I’d like to make a deal with you. I will agree to pay you $10,000 to drive your car across town without getting in an accident. However, I am going to modify your car in one way. I am going to paint the car’s windshield black. So, you must drive forward and navigate only by looking in the rear-view mirror. That’s right. You must drive forward only by looking at what is behind you. Your rear-view mirror is your only view.
Would you be willing to take the bet? It’s hard to imagine driving forward, making turns and navigating streets only by looking at what is behind you. It would not only be unsafe, but also absurd to think that you could drive this way.
However, on the road of life, many of us try to live our lives by focusing on what is behind us rather than what is ahead of us.
There is much to be gained by looking to the past. We can learn from the lessons of the past and remember our heritage by remembering the past. However, we were never meant to be defined by or place our focus behind us.
Likewise, we often let the failures or successes of the past define us to the point that our identity and self-worth is often tied up in what is behind rather than ahead of us. At times, we give more of our spiritual and emotional selves to the past rather than to the future. We let past sins and habits keep us in the past. Perhaps we have tried, unsuccessfully, to overcome a weakness. Therefore, we conclude we can’t overcome it in the future. And, as a result, we return to that weakness, concluding we are unable to change.
Just like driving by looking in our rear-view mirror, we must break with some things in our past to move forward into the future.
In Genesis 19, we read the story of Lot’s wife. Lot, his wife and two daughters are commanded to leave Sodom and Gomorrah in haste and not to “look behind” in the process. Lot’s wife, however, looked back and became a pillar of salt.
Like Lot and his family, many missionaries know what it is like to leave a home you loved, friends you cherished, habits you are used to, and face a less comfortable life in the mission field. Nowadays they leave behind entertainment, fun, phones and a host of other niceties in life.
It takes courage to step forward in faith believing that things will turn out for your good. Because it’s not easy, we can relate to Lot’s wife in one way or another.
Luke 17 gives us some insight into Lot’s wife. There we learn that Lot’s wife was perhaps longing for her “stuff” and her household. Maybe she was longing for the small sins that had crept into her life as a result of being in Sodom for so long. Whatever the reason, we can learn a lesson: it is hard to have faith in your future when you are holding on to the comforts of the past. Where the mind goes, the man follows, and if our mind is in the future, we tend to act in faith. If it is in the past, we tend to return to the past.
There is a tremendous lesson to be learned here. Some of us are content living with one foot in the gospel and one in the world. We try to keep our covenants but are complacent about the small indiscretions we allow to remain in our day-to-day living. We longingly hold onto small sins and comforts that keep us from full fellowship with the spirit.
So, how do we “clean up” our living and leave the past and its small sins behind? Look to Abraham as an example.
In Genesis 22, Abraham is tested. He is told to “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering….” Surely Abraham didn’t want to do such a thing. But he obeyed quickly and “rose up early in the morning” and proceeded to the place of sacrifice.
I have found in my own life when I obey quickly, when I am quick to observe whatever instruction or inspiration I receive, I have more power to obey the next time around. When I wait or procrastinate, I am more likely to procrastinate again.
Elder Bednar taught that being quick to observe and obey leads us to having greater discernment and “protection and direction in a world that grows increasingly dark.”[i]
He taught that this power of discernment helps us do four important things:
- Detect hidden error and evil in others
- Detect hidden error and evil in ourselves
- Find and bring forth good in others
- Find and bring forth good in ourselves
It makes sense, doesn’t it? When we are quick to obey, we have less conflict or confusion inside. Why? There is no internal debate as to if or why we should do something. We have faith that God knows best and that serves as an anchor in our thinking.
Anchoring is a concept widely used in psychology. And it’s used in a number of different settings in everyday life. For example, when you walk into a car dealership, the price of the car is already set. So, all the subsequent discussions and negotiations are relative to the price of the car. But who is to say the initial price is anchored in truth or reality?
The same goes for us. When we go about making sense of something in our life, we usually work from an anchor. For example, you may justify a small sin because your friends do much worse. You may be anchored in who you’ve been in the past rather than who you can be in the future. Each anchor may be rooted in something other than truth.
