Tuesday, November 25, 2014

weak things become strong

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them" (Ether 12:27)

Recommitting myself to my mission this week has been one of the most refining times of my life. Sister Cotton and I began this transfer with a fast. As we fasted, we took special note of anything that was keeping up from being fully consecrated to our work. Anything from teaching skills to the things we think about at night. If it wasn't helping us fulfill our purpose, it was going on a list, and we took that list the next day and promised Heavenly Father that we were going to fast from ALL of these things for 40 days. 

And let me tell you.... the devil didn't like that too much. 

Day 1 of the fast was irritating. I just felt so worthless. I had before me this long list of flaws I had created that I had no confidence in ever being able to fix. Nothing happened that day. Don't get me wrong, we tried hard to work, but it was like God was withholding everyone and everything from us. I was so sad. Then I realized, this wasn't me. I wasn't the one getting in the way, it was Satan, it was sin!
In the Book of Mormon, there was a group of people called the Nephites living in a land called Zarahemla. They were a good people, but they were starting to lose some of their humility. It says that the "year ended in peace also, save it were the exceedingly great pride which had gotten into the hearts of the people" (Helaman 3:36). Notice that it doesn't say the people became prideful, or the people were prideful, it distinctly separates the sin from the people. Reflecting on this I realized that I am not my weaknesses. I am a child of God. My Heavenly Father sent His only begotten son to atone for me so that by his grace, I could overcome my weaknesses and be made strong through Christ. 

So how, I asked myself, can I overcome my weaknesses? 

Once every seven days, (I don't know why I didn't just say once a week...) we spend multiple hours prayerfully setting goals and making plans according to what God wants us to accomplish in the upcoming week. When it was time to pray about the people we needed to commit to baptism, I started feeling uneasy. I didn't feel very confident that there were many people ready for the commitment. I went to my bedroom and prayed to Heavenly Father for greater faith. I felt prompted to open the Book of Mormon. I opened up to a chapter that literally answered everything I was questioning. When I began praying about the people who would need to be baptized, I realized just how necessary this purification process I was going through was  going to be to help these things happen. It won't be anything we say that brings these people to a knowledge of the truth, it will be what we can help them feel. I am here to be a conduit or channel for the spirit. If I'm not a clean vessel, then I am standing in the way of my investigators conversion. 

During district meeting, we did a special role play in which we went to a separate room and prayed about what we could teach another set of missionaries, and what we wanted to be taught by another set of missionaries. Since I'm trying to purify myself, I decided I needed to be taught about consecration. The missionaries that taught me began the lesson by talking about scripture study. "Nevermind, that wasn't what I wanted!" I thought. As their lesson progressed, I found myself touched by the spirit. They read to me the scripture about feasting on the words of Christ. I realized that the phrase "you are what you eat" can be directly applied to the spiritual food we take in as well. If I want to be purified, I need to fill myself with pure things! The natural man hungers and thirsts constantly, but Christ said: "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). In the parable of the 10 virgins, one lamp full of oil ins't enough. They have to replenish their lamps so that they can keep their light burning. It is the same with us. We can't just feast on the words of Christ once, do an act of kindness once, be obedient once... we have to constantly be working to keep our lamps burning. 

Sometimes, it's easy to be prideful and think that we just don't have time to run and get more oil, or it's just too hard to fill our lamps. Maybe our oil is of such excellent quality, we don't think it will ever run out....  but that is not how it works. We must always be replenishing ourselves. For this 40 day fast, every morning and every night I recommit myself to staying away from those things that are keeping me from being a pure vessel. Similarly, every week we recommit and refill when we take the sacrament. I have even taken to memorizing scriptures and reciting them whenever I have a negative thought, to try to keep my lamp filled with good oil :). 

I will admit though, humbling yourself enough to change is no easy task. Have you ever heard the phrase "being stripped of pride"? It's not pleasant sounding. It's definitely not pleasant feeling. Sister Cotton and I have felt more anguish over our sins this week than perhaps we've felt in our whole missions. It is SO easy to beat yourself up and think that you are just too far stuck in a habit or routine to make it different. I have felt much like Peter walking on water, who "when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and [began] to sink". I have learned that fallen man is also a sinking man. We do not have the strength sufficient enough to walk on our own. I sometimes feel like we forget that. Maybe this is why Heavenly Father lets us sink sometimes, so that we can be humbled enough to remember who it is we need to turn to. "And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?"  (Matthew 14). "Here Peter, take my hand. I am the only one able to save you from the storms, so trust me, and just take my hand". 

When we turn ourselves over to Christ, that is when we are truly made strong. When we recognize our own incapability, we must not let it drag us down. Rather, we must recognize that the only way up and out is through Jesus Christ. I don't think I've ever been so grateful for so much tribulation. It is as Paul said, "...There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure". Paul begged the Lord to take away his trials, this "thorn in the flesh" that we all experience in mortal life. Often I find myself crying a similar prayer, asking the Lord to take away trials. In reply to Paul's prayer the Lord said, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."  Isn't that a marvelous phrase? His grace is sufficient for us. "No Paul, I won't take away this trial; the enabling power of my atonement is all that you need. So humble yourself enough to grab hold of it, and I will fill you with my strength."  How many times are we told in the scriptures to look not to the arm of flesh? We just CANNOT escape on our own. It is only through grace that we are saved, after all we can do. And for this reason, I, like Paul "take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong". 

If there is anything that you take away from this, I hope that it is this:

You are best when you are at your weakest. 

On Sunday, we had a hard day. We had two very special investigator families come to church, and then leave right in the middle. I was heartbroken. I literally just sat and cried because I wanted SO BADLY from them to feel the spirit that resides in this church. The rest of that day wasn't any easier. Not knowing any other sources, we turned to the scriptures for comfort. Again, we were reminded that His grace is sufficient for all. It's like wen Alma was feeling down trodden because the people of Amonihah cast him out and rejected him. God sent an angel to comfort him and let him know how blessed he was for trying! BUT the angel doesn't say "Okay Alma, you're right, you can't do this, go home." He also doesn't say "Yeah Alma, that was a tough situation, let's have you try again with an easier one."  Instead, he commands him to go back because the grace of God is with him and he can do all things through Christ. And what does Alma do? He returns speedily.

It is my prayer that we all will humble ourselves enough to rely on the grace of Christ and "return speedily" to whatever it is the Lord has asked us to do. I hope that we can all do it with full purpose of heart, and that we can like Moroni said, "deny ourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all our might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ." (Moroni 10:32)
At the end of the night, we were exhausted. We were also feeling down because we had set a goal to have 10 lessons with a member present every week this transfer, and we were one short. We felt like we had done all we could, but it just wasn't good enough. No members were able to come out with us. We decided to go try the home of someone we had never met. Her church records just showed up in our area book, so we figured she had just moved in. We went and knocked on the door. A 20 year old redhead answered, she welcomed us in warmly. She sat down next to her mom, and told us all about her experience joining the church in Iowa just a month ago. We found out her mom wasn't  a member, she had hardly even heard of the church. HEAVENLY FATHER SENT US A MEMBER AND AN INVESTIGATOR AND JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME!

So, with that being said, we achieved our goal of 10 member present lessons and I learned a valuable lesson. It is by grace we are saved after all we can do. Even for something as silly as saving you from missing a goal ;). 

Sister Jennifer Hochstrasser
Tennessee Nashville Mission
150 Westpark Dr Suite 190
Brentwood, TN  37027

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