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Does a high enough level of faith give us control of outcomes? When I was young I believed that praying with enough faith insured positive results. I must have thought that somehow strong faith could give a measure of control over outward circumstances and even people—that we could pray people into changing for the good and pray circumstances into becoming more what we desired. What followed was a feeling that I had failed at faith when I didn’t get what I prayed for. How can we rise above such childish misunderstandings and gain a true perspective of the real power of faith in Christ and the real purpose of prayer?
In the Bible Dictionary, we find this definition of prayer: “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them.” Can we distinguish between focusing faith on “my will be done” instead of having the faith in God to truly surrender to “Thy will be done”?
When her mother was dying, young Jenny Oaks asked her father, Dallin Oaks, “How can we have faith that someone will get well, or something will happen, when we know that everything is dependent upon the Lord’s will?”
In answer to his daughter’s question her father, Dallin H. Oaks, even then an Apostle, said,
I believe that the only true faith is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything we have ‘faith’ in is based on faith or trust in the Lord Jesus Christ (and His Father), that they will do what is best for us (another way of saying according to their will in our behalf). Therefore, we cannot really say that we have ‘faith’ that the Lord will do what we ask Him to do in any and all circumstances. There will be times when that is not even right for us. If we place our trust in Him, that is what we should do. And He has taught us that we should pray for those we love, and should pray for those who are sick. We do that, and exercise our faith in the Lord, and that is what we are supposed to do. . .
I have seen people punish themselves greatly because they prayed in faith for the recovery of a person who dies, and then considered that they had ‘let them die’ because their own faith was insufficient to bring about the desired result. My mother felt that feeling of guilt for many years after the death of my father, until she came to see that she was not at fault in his death. It was the will of the Lord, and she had done all she could. (www.ldsliving.com, July 3, 2018)
When S. Michael Wilcox prayed all day to receive an answer about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and didn’t, he later concluded: “I had demanded an answer on my terms, according to my time line, corresponding to my needs.” He learned that we need to have faith in Christ, not in outcomes. That we need to trust in His timing, His will, His conditions, and His infinite wisdom.
Adam C. Olson, Online article “Failure Is Part of the Plan” said, “Faith doesn’t prevent failure; it makes it meaningful. Nephi was full of faith as he and his brothers went back for the plates of brass, but that didn’t keep them from failing miserably—twice (see 1 Nephi 3). But his faith in the face of failure helped turn his failure into preparation for success. Did earlier failed encounters with Laban help prepare Nephi to recognize him, impersonate him, find his house, and make it out with the sacred records? We don’t know for certain. But we do know that our future success is often built on top of past failures.”
Faith to accept “no” answers
In a talk called, “Accepting the Lord’s Will and Timing,” Elder David A. Bednar told of a young man, newly married and suffering from cancer who had requested a priesthood blessing. Elder Bednar said to him, “If it is the will of our Heavenly Father that you are transferred by death in your youth to the spirit world to continue your ministry, do you have the faith to submit to His will and not be healed?”
This young man told of his struggle to find that kind of faith. In his journal he wrote:
‘Why should I have faith if His will ultimately is what will prevail,’ I asked? After this experience, I knew that having faith—at least in my circumstance—was not necessarily knowing that he would heal me, but that He could heal me. I had to believe that He could, and then whether it happened was up to Him. As I allowed those two ideas to coexist in my life, focused faith in Jesus Christ and complete submission to His will, I found greater comfort and peace.”
Elder Bednar continued,
[In this story] we recognize a principle that applies to every devoted disciple: strong faith in the Savior is submissively accepting of His will and timing in our lives—even if the outcome is not what we hoped for or wanted.
Thus, even if we have strong faith, many mountains will not be moved. And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated.” ( Elder David A. Bednar, CES devotional given on March 3, 2013)
Beloved Christian author Catherine Marshall learned this lesson through a heart-wrenching experience. She lost a tiny granddaughter to a rare disease. When another granddaughter was born to the same parents and diagnosed with the same disease, Catherine was determined that her faith and prayers combined with the faith and prayers of others would save this child. She organized prayer circles, contacted numerous prayer chains, enlisted groups of faithful believers to fast and prayer with her for the life of this child . . . but still, the child died. This experience caused her to re-think the foundation of her faith. She learned the lesson that Elder Bednar so beautifully explained in the following quote:
A critical question to ponder is “Where do we place our faith?” Is our faith focused on simply wanting to be relieved of pain and suffering, or is it firmly centered on God the Father and His holy plan and in Jesus the Christ and His Atonement? Faith in the Father and the Son allows us to understand and accept Their will as we prepare for eternity.
