When There are No Words, God Still Hears

God Still HearsLet’s face it, there are sometimes when we kneel to pray, and the words don’t come. There are times when someone else is suffering so badly that we can’t begin to know how to help, let alone respond. There are times when despite our best efforts, nothing works, and there is nothing we can do about it.

It’s at those times, I remind myself of this simple principle: when there are no words, God still hears.

I remember once talking to a woman once who was afraid to pray. It seemed that every time she tried, something would go wrong. Her life itself had paralyzed her from the ability to kneel and speak to God.

Though I couldn’t pretend to know what she was going through, I was having a pretty tough time myself at the time. Not knowing what else to say, I told her that I too, have had times when it was difficult to pray. For me it was never out of fear, but out of frustration, anger, guilt, or dismay.

“At those times,” I told her, “all I can seem to do is listen. If I have no words to say, I simply address my Father in Heaven and then listen in my heart. I know that our Father in Heaven can hear the words that we cannot say, and will answer those prayers. But pray to Him, even if all you can do is listen.”

At that time, I discovered the truth of Elder Packer’s words that “In your emotions, the spirit and the body come closest to being one,”* because as I spoke, the Spirit grew very strong, and I wept.

I know now that at those times of struggle, when I felt that there were no words to speak in my prayers, and I simply opened my prayer and then listened—my heart was speaking, even though my mind was silent. Since that conversation I’ve thought about that concept often. Sometimes my heart feels so empty that I feel that there is nothing to say. Sometimes I feel so ashamed that I can’t bare to speak a word—even in my mind. Sometimes I feel so hurt that I can’t find the words to speak.

Through such experiences, I have discovered something about our Father in Heaven. He is the most perfect listener in the universe. He can hear words that are not even spoken in the mind. I wonder sometimes if the spirit of a person communicates in a different way than by language. I wonder if it speaks through feelings and concepts. Whether or not this is the case, I know that our Father in Heaven hears those feelings as clearly as if I’d shouted them out loud.

I wouldn’t suggest that our prayers ought not include words. I believe that these things are necessary to building and strengthening our relationship with God, especially in offering thanks, petitioning for the Lord’s help, and in the repentance process. I believe that prayer should include entire conversations with Heavenly Father. But on those rare moments when we cannot seem to say the words, whatever the reason, if we open our prayer and simply listen for a few minutes, we will hear and learn things that we may have never been able to learn in any other way.

By our becoming acquainted with God’s beautiful power to listen to the words we do not speak, we will learn to listen to the finer, purer, wordless messages that He sends so regularly to our hearts.

(Boyd K. Packer, “Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise,” Liahona, Jun 1997, 8)

Why I Stand with the Prophet in Every Issue

Some people are bothered by my statement that I stand by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on every issue. I’d like to talk about that for a few minutes, because it seems to come up often.

I think one of the reasons this statement bothers people is because independent thought and conscious choice are such valuable and essential aspects of the plan of happiness. And I agree, those things are absolutely essential, and it’s for that very reason that I feel as I do. Some would say that being so loyal to the church and its leaders is a way of handing my agency to someone else. That’s a valid concern. But remember, this is my agency. I have to choose what I do, choose what I believe, and choose whether or not to act on what I believe. Well, it’s simple. I choose to stand by the church in every issue. That’s my agency in action. That’s what I choose, and I will continue to choose it all my life. It takes a great deal of character and loyalty to make a choice like that. It takes courage, faith, and determination. It takes work. And that’s the choice I am making.

Another concern some have is that by simply obeying, I’m allowing someone else (or perhaps the church itself) to do the thinking for me. The concern is that I’m just being the obedient workhorse plugging away, pulling when I’m asked to pull (even if I don’t know what I’m pulling), and traveling when I’m asked to travel (even if I don’t know where I’m going). That too, is a valid concern. But there’s one thing that this concern isn’t taking into consideration. Who is most likely to be thinking—like, really, deeply, meaningfully thinking about the thing we’ve been commanded? Think about it. Which of these three are most likely to do the most thinking about the particular issue:

  1. The person from the outside, whose not at all interested in heeding the counsel;
  2. The one in the church, but looking for the reasons, wandering and waiting for solid logic and reason before proceeding; or
  3. The person actively doing the thing requested.

