Vertically Connected Blog
After the Lord had the prophet Moses lead the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, He intended to take them to a land reserved for them, a place where they could live in peace and happiness. However, even though they had been miraculously delivered by His hand, the Israelites struggled to remember their God, thank Him, or truly worship Him and thus they struggled being guided by Him to this promised land. (Indeed, that's why the journey took 40 years!)
At one point in their journey, as they were struggling (again!) to be grateful and humble in their trying circumstances, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” (Numbers 21:6) Realizing in that moment their responsibility in that trial, the Israelites pled with Moses to ask the Lord if He would take the snakes away.
But the Lord responded with an unexpected solution.
He instructed Moses to make a serpent out of brass, put it on a stick, and hold it up.
Once he was finished, Moses then told the people that if they would look up to that brazen serpent up on that pole, they would be healed and protected and live.
Isn't it interesting that hundreds of poisonous snakes were slithering at their feet and biting them; people standing next to them were getting bit, possibly screaming with pain; some of their loved ones and children were probably dying, and yet God was asking them to take their attention off all that around them . . . and look to Him by looking up to that brazen serpent.
It seems a little strange. And I’ve wondered if they might have said to themselves, “What difference will looking at a snake made out of metal make? How is that going to help?”
Indeed, it seems many of them probably did. For many of them wouldn't look and perished. They didn't understand what the serpent symbolized nor how Moses was trying to get them to look to their God in their circumstances.
I have been reminded of the Israelites experience with the brazen serpent several times as I've found myself asking that same question about something the Lord had instructed me to do.
One time many years ago, I had been praying for guidance for one of our children. He was struggling with his emotions, some difficult circumstances, and getting along with others and I was struggling to figure out what the real problem was and what could be done about it. I prayed about my concern often for several months but didn't really get any answers.
Then one day I was in the laundry room folding laundry when a clear, quiet thought came into my head: "Just listen to him."
I stopped what I was doing for a second and listened again. "Just listen better to him."
I knew immediately that the Lord was referring to this particular son but I am embarrassed to say that the next thought that popped into my head was:
"What difference will that make? How is that going to help? He is struggling with some really difficult things right now - things much bigger than not being listened to!"
However, I decided to at least try it. (I mean I hadn't been able to come up with any better ideas.) And it has been so interesting to watch just how inspired those four words truly were for that son in particular, with his personality and individual needs.
That one small piece of what seemed like vague, possibly irrelevant counsel from the Lord was the very thing that was being neglected in our large and sometimes chaotic family. And it is something that my husband and I have come back to again and again, continually seeking the Spirit's direction of how and when we can listen to him better.
I have discovered that the Lord often holds up a modern version of a brazen serpent in our lives. And often this simple, seemingly irrelevant symbol offers us the same kind of protection, healing, peace, or a chance to truly live during this mortal experience.
Maybe it is an impression that we really need to rededicate ourselves to prayer or the recurring thought that our scripture study is lacking. It may be what seems to be a guilty reminder that we are not worshipping in the temple enough or that our church service needs to be more focused on the Savior instead of ourselves. Or sometimes it is something even more simple than that: listen better . . . serve more . . . let go of that anger . . . let go of that expectation of yourself.
Whatever the instruction is, we may find ourselves dismissing those simple promptings because of more pressing concerns in our lives. Or we may acknowledge His encouraging reprimand is true, but conclude we have bigger problems to solve than that.
However, we know that the Lord truly does bring to pass incredible things by simple means (Alma 36;7). Often, He solves big problems with small solutions.
One Sunday a little while ago, I was sitting in a Stake Conference and the topic of the conference was Temple and Family History work (again!). I am also embarrassed to say that I immediately started tuning out the speakers because I was so tired of hearing about Temple and Family History work!
“When do I have time to do family history?” I asked myself. “Why would I prioritize it when I have so much to do, so little time, and so many things on my plate? What difference does it make? How could it possibly help me with all of the other things I need to worry about?”
And then it dawned on me! Could this be a brazen serpent the prophet is holding up for the Church in general? Could this be a small and simple means that could offer protection, healing, peace and ultimately a chance to truly live in these perilous and often frightening last days?
On a very logical level, it doesn’t really make sense.
How can something like doing family history work help us with all of the challenges we have in our day?
For example, how can family history work help a son who is struggling with pornography or his parents who are seeking to know how to help him? The internet, smartphones, and technology bombard us on every side. Confusion, distraction, and indifference are slithering at our feet. How could indexing really help protect our families against the blatant immorality that has crept into our homes and lives today? Indeed, the people around us are getting “bit” and are suffering; some of our loved ones and children are even spiritually dying.
