Monday, March 29, 2010

Oh Brother

If you don’t know him, I’d like you to meet my older brother, Burke. Let me introduce you to a champion basketball player who speaks Japanese, has a background in CAD design, loves to travel, specializes in IT support, and manages an electronic vault for his national company. He likes digital scrapbooking and web page design, loves adventure, and above all, he’s a family man. Burke is very well-rounded and fun loving. Not only is he someone I have looked up to all my life, he is confident, friendly, charismatic, energetic, and very dependable. My only fault with him is that he got the lion’s share of good looks between the two of us. Well, I got over that, and I still love him. Grin. Recently his example has given me even more to admire.

Burke has spent the last several months learning to deal with cancer. It has been challenging for me to watch, and much more challenging for him to face. His first set of treatments was unsuccessful, and we are now waiting to hear the results of the second attempt. Typical of my brother, he has been very positive and calm. He has a lot of faith. He has also experienced a lot of discomfort without complaint. Family members have rallied around him, but there are some challenges where you feel helpless to do anything. This has been one of them. I have felt like I couldn’t do more than listen and pray.

My present anxiety for my brother has caused me to think about one of my personal heroes, Mahonri Moriancumer. He is an example of great faith that has taught me a lot about prayer. Fortunately he was a writer, and it was important for him to keep a record of his life. Were it not for this brief account of his experiences, we may never have known about this man. It was said of him that his words were so great that they were overpowering for man to read them. (Ether 12:24) One thing that is significant in his record is his relationship with his brother.

It is not the relationship of the two brothers that intrigues me as much as the example of their faith, prayers, and how those prayers were answered. I believe in this there is a significant lesson to be learned if we desire to return to God.

For reasons that remain unknown, we would only know Mahonri as “the brother of Jared” were in not for a modern source. While Jared is named in the record, and his brother is not, we know even less about Jared. Both lived a few thousand years ago in the Western Hemisphere. Before coming to this continent, however, they were contemporaries of Nimrod in the Old Testament and lived in Babel which later became Babylon. These two brothers left Babel with their friends and family and became a large nation of people.

At the time that God confounded the languages when the sons of men built the tower of Babel, Jared was worried for their families and friends, that they would be confounded too. The account does not say how Jared knew this, or why he was worried. It does not clearly say why God was disappointed in His children. What it does say is that the Lord “swore in his wrath that [the people] should be scattered upon all the face of the earth; and according to the word of the Lord the people were scattered.” (Ether 1:33) Somehow Jared had warning of this, yet it is his response that was significant.

Jared believed in God enough that he knew where to turn for help in his troubles – he understood the power of prayer. What is curious about the account is who he preferred to do the praying. It was his brother. Again, his reasons are not known, but we do know that the brother of Jared was “a man highly favored of the Lord,” so Jared asked him to appeal to the Lord for help. It was as if he said, “Oh brother, can you help me?” Jared said, “Cry unto the Lord, that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words.” (Ether 1:34) His brother did so and the Lord answered his prayer. Similarly, he prayed for their friends and their families, and they were not confounded.

Having had successfully received the desired answers to prayer, Jared again asked his brother to pray, saying, “Go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land, and if he will drive us out of the land, cry unto him whither we shall go. And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth: And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance.” (Ether 1:38) Jared’s request suggests that there was some concern that they would have to leave. It also suggests that he had enough faith in God to believe that he would provide a way. What that way was, he could only hope. However, Jared did have the desire to be faithful and he was again rewarded.

When the brother of Jared prayed again, the Lord told him to gather their possessions and make preparations to leave and He would lead them to a land that was choice above all other lands of the earth where they would become a great nation. The part of the Lord’s response that intrigues me the most is a simple sentence that explains why he would do such a thing. He said, “And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me.” (Ether 1:43)

The Lord led this group of family and friends through a part of the wilderness where man had not yet been before. He spoke to the brother of Jared in a cloud, and gave directions where they should travel. These directions led them to a great sea where they pitched their tents for four years. At the end of those four years, the Lord again spoke to the brother of Jared in a cloud for three hours. It is unique that, during that conversation, the Lord chastened the brother of Jared for not remembering to call upon the Lord in prayer.

