Editor’s Note: Beloved Meridian author Darla Isackson passed away. We will continue to share her wonderful insights here periodically.
I see clearly that faith builds the foundation for our trust in God. And, as author Larry Barkdull says, “Trust in God is the ongoing theme in mortality. We never can escape it. . . Trust in God is redemptive trust — trust in His goodness; trust in His power; trust in His knowledge; trust in His love. . . Trusting God is to trust God’s timing. Because He is perfect, His timing is perfect, and for us to urge Him to change his timing is to ask Him to cease to be perfect. Moreover, God’s timing is an act of mercy.” [i]
That perspective has comforted me. I wrote the following article that I later revised to become a chapter in my book Trust God No Matter What! soon after my son died, in December of 2004. It was my attempt to summarize the most important things I’d learned about faith at a crossroads in my life when faith in Christ was my lifeline to sanity:
For me this is the perfect time to explore the subject of faith in Christ. It has now been over two months since my son’s death, and I have become perfectly aware that faith is my lifeline.
Faith . . . In What?
The first principle of the gospel is not just “faith” or “faith that things will turn out the way I want them if I do my part” but “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (4th Article of Faith, P of G P, 60).
Faith or hope that the weather will be favorable for the family reunion, that my child will choose good friends, that I will have good health, or even that a loved one will be healed is very different from solid, sure faith in Christ. Although I don’t spell it out every time, all subsequent uses of the word “faith” refer to faith in Christ, his gospel, and God’s plan.
When Faith is Tried
In the movie Charly, when Sam is about to lose his young wife, in dialogue with his father, he says, “I keep thinking it’s me. Maybe if I just had more faith, or maybe it’s a test; maybe if we had more time–”
His father interrupts: “And maybe not. Maybe you’ve got to face the fact that your faith may not fix this.”
“Then what’s it good for? What? Why have faith if it’s only good for Bible stories and fairy tales and talks in Sacrament meeting. Then when it really counts – “
His father interrupts again and sums up the substance of faith, “When it really counts it won’t abandon you. The pain may block everything for a while … But if you keep your faith in all those answers you’ve been carrying around for a lifetime, then the pain won’t give way to emptiness – and neither will you.”[ii]
My pain is not giving way to emptiness, although I’ve wondered with Sam if my faith is sufficient. For years I prayed with all the faith I could muster for my son’s protection and return to the fold, yet he never returned to activity in the Church – and now he’s gone. He did come back to the “family fold” the last seven years of his life, but he never returned to the safety of faith in Christ—and then he died. Many of my friends, faced with similar challenges, prayed as I did, and their children have returned to full activity, and are now making wonderful progress in their lives. Does that mean their faith was greater than mine? That their prayers were more effective?
Surely the early Saints sometimes wondered “what their faith was good for” when they prayed repeatedly with great faith for protection from the mobs, yet time and again were molested and driven from their homes. In the audio version of The Work and the Glory by Gerald N. Lund, during the horrendous persecutions in Missouri, the character Benjamin Steed asks Joseph Smith, “Why are all these things happening to us?”
The messages I gleaned from Joseph’s reply are these:
- The Lord said He would have a pure people and that the Church must be sanctified.
- Church membership is not for those looking just for the benefits, or for an easy way of life.
- Trials of faith are a weeding out process; the Kingdom of God on earth must be comprised only of the pure in heart who have sufficient faith to sacrifice all without losing heart.
Joseph said that the Saints would need an “iron faith” to make it through all that was coming (and the persecutions in Far West were only a type of what was to come).
I believe we are in that same weeding out process; I believe we too will need an iron faith to make it through the Last Days’ tribulations. Trials of our faith, when we turn to the Lord, help us develop that kind of faith as we dig our roots deep in gospel soil, clear down to the Rock of our Redeemer.
Faith Is an Inside Job
I’ve concluded that faith cannot depend on outside circumstances at all; it is instead an inner choice based on belief in eternal promises and trust in God and His plan. Faith must be based on His truth. It’s a myth that if I follow Christ and keep my covenants then all will work out as I plan or wish – that I can receive some guarantee through good behavior. Look at the life of the prophets!
Faith grows only as I make His will my will and trust God with whatever comes in the meantime. Dante, in The Divine Comedy, wrote: “In His will is our peace.”
Hoping for the Right Things
Moroni 7:40-41 says, “How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.”
