We know that faith is a power stronger than electricity or lightning or the flooding of many waters. It is the first great governing principle which has power, dominion, and authority over all things. So, of course we seek how to develop it in ourselves. In Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith teaches us: “Three things are necessary for any rational and intelligent being to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
“First, the idea that he actually exists:
“Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes;
“And thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which one is pursuing is according to His will.”
Welcome, we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and this is Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast where today we study the third part of Psalms. This idea that we need to have a correct idea of God’s character, perfections and attributes is a life-time quest and worth everything we put into it. It is the human tendency to project on to God our own ideas of who He is. We may think that He is angry or indifferent, or on the other hand, our bellboy in the sky who is ready at our service to bring us things as we easily request. We may project on to Him our weaknesses or be mad at Him in what feels to us as silence. But to actually begin to comprehend what God is actually like requires a lifetime, no actually an eternity, of study, and is the most fruitful thing we can be about. That’s why we love the Psalms because God’s character is depicted throughout.
When Lectures on Faith gives us these three things necessary to exercise faith in God, the book immediately turns to Psalms 103 and 90 for a rendering of God’s attributes.
“The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Ps 103:6-8). “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them” (Ps 103:17-18). “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Ps 90:2).
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy”. What does that mean? Can I begin to comprehend that kind of love? Since we are not yet plenteous in mercy, we have to stretch to comprehend God, and pray for His Spirit so we can taste His presence. The Psalms are an invitation to comprehension. The phrase His “mercy endureth forever” is repeated often, almost like a chant, lest we forget. Look at Psalm 136:
3 O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.
4 To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.
5 To him that by awisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.
6 To him that stretched out the aearth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.
7 To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:
8 The asun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:
9 The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.
We have the sense that over and above all His creations is His mercy for His children. It is easy to drift through life accumulating resentment, hoping to hold someone else’s feet to the fire because they wronged you, letting lack of mercy or forgiveness sit like a rock in your gut. But look how the Lord’s true disciples handle these situations. When Stephen, in Acts, bears his testimony, the crowd is infuriated “and ran upon him with one accord and cast him out of the city, and stoned him.
For a more vivid picture of this, let’s give you a clear idea of what it meant to stone someone. The victim was thrown off a cliff, which fall alone could have crushed him, yet it was only then that everyone threw stones upon his broken body, screaming with pain and shattered bones. How did Stephen respond? We see in Acts 7:60, “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, “lord lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
There is such power in beginning to get even the merest glimpses into God’s perfections. I know, Maurine, that your favorite Psalm is 139 and it dovetails with this discussion of God’s mercy.
O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
For me, these verses begin the description of a God who knows me better than I know myself, who sees in my soul something finer and better and more powerful than I can see. He speaks of a God who has known me already for an eternity in a place of unlimited light. Nothing about me is hidden from Him, and so He offers me to lift my sights and my hopes farther than I could hope for on my own. I see myself as a moth. He sees me as magnificent, since all things are continually before His eyes. He sees me and still loves me. He sees me and offers eternal life as an option, for one so small as me.
He is in the details and knows when I sit down and I get up, and even if He were far off, he completely knows my thoughts, and therefore my yearnings and hopes, and the wounds only He can help me address.
Psalm 139 continues:
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art aacquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in ahell, behold, thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
This means that even when I feel worthless and have retreated to the uttermost parts of the sea, or the darkness of my own being, God sees me and finds me, values me and cherishes me. When I am lost, He comes for me. He is acquainted with all my ways. I can’t surprise Him. There “is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.” The Lord knows my being, the very expression of my soul, He knows my song and how to teach me to sing it. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me”. It is indeed, that there is one who perfectly knows my need, my joys, my wounds, the reasons that I laugh. I cannot go where He is not already there waiting for me. Even when Satan attempts to cover me, the Lord can penetrate any darkness. The events of our lives are not surprising to the Lord. He knows our birth, our death our details.
Psalms 139 reads:
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Fearfully ,when translated from the Hebrew, means with great reverence, heart-felt interest, and with respect. Wonderfully, when translated from the Hebrew, means unique and set apart. Even though there are billions of us, human beings were not created on an assembly line. Each one is intricate, and wonderful and an extraordinary work of art, as well as His child, carrying God’s divine attributes, only in embryo. This means you have not begun to see who you are, but God has.
Each year when we take tour groups to Israel, we go to the Valley of the Doves, which is the walking path from the Galilee to Nazareth. There, in this place that we are certain Jesus walked, we talk about how well God knows us.