I believe those actively obeying are doing a great deal more thinking about the issue than anyone else. They’re the ones who stand by the teaching regardless of the persecution, legal ramifications, or abuse against them for doing so.

I can’t speak for everyone, but when the Lord commands something, or teaches a principle, or proclaims a doctrine, by his living prophet—even if it’s something I don’t personally understand or agree with, and I act on it, stand by it, and teach it, I can assure you I’m doing a boat-load of thinking, pondering, praying, and studying about it.

And while I’m sure both the obedient person and the disobedient person are looking to different sources for their answers, and may come to very different conclusions, I’m confident that almost always, the obedient person has put a lot more time, thought, and energy into the matter than the disobedient.

And every time I’ve obediently proceeded, and simultaneously thought, studied, prayed, and questioned the teaching, I’ve always come to see the deep spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical significance of the thing taught. I’m always left in awe at the wisdom and foresight the Lord has demonstrated in everything He has ever requested of me.

Another factor that can be difficult to explain to people is the matter of personal revelation. Even many who believe mostly as I do conclude that before they will proceed, they must receive personal inspiration from God that the teaching is right. I think it comes down to what kind of testimony a person has. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t call one type of testimony “superior” to another, but I do believe that the closer we come to the Savior, and the stronger our testimony is, the more we will be able to place our faith in Him without reservation. And the more we do so, the faster the further light and understanding come.

I once heard the prophet of God teach a principle, and I immediately accepted it. Not in a shoulder shrugging compliance, but because as he spoke, the Holy Spirit filled my heart, testifying clearly and unmistakably that the principle being taught was true. I had long since received a personal testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost that the prophet was truly called of God, and that His words, if heeded, would always lead me aright. My experience with the Spirit in that particular meeting simply strengthened that testimony. Several days later, while speaking to a friend about the teaching, she said, “But what about finding out the truth for ourselves? That may be what the prophet said, but I can’t believe it unless the Lord tells me personally as well.”

My friend was holding back until she could receive an independent testimony of the principle taught. But I’ve found that when I listen with a believing heart, I often receive that answer the moment the teaching is given. Then, the questions most worth asking the Lord are things like, how should I apply the principle in my own life, for my situation? Or what can I do to best teach this principle to others?

I have heard some suggest that those members of the church prior to 1978 that weren’t picketing against the church’s stand on the priesthood were in the wrong—that they should have been more actively involved in bringing about the change. I see two problems with that. First, it’s the Lord who made the change, not the saints. And second, those in a position to receive the revelation (Spencer W. Kimball and the twelve apostles) never once voiced a single word of opposition to the policy of the Lord’s church at that time. They received assurance from the Lord that the time would come, but they were not told when. They petitioned as they felt moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Only after faithful compliance and diligent prayer did the Lord finally give the revelation that changed church policy forever.

There were previous generations of prophets who petitioned the Lord on the very same issue, and they were turned away. The Lord knew what He was doing, and every church leader stood firm by the policy, because that’s what loyalty is. They didn’t understand it, and though they had questions, and brought them before the Lord, they always stood true to the answers given.

I feel to do the same.

That brings up another important point. Sometimes a principle isn’t intended to be fully understood before the commandment or revelation is given. A good example of this is plural marriage in the early days of the church. Some today are troubled that the church once practiced it. But the revelation to live that principle is not given to us today. We are not to practice plural marriage—and if we make the attempt, we will be excommunicated. We can’t expect a testimony of the full meaning of plural marriage right now because we are commanded not to live it. We accept in faith the fact that the Lord has different instructions to different people at different times.

