leashed, and those about to be poured out on all the earth.
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