I like to tell the story of the woman at the well there. I read the story and ask my fellow travelers, when did the woman of Samaria actually gain a testimony of the Savior? You remember the story. It is noon, the heat of the day when a lone woman comes to the well to fetch water. This is a very important detail, because it tells us right away that she is a marginalized woman, not well accepted in her community. The usual time to come for water would be in the early morning, along with the other women in the village, but somehow she is not accepted.
The Lord asks her, “Give me to drink.” She marvels because He has broken every social norm to talk to her. Jews do not talk to Samaritans—and Jesus is a Jew. Men don’t talk to women in that culture. Then Jesus tells her, that if she knew who He was who asks a drink of her, she would have instead turned and asked Him for living water because “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life”(John 4: 14).
At last the woman wants the water, “that I thirst not”(v.15). But Jesus told her to go get her husband to also drink. When the woman confesses that she has no husband, Jesus indicates his perfect knowledge of her, a knowledge He only had because He was God. He doesn’t know this because He and the woman had talked about it. They haven’t really introduced themselves. He knows it because He completely knows her already. He says, “Thou hast well said, I have no husband for thou hast had five husbands and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband” (vv, 17, 18).
When does she begin to perceive that she is visiting with the Lord? It is when she realizes that He so totally knows and sees her. In this lonely world, where we rattle around inside ourselves, often alone and unknown, there is One who knows. When we feel known by the heavens we feel to fall down to our knees and worship. I am seen. I am seen. To Jesus, this woman at the well was not a forgotten and marginalized woman, but one who had been fearfully and wonderfully made. She was more than an outcast. She was more than she knew. God saw her.
The woman said, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet” (v. 19). But she would learn more, she is the first in the scriptures to have the Lord announce that He was the long-awaited Messiah.
Here’s another example of someone becoming a believer because He is known of God. In the first chapter of John, Philip comes to Nathanael and proclaims, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
“And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him and saith of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
“Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
“Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1: 46-49).
So the question is, when did Nathanael know that Jesus was the Messiah? The answer is when he realized that the Lord so perfectly saw Him. We revel in those moments when we feel known of the Lord. It may just be a whisper in our ear or a touch on the shoulder. It may be that things work out that should not have worked out, but when we feel known we also feel reverential. Who is this God who has me so clearly in His view?
A god who knows you, knows when you are frightened and need strength. A God who knows you, knows when your heart is breaking and sends comfort. A God who knows you, knows you are more than the sum of all of your experiences.
A companion to this idea we find in Psalm 118:6,8.
“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?
“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said of this: “Surely in the battles of life and the vicissitudes we face there is nothing that could be more reassuring than to know that we are on the Lord’s side and that, in turn, He is on ours. This does not mean the battles will cease. It does not mean the travail will be short-lived or instantly overcome. But it does mean that we can fight with confidence against woes and oppositions that eventually will yield to divine influence…In the eternal battle between good and evil, there is nothing others can do that will hurt us permanently or harm us eternally if we know we are on the Lord’s side and He is on ours. (Jeffrey R. Holland, For Times of Trouble).
Elder Holland once told a story about a young man who became lost and, to his joy, realized that God was never far away: It was a reassurance that God knew Him, was on His team, and on his side. It begins:
“Several decades ago an acquaintance of mine left a small southern Utah town to travel to the East. He had never traveled much beyond his little hometown and certainly had never ridden a train. But his older sister and brother-in-law needed him under some special circumstances, and his parents agreed to free him from the farm work in order to go. They drove him to Salt Lake City and put him onto the train—new Levi’s, not so new boots, very frightened, and eighteen years old.
“There was one major problem, and it terrified him. He had to change trains in Chicago. Furthermore, it involved a one-night layover, and that was a fate worse than death. His sister had written, carefully outlining when the incoming train would arrive and how and where and when he was to catch the outgoing line, but he was terrified.
“And then his humble, plain, sun-scarred father did something no one in this room should ever forget. He said, “Son, wherever you go in this Church there will always be somebody to stand by you. That’s part of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint.” And then he stuffed into the pocket of his calico shirt the name of a bishop he had taken the time to identify from sources at Church headquarters. If the boy had troubles, or became discouraged and afraid, he was to call the bishop and ask for help.
