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Monday, July 28, 2014

Brightness of Hope

Hello there!

We are on week two of our project of obtaining Christlike attributes. Our progress last week was... well, we did better than the first time we started this project! Not every day was perfect, but we kept our goals in mind throughout the week. One valuable insight I learned last week as Stephen and I discussed how to become better acquainted with Christ was that one of the quickest and most effective ways to know Christ is to use His Atonement. Every time we repent, we learn of Christ's compassion, kindness, and generosity. We feel of His love, hope, and encouragement. And, hopefully, we in turn become more forgiving, grateful, and obedient. The repentance process, when used everyday, can become our most intimate connection with our Savior.

Concerning the day we were to focus on giving dedicated service, I realized that one can give service even if one is extremely busy. We were filming on Thursday and Friday of last week, which consists of rushing to and from stations to get your costume on, get your makeup done, take your props, and perform onstage. Then the process starts all over when the sketch is finished being filmed. It's a busy day! And, what's more, it's a day full of other people serving you. I thought it ironic that on the day I'm trying to focus on service, I am being pampered by a team of talented crew members. Even the term, "Talent" evokes an image of a spoiled Prima Donna. Yet, in the middle of all this, I realized that I can be kind. I can compliment someone on their quality of work. I can congratulate a castmate on a great performance. In the middle of all this busyness and seemingly selfish work, I came to understand that even the act of thinking of others instead of myself not only makes me want to do more for others, but helps me be happier with myself as well. I had a lot more fun filming this last week than I have in other performances because I was more attentive to helping my team. Perhaps that can apply to our team in life as well. When we focus on our family, our friends, our coworkers, our ward members, we are happier. We can still attend to our own needs, but that mindset of looking past ourselves for opportunities (big or small) to uplift and serve will make our mindset that much more like Christ's, and that brings more joy than any self-centeredness could ever produce.

Ultimately, our week-long focus on faith helped us review the essential basics of gospel living. Diligent scripture study, sincere prayer, vibrant gospel discussion and practice--these are the building blocks of faith and testimony and, as long as we attend to them carefully, we can develop relationships with Christ and with our fellow human beings that are truly enlivening. We are all essentially on the same journey, so coming to understand how we can help ourselves and, in turn, bless others is an important gospel principle to put into practice.

So for this week, Stephen and I are tag-teaming this post to focus on the Christlike attribute of hope. In Preach My Gospel, hope entails the following--

About the Attribute
It is an abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises to you. It entails confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance. It believes and expects something will occur. Hope conquers discouragement. With hope, we know we are God's children.

What We Can Do
M- Become acquainted with God's promises to us.
T- Go through the day with optimism and enthusiasm.
W- Work through trials with confidence and assurance all will work for our good.
TH- Reach out to all who have moved away from the hope of the gospel.
F- Lift up the hands which hang down. (Service)

You'll notice similarities between this week's focus on Hope and last week's focus on Faith. Service, strengthening our testimonies, and strengthening our relationship with God will probably come up a lot in these next several weeks. There's a reason we learn the same things at church every week, it's because they're true! And with how many times we've heard the lessons about the basics, we could still improve practicing them. The point isn't to learn/do something new, it is to rejuvenate our souls to the familiar concepts of the gospel. We can become stronger and more faithful as we consistently feel the Spirit touch our hearts when we do these simple tasks. The gospel is not complicated, but it requires diligence, and that diligence can be nourished through the refreshing lens of the Spirit.

To encourage everyone to attend to these homework assignments every day, let's discuss a little more about the principle of hope. It's a rather nebulous one, isn't it? We use that word every day, "I hope it doesn't rain." "I hope we don't get too much homework." "I hope I'm getting my money's worth at this restaurant." But in the context of the gospel, what does it mean?

On LDS.org, they define hope as, "The confident expectation of and longing for the promised blessings of righteousness." I find it interesting that hope is not only the expectation of promised blessings, but also the longing. That longing involves the optimism and enthusiasm mentioned earlier. To long for the blessings of Christ, we must be well enough acquainted with them and understand their implications to feel confident and excited enough to do whatever is required to obtain those blessings.

The church's website goes on...
When we have hope, we trust God's promises. We have a quiet assurance that if we do “the works of righteousness,” we “shall receive [our] reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23). Mormon taught that such hope comes only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ: “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” (Moroni 7:41).
Again, we receive hope through the Atonement. As we experience this very hands-on demonstration of Christ's gospel, we come to more fully understand just how hard He's working for our salvation.

In this world, we are currently facing much despair. It is easy to see something we don't understand and deem it unjust, uninviting, or unfashionable. Yet, how can we demonstrate that we are willing to stand as a disciple of Christ if we create backlash at every test we encounter? Neal A. Maxwell put it well when he said, "Just as doubt, despair, and desensitization go together, so do faith, hope, and charity. The latter, however, must be carefully and constantly nurtured, whereas despair, like dandelions, needs so little encouragement to sprout and spread. Despair comes so naturally to the natural man!"

Let us discuss each way that hope can strengthen us, and hopefully, we will face this week with confidence, trust, and joy in our perfect Savior. This joy will then aid us in following His commandments, and doing whatever is needed to demonstrate our discipleship.

Hope Can Strengthen Us During Hard Times
Hope can be a powerful resource when we are going through trials, regardless of their intensity. We will inevitably face things that discourage as, and some things that outright crush us, but hope is a balm that we all have significant access to through the gospel. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf juxtaposes these principles perfectly in his talk, The Infinite Power of Hope:

The adversary uses despair to bind hearts and minds in suffocating darkness. Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward. 
Hope, on the other hand, is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion, and of fear.
I certainly want to fill my life with hope in times when I could easily feel despair.