Many saints in the early days of the church were commanded to live it, and with the commandment came the understanding and testimony. A great example of this was Brigham Young.

Would it surprise you to learn that Brigham Young was deeply troubled by the principle? He thought it had come from an evil source. But instead of picketing against it, or speaking out about it publicly, he prayed to the Lord about it. When, up to that point, it wasn’t enough, he spoke to the prophet himself. He discussed it with Joseph in a private conversation—not in a meeting with other elders, but in the privacy of his front yard one evening after the prophet walked him home. The only reason we know about the conversation is because the night was warm, and Brigham’s wife had her window open to cool her room, and she overheard the conversation.

According to S. Dilworth Young:

Down this road came Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. She (Brigham’s wife) heard Brigham say to Joseph, “Joseph, the doctrine of eternal marriage as you described it to me is not from the right source.”

Joseph Smith said to him, “It is from the right source, and you will know it, Brother Brigham.”

Brother Brigham then moved toward the door to open the latch, and Joseph Smith walked on up the street. Then Brigham stopped. He didn’t pull the latch string. He suddenly called out, “Joseph! Joseph! The Lord has revealed it to me!”

http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1039

My point in sharing this account is to say that sometimes we’re not intended to fully understand or receive a testimony of a principle before the commandment is given. But if we are faithful, and a revelation is given that might contradict our previous views, and we seek the Lord’s guidance, He will provide us with a testimony of the principle. It may not come all at once, like Brigham’s, but when it does come, it will be so clear and sure that we may come to wonder how we could have ever seen things differently. And in the meantime, if we remain faithful and loyal to what the Lord has already revealed, we place ourselves in the best position possible to receive more light and knowledge when the Lord sees fit.

In regards to honest questions, or even doubts, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a beautiful bit of wisdom that I wholeheartedly stand by when he said,

When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes…

When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! So let us all remember the clear message of this scriptural account: Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng

When it comes down to it, I stand with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on every issue because God has revealed to me by the power of the Holy Ghost that the living prophet has been called of God, that he speaks the word of God to the church, and that if I follow his counsel regardless of the consequences, I will be doing the right thing. I will be acting according to the will of God for me. That testimony has been burned so deeply into me that I can’t deny it without calling God a liar to His face. I know it’s true. The Lord leads this church. And what a beautiful thing that is! The Lord speaks to us through the living prophet, and God has revealed the truth of His words to me.

Count Your Blessings


Count Your BlessingsA week ago, Jenni and I learned that our baby, due March 2014, had miscarried. I can’t express in words the kinds of emotions I’ve been experiencing for this last week. The closest thing I can think to say is that our hearts are broken, but our faith is strong.

 

I’ve been trying to come up with the appropriate arrangement of Count Your Blessings for several weeks, and before last week, nothing I tried felt right. I attempted numerous times to come up with something that worked for me, but it just wouldn’t click. If I can’t get a spark in a piece, I can’t publish it. I just can’t bring myself to do it. If there’s no spark, the arrangement doesn’t leave my computer. That’s what was happening with this one.

 

Then we got the news.

 

The first day, I took the day off to be with my family. When things like this happen, the most precious things in life suddenly become even more dear to me. The next day wasn’t easy, but I knew I had to keep going. When I sat down to make another attempt at “Count Your Blessings,” it came so fast and effortlessly that I’m confident I had help. It was so different than all my previous attempts, but this time, it sparked immediately.

 

As I’m sure you can imagine, I’ve never struggled to record my voice as much I did with this piece. In order to even get through it, I had to force myself to not think about what I’d just been through. Have you ever tried to force yourself not to think about something? Let alone something this big?

 

Anyway, it got me thinking about the words a bit. How exactly does a cheerful, optimistic person (like I’m always striving to become) deal with tragedy? How do I see the upside, or silver lining, in the loss of a loved one? How do I find happiness in that?

