After Jesus had eaten His last meal in mortality He said to His disciples, "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me….Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:1,27). A little while later He told them, "ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24).
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that life here on earth is meant to be a time of joy and happiness but it can also be a time of sadness, heartache, sorrow, grief, and pain. Some people experience more difficulties than others but no one ever makes it through mortality without suffering all of these problems in some way at some point in their life and when that happens it is never a time for joyful celebration. In fact, such times can often leave us feeling troubled, afraid, and lacking a sense of peace.
The scriptures just quoted above are often cited by ministers of all Bible believing Christians to help console those who are going through difficult times in their life. The most given counsel for those who are suffering is to trust in God or in Jesus Christ. This is meant to let the grieving individual know that despite what we may suffer in this life, there is the hope that in the resurrection "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21:4). It's a reminder that our life here on earth is very short compared to eternity and if we can just endure our problems for a brief time, in the end we will someday have the joy of living with God forever.
Yet, that was not Christ's message to His disciple during His last supper. The reason He gave them the counsel He did was because within hours their peaceful life with Him would come to a sudden and dramatic end. Within hours they would personally witness their Master being taken prisoner by Roman soldiers, and would flee and hide in fear, wondering if the legal authorities, both Jewish and Roman, would soon be coming after them as well. Their faith in the man Jesus would be sorely tested and at least one of them would three times deny knowing Jesus before the sun came up the next morning because of his fear.
This is the reason why He told them, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid… Peace I leave with you… your joy shall be full." This counsel was meant to strengthen them for the difficult time that was just about to happen. But exactly how were they to keep their hearts from being troubled? With the powerful Roman army taking Jesus -- whom His disciples considered to be the Messiah -- by physical force, how were Christ's disciples to keep themselves from being afraid? After all, if such a thing could happen to Jesus, the Son of God, then what hope did they have of being spared from experiencing the same fate? And what reason did they have for being full of joy?
Knowing that His disciples were just about to experience these soul destroying feelings, He said to them, "Ye believe in God, believe also in me." But how exactly does believing in God keep us from being troubled when things are going wrong in our life? Exactly how does believing in Jesus Christ keep us from being afraid when bad things are or are about to happen to us? Exactly how can we have a fullness of joy when our hearts are breaking, our spirits are discouraged, and our body is in pain?
The answer is found in understanding the words "faith" and "trust."
To believe in Christ is one thing but to have faith in Christ requires something more. A person can believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Redeemer of our sins and yet still not have faith in Him. As the apostle James explained, "the devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19) but they certainly don't have faith in Him. As used in the scriptural sense, to believe in Christ and to have faith in Him means to trust Him completely.
A parent who tells their misbehaving child that the next time they act up they will get punished must follow through on their word or the child will soon learn not to trust what they say. In the same way, we are all children of our Father in Heaven and, as a Parent, He strives to make sure that when He tells us something we can trust His word. One of the purposes of the scriptures is to demonstrate this truth to us through historical examples. But, even if we don't learn that lesson from there, we can certainly learn it for ourselves through personal experience.
When God tells us to do or not to do something He means what He says and we can take His word for it. That's what it means to trust God. To have faith in God means that we trust Him to keep His word even when there doesn't seem to be any visible evidence or intellectual reasoning that would lead us to believe that His word will be kept.
On the night that Jesus was arrested, the faith of His disciples was sorely challenged. All the evidence they witnessed with their own eyes, including the crucifixion and burial of their beloved Master seemed to say that all was lost. At that point in time, with what limited understanding they had, there wasn't any kind of intellectual reasoning that could convince them that all they had believed in was for nothing. From the scriptural account it is clear that even such disciples as Mary and Martha had lost their faith that Jesus would save their world. They must have wondered how could they continue to believe in the things He taught as they watched his lifeless body put into the sepulcher?
This is what Jesus was trying to prepare His apostles for when He spoke those words at His last supper.