Hope Can Rescue Us From Sin
When we make mistakes, Satan feeds off of that feeling of falling short. When we have fallen, he does not want us to get up. He discourages us, and makes us feel as if God were too perfect to attend to our needs. However, this cannot be further from the truth! Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ see us not only for who we are, but for who we can become. This eternal vision allows them to have a never ending optimism and hope for us which can encourage us no matter what. Elder John H. Groberg illustrates this principle:
Just as discouragement and depression feed on themselves (can’t you just hear Satan saying, “You can’t do it, you are no good, you’ll never make it”—sometimes he says that right to your heart, and sometimes he uses others as his agents), so does hope regenerate itself. Can’t you likewise hear the Savior saying, “You can do it, you can make it, you are worth something. I laid down my life for you. I love you. I redeemed you. I paid for you because I know you can make it. You can come home. Trust me. Follow me.” Again, sometimes he speaks directly to our hearts and sometimes uses others as his agents. But there is always hope in him.
Above all, we should have a vibrant hope in Christ's Atonement. This is the supreme tool of salvation, but should also be the supreme source of our happiness and hope in life. Steven E. Snow stated:
Our hope in the Atonement empowers us with eternal perspective. Such perspective allows us to look beyond the here and now on into the promise of the eternities. We don’t have to be trapped in the narrow confines of society’s fickle expectations. We are free to look forward to celestial glory, sealed to our family and loved ones.
I know that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is more important to me than any single event, trivial or significant, because it grants me access to the richest blessings of this life and the next. I am sealed to my precious family and have great hope in our eternal nature. Why should I let frustrations or limitations or sin hold me back when hope in the Atonement can set me free?

Hope Can Save Us From Our Gospel Doubts
This is a biggie. At this time in the church and even during this time in our lives when we are independent, self-sustaining adults who need to nourish ourselves if we want to have strong testimonies, it is important to have faith and hope in this gospel that will sustain us through times of doubt and misunderstanding. Elder Maxwell illustrates this journey of uncertainty in an interview in Tambuli in 1984.
Trust in the Lord as He leads you along. He has things for you to do that you won’t know about now, but that will be revealed later. If you stay close to Him, you will have some great adventures. You will live in a time when instead of just talking about prophecies that will sometime be fulfilled, many of them will actually be fulfilled. The Lord will unfold your future bit by bit. ("Friend to Friend")
We live in a time where doubt and despair run rampant. In some people's minds, the Church no longer evokes a sense of service, joy, and family. Now, it also carries the connotation of bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance. It seems like this has all happened recently, but we know that truth has been twisted for a long time: "Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (2 Nephi 15:20). Elder Richard C. Edgley comments on this scripture in terms of our day:
This is what we face today. The righteous are accused of being intolerant and without compassion. Those attempting to live the time-honored teachings of Christ are often considered out of touch and uninformed. Those staying true to our most sacred principles are ridiculed and sometimes even persecuted. And much sin has now been accepted as mainstream, enlightened, and good. And you can name the sins.
From the beginning Satan has attempted to destroy our hope in Christ by thwarting the plan of salvation—or the great plan of happiness as referred to by Alma (see Alma 42:8). And Satan’s work continues even today. He doesn’t take the whole congregation all at once, but he works on each individually—one by one. He will be there during personal or family tragedy. He will be there when we are discouraged or despondent. And he will be there during the hours of confusion and questioning. He is the ultimate pessimist. He is the instigator of much discouragement. He is the father of all lies. He will use the Internet and the media, and he will use the already confused or misguided. He has his soldiers, both seen and unseen. 
I review this rather dismal background not to further add to discouragement and disillusionment but as a warning as we face the forces in today’s world. And yet we have every reason for optimism. We are the people of hope. We are the disseminators of hope. This is our mission. Based upon our faith, we have hope in things seen and hope in things unseen but felt. We have hope for the now in our lives. We have hope for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future. And we have hope for the eternities that lie ahead. Our hope is based upon truth, knowledge, faith, and revelation given to us by the Holy Ghost. And our victory over the obstacles of life comes from our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and our sure knowledge of His plan. 
Is this not just a perfect description of what we are facing and how we can overcome it?! I have many friends who are questioning whether this is the church for them. Obviously, there have been various news stories shedding bad light on the LDS church. The church has been accused of sexism, racism, homophobia, and having no sympathy for single adults. Of course, you can always find what you're looking for if you want to mark the church as prejudice, but there are experiences I have had with this gospel that I cannot ignore. I do not know everything. I don't know why women don't have the priesthood, I don't know why some people are born on this earth with an attraction towards those of the same sex, I don't know a lot of things. But I do know that I have received spiritual confirmations that God lives, He loves me, and when I follow the teachings this church has set out, I feel joy that doesn't come from anywhere else. It is these things that fuel me in my hope and faith in this gospel. And the more I pray with an open heart, the more I feel that they are true.

So, with that spirit of hope, we are going to study hope even more! I want to feel hope engrained in my heart and soul, and I want to inspire it in those around me. With hope, we can survive trials, sin, and doubt. We can look above the fog of our temporal circumstances with the wisdom and enthusiasm of eternity. Become acquainted with your Savior! He has paid the ultimate price for you. As Brad Wilcox put so lovingly, "I’m pulling for you. And I’m not the only one. Parents are pulling for you, leaders are pulling for you, and prophets are pulling for you. And Jesus is pulling with you."

1 comment:

Ellyse Haws said...
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