 

Well, one way, at least, is simply this: to count my blessings. I have the most loving, beautiful wife in the world, and the sweetest, funnest kids in the world. I’ve been blessed with an absolute certainty of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the eternal nature of the family and life itself. I’m so blessed.

Sheet music and MP3 for this piece are available on my website.

Scripture Study Made Awesome: Over 100 Unique Scripture Study Methods

scripture study made awesome_2x3Have you ever had times when scripture study was tedious, boring, or non-existent? Most of us have. But you’re in luck. Those days are over.

In Scripture Study Made Awesome, released TODAY, you’ll find an original list of over 100 fun, interesting, and creative ways to study the scriptures, with encouragement to help you begin a life-long habit of enjoyable daily study of the word of God. You now have more resources than ever before to discover the study methods that will work best for you in your individual situation.

Starting today, your personal and family scripture study will forever be awesome.

You can order it online through Cedar Fort, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and soon it should be available in Seagull Book and Deseret Book.

Please tell everyone you know about this. Pass the word, Facebook it, pin it, forward it, let’s get the word out and help everyone have a great scripture study experience every day!

Gazelem

I had an interesting experience that gave me some interesting insight into the word Gazelem. This is a sample from my book, Giraffe Tracks:

Elder Solomon was a great companion, and had the most interesting background. He was from Ethiopia. Ethiopia has very strict immigration laws, and it’s not easy for anyone to enter or leave Ethiopia. For this reason, Elder Solomon was the first Ethiopian to go to the temple and receive his Endowment. He was truly a pioneer of his people.

When I mention that my companion was from Ethiopia, people often picture a small, starving young man with bony ribs and swollen limbs. Actually, Elder Solomon was a tall and rather muscular elder with an almost Polynesian-type build. He had a very prosperous family. Of all my companions, Elder Solomon was the wealthiest. In personality, he was fun and charismatic, a character much larger than life, and I considered it to be a great and rare opportunity to be his companion.

His actual name was Solomon Yimer, but he insisted that he be called Elder Solomon. He even got them to print it that way on his missionary tag.

One evening after dark we were driving through the township on a dirt road, when all of a sudden Elder Solomon shouted, “STOP THE CAR!”

“What?!”

“Stop the car!” he repeated.

So I stopped.

“Backup! Backup!”

I started backing up, saying, “Why, what is it?”

“I think I saw something – stop! Right here.” He jumped out of the car, walked out to the front of the car where the headlights were shining, and scanned the ground carefully. I wondered if he’d seen a small animal or something. By the way he was searching I knew it had to be small.

When he finally came back in the car, I asked him what he was looking for. He explained, “There’s a stone in Ethiopia that glows really bright in the dark. I thought I saw one on the road. But I couldn’t find it.”

Elder Solomon’s native language was Amharic, which is a dialect of Hebrew. I thought this was interesting, but the implications of this fact didn’t drive home until one day when we were reading the Pearl of Great Price. He had only been a member of the church for six years, and had never read the Pearl of Great Price all the way through before. We had been reading it through from the beginning for companionship study, and were now to Abraham 3. We took turns reading columns.

It was my turn, and I was about halfway down my column. Elder Solomon was only halfway paying attention, and was for the moment not following along as I read:

“And he said unto me: This is Shinehah, which is the sun. And he…”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!” Elder Solomon interrupted, “what did you just say?”

So I began to repeat the verse, “And he said unto me: This is Shinehah, which is the sun.”

“Shinehah is Amharic! It means ‘sun’”

“Wow, interesting!” I said. then I thought for a moment while looking at the verse. “What about this? – ‘And he said unto me: Kokob, which is star.’?”

“Yeah!” replied Elder Solomon, still not looking at the verse, “kokob is one of the words for star. Does it say anything about ‘olea’? That’s the word for ‘moon’.”

