We can be true and hopeful when prayers are answered and the crops come in, but what about when we kneel in need and seem to hear only the echo of our own voice?

Two moments from the life of Christ touch me deeply with their spiritual radiance.  Early in his ministry Jesus had gone to the wilderness for 40 days to fast and be with his Father.  After, he was hungered, famished and dehydrated.  Like us, he had a mortal body, subject to every discomfort, and he had been in the blazing heat and relentless sun of the Judean wilderness.  Then, at what certainly could have been a vulnerable point, Satan came to tempt him. 

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Temptation is harrowing and difficult for us, but we do not know the increasing pressure, the grueling psychological depths of temptation, that Satan exerted upon the Lord who resisted it so magnificently. At any rate, between the fasting and the adversary’s fiery darts, Jesus had been pounded both physically and spiritually to an extent we don’t experience, when the scripture says, “Then the devil, leaveth him, and behold angels came and ministered unto him” (Matt. 4:12)

That spiritual triumph could alone impress us, but Joseph Smith tells us something more in the JST.  “and now Jesus knew that John was cast into prison, and he sent angels, and behold, they came and ministered unto him” (JST. Matt. 4:11).  In that hour of vulnerability and thirst, when he had been worn and weary, stretched thin, he thought not of his own misery, but of John’s.  John, who had been thrown in a dungeon, was the object of Christ’s thoughts, and he sent angels to comfort him.  That takes my breath away.  Who is this Jesus Christ and to what possibilities of light does his character point us?

Jesus was stripped, crucified on a cross, probably along a public highway as was the Roman custom, so that all could humiliate and disdain him.  He was already bleeding from a beating and a crown of thorns.  He was mocked with the sign that was supposed to be an accusation, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” it read, and the crowd reviled him, “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself” (Luke 23:37)—a stab at his mission and his identity. When he said, “I thirst,” he was given vinegar. In that ghastly hour when his flesh was ripped, his lungs collapsing under the pressure, he felt again the full weight of the atonement that he had experienced in Gethsemane. It would seem enough, just to endure, but no, again Christ amazes us.  Even in this intolerable anguish, he was concerned for the well-being and care of his mother.

“When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, behold thy son!  Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother.” (John 19:26,27)

Unwavering

What is this spiritual magnificence?  What capacities of divine character do we catch a glimpse of?  When he is pounded he responds still with this consistent outpouring of love for others and faith in his Father.  This is grace under pressure—and though we will never know the intensity of his pain, we have our own small pressures, and, therefore an invitation is extended to stand before them with grace.

The scripture in James that we know well because of Joseph Smith, is followed by a sentence we often overlook.  James tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask of God—but—and here is a key, “let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.  For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1: 5,6). 

Unfortunately, wavering is something most of us know well.  You might even say it is the mortal affliction.  Our spirituality ebbs and flows. The conditions aren’t always ripe for the flourishing of our spirits—or so it seems.

At one moment, we are filled with the Spirit, we see the grand horizon, we tearfully promise God that we will give all we have and are to him.  Yet, there is often a slow, grinding down in our lives.  What we feel in the morning has been pounded out of us by the afternoon.  What we resolve on Sunday, we forget on Tuesday.  The world is too much with us.  We are weary.  Sometimes our hope is dimmed.  The thing we wanted very most, is the thing we don’t receive.  The effort, which cost us much and at one time seemed to promise so much, ends in failure.  The child of our hopes and dreams disappoints us or rejects our teachings.

We can be true and hopeful when prayers are answered and the crops come in, but what about when we kneel in need and seem to hear only the echo of our own voice?

Sometimes in our life we face trials, clearly identified and difficult–death, sickness, financial reversal, the abuse of a family member.  But, often just as trying, is the long, tedious, wearing down of every day.  The job that needs to be constantly redone. The relentless undoing of our dreams. All the things that work away at us may dim our intentions.  We mean to be steady, like a river, and instead we dry up under pressure like a river in Arabia.

Many moments of our life we may just feel dead inside, dead like autumn leaves that blow randomly along a gutter.  We cry out to the Lord, “Breathe life into me.”

We want to forge ahead with an eye single to the glory of God.  We want to be able to step outside of ourselves and truly see the needs of others, but the struggle is real.  It is hard to operate with the grace we intend under the pressure of mortality.

We find good reasons we couldn’t be as true as we intended.  I compare it to developing a habit like  running.  You’d like to exercise every day, but something comes up. Today it is too cold.  Or it is too hot.  It is too dark.  Or you are busy.  You have an ache.  Your stomach hurts.  Maybe tomorrow would be better.  Excuses abound for stopping us from doing the things we really want to.

Steadfast Servants

Yet, it is not just the Lord alone who was able to be firm and steadfast during his life.  His servants do this as well.  Samuel the Lamanite told his Nephite audience, who couldn’t seem to remember their God for ten minutes, that the Lamanites are “striving with unwearied diligence. (emphasis added) Therefore, as many as have come to this, ye know of yourselves are firm and steadfast in the faith, and in the thing wherewith they have been made free“ (Helaman 15:8).