Hoping for the wrong things can weaken my faith—hoping that years of prayers will pre-empt someone else’s agency, for example. I did that in my first marriage and in regard to sons coming back to church. It is wishful thinking, not faith that led me to believe God’s law of agency could be overturned for my comfort. My hope and faith must be reserved for eternal unchangeable truths that never fail.
The Saving Power of Faith
Keeping faith and trust in God no matter what happens … Isn’t that what the tests of life are all about? While I can see clearly in my current situation that faith is my lifeline, in reality it always has been: Either the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all the scriptural promises are true, or I have nothing of substance to hope for. Either the Atonement is real, or I am lost. Either the Resurrection is literal, or I have nothing to look forward to in the hereafter. Either God and Jesus are loving, merciful and able to cleanse and heal, or very little in my life makes any sense.
I choose faith. I choose hope; the alternative of emptiness is unbearable. Besides, I have a lifetime of evidences to look back on. Why should I now doubt the witness of all the prophets whose words I’ve read and listened to, all the other people I’ve heard testimonies from? Why should I doubt all the spiritual experiences I’ve had my whole life through, all the scriptural promises that have always given me hope? The truth of those witnesses has not changed!
One of the great hopes I have for my son Brian is that there is a record in his heart of everything he saw and heard and experienced here. On that record of Brian’s life there would be many evidences of the Savior and His love and Atonement. In the spirit world I believe he will remember all the testimonies he heard borne during his first sixteen years on earth, when he was immersed in gospel teachings. I believe he will remember all the scriptures, all the sacrament songs, all the Book of Mormon story tapes he listened to every night for years. I believe Brian will now grasp hold of those, and cry out to the Lord to have part in the Savior’s sacrifice. I choose faith over despair in regard to my son.
Saying the words, “I choose faith” is not enough, however. I must know what faith is and how a person behaves and thinks and feels differently if he has faith in Christ than if he does not.
What Faith IS
- Paul says in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Ether 12:6 says, “Faith is to hope for things not seen which are true.” Other scriptures liken faith to a shield and a breastplate; I see that the shield of faith is the only protection I have from devastating discouragement. Many scriptures tell us that our faith must be in Christ, who is mighty to save – and this is the faith I cling to.
- Faith is listed in two different scriptures as a “gift,” but on page 670 of the Bible Dictionary it explains that although faith is a gift, it must be cultured and sought after. Only then can it grow from a tiny seed to a great tree. Alma 32 gives a beautiful explanation of this process. Faith is asking, and being willing to recognize the gift, then to care for it, nurture it, cultivate it.
- The same page of the Bible Dictionary also reminds us that faith is a principle of action and of power. The test of true faith is: does it move me to some kind of physical and mental action such as repentance? Indeed, faith unto repentance is a common phrase in scripture. It is only by faith that we obtain a remission of sins so that we can eventually stand in the presence of God, clean and forgiven. Faith seems to open the way for the gifts of the Atonement to reach us.
- “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:14-17). Faith is kindled by hearing the testimony of those who have faith. To me that means faith is sharable. In the second Lecture on Faith we learn that we pass faith down through the generations by the word of testimony, written and spoken. I believe that every faith-filled word spoken or written by the power of the Spirit swells the seed of faith in the hearts of anyone who hears or reads them with an open heart. We are the bearers of faith to each other.
- Faith seems to be the path the Atonement must travel to transform and uplift our lives. Faith opens divine channels—of communication, of blessing, of guidance and direction. Fear closes those channels.
- Early Christian writer Hannah Whitall Smith said, “Faith is nothing more nor less than just believing God when He says He either has done something for us, or will do it; and then trusting Him to keep His word.” [iii] She talks of how our daily lives are full of trusting our fellow men in this way, then suggests we ask ourselves if it is possible to trust them and not God, believe their witness not the witness of God, believe man’s records, but not God’s record. She found it strange that people can commit their dearest earthly interests to weak, failing fellow mortals, yet are afraid to commit their spiritual interests to the Savior who laid down His life for them. [iv]
Her words remind me of 2 Nephi 8: 12-13: “Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of man, who shall die, and of the son of man, who shall be made like unto grass? And forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth.”
Hannah implores us to “Let your faith, then ‘throw its arms around all God has told you,’ and in every dark hour remember that … the sun has not ceased shining because the traveler through the tunnel has ceased to see it; and the Sun of righteousness is still shining although you in your dark tunnel do not see Him. Be patient and trustful, and wait.” [v]
What Faith Is NOT
- Faith is not just a feeling, but also a choice of the soul, a choice to receive the gift offered. No matter how I feel, I can choose from my soul to affirm faith.