But this wasn't the first time the faith of His disciples had been tested. On one occasion, the disciples were in a ship during a storm, where it was "tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary" and "in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea." When Peter saw him he cried out, saying, "Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water" and Jesus beckoned him to come. But when Peter saw "the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Matthew 14:24-31).
On another occasion when the disciples were on a ship "there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full." Even so, Jesus "was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?" Jesus calmly awoke, rebuked the wind and then "said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?" (Mark 4:37-0).
Notice that in both instances it was their lack of faith that caused the disciples to be fearful.
It has often been said that fear is the opposite of faith. What that means is that if someone is fearful then they don't have faith in God, while someone who has faith in God cannot be fearful. It is impossible for these two emotions to exist together. It is not possible to have faith in God and still be fearful, troubled, anxious, or worried because having faith in God drives away fear. Instead of fear, faith in God gives us hope and peace, but that doesn't happen the way the world teaches.
The philosophy of the world is based on believing what we can experience with our senses and reason with our intellect. If we can't experience something for ourselves or logically reason something out for ourselves, even if it's based on the experience of others, the world teaches us not to believe in it. On the other hand, God simply tells us to trust Him. There is literally a world of difference between these two methods of gaining peace.
But how do we gain that kind of faith in Jesus and exactly how does putting our trust in God give us that kind of peace and hope, especially as we face our own storms that threaten to drown our lives? To better understand the answer to this question it might first be better to look at some concrete examples of suffering rather than talking in the abstract.
Perhaps the most devastating sorrow that people face is the loss of a loved one. Imagine the grief and fear that a wife with several young children faces when her husband - the breadwinner - is suddenly killed in a senseless accident that should have never happened. Not only has she lost someone she deeply loves but she in now faced with the unpleasant prospect of being the sole provider for her family's needs without the support of a companion. How is she to do that by herself? When the grief has subsided and friends no longer stop by then the reality of paying bills, and trying to do the work of two people sets in.
Similar feelings of anxiety can also arise within people who suddenly come down with a crippling disease or physical ailments that incapacitates them. It can happen to those who have lost a job during economic hard times where the prospect of finding new work is bleak. It can happen to parents who are struggling to cope with a rebellious teenager or having to deal with a disagreeable boss, co-worker, or neighbor. It can happen to people who are in financial trouble, whether of their own making or because of circumstances beyond their control.
In the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the followers of Joseph Smith had moved to a swampy area of Illinois, drained the land, and built one of the most populous and beautiful cities of that state. They called their city Nauvoo. While there the Lord had commanded them to build a temple which they did with great diligence and dedication.
But, before long they began to be harassed and persecuted by the other residents of the state. Then their beloved prophet, Joseph Smith was brutally murdered and they were left leaderless. Shortly after that they were threatened and forced to leave their lands, fleeing for their lives and leaving much of their belonging behind. Worse yet, this happened during one of the coldest winters on record.
But that was only the beginning of their misery. Their thousand mile trek across the country was hard and many of them died along the way. When they finally stopped in the Salt Lake valley to establish a new city there was nothing there and they had to rebuild everything from scratch out of a desert like ground.
The list of problems people face that can cause sorrow, heartache, grief, fear, and pain are endless and the question has been asked, How does having faith in God give us hope and peace to get through whatever anguish of soul we might face, and how do we acquire such faith?
The first is to believe that we are children of God and that, as a heavenly Parent, He loves us and wants what is best for us. Without such a belief all we are left with is the idea that life has no meaning, that we are nothing more than a biological accident of nature and that when we die we cease to exist. That then leads to the conclusion that whatever happens to us in life is the result of pure chance and that life itself is unfair and has no purpose to it.
But if there is a God who loves us then there is purpose to our suffering. As Jesus taught His disciples, "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:11-13).