I have often wondered at this passage because it appears to be a strange contradiction. Here is a man who knows how to pray and is highly favored of the Lord. Not only did he pray and successfully receive answers to his prayers, but the Lord continually spoke to him to direct him. So what happened? Was the brother of Jared the type of person who would suddenly forget what the Lord had done? Perhaps, but I am not certain.

Four years seems a long time to camp on the beach. I wonder if this group of family and friends felt they had arrived at the promised land or if they were waiting for additional instructions, whenever it happened to be that they came. The record does not say. If, however, they were not convinced that they had arrived, then the sea would have seemed an interesting obstacle for them, one larger than they had faced to that point. At least it was enough to stop them for four years. Whether they were satisfied with a partial blessing as an answer to their prayers, or they saw the sea as an obstacle to their goal, I can find a personal application.

I know in my own life that I have had a pattern of prayer that has been consistent since I was little. I have prayed morning and night and often throughout the day. Yet there have been times that I have forgotten to pray with real intent. I haven’t forgotten Father. I have just forgotten to make a concerted effort to show him that I was serious. If my needs seem to be taken care of, it is easy to ease up in my intensity. Living on a beach may not be such a bad thing, unless it keeps you from praying for help to get to a better land or place.

There have also been other times that I have had obstacles placed in my way. For a long time I may consider the obstacle or trial, wondering how I am going to overcome it. Like the sea, it may seem impossible to cross or go around. Then, after some time, I decide to pray and ask for help. As often as I have prayed, the Lord has directed me. He hears and answers prayers. Repeatedly in the scriptures, he reassures us, “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.” (Matthew 6:7-8) For whichever reason the brother of Jared did not remember to call upon God, when he repented and cried unto the Lord, the Lord again heard and answered his prayers.

There are some interesting lessons we can learn at this point from Jared and his brother. Both provide valuable insight on our own requests to the Lord. As we follow their example, we may increase the likelihood of receiving similar answers.

Jared was conscientious of the Lord’s warnings and took them seriously. He knew that God could help with his troubles, and he believed in prayer. Jared had the desire for his family and friends to be faithful so that the Lord could bless them. He believed that the Lord would provide a way for their deliverance.

The brother of Jared was highly favored of the Lord. The Lord answered his prayers because he cried unto the Lord for a long time. Perhaps the importance was not the duration of a single prayer, but the duration of a heart-felt habit. Because of his faith, the Lord spoke to the brother of Jared and gave him directions that led him where man had not been before. This in and of itself is an act of faith.

After their stay at the beach, the Lord told the brother of Jared that he would take them across the ocean to another land, and that they would need to build barges to travel in. The barges were to be water-tight and could not have windows. They were to have an opening in the top and in the bottom for functional reasons such as letting in fresh air.

After the brother of Jared had completed making the barges, he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.” (Ether 2:18) Simply put, he was diligent in making sure that he had done everything the Lord had asked of him before asking for another blessing. Since blessings are predicated upon obedience, the brother of Jared wanted to do everything possible to increase the likelihood that the Lord would help him. But then he discovered a problem.

The barges built to the specifications the Lord had given to the brother of Jared did not allow for any light when the openings were sealed. This would have made for a long journey in the dark. When the brother of Jared asked the Lord what to do, His response was, “what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:25) The Lord expected him to be part of the solution.

To that point, the brother of Jared was used to receiving unique answers to prayer. While languages of other people had been confounded, his group’s had not. When they traveled through the wilderness where no one had been before, the Lord was their guide. As the brother of Jared pondered what he wanted the Lord to do for him, he again came up with a possibility that was unique. He fashioned sixteen stones out of molten rock that were transparent and white. And then he prayed.

“O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.

“Behold, O Lord, thou hast smitten us because of our iniquity, and hast driven us forth, and for these many years we have been in the wilderness; nevertheless, thou hast been merciful unto us. O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock.

“And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.

“Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.” (Ether 3:2-5)

Following that moment of prayer, something wonderful occurred. The Lord stretched forth his hand from the cloud and touched the stones with his finger, and the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared. As unique of an occurrence as it would have been to have seen the finger of God, the part I feel is most unique is the fact that the veil was removed from his eyes. It was the veil of unbelief that withholds our memory of premortal things; the veil that separates us from God. Similar to the veil of the Israelite tabernacle or temple, it is light enough that it can be lifted when the time is right. It may be lifted when our faith is sufficient.

