Tuesday, April 26, 2016
I Gave A Talk In Church
Here it is:
How to Seek and Receive Answers Nathan Alldredge 4/24/2016
About a week and a half ago Brother Bills called me up to ask me to speak to you all today. I don’t know that I have had the opportunity to do so in the years that I have been attending this ward. I am not really surprised, there have been fabulous talks given in the past, and I have enjoyed all the ones that I have managed to stay awake for.
You might know my family, or at least remember seeing my family: We have a tendency to show up a little late and then walk right up and sit in the front pew as has been the custom in my family for the past 30 some odd years that we have all been coming to church in this building. My name is Nathan Alldredge. My wife is Rachel and I have a 9yo son Ammon, a 7yo son Noah and a 3yo daughter Emma. I buy things for a living, and work for an engineering firm based in Seattle. My wife also works there, a couple of days a week. We are trying to get to the point where she doesn’t have to work a full time job any more, and this job that I have now has gone a long way towards making that happen.
Today it is my goal to try to encourage those here in attendance today to seek for truth, and also to trust their faith. This is a topic that has recently become near and dear to my heart. Many of you knew my mother. She was diagnosed this last December with cancer, and passed away the following month. One of the last conversations I had with her involved me telling her I wasn’t ready for her to go. I wasn’t ready for her to leave. My family has depended so much on her strength of character, her willingness to serve her family, and her testimony. I didn’t know what it would be like, couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like to not be able to talk with her. Many of you do not know that about one year earlier, my 5 year old nephew Joel was also taken by cancer. Both of these instances naturally started me down the path of sorrow, confusion and doubt. I had questions. Questions I NEEDED answers to. My religion told me that everything was going to be ok, and the Lord had my back, and that all would work out in the end. But I needed personal, individual answers.
In the scriptures, there are many accounts of people seeking for truth. Some do it the right way, some do it the wrong way. I would like to devote some of my time to both ideas. Let me start out with a few examples of the wrong way.
We read in 1 Nephi chapter 15: 2 And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them.
3 For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.
6 And it came to pass that … I spake unto my brethren, desiring to know of them the cause of their disputations.
7 And they said: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.
(and I might also add they probably didn’t understand why they were there in the wilderness, what God’s plan for them was, why their younger brother kept telling them what to do… and likely various other points of doctrine were also unclear to them as well. I also imagine that they discussed it at length amongst themselves, otherwise Nephi wouldn’t have noticed in the first place. I also imagine it was a heated discussion, going back and forth, trying their best to disseminate the vision of the olive tree, and the Gentiles. Because it seems like, at least this time, they were interested in the topic material. If they would have had the internet, I don’t doubt that they would have spent hours consulting various sources, getting the opinions of various noted and reliable experts, and likely would have come to different conclusions based on their limited understanding and experiences. But I am going to tell you why they were still confused: let’s get back to Nephi’s response in verse 8)
8 And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
9 And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
Now imagine that. They DIDN’T EVEN ASK! I don’t know why they didn’t, perhaps they just figured that God wouldn’t tell them, so why bother?! Don’t let yourself fall into this trap!
Let’s look at another example in the New Testament: The story of the rich young ruler:
Matthew 19: 16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto him, which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up:
Let’s put ourselves in this persons shoes. Here is a young man, who is faithful in keeping the commandments. I imagine that he frequently attends church, is perhaps even a priesthood holder, maybe he holds a calling and does what is expected of him. He has done everything he has ever been asked to do, and likely it has all made sense to him and he sees the immediate temporal benefit of obedience. And I imaging that he feels pretty good about it. But then he asks one more question: “What lack I yet?” That is such a loaded question. I wonder if he really meant to ask the question we all hear when we read this chapter. It is a very personal, very defining question. What is the one single the one thing I can do to ensure myself a place in the Kingdom of God?
21 Jesus said unto him, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
Now this young man asked a question. And he got an answer. But it was what he did with that answer that defined him. He couldn’t believe it, wouldn’t believe it. Couldn’t accept it for whatever reason, be it simplicity, like when Elisha sent Naman to wash in Jordan and be cleansed of leprosy, or stubbornness like those Israelites who perished just because they wouldn’t look at the brazen serpent. He couldn’t accept that answer. The answer wasn’t what he was expecting, and wasn’t something he was willing to do.
Now what do these two examples have in common? To me it seems that they were all “trying” to seek for truth. They were trying to get answers to their gospel questions. But what did they do wrong? I will tell you the answer: They lead with their doubts. The first example doubted they would get an answer from God in the first place, so they didn’t even ask. The second example they doubted the answer they received, and refused to follow counsel.
Now let’s talk about the right way to get answers to gospel questions.