I am not talking alone of the firmness and steadfastness of behavior, but the steadfastness of heart, might, mind, and strength, so that life does not dim our light, so that our souls are not knocked or distracted from our singleness to seek, know and serve the Lord.

Alma fairly takes my breath away.  When he preached at Ammonihah, they did not just reject his word, but they “reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city” (Alma 8:13).


  The persecution was not abstract, but felt in his flesh.  Naturally, Alma was “weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul” as he was traveling on the road from the city.  Then an angel appeared to him, commanding him to return to the city of Ammonihah and continue preaching.  What did Alma do?  He returned, not just dutifully, or mournfully, or with a murmur under his breath.  The scripture says he returned  “speedily.”  Can you imagine?  What enormous firmness of faith.

Shadrach, Meshac, and Abed-nego were in Babylon and refused to bow before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, and for that were sentenced to be cast into the fiery furnace.  Now this furnace was so hot, that even the men who were to throw them in were killed by its intensity.  A terrifying situation.  Listen to their affirmation of faith: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.”  Now here are the words that are stunning.  Three words.  “But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods.”

God can deliver me, they are saying, “but if not” we will not waver—not even before the most searing flame.

In Macedonia, Paul caused his usual ruckus with his forthright testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ.  For this “the multitude rose up together against” him and “the magistrates rent off [Paul’s] clothes, and commanded to beat [him].” (Acts 16:22)  I’ve never been beaten for my testimony.  They “laid many stripes upon them.”  This would be with a whip, perhaps with pieces of bone woven into it—whatever it takes to make it excruciating.

Then Paul, still wounded and probably bleeding, was cast into prison, his feet put fast into stocks.  Are you ready for this?  And at midnight, Paul “prayed and sang praises unto God” (Acts 16:25).

No wonder Paul could say with such assurance, “I have learned in whatosoever state I am, therewith to be content.  I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:11-13).

Not Waiting for Better Circumstances

An eye single to the glory of God.  A heart that is unwavering under pressure.  Firm and steadfast no matter what.  What spiritual radiance there is in not waiting for some other time or some other place or some other circumstance to cast ourselves wholeheartedly to God.  Life is what happens to us, while we are distracted or self-absorbed with our burdens.  If we wait to love others, until our own needs are not crying at us, we will never serve them.  If we wait to love God until we are perfectly content that he has answered every request, we will never love him–and we will never know him.

Many times when I am so weary at night that I think I am too tired for a kneeling prayer, I think of a story that Elder Eyring told about his father, Henry Eyring, who was a great scientist whose accomplishments still leave a mark upon the world. One time he knelt when it would seem nearly impossible to do so. At the end of his life, he suffered a tormenting anguish with the pain of bone cancer and it was very hard work for him to move from the chair to his bed.

Elder Eyring said, “Others far more heroic than I spent the months and the days caring for him.  But I took some turns on the midnight-to-dawn shift…One night when I was not with him and the pain seemed more than he could bear, he somehow got out of bed and on his knees beside it—I know not how.  He pled with God to know why he was suffering so. The next morning he said, with quiet firmness, “I know why now.  God needs brave sons.” (BYU Devotional, 18 Nov. 1986)

Perhaps he had learned this steadiness in the face of life’s pressures from his own mother.  Elder Eyring said, “Grandmother Eyring learned from a doctor in his office that she would die of stomach cancer. My father, her oldest son, had driven her there and was waiting for her. He told me that on the way home she said, ‘Now, Henry, let’s be cheerful. Let’s sing hymns.’ They sang ‘O My Father’ and ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints,’ where the last verse begins, ‘And should we die before our journey’s through’.

I wasn’t there, but I imagine they sang loudly—they didn’t have very melodic voices—with faith and no tears. She spent part of her last months in the home of her oldest child, her daughter. Aunt Camilla told me that Grandma complained only once, and then it was not really a complaint but just to say that it hurt. (Ensign, May 1996, pg. 62)

Now there are many people who have been cheerful and brave in the face of death, but we are asked to be cheerful, brave, and steadily faithful and hopeful in the face of life.

This is easy to say and tough to do—especially when we have needs that are bleeding us, whose fulfillment is essential to our well-being and happiness, especially if we plead every day and the heavens seem silent.  Especially if we have given our all and not been rewarded with what we thought was our due.  Where is God?  Doesn’t he love us?  How can we give one more ounce of our strength and feel so rejected?

Christ again is our model.  For though God never abandons us, when Christ was performing the mighty atonement, His Father did withdraw from him, that the triumph might be his alone.  And Christ cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15: 34) And then, feeling thus forsaken, he carried out his work, and with his last words on the cross he said, “Thy will is done.” (JST Matthew 28:54)

What manner of men ought we to be?  Even as I am.  Let us make an affirmation this day to be unwavering. “I know God that thou art there for me, and I will be there for thee.  When I look around and don’t find thee in my world or in my sometimes harrowing life, thou art still written on my heart.”