Sunday, October 25, 2009

Loaves, Fishes, and Hope

Every few days or so, I hear of another friend who has just lost a job or experienced a pay reduction due to our current economic recession. Times are hard. Sympathies are high, and I have seen an increased effort to help friends who are going without. While these efforts relieve some of the pressure that is borne by the shoulders of many, it may not be enough to see us through our trials.

When, suddenly, you have to rethink your financial situation because of conditions that are outside your control, it is not uncommon to think, “How can I manage with less?” If I have a place setting at the dinner table for a family of seven, and find that one of the plates has been broken, I have to consider getting another plate or finding a way to take turns. If I own two pair of pants and one is damaged so that it is not suitable for wearing, I have to find a way to repair it or do without. If I choose the latter, I may consider what else the material from the pants may be good for.

When my wife, Liz, and I were first married, she received a book from a friend titled, Something from Nothing. The story is based on a Jewish folktale where a young boy, Joseph, is the recipient of a blanket from his grandfather. After considerable use, the blanket becomes tattered and is about to be discarded. Not wanting to give up the blanket, Joseph takes it to his grandfather who is the village tailor. His grandfather salvages the material from the blanket and makes Joseph a coat. After further use and wear, the coat is salvaged to make a vest and finally a button.

Each time the gift from Joseph’s grandfather is modified, it was given new life. It was also reduced in size. Occasionally when we have to follow this pattern of salvaging in our own lives, our hopes may shrink proportionately. However, this need not be the case. It all depends on where we place our hope.

The Savior provided an alternate route of travel for overcoming what may seem impossible circumstances. His road is the road of faith. In Matthew 14:14-21 we have an account of a time when a multitude of people followed Jesus to be with them. He had compassion on them and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples were about to send the multitude away because they had no food. Rather than send them away, Jesus said unto his disciples, “They need not depart; give ye them to eat.”

Those who were faithful followers in Jesus did not yet see the alternate route. “We have here but five loaves, and two fishes,” they said. He merely replied, “Bring them hither to me.” After the multitude sat down, Jesus looked up to heaven, he blessed the food, brake, and gave the pieces to his disciples to distribute among 5,000 men, beside women and children. When all were fed and filled, there were twelve baskets full of the food that remained.

While I feel I have a certain amount of faith in God, I continue to marvel at the beauty of this miracle. I continue to wonder how I can apply this passage of scripture in my own life. Here are a few interesting points to ponder. First, the multitude was seeking Jesus. I don’t know that I can expect even the smallest miracle in my own life if I am not in the attitude of seeking the Lord. Second, His disciples brought what they had and turned it over to Jesus. They weren’t empty handed. Sometimes I ask for help without making an effort to contribute anything. The disciples brought everything they had. That should tell us something. Third, when Jesus performed the miracle, He looked up to heaven. It is critical that I look to Father, not only to ask for a desired blessing, but in an attitude ready to do His will, whatever it may be. Jesus did not have selfish reasons for performing the miracle. He was not only concerned with feeding the people. He was concerned about their faith and He wanted them to clearly understand that with God anything is possible. Or in other words, there is a better way to that which we have known in the past.

Pondering this passage of scripture, and comparing it with the Jewish folktale, I am left to wonder, “Rather than just manage, how can I make more with less? How can I take what little I have and create rather than just salvage? Is it possible to have a better lifestyle than I had previously, even though my means have been reduced?” The key is to put our trust in the master creator rather than listen to the destroyer of our souls. Jesus is the light and life of the world who has provided us a pattern to do the Father’s will. As Moroni said in Ether 12:11, “But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.”

We live in a time of trouble, darkness, and anguish. But if we turn to the Savior with full purpose of heart, he can replenish our diminished hopes. Nephi quoted the prophet Isaiah who said, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy—they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” (2 Nephi 19:2-3) The Creator of all has the power to increase our meager offerings. He has the ability to increase our joy.

In a prophecy regarding the Book of Mormon, Isaiah also said, “But behold, saith the Lord of Hosts: I will show unto the children of men that it is yet a very little while and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field; and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest. And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. And the meek also shall increase, and their joy shall be in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (2 Nephi 27:28-30) When we turn to the Lord in meekness, he will increase our blessings. He can change barren to a fruitful field that will eventually become a forest.

One more example from the scriptures where the Lord increased and magnified the efforts of His servants is the brother of Jared. After constructing barges to travel across the ocean as he was directed, Mahonri is asked by the Lord what he would do for light during their journey. After some thought and effort, Mahonri decides to molten out of rock sixteen small stones that are white and clear, even as transparent glass. He then takes the stones upon Mount Shelem and prays to the Lord that He will touch the stones that they may shine forth in darkness. The Lord agrees and touches the stones and “the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared.” (Ether 3:1-6)

There are times when I feel I am asked to do something very difficult, or even impossible. I look, but I can’t see a way out. My only hope has been that, when I prayed about the matter, I had a calm feeling come over me that everything would be fine. In retrospect, I realize that I could not see the obvious answer because the veil had not been taken from my eyes. Father’s purposes in my trial were not yet realized, and my faith was not yet as was the brother of Jared’s.

Looking at the alternate route that Jesus showed unto Mahonri Moriancumer, I am again left to ponder, “How can I apply this passage of scripture in my own life? How can I get the Lord to touch my stones and make them shine with the light of Christ in my life? The answer is clear, but not so easy. I need faith like unto the brother of Jared. And yet I need not be discouraged because a veil is still placed over my eyes – because my faith is still wanting. Father rewards faith in whatever quantity it comes in, even the size of a mustard seed. Jesus told His disciples, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed… nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matthew 17:20)

A part of this story that I find especially interesting is the manner in which Mahonri’s prayer is answered. After he sees the Lord’s finger, and after Jesus shows himself unto the brother of Jared, Jesus proceeds to show him all things from the beginning of the world to the end. Even to this point, he received a lot more than he asked for. Jesus then gives the brother of Jared something else he didn’t ask for.

When the brother of Jared went to Mount Shelem, he took with him sixteen stones. The beautiful part about this story is that this is not the number he returned with. Jesus gave him two additional stones, or interpreters, that were to be sealed up with his record. These two stones, a Urim and Thummim, were to bring to light hidden things out of darkness. It is as if the Lord were to say, “You want light? Let me give you light.” And the brother of Jared returned with, not sixteen, but eighteen stones. When we trust in the Lord and put our faith fully in Him, he not only answers our prayers, he gives us more than we ask for. The Lord always sweetens the deal.

Thinking about our current situation, I believe there is still wisdom to be found, and practiced, in the old pioneer adage, “Use it up, wear it out. Make do, or do without.” Perhaps it is when we are looking for ways to manage with less that the Lord can take the veil from our eyes enough for us to see how we can increase the meager offering in our own baskets. As our faith increases, we may find the veil slipping freely from our minds.

There is strength to be discovered as we do difficult things and turn to the Lord with our faith. This is what is required of us when the Lord asks us to do all that we can do, so that His grace may be sufficient for us.

The most reassuring thing to me about difficult times is my knowledge and understanding that Father truly hears and answers prayers. He has provided a more excellent way, and that way is through His Only Begotten Son. As we look to the Son and follow Him, we will begin to see an alternate route to the familiar road we have traveled so frequently. This way is the Lord’s way. It is a way of hope and increased happiness. It is a road filled with light that will lead us out of darkness and doubt. It is the only route home, and it provides hope for anyone who seeks it.

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