In a talk titled “Lord I Believe” by Jeffrey R Holland, we learn about the Saviors interaction with the man whose child was possessed by evil spirits.
The man says to Jesus, “If thou canst do any thing,” he said, “have compassion on us, and help us.”
Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
The father comes to the Savior for help, in what must be dire circumstances, under terrible conditions.
The thing I take away from this interaction is that the father, in response to Jesus’ question IMMEDIATELY says “I believe.” There is faith there, and hope. This same father acknowledges that it might not be enough, because he follows that declaration by pleading for help with his unbelief. Here is what is interesting. Jesus didn’t tell the man that he didn’t have enough faith, didn’t make comments about the unbelief. He healed the boy. He answered the prayer. Because it doesn’t matter HOW much faith you have, just that you have some. The Lord says that all things are possible to him that believeth.
In Alma chapter 32 we learn just how important “some” faith is:
21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
22 And now, behold, I say unto you, and I would that ye should remember, that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word.
27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
Alma teaches us that faith is not perfect knowledge. However faith can lead to a perfect knowledge. That our faith starts out with a desire to believe and that if we let that desire to believe grow within us, and we nurture it and maintain it, it will grow into a perfect knowledge of the thing we are trying to understand. What we see here is that faith does not come to us by chance, it comes by choice. We need to choose to believe, choose to have faith that our questions will be answered. This is the key thing that Laman and Lemuel lacked in the example above.
Asking honest questions is an important part of building faith. Building faith through diligent study should be the focus of our questioning. The Lord may not answer our questions immediately, but most answers to gospel questions can be had through sincere study and prayer. Another thing we must remember is that Faith never demands an answer to every question, but seeks the assurance and courage to move forward. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge, “I don’t know everything, but I do know enough to continue on the path of discipleship.”
Elder Holland later counsels “In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited.” He asks us to remember “The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know. Be true to the faith that you do have.” “It is ok to have questions, questions are a part of life. The key to dealing with these questions is to be candid about them, but do not allow those questions to get in the way of faith working its miracle.”
You may remember the sons of Mosiah. They started out in a good family, and lost their way. They went about mocking church members, and doing what they could to bring down the church. But then they had an experience that changed their lives. Do you think it was the angel that appeared to them on the road one day? I do not. If you recall, Laman and Lemuel also had angels visit them, and they felt the power of the Lord. They shaped up for a while, but then eventually turned away back to their old ways. No… I think the real defining point in the lives of Aaron Ammon Omner and Himni was when “they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation. And they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.” (Alma 17:2-3) Their questions led them to find greater understanding and greater faith.
On my mission I often spoke with people who we referred to as Eternal Investigators. They asked lots of questions, and I think they tried to impress us with the variety and depth of their questioning. No matter the answer, they had another question. They were never satisfied, their search for truth was leading them around in circles and either they didn’t realize it, or they weren’t honestly seeking answers in the first place. But the end result was the same: They would not receive the answers they supposedly sought.
And finally let’s talk about how answers do come. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 teaches that spiritual things are only discerned through the spirit.
1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
10 But God hath revealed it unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Paul teaches that there are going to be things, spiritual things, gospel-related things, that can only be learned through the spirit of God, who speaks quietly to our minds in a still small voice. That people on their own will never be able to understand the things that God understands. But that through the spirit, people who honestly seek with Real intent, having faith in Christ will be able to uncover the answers that they are looking for. Real intent means it must be more than just a passing curiosity.
We must also be aware of where our information comes from, where we are looking for answers. There are many sources of information widely available to each and every one of us. M Russel Ballard said “We should find thoughtful and faithful individuals to help us.” Parents and bishops are much more likely to help us find spiritual guidance to gospel questions than someone on the InterWebs who is not interested in our personal salvation. “And if necessary, we should ask those with appropriate academic training, experience, and expertise for help.” Jesus promises in Matthew: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
If we truly want answers to our questions, we must first exercise belief and have faith. We must understand that our intent is an important part of the process. We must be willing to hold on to the faith and understanding that we do have, in preparation for receiving further understanding and knowledge. We must be willing to accept that we may not get the answers that we want, when we want them. We should be willing to accept the answers that we do receive with humble hearts and a willingness to change our ways if it is required of us.
As I have faced the challenges to my own faith I have come to a greater understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that he is my savior. I know that because of his sacrifice and resurrection, my mistakes can be forgiven, my pain and anguish can be comforted and that I can look forward to the day, hopefully after I have had a good long life of my own, that I can run to my mother’s embrace, see her smiling face and tell her that I love her once again. I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the power of the priesthood. I believe in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. And I know that Heavenly Father does answer prayers. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.