After seeing this sight, the brother of Jared fell to the ground out of fear because he did not expect to see the finger of the Lord. When the Lord asked if he saw more, he replied that he did not and then asked the Lord to show Himself to him. Just as the brother of Jared described that God’s commandment for us to pray for our desires, the Lord granted the brother of Jared his desire and showed Himself unto him, and said, “Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ.” (Ether 3:13-14) The brother of Jared saw the Lord in spirit as he would appear when born on the earth over two thousand years later. The Lord then showed him all the inhabitants of the earth from the beginning to the end, and withheld them not from his sight. (Ether 3:25)

Again, to me it is less important what the brother of Jared saw, and more important that he did see because he could not be kept from within the veil any longer. Regarding these things, the prophet Moroni invites us to follow the same pattern of prayer. He invites us to cast off our doubt and fear and have faith like unto the brother of Jared.

“Come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief. Come unto me, O ye house of Israel, and it shall be made manifest unto you how great things the Father hath laid up for you, from the foundation of the world; and it hath not come unto you, because of unbelief.” (Ether 4:13-14) His invitation is not to the prophets, but to Israel and the Gentiles alike. It is to all, which implies that it is within the reach of all to do. It is also not a matter of if, but of when.

Moroni continues, “Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness, and hardness of heart, and blindness of mind, then shall the great and marvelous things which have been hid up from the foundation of the world from you—yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in my name, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel.” (Ether 4:15)

There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that the people of Babel were trying to reach God. It was their approach that failed. The brother of Jared not only reached the Lord, but he invited the Lord to reach toward him and touch the stones he had made. It was not the sky that separated the tower of Babel from the Lord, it was the veil of unbelief. It was something more intangible and less visible than even a veil.

So as I pray for my own brother, and consider the example of the brother of Jared, I wonder, “What is it I lack yet? What does it mean to have faith as the brother of Jared? What would it take for my requests for my brother to be heard and answered?” This is worth pondering. In part, it may be more than believing that God can answer our prayers and grant according to our desires. It may be more than believing that he can do all things. What would I need to change in my life if having more faith also meant making sure that what I ask for is aligned with what God wants? Here is a simple clue of how to find such faith.

When Jesus visited the people on the American continent after His resurrection, he prayed, and they prayed with Him. In the Book of Mormon we read, “And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.” (3 Nephi 19:24) When we turn our hearts to the Lord, we turn our desires so they are properly aligned. When we are filled with His desire, then the Holy Spirit can teach us what to pray for and what not to pray for. Trusting in the Holy Spirit takes a lot of faith. Learning when to pray for our desires and when to yield takes a lot of restraint. It is an exercise in faith, trusting that God will deliver us. When we choose to follow the Lord, and we choose to follow His Spirit, the answer may not be what we want, but it will always be better.

Look again at the story of the brother of Jared. From the Lord’s perspective, He said He would scatter all the people on the face of the earth. He didn’t change His mind with Jared or his brother. The family and friends of the two brothers were still scattered, but they weren’t confounded. Something that seemed like a terrible thing, turned out not to be so bad because the Lord was with them. He spoke to them, He directed them, and He answered their prayers. He didn’t set them on a cruise liner for a vacation voyage across the sea for 344 days. Instead he put them in a place that was doable, though not exactly comfortable or desirable.

As they traversed the ocean, we learn that “when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.” (Ether 6:7) This was by design so that they would turn their hearts to God. The brother of Jared had not remembered to call upon the Lord at one point. The Lord provided an experience that would help ensure that that mistake was not repeated a second time.

My prayers for my own brother have not ceased. Perhaps I need to cry unto the Lord for 344 days. Perhaps it is the habit of heart-felt prayer that is more important.

For me, the story of the brother of Jared is less about an obstacle of water, and more about a veil of unbelief. It has less to do with merely praying for what we want, and learning how to pray in a way that will help us to rend the veil. Whether it is your own trial, or that of your brother’s, these experiences are designed to help us lift the veil and behold the Lord.

It is a great comfort when you can turn to someone like a brother and ask them to pray for you. Praying is especially comforting when you know the key to successful prayer.

No comments:

This is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am solely responsible for the views expressed here.