And yet, God through His prophet is asking us to take our attention off of all these poisonous influences and look to Him by looking back.
What difference could it possibly make? How could that help?
I don’t fully know the answer to those questions, but I guess neither did the Israelites. They simply had to have the courage and faith to obey prophetic instruction and trust not only in the divine source of that instruction but the divine blessings of it. They, like us, had to trust that what they were being counseled to do would ultimately lead them to the Savior.
At least one conclusion I have come to is that family history work leads us to the temple. And it seems that those few hours we spend learning, pondering, and participating in ordinances in the temple are another small and simple means that brings to pass great things in the thousands of hours we spend outside the temple living our lives.
Think about it: if there was no doctrine of participating in ordinances for the dead, we would maybe go into the temple a half a dozen times in our entire lives – once for ourselves, and a few other times escorting others or witnessing a marriage sealing. Our proxy work for the dead gives us an opportunity to go into the temple every single week if we choose!
But I think there might be more reasons than that - even more personal and meaningful applications in each of our lives and our circumstances.
And those reasons are for you and I to discover by doing family history work and taking our families (both living and deceased) to the temple.
However, family history work is just one example! It is only one counsel that has been given to us in these latter days by our prophet.
What other brazen serpents could the prophet be holding up for us today?
If we look for that help - those simple, seemingly irrelevant admonitions the Lord gives to His prophets - we will discover them all around us.
And they are God's higher way of offering us peace, protection, healing and a chance to truly live "after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27) in an overwhelming and often frightening world. Indeed, they give us access to the peace, protection, healing and life found in His Son, Jesus Christ.
This past weekend, we were blessed again with incredible messages and clarifying doctrines from the Lord’s chosen servants that will enrich and bless our lives for years to come.
As you listened to and learned from General Conference, did impressions come to your mind of something you need to improve on?
Were you inspired to change something in your life?
Or were you motivated to simplify an aspect of your life?
I have found that personal revelation often flows when we place ourselves in settings where the heavens are open and God is pouring down knowledge from them (D&C 121:33). Conference definitely seems to be one of those places.
And what a joyous place to find ourselves in.
I have also noticed that sometimes after I've been truly enlightened or motivated to increase the level of my discipleship, I find myself feeling unsure I really can do what I've been inspired to do. I often know the impression is right, I just don't know how it will work.
And I've wondered:
Why would I struggle with this?
Why would I doubt this can work?
Why would I doubt I can do this?
I am a faithful person who loves the Lord and truly desires to be obedient.
In seeking to understand why this sometimes happens, I have found there is at least one possible cause of my lack of confidence, fear, or insecurity. And it has nothing to do with my faith or obedience or willingness.
It has to do with the negative beliefs or false perceptions I often don't even know I have.
Let me explain what I mean with a story from the scriptures.
In the Old Testament, we learn about a man named Jonah who was instructed by the Lord to go to Nineveh to warn the people of their imminent destruction if they did not repent. But instead of being obedient, Jonah ran as fast as he could to the coastal city of Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, and sailed as far away from his responsibility as possible. (Some scholars even believe that Tarshish was geographically probably one of the farthest places Jonah could realistically go from Nineveh at that time.)
Have you ever wondered why he did that?
At first, we might think that Jonah was afraid or disobedient or even unfaithful.
Yet, it seems it was much more than that.
Jonah had somewhat of a history with the Ninevites. They were a powerful, idolatrous, and barbaric people who had enslaved, tortured, and killed Jonah’s people over a long period of time. It might be safe to say that Jonah probably didn’t like them.
And so, when that revelation came to reach out in mercy and compassion towards them and give them a chance to repent, Jonah really didn't want to.
That revelation had filtered through some pretty strong opinions of the Ninevites, which not only affected his attitude towards that revelation, but also his obedience to it.
Later in Jonah’s story when the whale spit him out on the shore and the Lord told him a second time to go to Nineveh, Jonah was compelled to obey.
But it doesn’t seem like he had changed what he believed about the Ninevites.
He preached unto them and then sat down and waited for them to be destroyed, even though they had turned “every one from his evil way, and from the violence that [was] in their hands,” and began to believe in God (Jonah 3:5, 8).
When the Ninevites weren’t destroyed, Jonah was angry that God hadn’t done what He originally said He was going to do. He believed the Ninevites deserved to be destroyed even though they had started to repent.
