What of the
Are We Missing the Main Message of the Gospel?, By Darla Isackson · February 5, 2015 Meridian Magazine (ldsmag.com)
I’ve totally changed the way I think of the story of Enos in the Book of Mormon. His great day of prayer and receiving forgiveness for sins seemed to be Enos’s conversion story. I thought of him in the same category as Paul and Alma. Over the years, however, as I have given the book of Enos a closer study, I see nothing in his short but inspiring book to indicate that he was an unbeliever before that day when he went to hunt beasts in the forest. We certainly have no reason to believe that he fought against the church of God. In fact, I see a parallel here with King Benjamin’s people. They were not called to repentance, but basically told to keep up the good work because they were faithful; yet, they still needed the mighty change of heart that comes with a deeper application of the Atonement.
From all we can gather from scriptural accounts, Enos too was faithful, similar to his father Jacob and Uncle Nephi. Maybe Enos was like so many of us who serve missions, stay active in the Church all our lives, even get called to leadership positions, but have never yet felt the power of the Atonement in a personal and powerful way. Let’s look at the evidence that Enos may have been this kind of man.
Enos 1:14, which records Enos’s prayers for the Lamanites, says, “For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them (the Lamanites) to the true faith.” Doesn’t this indicate that Enos had been playing an active part in the missionary effort before he came into the forest? He said, “our” strugglings. Also, the way I read verse 15, Enos had previously received revelation. He said, “he had said unto me: whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.”
Is it possible that Enos may have even been a prophet at the time of his prayer? Verse 26 states, “having been wrought upon by the power of God, that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ, and I have declared it inall my days [not just since his experience in the forest], and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.”
What I do know for sure is that Enos evidenced great faith the day he prayed. Such faith does not leap into existence in a day; he had to have nurtured and built it by righteous decisions in his life previously. Enos obviously believed his father Jacob’s words, pondered them, and on this day allowed them to sink deep into his heart. That takes faith.
In verse 16, Enos said, “I had faith and began to cry unto God.” Enos showed great faith by persisting in his prayer. Without sufficient faith he would have given up, turned back to his hunting pursuit, and maybe said something like, “Well, that was a waste of time.” But instead he raised his voice to the heavens all the day and into the night, exercising great faith that he would be heard. And he was.
As soon as he heard the words “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed” Enos had the faith to believe and his “guilt was swept away.” He expressed his absolute faith that God was a God of truth. He said, “I Enos, knew that God could not lie.” Could he have known that, and could he have such faith in God’s words if his life previously had not been one of growing in the faith? The Lord said it was because of Enos’s faith in Christ that the Atonement had been applied to him. The Lord said, “thy faith hath made thee whole.”
Hearing the voice of the Lord gave Enos even greater faith. In verse 11 he said, “my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord.” After his experience in the woods Enos never faltered. He rejoiced in the truths of Christ and stayed faithful thereafter. Nearer the end of his life he said in verse 27, “I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. Amen.” He knew he had filled his life’s mission—that he had been valiant, that he was acceptable to the Lord. Enos’s example is worthy of following.
How could the story of Enos apply to us today? How many of us believe the gospel, profess faith in Christ, but have not yet received the assurance that our sins are forgiven? How many of us as active church members have yet to experience the Atonement in a deep and real sense? How many of us still yearn to know for sure that it applies to us personally, that we can stand today clean and worthy through the merits of the Son of God? We don’t have to wait until we die to receive this promise.
Accepting the Atonement into our own lives is more often a process than an event, but how can we choose to become actively involved in the process? With their permission, I’m going to share the experiences of two people. Both fit the pattern I described above. Both reached a point where they couldn’t go on without the Lord’s intervention in their lives.
Colleen Harrison’s Story
“In 1981 I tipped the scale at over 300 pounds. Believe me, I was the most miserable “active” Latter-day Saint I knew. I had sewed and canned and crafted my way through 16 years and 11 pregnancies. I made my energy and time so scarce that there was a “famine in the land” emotionally, while I obsessively tried to fit into the Mollie Mormon mold. [Colleen had joined the Church as a teenager after having been raised in an abusive alcoholic home.]