“Well, the train ride progressed rather uneventfully until the train pulled into Chicago. And even then the young man did pretty well at collecting his luggage and making it to the nearby hotel room that had been prearranged by his brother-in-law. But then the clock began to tick and night began to fall and faith began to fail. Could he find his way back to the station? Could he find the right track and train? What if it was late? What if he was late? What if he lost his ticket? What if his sister had made a mistake and he ended up in New York? What if? What if? What if?
“Without those well-worn boots ever hitting the floor, that big, raw-boned boy flew across the room, nearly pulled the telephone out of the wall, and, fighting back tears and troubles, called the bishop. Alas, the bishop was not home, but the bishop’s wife was. She spoke long enough to reassure him that absolutely nothing could go wrong that night. He was, after all, safe in the room, and what he needed more than anything else was a night’s rest. Then she said, “If tomorrow morning you are still concerned, follow these directions and you can be with our family and other ward members until train time. We will make sure you get safely on your way.” She then carefully spelled out the directions, had him repeat them back, and suggested a time for him to come.
“With slightly more peace in his heart, he knelt by his bed in prayer (as he had every night of his eighteen years) and then waited for morning to come. Somewhere in the night the hustle and bustle of Chicago in the 1930s subsided into peaceful sleep.
“At the appointed hour the next morning he set out. A long walk, then catch a bus. Then transfer to another. Watch for the stop. Walk a block, change sides of the street, and then one last bus. Count the streets carefully. Two more to go. One more to go. I’m here. Let me out of this bus. It worked, just like she said.
“Then his world crumbled, crumbled before his very eyes. He stepped out of the bus onto the longest stretch of shrubbery and grass he had ever seen in his life. She had said something about a park, but he thought a park was a dusty acre in southern Utah with a netless tennis court in one corner. Here he stood looking in vain at the vast expanse of Lincoln Park with not a single friendly face in sight.
“There was no sign of a bishop or a ward or a meetinghouse. And the bus was gone. It struck him that he had no idea where he was or what combination of connections with who knows what number of buses would be necessary to get him back to the station. Suddenly he felt more alone and overwhelmed than he had at any moment in his life. As the tears welled up in his eyes, he despised himself for feeling so afraid—but he was, and the tears would not stop. He stepped off the sidewalk away from the bus stop into the edge of the park. He needed some privacy for his tears, as only an eighteen-year-old from Southern Utah could fully appreciate. But as he stepped away from the noise, fighting to control his emotions, he thought he heard something hauntingly familiar in the distance.
“He moved cautiously in the direction of the sound. First he walked, and then he walked quickly. The sound was stronger and firmer and certainly it was familiar. Then he started to smile, a smile that erupted into an audible laugh, and then he started to run. He wasn’t sure that was the most dignified thing for a newcomer to Chicago to do, but this was no time for discretion. He ran, and he ran fast. He ran as fast as those cowboy boots would carry him—over shrubs, through trees, around the edge of a pool.
“Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
“The sounds were crystal clear, and he was weeping newer, different tears. For there over a little rise huddled around a few picnic tables and bundles of food were the bishop and his wife and their children and most of the families of that little ward. The date: July 24, 1934. The sound: a slightly off-key a cappella rendition of lines that even a boy from Southern Utah could recognize.
“Gird up your loins; fresh courage take;
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell—
All is well! All is well!
[“Come, Come, Ye Saints, Hymns, 1985, no. 30]
“It was Pioneer Day. The gathering to which he had been invited was a Twenty-Fourth of July celebration. Knowing that it was about time for the boy to arrive, the ward had thought it a simple matter to sing a verse or two of ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints’ to let him know their location. (Jeffrey R. Holland, “For Times of Trouble” https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland/times-trouble/)
God will be with you and call to you in any location you find yourself. Knowing this can release us from the sizzle of tension and need for control that mars our life. This encourages us, brings peace to us. It gives us the best opportunity to remember this from Psalm 118:24.
“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Too easily we fall for the temptation of living our lives in the future—protecting ourselves, figuring out what we need to do next, searching the road ahead for opportunities, dreading what unforeseen thing might befalls us. Similarly, we are tempted to live in the past, thinking nothing will ever be as good as we once experienced or conversely, dragging regret and guilt behind us long after the Savior’s atonement has swallowed it up and we can let it go.
Certainly, planning for the future and remembering the past has a place in our lives, but not to the detriment of loving what is right now. When our mindspace is continually somewhere else than right here and right now, we lost the ability to rejoice and be glad in the here and now.