- Faith is not achieved by a one-time event, but is a moment by moment choice to focus on belief and hope; to reassert our belief in God, in Jesus, in Their faithful keeping of Their promises.
- On page 669 of the Bible Dictionary, we are reminded that miracles do not produce faith, although they often confirm and strengthen the faith we already have. Obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ and personal righteousness are the precursors to developing strong faith.
- Faith cannot be based on externals anymore than happiness can. For example, our faith cannot be based on divine intervention to stabilize the economy. Even if God were willing to rescue us financially from the consequences of poor decisions, it wouldn’t solve the more insidious problems of the moral decline of this nation. In retrospect, when we look back on this decade, we may well consider the economic problems as minor irritants compared to the moral issues. Faith is not a result of financial ease. Faith in Jesus Christ is a belief that regardless of outward circumstance, God is in charge. True faith keeps us steady even when jobs and retirement accounts are lost, even when governments make decisions that shake the very foundations of our security. Faith is not tied to other people’s decisions.
- Cliff Jones, in the last chapter of his fine manuscript, said: “Faith isn’t knowing how everything will work out. Faith isn’t always basking in the warmth of a knowledge that eternal riches are ours. Faith is a belief that carries us onward during periods of very bleak uncertainty. Without uncertainty, there can’t be faith. The fact that we’re not confident how things will go doesn’t mean we have no faith. As we continue to hold onto the iron rod in the midst of tempting mists of darkness that obscure the tree of life from our view and almost convince us to let go, we’re exercising tremendous faith (see 1 Nephi 8). Faith is doing the Lord’s will and moving onward, trusting Him to eventually give us the promised blessings … Our faith moves us onward despite the uncertainties that plague us.” [vi]
Faith in my own ability to exercise and utilize my faith cannot be separated from my faith in Christ. I used to say, “I don’t doubt God, I doubt me; I doubt my own worthiness, my own ability to access the Atonement, to overcome family patterns, to overcome the world.” I’ve had to learn that I cannot harbor self-doubt if my faith in Christ is intact. To paraphrase author Colleen Harrison: self-doubt is saying something like, “I’m more powerful to mess up than the Savior is to redeem. I’m a special case – too difficult for the Lord.” But nothing is too difficult for the Lord, and the power of the redemption reaches out to every willing soul.
“As a Man Thinketh …”
I am now compelled to conduct the experiment of faith in a new and vital way; I recognize that my current level of faith is up to me. It is determined by what I choose to focus on, what I choose to think about. 2 Nephi chapter 4 gives us a vivid scriptural pattern of changing focus from the trial of the moment to past spiritual experiences. Nephi admitted his discouragement and his own weakness, then said, “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted,” and went on to list many evidences of the Lord’s power in his life.
I can do the same. I can be very honest about the challenges, then rehearse to myself the times the Lord has proven that He is my God and can be trusted.
I have learned that my choice of focus is clear cut: I can fill my mind with faith thoughts, or I can stay focused on the problems and leave myself open to doubt, fear, discouragement – which the adversary instantly provides. Or I can be like Nephi, and quickly decide to change the focus to faith thoughts. Hannah Whitall Smith said, “Doubts and discouragement are, I believe, inlets by which evil enters, while faith is an impregnable wall against all evil.” [vii]
The Savior stands at the door and knocks, waiting for an invitation to enter, but the adversary is the great intruder. The instant my mind is not fastened on spiritually edifying thoughts, the enemy of my soul bombards it with doubt, fear, negativity, and discouragement. However, I need not claim those thoughts as my own or feel guilty for them unless I invite them in to stay awhile! I can choose to meet them at the door and send them packing, replacing them with welcome, invited guests – thoughts of faith in Christ and His promises.
Whenever I am assaulted by doubt or fear or discouragement, I can lift up my shield of faith against it. I can refuse to entertain doubt. I can replace the doubtful thought, not with arguments, but with assertions of faith. I am convinced that all fearful, discouraging or doubtful thoughts are attacks from the adversary, my enemy. The Holy Ghost never introduces them into my mind. Never. This member of the Godhead is my Comforter, not my accuser, my very help in trouble. He helps me look steadfastly toward the Savior and away from doubt and fear. He helps me hold fast to my faith without wavering because “He is faithful who hath promised.” I will rely on the Lord’s faithfulness, not my own. I will believe actively and persistently.
