I’ve always struggled with the question of “What can I feel good about?” The scriptures consistently condemn pride as a grievous sin and extol humility as a key attribute of a Christlike character. But I have been blessed to see miracles in my life and the lives of others, and I have been fortunate enough to play a small role in some of those miracles. When that happens, am I offending the Lord by noticing or taking joy in whatever contribution I made?
The Book of Mormon provides a wonderfully clear answer to this question in the 26th chapter of Alma. Ammon and his brothers have been reunited after their missionary journeys, and Ammon is talking about the success they have enjoyed. He celebrates that they have “been made instruments in the hands of God” in bringing about the miraculous conversion of thousands of Lamanites. (V. 3). As Ammon rejoices over their success, Aaron cautions him to tap the brakes, as he fears that Ammon’s joy is “carrying thee away to boasting.” (V. 10).
Ammon’s response not only addresses whether it is acceptable to feel good about our accomplishments, but it also provides a formula for success: A Miracle Equation.
Ammon makes clear that his celebration is limited with respect to his own efforts. He is willing to take credit for two things only. First, for “showing up.” As he reminds his brethren, none of these miracles would have occurred if they had not “come up out of the land of Zarahemla.” Simply put, Ammon gives himself props for being where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there.
The second thing Ammon is willing to take some credit for is working hard. He and his brothers “did thrust in the sickle” and “reap with [their] might,” laboring “all the day long.” (V. 5). Ammon understood that hard work was a prerequisite for the specific miracles they had experienced, and he took joy in the fact that he and his brethren rolled up their sleeves and did what was required.
So Ammon is comfortable taking some satisfaction for things that were within his control and agency. But he also recognizes that without divine help, his individual efforts would fall far short of miraculous results. He acknowledges: “I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things.” (V.12). Ammon does not suggest that he was the difference-maker; rather, he knows that without the enabling power of God (what we might properly refer to as “grace”) there would have been no miracle. But when God’s strength was added to Ammon’s mortal efforts, “Yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.” (v. 12).
This then, is the Miracle Equation:
(Showing up + Hard work) + God’s strength and grace = Miracles.
Is it really that simple? I think it is, especially because the “hard work” in the formula necessarily includes exercising faith and repenting so that we can be fit receptacles for the system upgrade that comes through the power of God.
This also allows us to feel good about fulfilling our part of the equation. We all have our agency as to where we are going to be and what we are going to do. If we make choices consistent with what is expected of a disciple of Christ, we should feel good about and rejoice in those good decisions. Living the gospel isn’t always easy, and often there will be no one to pat us on the back but ourselves. It is perfectly acceptable to look in the mirror and say, “Not bad, dude.” Where we get into trouble is when we discount the divine and think that we are bringing about miracles from our own efforts. Pride occurs only when we take God’s grace out of the equation.