Gathering Us Under His Wings

The Book of Mormon records that upon the crucifixion of Christ, there was darkness upon the land of Lehi’s posterity for a period of three days.  Out of that darkness, the survivors of the earthquakes and other calamities that accompanied Christ’s death heard a voice out of heaven.  It was the voice of the Savior, and he asked his surviving but oft wayward people three questions:Chicken

“How oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.”  

“How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.”

“How oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if we will repent and return to me with full purpose of heart.”

(3 Nephi 10:4-6)

These queries, posed to a people collectively, might fairly be asked of us individually, as we measure our own spiritual standing and our relationship with Christ.

The first question, to me, sparks our memories of how the “tender mercies of God” have been demonstrated in our lives.  Each of us should be able to point to moments in our personal history when God’s mercy has rescued us from some danger, great or small.  We might have seen a way of escape from a temptation, the avoidance of serious physical harm, or gentle comfort that could be found from no other source.  We have felt the warmth of Christ’s protective wings, shielding us from dangers that might otherwise overwhelm us.

The second question reminds us of our occasional stubbornness in rejecting the Lord’s protection.  Pride leads all of us to believe from time to time that we can see the path clearly for ourselves and that we are perfectly capable of traveling it alone.  We seek our own avenues of escape and lean on the arm of the flesh for our protection.  As we do so, we invariably experience the disappointment of learning that we simply aren’t that capable on our own, and that without the light of the Spirit, our vision is poorly limited.  The Savior calls to us, but we choose to listen to other voices.  No matter how good we are, each of us wanders from the safe gospel nest every now and then.  And in those moments, we sometimes fear that we are no longer welcomed at home.

The final question is a message of hope.  How often will the Lord gather us under His protective wings?  As many times as we repent and turn to Him.  Anyone who has been responsible for the welfare of others–I think particularly of parents–knows the frustration of offering help to those in our care, only to have our hands slapped away.  Human nature is such that, after time, we weary of offering such assistance and leave the recalcitrant to their own devices.  

Christ’s nature, however, is quite different.  His message is that as many times as we stumble off into the darkness, He invites us back to the light.  There always is room under His wings, and He will gather us as often as we need Him to.  This promise of patient protection is a great source of hope, knowing that we do not run out of chances to take advantage of the blessings of the Atonement.  When we find ourselves exposed to all of the harsh elements of mortality, we have the assurance that shelter always is available under the wings of He who never will forget us or forsake us.

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The Miracle Equation

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.