Sunday, July 26, 2009

Then Shall Thy Light Break Forth as the Morning

You might say I have been fortunate to see several beautiful sunrises the last couple weeks. Or perhaps you might think that I haven’t had enough good fortune to sleep in as often as I would like. In turn I might say it depends on how you look at it.

A week ago I found myself discovering what it is like to watch the clock through the night when you can’t get to sleep. This is a rare thing for me. I was camping near the Utah/Wyoming border and I knew it would be cold at night. However, I was not prepared for the severe temperature swings as hot days would descend to freezing conditions after dark. Consequently, my body would not accommodate my fatigue and I spent the entirety of one night walking and thinking.

Just before dawn, I noticed that some of the stars were disappearing. They had been my only friends during the night, and they seemed to be fading – a condition that occurs every morning when dark yields to dawn. The change is so gradual, though, that I only notice if I am looking. I was sad to see familiar constellations slowly vanish.

I don’t remember why the night always seems coldest before dawn. I only know I have experienced it enough not to question the principle. While I’m sure it has been explained to me before, the logic still escapes my memory. As I stood in a meadow of sage brush with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders and coat beneath, I looked to the horizon, waiting. It was a prayerful moment for me, perhaps one that I will never forget. Not only was I awaiting the renewed warmth of morning, I was also considering some things that I had recently given up.

As the sun approached the skyline from behind the distant mountains, the lower sky began to glow brighter and brighter until the first sharp glimpse of the sun demanded my attention and announced the dawn of a new day. The brilliant sliver of light, often described as the crack of dawn, was visible but was not quite enough to illuminate the ground. I could see it in the distance, but the ground remained in shadow. Slowly, as the sun mounted the sky, the light touched the ground where I stood. Simultaneously, deeper shadows also appeared long and thin across the landscape. It was as though night made one last attempt to cast dark around me and then was forced to retreat. Within moments, I could feel warmer air around me. I eventually folded my blanket and removed my coat. Was I tired? Yes. Very. But, oh, how beautiful that morning was to me.

I have recently been pondering the writings of Isaiah where he described a gospel principle in a similar way. Though his words have been on my mind extensively for a couple weeks, I didn’t see the comparison until this morning. I may have given up a night of sleep, or other things that were important to me, but Isaiah has sharpened my focus as to why I should sacrifice.

You might say that the writings of a prophet like Isaiah are confusing. Or perhaps you find his words to be poetic and beautiful. In turn I might say, it depends on how you look at it. But you won’t know until you look.

Isaiah spoke of personal sacrifice through the law of the fast as a source of tremendous and needed blessings. In Isaiah 58:6-7, Isaiah speaks for the Lord who said, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”

In these two verses, Isaiah teaches us that there is great personal power and strength for others when we are willing to give up something that we need very much. The Lord has prepared and chosen the law of the fast to help us overcome weaknesses, trials, illness, and other afflictions. In the process of trusting the Lord and seeking His help, we can also be the means of helping others in the process. But you won’t know until you look for them.

A common practice when fasting is to abstain from food or drink for two meals and then give the portion that would have been consumed, or the equivalent in what we would have spent on that food, to those who are in need. Bishops are entrusted with the responsibility to collect this excess and then care for the poor and needy. Our simple offerings can do much to help others in need. It is when we do this that we receive the blessings promised by Isaiah in verses 8-12 of the same chapter.

“Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”

The light that breaks forth for us in the morning is more welcome after a long night. Jesus Christ is the light that we should seek. He can give us sight when we are blind and warmth when we are cold. He will enlighten our minds through the Holy Ghost and give us comfort. These are some of the promised blessings when we honor the letter and intent of the law of the fast. Our meager offerings will go before us and will bring additional blessings. The Lord will cover our efforts and the places we may fall short. What a blessing it is to know that God does hear and answer the prayers of those who believe in Him.

God has also promised blessings to those who obey. Note the conditions and blessings in the following if/then statement: “If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.”

I have found all too often that I trip on my own roadblocks; I set up my own obstacles. I place an undue yoke upon my shoulders when I doubt and instead rely upon my own strength. Truly it is vanity when I attempt to find happiness on a road that does not lead there. I may as well search for more light in the darkness with a vain expectation of finding it. Sadly, we often create our own darkness through the choices we make. Then we look for the dawn, wondering when it will come.

If we listen to Isaiah, we will take away our self-imposed yokes. We will remove the veil of vanity and unbelief. We will then turn to those who are less fortunate and see to their needs. Then will our light rise out of obscurity. Then will our paths be restored with a clearer vision of what we need to do to keep the light in our lives.

For me the intent of the law of the fast is for me to give up something I need very much to show my dependence and trust in the Lord. As my physical strength is lessened, I have to turn to God for spiritual strength to sustain me. This very small act reconditions us and trains us to do difficult things. It helps us gain mastery over our own wants and needs. We then grow in confidence as virtue garnishes our thoughts and our hearts are filled with charity for others. Each time I transfer my selfish energy towards helping someone else in need, I take a step closer to becoming like the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Fasting helps us find the strength within to go without. For me, going without can have two meanings. We can go without the things we need to sharpen our attention towards spiritual things. We can also go without, or outside ourselves, to help others with their wants and needs. This action brings blessings to us and those we serve. Both meanings will often require added strength to accomplish.

I also believe that fasting alone is not enough. With a wry smile, I tell my children that fasting without a purpose is just starving. Our attitude can make all the difference. When we fast with the right intent, and our prayers provide added purpose, miracles can happen.

When Jesus returned from the mount of transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, he found the other nine apostles a bit discouraged. They had tried to help a man cast a spirit out from his son. The apostles had failed and asked Jesus why they could not help the man’s son. Jesus replied in Matthew 17:20-21, "Because of your unbelief.... Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." Not only did he teach them that prayer and fasting can increase our faith, it can also give us added strength to do the things God has commanded us to do. I may not be possessed of an evil spirit, but there are times I allow myself to be controlled by a spirit of fear. That mood or temperament can similarly be dispelled by honoring the intent of the law.

I think it may be worth pondering other ways that we might apply the principle of fasting in our lives – ways in which we might give up something we want or need to bless the life of someone else. Fasting is yet another principle with promise.

You might say that fasting feels like a task to be endured. Or perhaps you have found that it is a better experience than you once thought. In turn, I might say, it depends on how you look at it. If we look to meet the intent, then shall thy light break forth as the morning. I don’t know that you can fully appreciate a sunrise until you have seen it for yourself. How blessed we are when it comes.


Katie said...

Hi Pres. McConkie! I've enjoyed reading your thoughts on this blog. Thank you for taking the time to inspire others on such a frequent basis!!

jendoop said...

I found you through facebook, thanks for posting this there.

Returning to PA after the trip to Utah I feel daunted by the thought of picking up my church responsibilities. Your post reminded me of where I need to turn and not to fear.

I'll have to read your other posts when I have time.

John McConkie said...

Katie, thanks for reading. It's always nice to have friends comment.

Jen, good luck returning home. Like you, I am learning to do hard things. The part I am working on is not just doing them, but to being willing to fight a little bit less. That in and of itself is a hard thing. Thanks for reading.

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