The text--more or less--of yesterday's Sacrament Meeting talk.
Thursday afternoon, I took a break from studying long enough to read some news before starting dinner. That was a mistake. I just kept thinking, “the whole world is exploding!” Its a mess out there, brothers and sisters. So I switched gears, and I opened up Instagram on my phone, and a dear friend had just posted a photo of her daughter, who was one of my girls when I served in YW, who is out serving a mission right now. And as I thought about Sister Robinson out there preaching the Gospel, bringing people to Christ, I felt better. Nothing will give you hope for the future quite like working with the youth of the Church. Suddenly, I remembered one of the last lessons I did with those girls before I was released. I don’t actually remember what the lesson was about, but I asked one of the girls to read John 16:33 (be of good cheer, I have overcome the world), and two of the other girls started to giggle. I said, “What’s so funny?” One of them said, “You manage to work this into almost every lesson, no matter what its about.” I figured there are worse things to be known for.
I am a big believer in putting a smile on your face and, through trust in the Lord and his grace, finding something in every situation to rejoice about. Our lives can be very difficult, and the world is an atrocious mess, but the Lord is there to lift and cheer us. Elder Marvin J. Ashton once said, “With God’s help, good cheer permits us to rise above the depressing or difficult circumstances. . .It is sunshine when clouds block out the light.”
I have spent time over the years thinking about the circumstances in which the Lord offered that commandment and comfort. In Matthew, we read about an experience in the Savior’s ministry where he visited a man afflicted with a palsy. He whispered gently “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” When others doubted his authority to extend that forgiveness, he then healed the man physically, commanding him--a man who was bed bound and probably had been for some time--to arise and walk. In this story we find one of the most tremendous reasons for each of us to be of good cheer, and that is that, whatever our circumstances, through the power of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, we can be healed and whole, both physically and spiritually. As long as we sincerely repent, we can be freed from the bondage of any sin or mistake. Sometimes, like with the people of Alma, the natural consequences of our sins may occur after we have repented, and in such circumstances it can be easy to feel discouraged or forgotten. We sometimes need to be reminded that the Lord cannot usurp the agency of his children, but he will not leave us in bondage forever and, just as he did with the people of Alma, he will bear those burdens with us, lightening the load and strengthening our backs, so that we might know he is beside us and we might submit “cheerfully and with all patience”. Relief will come, and the Lord will forgive and uplift as we strive to move forward.
After Jesus fed the five thousand, he sent his disciples to cross the sea on a boat as he went away alone to pray. While his disciples sailed, a wind arose and began to toss their ship about in the waves. When they initially saw the Savior out on the water, they were afraid, not knowing who or what it was. He reassured them, “Be of good cheer; It is I; be not afraid.” By walking across the water to reach them in the midst of the storm, the Savior teaches us that no element or circumstance can separate us from his love and protection. We are often tossed about by storms not of our making and that we can’t control, but he is there in the midst of the storms to keep our boat upright and to bring joy that would otherwise be swallowed up by fear. I think its also important that we remember that Peter then stepped out of the boat, with faith in the Savior, and--in the middle of the sea, in the middle of a storm and, as mortal as he was--was able to take a few steps on top of that water himself. We have the ability, through unwavering faith in our Savior and his power, to conquer any element that besieges us, to walk confidently through any storm that threatens us. That reassurance of coming off conquerors through him that loved us can give us the courage to follow the commandment to be of good cheer, even while the storms rage.
And that brings me to Paul, who I have always imagined as the epitome of a happy warrior. When reading his writings, its apparent he was quite serious-minded, but also of a happy heart. I think GK Chesterton probably had Paul in mind when he wrote, “Jesus promised his disciples three things: that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” Paul was all three. He was a bold missionary, traveling far and wide, fearlessly and unapologetically proclaiming the Gospel to all would listen. Those who sat in positions of power in many of the places that he taught didn’t appreciate that, including--perhaps especially--those corrupt men who held positions of authority in Jerusalem. At one point, Paul was scourged--whipped--and thrown into prison for refusing to recant his testimony of the living, resurrected Savior. As he sat in his cell, the scriptures tell us that “the Lord stood by him”--I choose to believe this is meant quite literally--”saying, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” The Lord reassures Paul--as each of us--that as we bear witness of him, no matter the circumstances or consequences, he stands beside us and will protect us as tend to the work he has asked us to do. As we stand as witnesses for him, he stands as an advocate for us with the Father, and is our most true and constant friend. Following this experience, the Lord expanded and magnified the opportunities Paul had to teach and testify, further increasing his influence and reward. No good work in his name goes unnoticed and unrewarded.