“And what was I doing to sustain this concentrated pretense of perfection? Was I pursuing a course of daily personal prayer and scripture study to receive God’s direction and power in my own life? Heavens, no! After all, I had no life outside my husband and children—cleaning for them, cooking, sewing, canning, thinking, planning [for them]. And besides, I’d been to Gospel Doctrine class. I wasn’t a total scriptural illiterate. I knew that it was only after all that I could do to be perfect that I should turn to God . . . If and when I ever got through doing all I could, then I would rightfully seek God and worthily receive His input . . . [Finally] when the bathroom scale went all the way around the dial and started past the top number a second time . . . I stepped off the scale and dropped to my knees. It wasn’t that I had never done that before. In fact that was the most agonizing part of this struggle. The entire fifteen years of my insanity—and it is insanity to be on such a course of self-destruction—was riddled by times of desperately weeping and wailing to God. Time after time, in the temple and out, I had pledged to God that I would conquer this terrible destructive behavior . . . but inevitably my devotion to my best self would fade, my old emptiness would return, and I would begin to overeat again.
“This time, in this prayer, though, there was to be no weeping and wailing on my part, no whining and justifying and rationalizing and bargaining. I was down for the count, and I knew it. I knew it because I had finally done all that I could do. I had sewn, canned, cleaned, quilted, made babies, served husband and children past a righteous balance (see Proverbs 11:1) and had held four church positions at the same time. I had stayed up late and gotten up early. I had gone to Education Week classes, read books, made charts, made pledges, gone to every “quick-weight loss” program I could afford. There was nothing left. Nothing. I couldn’t even pray—at least not out loud. I felt a little like Joseph in the grove, oppressed under a great cloud of darkness; only mine had not appeared in seconds—mine had taken years to build up.
“I literally crawled to my bedside and crumpled there, and the tears finally came—tears of complete surrender to God. No words, no excuses, no pleadings, no answers—just tears. These were not tears of ‘poor-me’ or ‘why me.’ These were tears of ‘not my will, but Thine be done.’ Today, I know those tears were, at least in spirit, mingled with blood—Jesus Christ’s own atoning blood; for from that hour my deliverance began.” (Preface of He Did Deliver Me from Bondage by Colleen Harrison, Windhaven Publishers.)
Colleen’s Book of Mormon-based quest is detailed in the book cited above. Her transformation from an “active” Latter-day Saint to a true disciple of Christ has inspired many. Like Enos, she continues to put these principles into practice on a daily basis.
Why Do We Miss the Main Message?
I’ve wondered so many times how so many of us can attend church faithfully, fill all the external requirements, even serve well in every capacity to which we are called and still miss the main message of the gospel. I was in that category for years. When the gospel is one of love, how can so many of us end up hating ourselves for not “performing” perfectly enough? When the very foundation of the gospel message is the universality of the Atonement, how can we plod along thinking it is not yet time, that we are somehow not yet qualified to be part of it?
How Brother Cramer Experienced the Lord’s Redeeming Power
Stephen A. Cramer’s life gives us another vivid example. He tells his story in his book The Worth of Every Soul (still available from Amazon.com). Stephen struggled for over 30 years to overcome an addiction to pornography, repenting over and over and over, sometimes staying away from it for months at a time, but always falling back into the pit. All that time he remained active in the Church, studied the scriptures, fasted and prayed for strength to overcome, and did all the “positive thinking” and “positive affirmation” things. Several times he worked with his bishop in the repentance process—which never seemed to solve the problem permanently. It was like his whole focus was holding back a river of desire to sin; sooner or later the dam would break and he would be washed away again.
In complete desperation he planned his suicide, and went for a walk along the river to offer one last prayer before taking his life—not a prayer of faith but a prayer born of frantic desperation and fear for what he was about to do. He said, “I told the Lord that I just couldn’t go on this way any longer. I told him that unless He reached out to save me I would be lost forever because I just couldn’t do it myself. After 32 years of defeat I finally knew and admitted that I was never going to conquer this by myself. I admitted to Him that I was unworthy of His help, but I begged for mercy. Those were bitter words . . . I felt humiliated for admitting my helplessness to Him. It seemed to me like the final overwhelming failure. I felt ashamed as if that was the lowest I had ever sunk—to beg God for help I didn’t deserve and couldn’t earn. I walked along that river praying for over an hour. I thought I had finally reached the end, when in reality I had reached the turning point.”
Brother Cramer explains, “For it is only in discovering and admitting our need for God’s help that our proud and stubborn heart is at last broken and we throw open the door to receive His healing influence. It is unlikely that we will ever conquer our Goliath’s until we honestly admit to God that we are unable to solve our problems without the help of His higher power. How often Jesus emphasized that we must come to Him not in the pride of our self-sufficiency and our will power, but as a little child who knows how much he needs the Savior’s help. Once I acknowledged my need for Christ to save me, once I surrendered my life to Him, once I learned how to get out of the way and allow Him to take control of my life, once I had asked for the Father’s mercy to apply to my sins, the Lord came into my life in a powerful way.