I read on: “And he said unto me: Olea, which is the moon.”

“That’s amazing!” Elder Solomon said, “where are you at? That’s definitely Amharic!”

I pointed to him where I was reading, and he read further, “And he said unto me: Kokaubeam, which signifies stars, or all the great lights, which were in the firmament of heaven.”

“Yep!” he said, “Kokaubeam means ‘stars’ alright. It’s a kind of old fashioned term, but that’s what it means.”

We read further, looking for more words, but there wasn’t any more in that verse or the next. Then a thought came to me.

“What about the word ‘Kolob’? Is that Amharic too?”

“Kolob… kolob… no, I don’t know that word.”

So we read on. Soon we got to verse 16. “If two things exist, and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them; therefore Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam that thou hast seen, because it is nearest unto me.”

Elder Solomon blurted out, “Oh! Kolob-kokaubeam. Yeah, kolob-kokaubeam is Amharic. It’s like when many stars surround one big star.”

We searched the rest of the chapter, and found a couple more words that are in Amharic. As far as he could guess, all the Amharic words in the chapter were also Hebrew. He said hakokaubeam means ‘a gathering of stars’, and the word ‘floeese’ in Amharic only has one ‘e’ in, but means ‘moon’.

The word ‘Elkenah’ had interesting roots, according to Elder Solomon. In Ethiopia, the largest Christian church was the Orthodox church. This was not the same as the Orthodox Christian churches such as the Greek Orthodox church. According to Elder Solomon, the Ethiopian Orthodox church dates back to a time before King Solomon in the old testament. Elder Solomon explained that according to Ethiopian tradition, Queen Sheba was the queen of Ethiopia (which covered a larger area at that time than it now does), and she belonged to the Orthodox church. Though I wasn’t clear from Elder Solomon’s explanation, it seems that Christian beliefs were adopted by the Orthodox church. In this Orthodox church, the priests are called ‘Elkenah’.

We also read verse 18:

Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.

Elder Solomon translated the word ‘gnolaum’ as ‘life’, or ‘eternal life’. He then went on to talk about other Amharic words with similar meaning. The Amharic word, ‘zalelum’ means ‘forever’, and the word “gezea alem” means ‘time eternal’.

The mix of those words caught my attention, and I asked Elder Solomon if he recognized the word, “Gazelem.”

He thought for a moment, and said, “No. I don’t know that word.”

So I directed him to Alma 37:23, which says, “And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem…”

Immediately he stopped, “Oh! Gazelem! Yes, I know that word.”

I had been pronouncing the word, “Guh-zay-lem,” but when he saw it written, he recognized it, and pronounced it, “Gaa-zuh-lem”

“Yeah,” Elder Solomon continued, “it’s a really shiny rock that shines bright in the dark.”

“Really? Have you ever seen a gazelem before?”

“No. But I want to. They are a strange stone. When travelers in the wilderness see one, they sometimes send people up to get them. But when they get there, they can never find it. The people at the bottom can see the gazelem shining brightly on the people looking for it, but those people cannot see it.”

“How interesting!”

I read the rest of the verse.

Alma 37:23

And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.

Elder Solomon went on, “Remember the other day when I told you to stop the car so I could look for a glowing stone?”

“Yes.”

“That’s what I thought I’d seen, a gazelem.”

It is important to recognize that the things I am sharing about gazelem cannot be considered scholarly research. The only evidence of the ideas shared here are Elder Solomon’s words, and though he was very familiar with Ethiopian culture and lore, it would take a great deal of research to verify what he said – though I have no reason to disbelieve him. But I thought it was a fascinating insight into African culture, and an interesting perspective on the word gazelem in the Book of Mormon.

After our companionship study I read the rest of Alma 37. Alma is talking to his son about the Urim and Thummim, and how these stones will bring to light all the secret works of the wicked one to the eyes of His servants, the prophets. After learning about gazelem, I thought of what an interesting type it is for the Urim and Thummim, and by the same token, how it could be a type or symbol of the prophet.

