If we look to the world and follow its formulas for happiness, we will never know joy. The unrighteous may experience any number of emotions and sensations, but they will never experience joy! Joy is a gift for the faithful. It is the gift that comes from intentionally trying to live a righteous life, as taught by Jesus Christ.
That quote is from the conference talk given by President Russell M. Nelson. Joy. What a fully loaded word. I don’t think many of us consider joy very often. We get wrapped up in words like happy, pleased, successful, proud. Joy is something entirely different. To me, joy is a long-term emotion. The others temporary. I can be happy because a circumstance went my way, but joy comes from a peace filled life. Of living a life close to God. Joy can even have its place in the midst of sadness because we have joy in the promises of God, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Part of finding this joy and being close to God is prayer. To be close to God, we must have a relationship with God and we can seek and find Him in prayer. I read a few chapters in Praying Upside Down this morning and Kelly says,
Faith means trusting that He will do what’s right, and believing that even if the outcome is not what we want, being in it with God is better than being anywhere else without Him.
It’s true. If we want joy in our lives, then we need to be in it with God. And by in it, I mean all of it. She goes on to say about prayer that “One of the most amazing gifts God gives us is access. We are allowed to come to Him. Not only that, He wants us to.” Additionally, “Prayer doesn’t require specific abilities or unbearably hard work. It just requires showing up.” Those two thoughts are filled with joy! God wants us to come to Him. He wants to bless and help us and He doesn’t require much at all.
Every time I open this book of Kelly’s, I learn something new. Some new aspect of prayer is opened up to me. I love how she equates prayer with art – it’s so visual – and easy to understand. I am not particularly artistic, although I dream of being so. Our home is filled with art. We have quite a little gallery. I love watercolors and pen and ink of buildings. Together, we love landscapes. Those are our focuses. As I am reading and learning, I am seeing our art differently. I am noticing details that I haven’t previously seen. The technique. I am noticing these same things in my prayers. Goodness knows, I don’t pray enough, at least not as much as I would like to. I want to keep God on my mind throughout each day, but I am easily distracted. I suppose it’s easier in the midst of challenges to reach heavenward because you are so desperate, but I want to reach for Him even on the good days – in praise and thanksgiving and deep gratitude.
I am so very grateful for Kelly, as an author. I’m sure she’s a great person too, but I love reading her words. They sound a lot like how I think, so it feels quite personal. Like they are messages right to my heart. Reminders. Prompts. I feel the same way about the scriptures. They don’t sound like me, but they fit in my heart the same. I love reading them and learning about my spiritual heritage. I love applying the stories to my own life and seeing how they fit with my circumstances and these times.
I am still on chapter two of the first book of Nephi (he has four). I barely touched on it the first day, (Tuesday was all about the election), so I took the day off and, yesterday, I just quoted a scripture. What I haven’t done is share what is going on.
Chapter two is all about the family of Lehi leaving Jerusalem. Since Lehi started prophesying, the people had been eager to kill him. Of course they didn’t want to hear about what they were doing wrong. I don’t think anyone does. Obviously, Lehi was alarmed. In a dream, the Lord (Jehovah) came to him and told him to gather his family and what he needed and get out of there – fast. He was obedient. He departed into the wilderness. It sounds funny, but aren’t we all in our own personal wilderness at times? Don’t we all need God to occasionally tell us to get out or send us away for our own protection?
He left everything behind – gold, silver, land, and his house. None of those things mattered where they were going. Those things may have previously gotten in the way of a 100% commitment to God as well. Maybe God needed Lehi away from those things to save his spirit as much as Lehi needed away to save his life. Maybe God needed to show Lehi what was most important, like family, God, and obedience. So, who was in his family? Lehi, Sariah (his wife), and the record mentions four sons – Laman, Lemuel, Nephi, and Sam. We do know that there are also daughters (chapter 7, verse 1), but as so often happens in the scriptures, they are not named.
The family travels for three days before they stop and make camp. Three days, that’s a lot of walking! Lehi then builds and altar and gives thanks to God. Thanks? Here, they’ve given up everything and walked for three days and I can’t imagine packing along all of what they did take was an easy task. Thanks? See, I think it’s this joy idea. They could have joy because they were with God and His Son. They knew who was leading them and that no matter what was happening, they could rely on them for guidance. Here’s the thing, two of his sons had no interest in being obedient. Laman and Lemual spent the entire time murmuring against their father and, I’m sure, God and His plan too. Anyone who has “forced” their teenagers to do anything can imagine how wearying that must have been. Maybe Lehi was giving thanks that they could just stop and he could get some rest.
Why did they murmur? Why do any of us complain? We don’t know what God is doing and we don’t believe the warnings. “What?!? There’s going to be a flood? Noah, you are so stupid.” “Moses, how can you possibly believe that I am going to let these slaves go?” “Cancer? Are you kidding?!? How could you let this happen?” “I’m losing my job/wife/child and you want me to not complain?” The thing is, Nephi didn’t. In the midst of all the turbulence, his father’s life was threatened!, he wanted to know.
In verse 16, he talks about his great desire to know the “mysteries of God.” I’m pretty sure this plan to take off into the wilderness qualified as a mystery to him. I would want to know too. Nephi says,
wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold, he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.
That’s it – desire, prayer, God softening my heart so that I can believe. Nephi then turned and bore testimony to his younger brother, Sam, who believed Nephi and his father. It’s not enough to believe, we must bear testimony to truth. In the margins of my wide-margin Book of Mormon, I have written, “If it’s just me – will I give up too?” If it’s just me. Oh, how I need the testimony of people around me to bear me up! I need to hear that I am not the only one in desire, in prayer, in answers to those prayers. I need to know that I am not making up what I am hearing and feeling and believing. I have the witness of the Holy Ghost, but I need to share that with others. I need to express it and to hear it from someone else. I do not want to walk alone in my walk with Christ. I need the companionship of others to buoy me up while I walk my personal wilderness. How about you? Do you find a need to share what you feel in your heart to be true?
After Nephi speaks with Sam, he attempts to talk to his other brothers – to witness to them. They had no interest. Their hearts were hard and unmovable and Nephi, “being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts I cried unto the Lord for them.” Half of his brothers were nonbelievers. His two older brothers. What did the Lord speak to Nephi’s heart? “Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou has sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.” He was blessed because he turned to God instead of away. Nephi wanted to know, wanted he heart softened so he could believe. Maybe that’s the key: desire. What is it we truly want? Riches? Land? An extravagant home? God? Maybe that’s what the leading out is for. We must also be led out at times to gain perspective and once we get that perspective? Joy. Joy always follows.