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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Faith Precedes the Miracle

Faith Precedes the Miracle

“Today was one of the greatest days of my mission!  I learned a great lesson about the power of prayer and fasting.  We witnessed a Miracle!”
These were the words written in my journal entry dated Sept. 30, 1987, while serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Los Angeles, California.

(I need to further clarify these remarks and writings today, with the statement that by sharing them, I am absolutely and in no way whatsoever seeking to promote myself of make any claim that I am anything special.  I am sharing these thoughts at the request of my youngest son, Mason, who is currently serving as a missionary for the Church in Wisconsin, and who finds himself in a similar situation as I was all those years ago.  But I feel comfortable sharing them at the same time, because I am more than happy to testify and share the love of God and His absolute power to provide divine miracles in our behalf when it is according to His will)

At the time I wrote these remarks, I was nearing the last few months of my missionary labors, and was serving in a position in the mission offices which were located on the temple ground behind the historic Los Angeles Temple.

As a result of our office assignment, my companion and I lived in the mission home apartments, and our days were usually filled during business hours fulfilling various duties and office tasks, coordinating with other missionaries throughout the mission, assisting the Mission President as he needed, and so forth.  This didn’t leave us much time for actual missionary proselyting, except for a few random evenings and weekends.
Me at my office desk in fall of 1987
Despite this rather non-missionary schedule, we were still assigned to cover 3 local congregations:  The Wilshire Ward (which included Beverly Hills and Bel Air), a small Spanish branch, and the UCLA student ward.

At the end of August, and going into the start of September that year, our mission president, the late Elmo B. Shirts, made a spiritual challenge to all the missionaries throughout the entire mission – That if we would sincerely and prayerfully fast, that we would receive inspiration as to what number of convert baptisms we should set as a goal for the month of September.  And moved upon by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, and as his authorized servant, he promised us that if we then were strictly diligent to the mission rules, and did everything that we could possibly do to be obedient and faithful, that the Lord would fulfill helping us meet that baptismal goal.

My companion, Elder David Kono and I took that challenge to heart.  We fasted and prayed individually and without discussing it ahead of time, we both felt prompted with the same number to set as our goal for the number of baptisms we would achieve that month.  Considering our limited ability to go out searching for investigators, we truly were at the mercy of the Lord and the local members to provide us contacts of people we could begin teaching.  And although we had previously been blessed with success some occasional people to teach and who had made the spiritual journey to the waters of baptism… the goal we felt prompted to set seemed daunting and almost out of reach.

Nevertheless, being young and full of commitment, and probably because we were just too naïve to realize that logically, our goal was impossible… we moved ahead in faith.  We made our goal a focus of our thoughts and prayers.  We decided to fast each and every Sunday throughout the month, not just for the sake of our goal, but so that we would be inspired to know how to truly help anyone who might be seeking for the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ.  We talked and discussed ways we could be more faithful and diligent in keeping the mission rules, and sought to be as obedient as possible to the guidance and promptings of the Spirit.

As the month progressed, we were blessed to be introduced by some local members, to some wonderful people to add to our teaching pool.  Their hearts were open to the message we had to share, and they began to progress in their desires to know Jesus Christ better.  And remarkably, as the weeks passed by, several of them had entered the waters of baptism and things were lining up perfectly for us to reach our goal.  When a wonderful lady named Denise Knight entered the waters of baptism on Thursday, September 24th, we were just one person away from reaching our goal, and remarkably we had our final investigator scheduled to be baptized just a few days later, on Saturday, the 26th.  We were simply ecstatic!

Then, on Friday evening, as we were talking to the lady who was scheduled to be baptized on Saturday, she informed us that she was suddenly no longer interested in being baptized, and wanted to just take a break from things for a while and asked that we not contact her anymore.

Suddenly, thoughts of meeting our goal were snatched away from us.  With absolutely no one else in our active teaching pool, we were at a loss of what to do.  To be honest, most of Saturday came and went with spiritual justifications rattling around in my head.  “Well, at least we came close.”  “Well, I guess we did what we could, and it just wasn’t meant to be.” …and so forth.

Then, as Saturday evening approached, my companion and I were reading the scriptures and talking together and the thought came to us, “Do you really believe that the God you proclaim to worship and serve is a God of miracles?”  We began discussing all of the miraculous events portrayed in the scriptures, which simply couldn’t be rationally explained away, and came to the conclusion that we had to either believe such things were true and that God really did have power to perform miracles… or that we didn’t believe in such things.

We could have easily rationalized, as so many of us often do, that although we believe in such things… we just don’t believe that happen in our day, or at least not to us personally.  But instead, we came to the faithful conclusion that if God could create worlds and move mountains and part seas… then surely if He desired to do so, He could also provide us the miracle of finding a new investigator with only a few days left in the month, and that person would be ready and prepared to be baptized.
Like I said previously… you can call it being naïve, illogical or whatever you want… but in that moment, in our simple, imperfect, but committed missionary hearts, it was FAITH.  And not a faith in ourselves or that we had actually done anything worthy of thinking we could command God to do anything against His will in our behalf… but unwavering faith in HIM, and His all-powerful ability to provide miracles as He saw fit.