Not only our faith, but our hope must be placed in Christ and not in the outcomes we desire right now. In Moroni 7:41 we read, “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.”
I recall an experience in our ward family more than a decade ago when one of the bright lights of our ward was diagnosed with incurable cancer. She was a dynamic, beloved Relief Society president who had seven children, the youngest of them only five years old. We held a stake fast in her behalf and had a prayer meeting in the chapel before we closed our fast where all were invited to attend. For the first time in my church experience, the stake president invited us all to kneel as he offered the prayer. So much faith was evident and so many tears were shed. Her husband gave the most heartfelt testimony expressing his faith that the Lord knew every cell in his wife’s body and could surely heal them if that was His will. But he said that if that was not the Lord’s will and it was her time to go that He would never falter in his belief in God’s love and mercy. She died just days later. Over the years this brother has kept his promise and has consistently borne testimony of God and Christ, the truthfulness of the gospel, and His watchful care over his family.
Understanding the Seedbeds of Faith
How do we get the faith to accept God’s will; the faith to accept the hardest trials, the faith “not to be healed”? The faith to say as Nephi did, “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” There is scriptural evidence that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. How do we get that gift? Neil L. Andersen said, “Your faith will grow not by chance, but by choice.” Faith is a choice we can make over and over. We plant seeds of faith each time we make the choice to stand on the side faith. Those seeds can grow and grow. Each trial gives us the opportunity to choose faith. Scriptures can help us choose faith, such as: “Thine adversity and thine afflictions, shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.” (D&C 121:7–8)
We can also seek out (by reading and listening to Conference talks, etc.) and give credence to the faith-filled testimony of others. In the Second Lecture on Faith, verse 56, we read, “We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings; and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based, which excited the enquiry and diligent search of the ancient saints, to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God: and we have seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this enquiry, in the first instance in their minds—it was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers—this testimony having aroused their minds to enquire after the knowledge of God, the enquiry frequently terminated, indeed, always terminated, when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty.”
Trusting God’s Control
We know that miracles come after the trial of faith, that miracles do not create faith. Think of Laman and Lemuel and their lack of faith regardless of the miracles they witnessed. Miracles, however, do strengthen the faith of the already faithful: think of the Brother of Jared. Because of his faith he saw the finger of God, but because his faith was increased by that experience, the Lord could not withhold anything from him (Ether 3:20).
We can develop faith sufficient to keep going in spite of weakness that has not yet turned to strength. This kind of faith is the foundation for a perfect brightness of hope. It can give us the strength to trust God no matter what. By planting seeds of faith on a regular basis, we can develop faith in God’s promises for long-term outcomes so that we come to know that whether we obtain desired blessings here or hereafter simply doesn’t matter. In our dark times we can ask for faith to bear the darkness until the light returns.
In regard to the trial of depression, President Benson said, “There are times when you simply have to righteously hang on and outlast the devil until his depressive spirit leaves you . . . To press on in noble endeavors, even while surrounded by a cloud of depression, will eventually bring you out on top into the sunshine” (President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, October 1986) That is the kind of faith we all want!
Faith can be like a rope coiled at our feet, barely noticed. But when we face severe trials, adversity, or tragedy, we are suddenly dangling by that rope over a precipice. Will our faith be strong enough to hold us then? When we seem to have lost all control of outcome, we are actually facing the reality of God’s plan. Only HE controls outcome—and so often we can only see God’s hand in the long-term, not in our present difficulties
Elder Uchtdorf summed it all up beautifully:
As you accept His sacrifice, become His disciple, and finally reach the end of your earthly journey, what will become of the sorrows you have endured in this life? They will be gone. The disappointments, betrayals, persecutions you have faced? Gone. The suffering, heartache, guilt, shame, and anguish you have passed through? Gone. Forgotten. Is it any wonder that “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ.” . . . He will comfort you. He will heal you and give meaning to your journey. He will pour out His Spirit and fill your heart with exceeding joy (from April 2018 General Conference talk entitled, “Behold the Man”)
May we all have the faith to trust God and Christ to control final outcomes because they have infinite knowledge, infinite power and infinite love for us all.
Author note: Note: To learn more about Darla and her book, Trust God No Matter What! visit her website: darlaisackson.com. Find both print and e-book format at Amazon.com.