Slowly step by step, line upon line, weakness by weakness, He took away that enslaving power of lust. He freed me from my addictions, and in their place he blessed me with an overwhelming awareness of His love for me. He really loved me. In spite of all those years of filthiness, HE LOVED ME! And in discovering and accepting His love I allowed Him to remove all those barriers of guilt and shame and enabled me to know Him and love Him in return. . . . Through Jesus Christ my Goliath has been slain and I thank Him for His mercy and kindness.
“I testify that every one of you can also experience victory. What He did for me He can do and is willing to do for every sincere person. The main reason He came is to rescue us from the evils we cannot conquer by ourselves. Luke 19:10 says, ‘The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.’ His gospel was not given for perfect people, but for people with weaknesses and flaws. How He longs to wrap us in the arms of His love. How great is His desire to convince each one of us that we are important and precious to Him.
“It is my testimony that the more you learn about God’s love for you, the more victorious you will be. And the less you know about His love the more successful Satan will be in persuading you that you are alone, that you are on your own with victory impossible for you . . . The Lord cannot save us and give us victory in spite of ourselves. If He is to give us victory we must learn to cooperate with Him; otherwise, we block or prevent the very blessings He is trying to give us . . . He knows of your struggles and He already has your path to victory planned.”
Brother Cramer offered 6 keys that can help us all to open that door and receive that victory:
1. Learn to apply His word to your particular problem–every promise in the scriptures applies to each of us. You can personalize the promises by putting your name on it. Examples: “Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee, Stephen, in the arms of my love” (D&C 6:20). “If you will have faith in me, Stephen, you will have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me” (Moroni 7:33). Put your faith in the One who made the promises.
2. Stop being ashamed of your temptations. It is not a sin to be tempted. Even the Savior was tempted in every point like as we are. He actually suffered in overcoming those temptations. He was still perfect because he never gave in. We need to stop condemning ourselves for our mortal weaknesses and imperfections or we will block the flow of His grace.
3. Believe that you can change from what you are to what Heavenly Father wants you to be. Nothing is impossible to God. With God’s help every person can change. However, we cannot solve spiritual problems with human solutions. Your faith must not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
4. Place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and rely on Him, not on your own will power. Only taking Him as a partner in the battle assures the victory.
5. Keep score—Notice the number of temptations and the number of your victories. Report to the Lord in evening prayers. You discover how real and powerful your Goliath is—this is all-out war with the adversary. You are fighting him and not yourself. Recognize the Lord’s help each time you turn to Him and conquer a temptation. Fill your prayers with thanksgiving for His help.
6. Use an affirmation of discipleship. Write on a 3×5 card, “I am a disciple of Christ. I do not desire to do anything to disappoint Him.” Refer to it numerous times during the day and this affirmation will steady your resolve.
All of us face emotional and spiritual Goliath’s that we can’t conquer with our own power. When David was about to fight Goliath he said to him, “The battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:47). In D&C 105:14 we read, “I will fight your battles.” D&C 104:82 summarizes this principle well: “Inasmuch as you are humble and faithful and call upon my name, behold, I will give you the victory.” And finally, Moroni 7:33 “And Christ hath said, If you will have faith in me you will have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” God doesn’t expect us to win our spiritual battles by ourselves, because it is impossible to do so.
Brother Cramer, not understanding this basic principle, said he was ashamed to admit to the Lord that he would fail on his own, ashamed to admit his utter dependence on the Savior’s grace and mercy. He felt he had reached his lowest point to admit to the Lord that he simply couldn’t conquer this Goliath in his life by himself. He thought he had tried everything, and still failed miserably. But he hadn’t tried everything—he had not yet turned his life over to the Lord. He had said, “help me stop this behavior,” but he hadn’t said, “Lord, here is my heart, please change it, heal it, transform it, so I will have no more desire to sin, but to serve thee continually.” Once he did, not only was he able to overcome his problem with pornography, but the Lord has used him to greatly influence many thousands of others for good.
Examining and Following the Pattern of True Repentance
Enos, Colleen, and Stephen had a lot in common. Enos too had been an “active,” contributing member, serving, leading, but yearning to live the gospel on a higher level. And maybe Enos’s “sins” were similar to Joseph Smith’s as a youth—perhaps “levity, and sometimes associating with jovial company not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God . . .” (Joseph Smith—History 1:28). Or like Nephi’s (2 Nephi 4:18) when he lamented “I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.”