Elder Holland noted, “It is telling that when the fearful Moses was to rescue the enslaved Israelites, he said to the Lord, “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, “The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name” what shall I say unto them?
“God replied to His prophet, ‘I AM THAT I AM…Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you’ (Exodus 3:13-14). Grammatically )and theologically) speaking that is a divine declaration of God in the present tense…Yes, He has been with us in the past and yes, He will be with us in the future. He is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. These are all titles applicable to the Lord. But when we need Him urgently, when we need Him in great faith, when challenges are immediate and overwhelming, He is with us in the present tense.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, For Times of Trouble)
Because the present is the only moment we can live in we rejoice in it. We step back and stop our buzzing brain and celebrate right now, this time.
One author wrote, “Just a normal day. A normal day? It’s a jewel! In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In time of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, want, people have raised boney hands to the skies and stayed alive for this.
“Normal day–Let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may—for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want more than all the world to return to you, normal day.” https://www.livingonadime.com/ordinary-day-poem/#:~:text=Let%20me%20not%20pass%20you,return%20to%20you%2C%20normal%20day.
When we live somewhere else besides the present, we miss all that is happening right now, all that is calling to us right now. So caught in the future or the past, we may miss the voice of the Spirit.
An article that appeared in The Washington Post in 2007 won a Pulitzer Prize. It asked this question, “Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? The writer had one of the nation’s great violinists, Joshua Bell, position himself against a wall besides a trash basket. He removed his violin from its case, and left it open at his feet and began to play.
Here’s how writer Gene Weingarten described what happened next.
“It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L’Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.
“Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?
“On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington “Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?
“The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.
So, what do you think happened? The musical director of the National Symphony Orchestra guessed that out of 1,000 people, 35 or 40 would recognize the quality for what it is and maybe 75 to 100 would stop and spend some time listening. He thought a crowd would gather and about $150 would be thrown into the open violin case in gratitude.
Weingarten pointed out that Joshua Bell “had been accepting over-the-top accolades since puberty: Interview magazine once said his playing ‘does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.” Yet this world-acclaimed violinist, playing on a 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius in the morning rush hour of a Washington D.C metro had far fewer people than the musical director of the National Symphony guessed.”
Weingarten wrote, “Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.
A half-minute later, Bell got his first donation. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.
“Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run – for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/magazine/pearls-before-breakfast-can-one-of-the-nations-great-musicians-cut-through-the-fog-of-a-dc-rush-hour-lets-find-out/2014/09/23/8a6d46da-4331-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html?itid=lk_inline_manual_4
Now, we may be tempted to feel critical of this group, so frantic in their rush that they could not recognize heavenly music when they heard it, but we also probably suspect that we could have been one of them. Any one of us might have gone rushing by, and why, because we have lists, we live half in the future and are running with some kind of fear to get there without too many blunders. Frantic for the future or heartsick for the past, we can miss the joy of this day. We may also miss the Lord’s Spirit as it talks to us in that still, small and very calm voice. So we come back to the Psalms “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” That is a heavenly thought, and deeply true, because this day and this moment is what we have. Let’s not miss it.
As we close, we turn to Psalms 137, one of our favorites and we hear it in Jerusalem as we visit each year with tours. This Psalm is believed to be of a later date than some of the earlier Psalms, because it speaks of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, which, of course, is much later than the time of David.
1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.\
Here is the loneliness and longing of the Jews for Zion when they are captive in Babylon. We feel their desolation. It is not just freedom and pleasant things they long for, but the temple itself. Their temple, where they worshipped Jehovah, has been destroyed, the center of their lives in ashes. They cannot use the harps they brought with them, because they are in distress. They have no voice and no heart for music.
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
The Latter-day Saint pioneers echoed the same sentiments as they turned for one last look at the Nauvoo Temple before they turned their faces west for an unknown destination somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. They built their temple as they built wagons to leave it “We wept when we remembered Zion.
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” This means that if I forget Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill or cease to function. May my hands, essentially, be rendered useless. “Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” means I no longer have the capacity to talk or sing. Without Jerusalem at my center, I lose the ability to be. It could not be a more plaintive or poetic cry—and it is remembered, today, in Jerusalem. As covenant people, it means for us, if I do not have the temple, I am thus stricken and rendered powerless.
That’s all for today. This is Scot and Maurine Proctor and this has been Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. Next week, we’ll study Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music that opens and closes this podcast and to Michaela Proctor Hutchins, our producer. We’ll see you next time.