Thursday, September 5, 2013

020. Pillar of Cloud & Fire: The Tabernacle - Part VII

Doctrine & Covenants 11:12-13
12 And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
13 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;

The children of Israel were lead from their bondage in Egypt to the promised land by a pillar of cloud and fire. “For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:38). And from Numbers chapter 9 (parts of verses 15-23) it says “So it was always: the cloud covered it (the tabernacle) by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents. At the command of the Lord the children of Israel would journey, and at the command of the Lord they would camp…Whether it was two days, a month, or a year that the cloud remained above the tabernacle, the children would remain encamped and not journey; but when it was taken up, they would journey…they kept the charge of the Lord.” Over the 40 years that they journeyed in the wilderness, the children of Israel were strictly schooled as a people by the Lord…so that they would learn to fully leave behind and abandon any tradition, belief, or practice that was not in harmony with the Lord’s. They had to learn to depend on Him and to trust in Him, and not in other gods, idols, their own flesh, or false beliefs, and to be obedient to His every command.

The cloud and fire were described as pillars, and not as a shapeless hovering cloud, and thus was a symbol of strength, stability, and constancy with the Lord Jehovah in the midst of the people, leading all the way. To the people, the pillars of fire and cloud were symbolic of His presence. When the cloud descended on the tent of Moses, it meant that the Lord had come to speak with Moses. When it rested upon the tabernacle, it indicated His presence was within the Holy of Holies. The Lord, through the pillar of cloud gave them a covering from the heat of the day and through the pillar of fire a light at night. In fact, the only source of light to them during their journeys in the wilderness was the pillar of fire.

The pillar was also their guide, when it moved, they moved. The children of Israel often had to move at a moment’s notice, sometimes during the day and sometimes at night. The children of Israel had to trust that the pillar was leading them to the promised land, at the right time and in the right way. They were not following a map or their own course. Early on in their journey, the pillar had led them in a course that was not straightforward. They found themselves in a place with mountains on either side and the Red Sea stretching itself right before their path…there was no way out, as the armies of the Pharaoh were behind them. Those armies saw the plight of the children of Israel and became emboldened in their pursuit as they saw them now as easy prey. The children of Israel feared and began to murmur against Moses. It appeared as though God had driven the children of Israel into a trap that would ensure their complete destruction. However, in actuality, He was showing His devotion and power to them, and setting the stage for the destruction of their enemies. At the last moment, when all seemed lost, the pillar changed direction, moved to the rear of their camp, and became a pillar of darkness to the Egyptians, destroying them in the sea. The pillar thus became a protection to the children of Israel. They could not have survived in the wilderness without the guidance and protection of the Lord.

Today, as we make our journey through the wilderness of life back to our heavenly promised land, what is our fire, our guide, our light, our pillar? Certainly it is the Lord, but He is not here with us physically. His presence is made manifest in our lives mostly through the power of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit. For Christ said: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26). It is through the Holy Ghost that we receive the baptism of fire and are purified. Through its promptings, we can be warned and protected from danger and temptation. We can be guided by the Holy Ghost as we receive inspiration and revelation to direct and shape our lives.

However, our journey through life may be complicated and overwhelmed with challenges and defeats, seemingly beyond our ability to resolve. We may feel as though we are following the commandments, heeding the warnings of prophets, and doing our best to live righteously, and yet occasionally find ourselves in circumstances which are setting the stage for our destruction, just like the children of Israel…this could be loss, illness, death, sin, actions of others that affect our lives, disappointments, discouragements, regrets, etc. The only way to safely make it through these trials and tribulations is to trust in the wisdom and power of God and follow the guidance of the Holy Ghost. In Doctrine and Covenants 45:57-59 it says “For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived – verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day. And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation. For the Lord shall be in their midst, and His glory shall be upon them, and He will be their King and their Lawgiver.

There is much to be learned from these verses. First, we need to receive the truth. But receiving the truth is not enough. The Apostle James wrote “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22). Doctrine & Covenants 11:12 tells us to “trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good”. It is not enough to believe in the restoration of the gospel, we must live that gospel; it is not enough to accept a calling, we must magnify it to the best of our ability; it is not enough to go through the temple and participate in the ordinances therein, we must hold onto those covenants and seek to live them in their fullness. Action is required; we must do the things that are necessary in order to retain the Spirit. We must keep the commandments, repent continually, pray for guidance, and partake of the cleansing and renewing ordinance of the sacrament. These are the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, faith, repentance, and baptism, all leading to qualifying ourselves to be able to take or receive the Holy Spirit as our guide. Then, we will merit the blessings in the divine promise to “always have His spirit to be with us,” which is the Holy Ghost. If we always have His spirit to be with us, we will be lead in our lives to places of safety, to avoid deception, to obtain peace and joy, and to work toward the fulfillment of our Father’s will in our lives. We will be taught, lead to truth, and have a closer relationship with our Savior and the Father.

Elder Scott taught: “We see such a limited part of the eternal plan He has fashioned for each one of us. Trust Him, even when in [the] eternal perspective it temporarily hurts very much. Have patience when you are asked to wait when you want immediate action. He may ask you to do things which are powerfully against your will. Exercise faith and say, “Let Thy will be done”. Such experiences, honorably met, prepare you and condition you for yet greater blessings. As your Father, His purpose is your eternal happiness, your continuing development, your increasing capacity. His desire is to share with you all that He has. The path you are to walk through life may be very different from others. You may not always know why He does what He does, but you can know that He is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. He would have you suffer no consequence, no challenge, endure no burden that is superfluous to your good.” (Oct 1991 Gen Conf).