Each of us can take heart from the examples of Enos, Nephi, Colleen, and Stephen. We too can obtain a sure knowledge that as we build our faith, not in our own ability, but in His. We can approach the Lord in a different way—in a way that surrenders our will to His, our timing to His, our plans to His. Maybe the most important part of a mighty change of heart is a sincere change from the stance of, “please Lord, do my will and do it now,” to “Thy will be done.” The thing that impresses me most in all of these stories is that each of them came to know, really know, that their sins were forgiven, and that the Atonement is real and applicable and available when a person comes to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Of course, what it takes to break one person’s heart and bring them in complete humility and submission to the Lord’s will may be very different than what it takes for another, and Alma tells us that there is the element of choice in this humility business. Alma said, “And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word? Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed . . .” (Alma 32:14-15, emphasis added.) This is the very kind of humility we all desire and strive for.
Perhaps Enos is an example of choosing to be humble “because of the word.” I can see nothing in his story to indicate that he was in a desperate state of mind—only that his father’s teachings had sunk deep into his heart and he finally realized his great need for the Atonement and wanted to make certain that it was applied to his life. He was praying for the salvation of his own soul. Different people find different motivations for turning to the Lord with full purpose of heart, However, the underlying principle is always the same: they realize that without His help they will surely be lost. They have come to realize that without the Atonement they can never re-enter God’s presence, and that only through faith in Christ can this miracle of the Atonement take place. Only Christ knows how to cover us in the cloak of His tender mercies, to extend His grace and merits to us “unworthy creatures,” to reach into our broken hearts and heal them with His power.
We can’t work ourselves to that point or achieve ourselves there, or serve ourselves there or make ourselves worthy enough to suddenly be washed clean by His blood. No one can work hard enough to create his own mighty change of heart. No one can accomplish the work of cleansing repentance alone without the Savior’s mighty power. Only He can do it. The major part of our work is to trust that as we do our reasonable best to keep the commandments He will make up the difference. (Remember Stephen Robinson’s bicycle analogy, that if we give all we have—even if it is only 62 cents—He will give the rest.) The Savior alone can bring about the miracle of transforming our lives and hearts—that is His work.
Does Forgiveness and Transformation Last?
Is it possible to achieve this humbled state of mind, to accomplish this application of the Atonement and have it “last” from then on? Alma 5:26-28 states, “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not, ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.”
Book of Mormon Key
One of the best ways to “prepare quickly” and maintain our spiritual progress is through a regular, spiritually intense study of the Book of Mormon. Colleen Harrison’s immersion in the Book of Mormon brought about a deepened understanding of the application of the Twelve-Step program in her life, chronicled in her book He Did Deliver Me from Bondage. She continues to anchor her soul in the doctrines of the Book of Mormon.
Marilyn Arnold, Emeritus Professor of English at BYU, says, “for too many years my reading was sporadic and merely dutiful. I knew that the Book of Mormon contained some splendid passages, but as a whole it had not grabbed me and shaken me into a realization of its unparalleled magnificence.” She said that finally she decided to read the Book of Mormon “in earnest . . . investing the same concentrated energy that I would accord a complex and masterful literary text.” She reports that her earnest concentration on the Book of Mormon took her beyond being an “active Mormon.” She tells us that her study, “implanted in my soul an indescribable love of the Book of Mormon, of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and of his church. . . . It was as if I harbored a sweet secret that I was too shy to talk about. I now wanted desperately to live more purely, to correct my innumerable character flaws, to abandon my sins. What happened to me during this period of intense study, prayer, and self-assessment remains with me still.” (Marilyn Arnold,Expressions of Faith, “Unlocking the Sacred Text,” Salt Lake City, 1996, pp. 193-194.)
We too can immerse ourselves in the Book of Mormon and choose to constantly humble ourselves “because of the word.” We can “get” the main message of the gospel because it is more clearly spelled out in those pages than in any other book.
It matters not whether we come to this position of insatiable desire to experience His atonement in our lives through the desperation of poverty, addiction, or sin, OR through the hunger of the soul for forgiveness, OR through a conscious decision to move to a new level of understanding the doctrines of the Kingdom as best taught in the Book of Mormon. What matters is that we DO it—and keep doing it. One thing we know for sure, the Lord’s purpose for us in mortality is not comfort or ease or freedom from affliction. It is primarily to teach us our need for the Atonement and to bless us with the peace and joy that can come no other way.
Author note: To hear a thought-provoking interview that Nick Galieti did with me, check out the following link that will take you to the FairMormon website, entitled Articles of Faith, posts.