Faith Saves Our Lives – Physically and Spiritually
In his book The Fire of Faith, Elder John Groberg tells a story that illuminates and summarizes the whole subject of faith for me. He and his wife and children were onboard a ship named Faifekau, returning from a trip to Ha’apai. The seas were extremely rough. Suddenly the engines stopped. The crew tried everything to restart the engines, but to no avail. They were in grave danger, and the Captain told Elder Groberg he would follow any directions he gave. Elder Groberg struggled much of the night for the faith he needed. He knew they would all die if they could not get the engines started. When a calmness finally came to him he called for the captain and told him to simply go through the regular routine for starting the engines—the one that had failed so many times before. That was a test of faith for the captain and crew—but they passed! They followed Elder Groberg’s instructions, and much to everyone’s amazement and joy, the engines started. They were saved!
He indicated that life gives us many difficult opportunities to put forth necessary effort to increase our faith, and that as we exercise faith in Christ we tap into the power of the One who has all power. I learned from his story that even if life overwhelms us with high waves and furious storms; even if the engines of our lives are stalled, His power can save us and get our lives moving again—moving toward the safe shores of His love.
Elder Groberg said, “I came to know that fearful night that faith is a real power, not just a great motivator and revealer and strengthener and guide. It is all of those things, but it is also much more. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is an eternal, endless power as great as any power in the whole universe.”
Elder Groberg assures us that God blesses all the willing with adequate opportunities to increase faith. The circumstances could involve many things, such as danger, illness, death, disaffection of a loved one. There are many ways the boat we are traveling in may be temporarily stopped. However, the faith we develop through such hard times can be sufficient to give us the power to continue our journey home through the night. [viii]
Faith in the Fulfillment of God’s Purposes
Elder Groberg said, “I know that there is total and complete justice in eternity. God’s dealings with man have no tinge of partiality, favoritism, capriciousness, or anything less than complete consistency, balance, and perfectness.” [ix] Consequently I can have perfect faith in His words, in His power to fulfill them, in the inevitability of the fulfillment of His purposes. Only He knows what my destination should be. Only lack of faith can keep me from it.
An e-mail from a thoughtful reader said, “Oh yes, there are days when doubt and pain try to rear their ugly heads again, but that sweet, simple, little word faith has to take on the strength, character, and courage to knock down those negative feelings. One truly has to ‘be still and know that I am God’ … I know that you will find peace of heart as your armor of faith girds you up … God has the plan and it has not all been revealed to us. Our job is to trust in Him. It is a journey in learning how to trust and accept that all will be well.”
Rest and Hope
Faith in Christ is my shield and protection from Satan’s efforts to destroy me with discouragement and depression. Faith is believing that Christ is mighty to redeem—no matter what my problem. Faith is remembering previous evidences I’ve received of God’s loving care and intervention in my life when I’m not feeling it. Faith is knowing God is there loving me even when I feel forsaken. Faith is knowing my hope is in Christ, His Atonement and resurrection, not having things “turn out.” Faith is recognizing any indication of the growth of a celestial character as success regardless of all the pain it may have taken to motivate that growth. Faith means believing in myself – in my ability to reach out to the Savior, knowing that I am part of every scriptural promise and that all God’s promises and purposes will be ultimately be fulfilled.
“Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5) is a scripture that has new meaning for me. Trust, faith, hope, peace . . . what beautiful words, what beautiful thought choices, what a beautiful anchor for my life! When my faith is based on truth from God, on belief in Christ and His Atonement, I can rest in Him.
May faith in Christ fill our thoughts and feelings and help us trust God no matter what!
[i] Larry Barkdull, Rescuing Wayward Children, soon to be published by Covenant Communications.
[ii] Jack Weyland and Excel Entertainment
[iii] Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Fleming H Revell, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1952, 71.
[iv] Christian’s Secret, 73.
[v] Christian’s Secret, 78.
[vi] Cliff Jones, Upward Inward Outward Onward: Four Gospel Lessons that Bring Love Home, unpublished manuscript.
[vii] Christian’s Secret, 120.
[viii] See John H. Groberg, The Fire of Faith, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1996, 114-115.
[ix] The Fire of Faith, p. 183)