Part of taking the Holy Spirit as our guide involves asking for guidance. “Ask, and ye shall receive, knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 4:7). This can be difficult at times because there are many voices in this world that compete with the true Spirit, seeking to deceive and guide us away from truth and light. All of these are inspired by Satan who will try to darken our minds and hearts, provide us with counterfeit revelations, lead us to believe in lies or to doubt the knowledge we have obtained, and encourage us to despair in our failings and shortcomings. However, the Lord will not often give us guidance without our asking for it. And although He commands us to ask, He has also said “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me” (D&C 9:7). Therefore, we must ask, but we must also do our part. Just like we cannot receive a desired result from a physical law without obeying it, it is the same with spiritual laws. Blessings that flow from spiritual laws are based on obedience to certain commandments and principles…“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven, before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” This is a manifestation of a loving Father in Heaven who seeks to bless all of His children when they obey His laws. Of course the Lord has the power to bless us at any time, but in order for us to count on His help, we must consistently obey His commandments. Sometimes, our asking is not in accordance with divine will and in His divine wisdom our Heavenly Father withholds from giving us what we desire as it might prevent us from growing or learning or reaching the promised land, eternal life. As James recorded “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss”. It can be hard to know what is within His divine will for us, but we must have faith that He will help us. His will, as hard as it may be and whether we understand it fully or not, is the best choice we can make in this life.

Elder Scott offered some counsel in how to receive guidance from the Holy Ghost. He said “When I am faced with a difficult matter, this is how I try to understand what to do. I fast. I pray to find and understand scriptures that will be helpful. That process is cyclical. I start reading a passage of scripture; I ponder what the verse means and pray for inspiration. I then ponder and pray to know if I have captured all the Lord wants me to do. Often more impressions come with increased understanding of doctrine. I have found that pattern to be a good way to learn from the scriptures.
There are some practical principles that enhance revelation. First, yielding to emotions such as anger or hurt or defensiveness will drive away the Holy Ghost. Those emotions must be eliminated, or our chance for receiving revelation is slight. Another principle is to be cautious with humor. Loud, inappropriate laughter will offend the Spirit. A good sense of humor helps revelation; loud laughter does not. A sense of humor is an escape valve for the pressures of life. Another enemy to revelation comes from exaggeration or loudness in what is stated. Careful, quiet speech will favor the receipt of revelation. On the other hand, spiritual communication can be enhanced by good health practices. Exercise, reasonable amounts of sleep, and good eating habits increase our capacity to receive and understand revelation…It is important that our daily activities do not distract us from listening to the Spirit.” (April 2012 Gen Conf).

He (Elder Scott) goes on to say “Our Heavenly Father did not put us on earth to fail, but to succeed gloriously. It may seem paradoxical, but that is why recognizing answers to prayer can sometimes be very difficult. Sometimes we unwisely try to face life by depending on our own experience and capacity. It is much wiser for us to seek through prayer and divine inspiration to know what to do. Our obedience assures that when required, we can qualify for divine power to accomplish an inspired objective”.

As we take the Holy Spirit as our guide, it will enlighten our minds and fill our souls with joy as stated in Doctrine & Covenants 11:13. We can be assured that we are on the path that leads to eternal life. I take comfort from these words of the Lord to Oliver Cowdery through the Prophet Joseph Smith (Doctrine & Covenants 6:14-16).
14 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
15 Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth;
16 Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.

The language suggests that Oliver perhaps had some doubts about the answers to prayer he thought he was getting. The Lord here reassured him that he had received answers as he sought for them, that they were imparted by the Holy Spirit. That his mind was enlightened. There have been moments where I have that my prayers have gone unanswered, but when I’ve looked back in retrospect I often see evidence that my prayers were heard. Sometimes, in looking back, I have been even more grateful when I realize that my prayers were not answered, for my will and limited vision had been foolishness. Our Heavenly Father does know us individually, and he knows our hearts, both the good and the not-so-good. However, He loves us unconditionally and wants us to return to Him. He and His beloved Son are trying to save us. They are trying to redeem and make us like them. Everything they do for us is designed to bring us back into their presence, but it is our choice. The Holy Ghost will testify and lead us closer to Christ. It is a manifestation of Christ’s presence, who is our only true guide and pillar of strength in this life. We are not to rely on the arm of flesh, but on Christ’s arm. Following His will does not rob us of our agency, we are still choosing. As Christ is one with the Father when we become more at-one with Christ, through His merits and mercy, we become more at-one with the Father, qualifying ourselves to inherit exaltation.

I am grateful that we can have access to the gift of the Holy Ghost and take it as our guide. I know that it can be a constant companion as we are worthy of its presence. And just like for the children of Israel, it can always be there, guiding us both day and night, protecting us, and providing light in an ever-darkening world. We must have faith to follow its promptings, to trust that it is directing us to do the will of the Lord, even in times of great trial and difficulty. If we do so, we will be greatly blessed and have peace and joy in our souls.

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