Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Faith to Be Bold

I've been thinking a lot about Abinadi lately.  He was assigned a very difficult mission.  The Lord commanded him to preach repentance to the people of King Noah--no small task, as it was a culture awash in hedonistic indulgence and not real inclined to change.  The first time he tried to teach the people, he warned them that if they didn't repent they'd be brought into bondage, and they essentially ran him out of town.  Two years later, he was commanded to return and try again, this time warning the people that they were going to be brought under bondage, but if they didn't repent now, they would also be destroyed.  They angrily bound him and brought him before the king, claiming that he was speaking evil of the people and the king, who according to them had done no wrong (this may be the most accurate, succinct example of the general reaction of the unrepentant guilty, "How dare you judge me!" followed by dissembling and justification).

Not only did Abinadi not back down from his prophecies, but he bore a bold, powerful testimony of the Savior and the Atonement (the claim that the call to repentance is an act of love falls on deaf ears amongst the hard-hearted;  Abinadi could have quoted the Savior's declaration that "I come into the world not to condemn the world, but to save the world" and it wouldn't have been truly heard), quoting the prophet Isaiah at length.  He chastised the priests for teaching the law of Moses but living a life of debauchery. He was told by the king that he was going to be put to death for the things that he said.  He continued to testify of the Atonement and the need for a change in the peoples' lives.  He was told that if he recanted, his life would be spared.  He refused and was burned to death, testifying boldly until literally his last breath, shouting over the initial flames.

There is much to take from Abinadi's story, but the thing that has struck me over and over is how easy it would be, from Abinadi's perspective, to feel like he had failed.  He accepted a difficult assignment from the Lord, that made him a loner and an outcast.  He had to speak uncomfortable truths that people didn't want to hear.  He lived with much discomfort for an intensely arduous mission that ultimately claimed his life.  All this, and in Abinadi's life on the earth, he never (as far as we know) witnessed any positive effects or consequences of his teaching and prophesying and laboring.  At the time of his martyrdom, it looked like all he had accomplished was to die nobly for a lost cause.

But we know the rest of the story.  We know that Alma, one of the priests of Noah, heard the words of Abinadi and was touched by the Spirit.  He made drastic changes in his soul, sacrificing a life of comfort and privilege in order to hide himself away in the wilderness to repent and record the things that Abinadi had taught.  He became a remarkable missionary, teaching these truths to anyone willing to listen.  Hundreds of people came to Christ through Alma, who became an outstanding prophet in his own right, guiding a people who were humbly focused on Christ, who lived with "their hearts knit together in unity" through the love of their Redeemer.  Alma raised a son who became one the most effective missionaries ever, bringing hundreds more to the Savior, with his own conversion serving as a living witness of the ability of the Savior and the Holy Spirit to work mighty changes in men.

On this side of the veil, Abinadi never got to see any of that.  But he could boldly fulfill his mission, no matter the sacrifice, because he trusted that the Lord has wise purposes and that no labor in his name is ever in vain.  Surely Abinadi was greeted on the other side by the words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."

We are often guilty of wanting instant spiritual gratification:  Ok, Lord, I've been good and done what you asked me to do, so now where's my insta-miracle?  The fact is that many of our labors require lifelong work, and we may only see small progress, little changes, if we can see them at all.  But I believe with all my heart that the work we do is not in vain, that the testimonies that we bear do not always fall on deaf ears, that the service that we render is never wholly ineffective.  If we live faithfully enough to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, others might be able to feel that influence through us, might feel that confirming confidence as we bear testimonies through both word and action.

I think about these kind of things more around Memorial Day, I guess.  My grandma, who has been gone for many years now, was always very diligent about cleaning and decorating the graves not just of her husbands, but also of her parents and her husband's parents.  I never knew my great-grandparents.  In fact, my mother never knew her paternal grandfather, and her paternal grandmother died when she was only 5 or 6.  It would seem that people I never knew, that my mother never really knew, wouldn't have much effect on me and my life.  I certainly wouldn't have been a glint in their eyes, having been born three or four decades after they died, but I realize that my life is what it is, that I am the person that I am, partly because of who they were and the decisions that they made.  The raised their children with the Gospel, spent their golden years serving their children and grandchildren and traveling to various temples doing work for those who had passed on before them.  They certainly could never know the effect that their example has had on my life, but decades later the testimonies that they lived have been a tremendous influence on my life.

So when the difficulty of of remaining faithful and fulfilling your moral obligations seems too great, remember that what you do matters, that you have greater influence than you probably know, and that your hard work will be rewarded, both for you and for those you serve.  It matters.

Years ago, I wrote down this quote, the source for which I've lost track of, but I absolutely love it, because it captures so well the faith and forward-looking nature of Gospel work: "Even if your efforts of attention seem for years to producing no results, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood your soul."

Be bold, be faithful, and trust the Lord with the consequences.

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