It is interesting to point out, however, that it wasn’t the revelation for Jonah to minister among the Ninevites that was the problem, nor how God willing the Lord was to forgive them of their rebellion and wickedness. It was Jonah’s belief about the Ninevites that inhibited his faith and obedience.
Now, we probably won’t receive a revelation to go to Nineveh.
However, we might receive an impression, “Forgive your dad.” That revelation might immediately filter through the belief, “But my dad doesn’t deserve forgiveness” or “I could never forgive my dad” or “Forgiveness means forgetting or condoning what happened.” And then we might become angry that God would ask us to do something like that and run, like Jonah, as far away from the revelation as we can.
Again, the revelation itself isn’t the problem in this situation, even if it feels like it. The fear or anger or discouragement we might feel could instead be caused by a negative, unhealthy, or false belief.
We interpret our struggle or unwillingness or doubt as a lack of faith, when, in reality, that could not be farther from the truth!
Many years ago, I met two young people who were obviously in love. Yet as I sat and talked with them one day in my office, the young woman told me, “I want to marry Jake with everything in me. I love him. I’ve fasted about it and I took my decision to the Lord. And I’ve got my answer. The problem is . . . he won’t marry me.”
I was rather surprised by that last statement. And so I asked Jake, “Do you love Katelyn?”
“Yes, I do. She’s the most amazing person in the world.”
“Do you want to marry her?”
“Yes, I do,” he said, and then he hesitated, “. . . but I won’t.”
Jake then explained to me, “When I was younger, I had a problem with pornography. I put my life in order and became worthy to serve a mission. After I got home, I had a couple struggles with it, but I am doing well now and feel there’s been a lot of progress. But I just don’t think it’s fair for her to marry someone like me. I still have to fight to keep my thoughts pure. I just don’t want to put her through this. She is such a wonderful girl, and so I just can’t marry her.”
As we talked for the next hour, I shared with the two of them the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the power He has to heal and change us so that we're not in bondage to our past. We looked at the definition of the word “atonement,” and talked about how it actually means “to cover” or to make “at-one” again (Elder Russell M. Nelson, “The Atonement,” Ensign, November 1996).
We studied what Isaiah teaches about the Atonement, and how Christ has the ability to exchange our ashes (or lack of faith, or heavy burden, or serious sin, or whatever it is) and give us beauty and praise and righteousness and glory.
I respected Jake’s willingness to be accountable and responsible, and my intent wasn’t to convince him he should marry Katelyn. I just wanted to make sure he understood the power the Savior had not only to forgive him, but also to heal him and actually change him into “a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Near the end of our conversation, I could see some hope in both of their eyes. However, when I asked Jake how he felt, he said he was still struggling with the idea that he wasn’t ever going to be worthy enough to marry her; he believed she deserved someone better than him.
After they left, I realized that perhaps the only way those two were ever going to be able to move forward in their relationship was if Jake figured out what he really believed about Jesus Christ, His Atonement, and what becomes of not only our worthiness but our worth to Him when we sin. I felt he also needed to sort out why he didn't believe that redemption through Christ was also offered to him and that it could actually help and heal him.
I knew Jake had a knowledge of the principles and doctrines about repentance, forgiveness, and divine worth. However, I also knew that he was struggling — not only to find peace through recovery, but also to receive a confirmation about making one of the most important decisions of his life. And it was largely because of the misconception that he would never be worthy to marry such an incredible young woman because of past sin.
So, if you find yourself struggling to have faith in or be obedient to something the Lord has revealed to you or asked you to do, consider first that it might simply be because that revelation filtered through an unhealthy, unrealistic, destructive, or false idea that is skewing your ability to consider it, follow it, or believe in it.
And if so, it is that false idea that needs to first be re-examined, not the revelation!
As we identify and remove the untrue ideas, assumptions or perceptions that often hide somewhere in the backstage of our minds, the truth is allowed to fill our hearts and minds and souls with the light and love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
And then acting in faith on that truth is so much easier.
Stephen & Michelle Hunsaker
Stephen teaches at the Logan Institute of Religion for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has been teaching for over 26 years.
Michelle is a full-time mom who enjoys reading, writing, teaching, and anything and everything to do with musicals.
They are the parents of ten children and authors of the book : Boxing the Lord In and Other Ways We Hinder Revelation.
Their hope is that each week through the thoughts and ideas they share in this blog, you can become more "vertically connected" in your lives. They seek to see and share "things as they really are" and "as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13) by learning how to build more and more on the sure foundation of the Savior, Jesus Christ and the doctrines and principles of His gospel.