Which brings me to the last individuals I’d like to speak about: Noah and Moroni. Now, in speaking of good cheer, that might sound a bit counterintuitive. Few individuals in the history of the world have lived through as much depressing, tragic time as these two men.
Noah was a man of devout faith. Ordained to the Priesthood at the young age of 10 by his grandfather Methuselah, Noah watched as the world around him disintegrated into abject wickedness. The Lord commanded Noah to declare the Gospel and preach repentance, and he did so faithfully--for decades. In return he was reviled and persecuted. When I was younger, I used to think that that would be infuriating. As an adult, I have come to realize that it must’ve been terribly sad. Indeed, in Moses, we read that Noah’s “heart was pained” for his people. He faithfully built the ark and prepared his family as the Lord had commanded, but how difficult and disappointing it must’ve been to watch the cities of the people he had tried so hard to save flooded and gone.
But thanks to modern revelation, we know that there is another chapter to Noah’s story. The prophet Joseph Smith taught that the angel Gabriel was actually that same Noah. Gabriel had the divine privilege of announcing to Mary that “thou shalt conceive and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. . .and of his kingdom there shall be no end. . .For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” The prophet who had had to witness the temporal destruction of all the people of his dispensation was able to bring to the world the glorious news that now was the time for the coming of Him who would bring about their eternal salvation--the baby whose life would become the ultimate evidence that no soul need be lost unto God, that no spirit need be beyond redemption. I can hardly think of a more cheerful assignment in the history of the world.
Except perhaps Moroni. Moroni watched the destruction of his people, as well. In one of the last letters that Mormon wrote to his son, he described the depravity and evil of the people, with rape and murder and other unspeakable atrocities being committed in huge numbers among them. And then he said, “May not the things I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down. . .but may Christ life thee up. . .and the hope of his glory and eternal life rest in your mind forever.” Moroni lived out the rest of his life likely alone, reviled by his people because of their wickedness, but diligently adding to and protecting the record of his people and the Lord’s Gospel.
Atop each of our temples, a likeness of the angel Moroni blows his trump, announcing the good news. When the Gospel was restored, it was Moroni who had the honor of announcing that the Lord had come again to the earth. We place the angel Moroni atop our temples to trumpet to the world that the Resurrected Lord is leading his people, that redemption is still possible and that, because of the work he has done, none of us ever needs to be alone. The Lord is with us, he is with our families and those families can be eternal.
The evil in the world is growing, but the light is growing, too. And it will never be dimmed again--it will only grow brighter and brighter. Each year, more temples are built in diverse places around the world, bringing more families together in powerful, eternal units that repel the strength of the adversary. Tens of thousands of missionaries are working around the world, following in the footsteps of Paul by leaving the comfort and familiarity of home to preach the word of salvation, teaching people about Jesus Christ. It is easy to look at circumstances around us and feel overwhelmed, discouraged or frightened. The Lord told the adversary that he would have the power to bruise the heel of the children of Adam and Eve. He is anxious to convince us that that power is more than it is, and he is cunning. But we must never forget that the Lord also said that we would have the power to crush the adversary’s head. That power is our Savior, Jesus Christ, who will forgive us of our sins, heal us of our infirmities, bear our burdens with us, shelter us during storms, and empower us in our testimonies and bless us with the good cheer that comes from that confident faith in him.
Elder Holland recently said, “There is one commandment that we may unwittingly violate almost more than any other commandment the Savior gave, and that is the commandment to be of good cheer. We’re supposed to hope, we’re supposed to be believing, we’re supposed to know it’ll get better; it will get better, it does get better. ‘These things,’ he said, ‘I have told you that ye might have peace. In the world, ye shall have tribulations, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’. . .The victory has already been won. . .He is the light at the end of the tunnel. . .I have great hope.”