But when we anchor in God’s truth, we measure, act and think from his basis. As a result, we can more clearly discern truth in the world and in ourselves because we are acting from his center not ours.
Here’s a simple example. Let’s say your anchor is rooted in the past and you’ve concluded that you can’t overcome a habit, and as a result, you believe you are of less worth than other people. Anchored in that thinking, you struggle to move beyond your perceptions and are more susceptible to Satan’s negative pull on your life. But truth, the real anchor, is much different.
These truths exist:
- You are of immense worth. Your potential is endless and God views you in this light.
- You have the power within you to make good choices and do hard things. It is a matter of learning the skills to do so. You can improve and change through the grace of Jesus Christ. He has the power to help us change.
- You are amazing and your potential for good is unlimited.
You see, when truths like these are your anchor, you act, feel and become better. You see things from a more discernable point of view.
Lot’s wife, who may have been anchored in what she was leaving behind, could not discern the future that was before her and chose to turn back. Obedience redirects your view.
Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Is anything too hard for the Lord?
One of the most difficult anchors to attach ourselves to is the faith and belief that we can overcome habits or actions of the past. This is where your anchor makes all the difference. The true anchor is this: God is greater than your sins, mistakes, and shortcomings. Is anything too hard for the Lord? No. Through his Son Jesus Christ, you can have the spiritual strength and the grace of God to help you do better in the future.
One of Satan’s best tools is to keep you convinced that God cannot or doesn’t want to help you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many times, before your feet even hit the floor in the morning, Satan begins to remind you of everything you did wrong the previous day or mistakes you’ve made in the past. In doing so, his goal is to use yesterday to keep you from living today.
His anchor is rooted in lies. The true anchor is that God loves to bless. He loves you and me more than we imagine. Jesus Christ suffered for your sins so you can have a clean and bright future. Nothing is too hard for the Lord, especially helping you to overcome your shortcomings.
What can we do to anchor in this way? Be quick to obey. When you read the scriptures, be quick to do what you read. When you go to Elder’s Quorum, be quick to do what is taught. Obey immediately. Soon, you will find discernment and strength you didn’t have before, your actions will improve, you’ll feel better about yourself, and the strength to overcome will be given to you.
When we turn our view to God’s view, we leave behind the crippling uncertain and confusing view of the world. President Nelson taught the same principle. He said:
“Imagine, if you will, a pair of powerful binoculars. Two separate optical systems are joined together with a gear to focus two independent images into one three-dimensional view. To apply this analogy, let the scene on the left side of your binoculars represent your perception of your task. Let the picture on the right side represent the Lord’s perspective of your task—the portion of His plan He has entrusted to you. Now, connect your system to His. By mental adjustment, fuse your focus. Something wonderful happens. Your vision and His are now the same. You have developed an ‘eye single to the glory of God.’ With that perspective, look upward—above and beyond mundane things about you. The Lord said, ‘Look unto me in every thought (D&C 6:36).’ That special vision will also help clarify your wishes when they may be a bit fuzzy and out of focus with God’s hopes for your divine destiny. Indeed, the precise challenge you regard now as ‘impossible’ may be the very refinement you need, in His eye.”[ii]
The Great and Last Sacrifice
In Genesis 22, we read about the great test of Abraham. Abraham is commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Obeying quickly, Abraham and Isaac leave for their three day journey to Moriah to offer Isaac for a burnt offering upon the top of the mountain. Once there, Abraham prays for guidance. Then, he took the wood of the burnt offering and “laid it up on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.”
Now, I don’t know all the goings on of this great event. Many scholars have speculated on what Isaac did or did not know. Others on how old Isaac was at the time. Others on the exact location of this event. But when I ponder on the lessons from this great Abrahamic test, I am impressed with the following:
- It is likely that Abraham understood the similitude of the event and that it pointed to the great sacrifice of the Son of God. And it seems that Isaac understood the same. Did their understanding help their willingness to obey? Certainly. When we understand the love manifest in the atonement of the Son of God, we are more willing to obey.