The prophet is shown the works of evil that are happening in the world around us even though we think we are hidden in complete darkness. The prophet warns the world and strives to guide us to safety, but we ignore, because we can not see what he can see.

I also knew that in the first publication of the Doctrine and Covenants (probably when it was still called The Book of Commandments), many of the brethren had to use code names in some of the sections in order to protect them from opposition. One of Joseph Smith’s code names was “Gazelam.”
I decided that if anyone besides the Savior could be a spiritual “gazelem”, to bring to light secret works of darkness, and light the way for lost persons, Joseph Smith fits the description. We also have a prophet today, and he certainly leads people safely home. We might not see his face light up like Moses’, but he most definitely bares the light of revelation from God, and if we follow his direction, we will find our way safely home. 

Book Review: The Official Hero’s Guide, by Damon Throop

The Official Hero’s Guide is a must have for the youth of the church. Brother Damon Throop does a fantastic job laying out the dangers and pitfalls of the teenage years, and provides sound advice about maintaining high standards and a powerful testimony of the Savior.

He also shares a number of fun stories that both youth and adults can relate to, and his motivating style will help anyone want to be better, stronger, and more faithful to the Lord.

Those who follow Brother Throop’s advice will be heroes indeed.

Realistic vs. Faithful

And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.

This is a classic case of the (so-called) realist vs. the man of faith. Being realistic, practical, and prudent is good—in its time. But this wasn’t a time to be realistic. When the Lord asks something of you, it’s time to exercise confidence in the Lord, and if you can’t do that, learn to do it. If you find yourself putting practicality over your trust in the Lord, then you need to change. It’s that simple.

And you can.

Nephi not only had the right attitude, he explained how to get the right attitude. What had Nephi been doing right before his father told him about his new assignment? He’d been speaking with the Lord.

And it came to pass that I, Nephi. . . did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Ne. 2:16)

“Yeah,” you might say, “but the thing I’m being asked to do is a really big deal!”

Really? I guess God didn’t know that, so you better tell him. Tell him that your agenda is more important than His. Go ahead—tell Him. See what He says. Maybe He’ll change His mind. Just be prepared for when He ends up changing your mind. And don’t judge your future, faithful self against your present “practical” self—that will just embarrass you later.

God knows what He’s doing with you. Trust Him.

Interview with Author Misty Moncur

Interview with Misty Moncur

Show Notes:

Misty Moncur is the author of the LDS novel, Daughter of Helaman. As her bio on her website, http://mistymoncur.blogspot.com/ states,

Misty fits in writing like other people fit in breathing. She writes in the Romance, Young Adult, and Religious genres.

Misty lives in Utah with her husband, her Wii-addicted son, and her curly-haired daughter. They spend a great deal of time laughing and the rest of it eating pizza

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Questions discussed in the Interview:

What gave you the idea of creating a young woman who is interested in joining Helaman’s army of 2000 young men?

I noticed that Keturah has a very strong view of gender roles. Was that difficult to write into the Nephite culture?

What kind of research did you have to do in order to write about day-to-day living in Nephite times?

There are probably many members of the church that would like to study more about what Nephite life may have been like. What sources or tools would you recommend?

Was there anything about the history or characters in the story that you didn’t include in the book (deleted scenes, unwritten backstory, etc)?

The book is obviously intended for an LDS audience. What do you hope members of the church get from Daughter of Helaman?

How did writing this book effect your testimony of the Book of Mormon?

What got you started in writing?

How did you get from an interest in writing to actually starting your first book? Was the task harder or easier than you expected?

What do you recommend to other writers who would like to write a book, but haven’t started yet?

What’s next? Sequel? Do you have another book underway?

Any advice or suggestions you would like to give new writers?

Thanks to Misty for allowing me to do the interview! Everyone go buy her book!