When bad things seem to happen to us, God is not giving us a stone for bread or a serpent for a fish. What He is giving us is something that is good for us, even if we don't understand how. The Lord told Joseph Smith that no matter what we suffer or how bad things may be, these experiences are for our good (D&C 122:5-7). In other words, it is expedient (necessary, beneficial, advantageous) for us to face hard times because that is how we grow spiritually. Without these kinds of experiences we will remain naïve and ignorant as children. To become like God we must know what He knows and the best way to do that is through experiencing both the good and the bad.
God then concluded His remark on this subject by telling Joseph, "Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever" (verse 9). This statement provides us with the second key to gaining the kind of faith that will help us through our difficult times, which is that God has a plan for each of us and that He is in control. God knows each of us personally and He knows what we are going through and He will be with us forever. More than that He knows exactly, to the day, how many years we have to live. We did not come to earth by accident nor are we left to drift through life on our own nor, in most cases, is our death the result of an unforeseen accident. Like Joseph Smith, our days are known to God and our years on earth were numbered before we ever came here.
God has a plan for each of us and whatever happens, whether by chance or as a result of our own choices, God is in control. If we make poor choices, that can be good because we learn from our mistakes but God is faithful and has a way to get out of our own problems if we place our trust in Him. If we have problems that are the result of circumstances beyond our control, that is good because we can still learn from them and God has a plan to help us get through whatever we might face but only if we place our trust in Him.
Imagine on that fateful night when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane if His frightened and bewildered apostles could have seen just five years into the future. They would have seen themselves being bold and strong and would have seen the gospel that Jesus taught being accepted by thousands of people all over the Roman Empire. If on that dreadful night they could have seen what God had in store for them and His Church they would have had no fear as Jesus was taken prisoner.
If they truly understood the necessity of Jesus shedding His blood on the cross and that in three days He would rise from the grave, triumphant over death they would have shouted with joy when Jesus was arrested. But because they didn't understand God's plan their hearts were troubled and their soul was fearful.
On December 19, 1777 George Washington lead a war-weary, dispirited group of soldiers into Valley Forge during a bitterly cold winter. General Washington had lost nearly every battle his men had engaged in with the British soldiers and, worse yet, they had to keep running from the British army to keep from losing even more men. While at Valley Forge Washington's men were low on every kind of supplies needed and, as a result, Washington awoke each morning to find that more of his men had deserted during the night. Although he tried to remain strong in the face of almost impossible odds, Washington was nonetheless discouraged and fearful.
Yet, at that low point in his life, if he could have seen just twenty years into the future he would have seen himself completing eight years of being the first president of the free, strong, and independent country called the United States of America. Had he seen that vision at Valley Forge and understood what God's plan was for him and his country he would not have been so troubled and worried about the war he was in charge of winning.
To trust in God means to trust that God is in control and that He has a plan to take care of every problem we might face. We may not always understand or see what that plan is and sometimes, when we rely on our own vision and understanding of the present we may feel there is no possible way that our problems can be solved. It is times like that when we tend to allow our faith and trust in the Lord to weaken and when that happens then our hearts can become troubled and fearful. It is during such times that we need to remember the words of the Psalmist who wrote, "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" (Psalm 3:5,6).
This is what the early Saints did as they were driven by angry mobs from their beloved city, Nauvoo in the dead of winter of 1845. As they headed west to an unknown destination and, despite all the tragedy they had to endure and would yet endure during their arduous journey, one of them wrote a hymn which summed up their trust in the Lord and which the Saints often sang.
"Come, Come ye saints, no toil nor labor fear, but with joy wend your way.
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard? Tis not so, all is right.
We'll find the place which God for us prepared far away in the west.
And should we die before our journey's through, happy day, all is well.
We then are free from toil and sorrow too, with the Saints we shall dwell.
But if our lives are spared again to see the Saints their rest obtain.
Oh how we'll make this chorus swell, all is well, all is well."
This is the peace the Lord gives but it doesn't come from following the teachings of the world. It can only come when we truly learn how to trust in the Lord.
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