- Why did God ask this test of Abraham and Isaac? To test their faith and perhaps more. After this experience both Abraham and Isaac would likely understand first-hand the emotion, love and feeling of being the father and the son who said, “Here am I, send me (Abraham 3:27).” As fathers of the covenant, did they need this first-hand experience? Perhaps.
- If Isaac understood the similitude of this offering, then he would likely have been willingly bound, like Jesus Christ was bound, submitting to the will of his father. “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the alter upon the wood (Gen 22:9).”
- This enactment of being willing to sacrifice Isaac was a necessary prelude, perhaps even part of the Abrahamic covenant. It pointed to the great and last sacrifice. And without the great and last sacrifice of the Son of God, how could Abraham’s seed receive the promised blessings? So, it would make sense that at the time of Abraham’s covenant, Abraham and his son must learn, by their own experience, the sacrifice of the Son of God. Just as the willingness to sacrifice Isaac brought about the blessings of the covenant, so does the Savior’s great and last sacrifice make possible the fulfilling of the covenant for all mankind.
- Isaac and Abraham left the experience with greater love for each other. As President Benson said, “Both Abraham and Isaac now sit as gods (D&C 132:37). They were willing to offer or to be offered up as God required. They have a deeper love and respect for each other because both were willing to put God first.”[iii]
- Perhaps this representation of the great and last sacrifice as part of the Abrahamic covenant was to help the Children of Israel. It would show a similitude, a representation, of how the sacrifice of the Son of God would eventually happen. As a result, there may have been saints in Jesus’ day who recognized that his path was the same as Isaac’s, and this strengthened their faith in Jesus Christ.
- Certainly, Isaac’s experience teaches us about our own covenant path. Our path includes a walk to the temple mount, a similitude or remembering of the sacrifice of the Son of God, a demonstration of obedience and a covenant with God. In the house of the Lord we make the same covenant and can receive the same blessings as Isaac. Elder Christofferson said, “It is only in pursuing the covenant path that we inherit the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ultimate blessings of salvation and exaltation that only God can give.”
- Perhaps this Abraham’s test was also designed for us. In our patriarchal blessings with our lineage declaration, we are linked to Abraham, and the faith and love Abraham showed in his willingness to sacrifice his son, can becomes ours as well. We can adopt his faith and blessings in our life.
I believe what we can learn most from Genesis 18-23 is this:
It is incredible to think our Heavenly Father gave his only son. When his son died for us, there was no stay, no ram in the thicket. He willingly gave his son for you and me. How can we ever think that he does not love us?
Alma 34:10 says, “For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.”
Jesus, the creator of this earth, the son of the almighty Father, took upon him the sins of the world and willingly climbed the hill to die for you and me. It is amazing to think of the love he had for you and me.
Like Abraham and Isaac, we have a duty to stay on the covenant path. To do our best to remember the gift of this life, the great and last sacrifice, given to us as part of the covenants in which we participate.
Is anything too hard for the Lord? No. For the Lord, who has all power, has given to us his grace and a path to follow. At times, the path may seem hard, but God will give us miracles to help us stay on the covenant path.
As Susan Tanner said, “Each time I walk with Abraham and Isaac on the road to Mount Moriah, I weep, knowing that Abraham does not know that there will be an angel and a ram in the thicket at the end of the journey. We are each in the middle of our earthly path, and we don’t know the rest of our own stories. But we, as Abraham, are blessed with miracles.
I delight in the Lord’s mercies and miracles. I know that his tender mercies and His miracles, large and small, are real…. When we delight to serve Him, our Father in Heaven delights to bless us. ‘I, the Lord, … delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end’ (D&C 76:5).”[iv]
May God help us all to walk his path in obedience and faith.
[i] David A. Bednar, Quick to Observe, BYU Devotional May 10, 2005.
[ii] Russell M. Nelson, With God Nothing Shall be Impossible, April 1988 conference.
[iii] Ezra Taft Benson, The Great Commandment, April 1988 conference.
[iv] Susan W. Tanner, My Soul Delighteth in the Things of the Lord, April 2008 conference.