So we dropped to our knees, and began fasting yet again.  Fasting in gratitude for all the blessings He has provided us.  Fasting in praise that we were blessed to be able to serve Him in the capacity of missionaries.  Fasting that His will would be done, and not ours… but that if it was actually His will, that He would perhaps see fit to provide someone who was ready to accept Him and His gospel message.

Journal Entry, Sunday, Sept. 27, 1987 - “Today was one of the most exciting yet stressful days of my mission.  It all began yesterday when we began a special fast so that we could perhaps accomplish our goal of baptisms for this month.  We didn’t give up faith in the Lord, even though it is so late in the month and we had no one ready.  We knew that He would bless us if we remained faithful.”

Later that morning, as we were attending the Sunday School class at the UCLA student ward, the class dismissed and everyone began filtering out of the room.  But there in the back of the room, shifting nervously side to side on her feet, was a girl we had never met before.  My companion and I looked at each other and instantly knew that she was “the one”.

We introduced ourselves and she said her name was Sherri, and before we could even ask her if she was interesting in hearing more about the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ, she asked us if we could teach her so she could be baptized!

We both just about fell over on the floor in shock, and perhaps I would have, except that the Spirit overcame me and I felt overjoyed with gratitude – gratitude for the love of the Savior in miraculously hearing and answering our fasting and prayers, as well as gratitude for this young woman’s sincere desire to make a commitment to follow Christ by being baptized a member of the Church.

She was eager to learn, so we arranged to meet with her that same afternoon in the company of some other members of the ward congregation.  She soaked everything up like a sponge and informed us that she had a boyfriend who was a member of the Church already, and a returned missionary, who was away attending BYU on a baseball scholarship.  He had given her a Book of Mormon before he left, and she had read it, studied it, and prayed about it and felt she should be baptized as soon as possible.  She was nothing short of the miracle we had been praying for.

She agreed to be baptized that week!  She was so excited she wanted to call her boyfriend to share her good news with him.  He was already a member of the Church, and had served a mission himself, and although he was very happy about her decision, he asked if she would be willing to wait for a few more weeks until October 11th, so that he could come back to California and perform her baptism.  She felt this would be a good idea and so plans were made to that effect.  We were personally heartbroken, but supportive of her desires above our own.  (Obviously we had mentioned nothing to her of our prayerfully set goal or her supposed role in it, as we felt such a thing would be totally inappropriate to discuss with her in her own personal progress).

She left that evening happy about her decision, and we were happy for her, but once again, the miracle seemed to have been snatched from our grasp.  We once again sulked around for a few minutes, with rationalizing statements and “nearly made it” pats on the back… but then once again the question came silently to our minds, “Do you really believe that the God you proclaim to worship and serve is a God of miracles?”

Humbled and chastened by our doubts, we once again talked together and decided that if God miraculously could provide someone in one day, like he had earlier, then why couldn’t He provide someone else who was ready the next day!  Once again we were on our knees and began a new fast yet again, thanking the Lord for His tender mercies by guiding Sherri into our path, and asking and literally completely trusting, that if it was His desire to do so, He could do it again!

We got ready for bed that night, and I finished my journal entry for that day with the following, “I know that the will of the Lord will be done in the end if we have faith and follow his counsel and promptings.  No one could ever convince me that it wasn’t the hand of the Lord that made it all possible.  Who else could do such a great and yet simple thing in the way it all came about.  No one can tell me it was a coincidence, for I know that it was a Godly answer to our sincere prayers and fasting!  I glorify His name for it!  In the end I pray that His will be fulfilled and that it will work out best for all.”

Despite it all, I slept well that night, confident that all would be right.

Monday, September 28th, came and went full of our normal office labors and duties and nothing out of the ordinary happened.  But I still felt calm and assured that all would work out for the best, as we continued our fast throughout that day.  The same was true all throughout Tuesday the 29th, with no new contacts or investigators.  Just a normalcy, but filled with peace and confidence that God’s will, not ours, would be done.

Finally, we come back to the beginning of this story, with the journal entry I began with in this writing.

As we were going about our early morning labors on Wednesday, Sept. 30th, the final day of the month, we received a phone call.  It was Sherri, the girl we had met on Sunday.  (Now you must remember that she knew absolutely nothing about our goal, prayers or fasting).  She said, “I have wrestled with the Spirit all night long!  I don’t know why, but I have become completely convinced that I should not wait even another day, but that it is the Lord’s will that I should be baptized today!  I called my boyfriend and told him what has happened and he told me that if that is what the Lord was telling me, then I should do it.”

Our hearts soared with joy and brimmed over with gratitude to the Lord for His miracle.  We had no idea how it would come, but had fully believed and trusted that if it was His will it would happen, and He delivered!  We spent the rest of the day happily scrambling around to get the necessary interviews completed, the font scheduled and a meeting put together.

At 8:30 that night, just a few hours before the end of the month, I was privileged to enter the waters of baptism with Sherri Nicole Gottlieb, and baptized her.  I still remember as I lifted her out of the water she had the most wonderful smile and such a happy, peaceful look on her face.

Me, Sherri Gottlieb, and my companion Elder David Kono in front of the baptismal font on Sept. 30th, 1987

  Soon after, my companion Elder Kono, confirmed her a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  IT WAS A MIRACLE!

My journal entry, with which we began at the start, concluded with these words, “I no longer doubt that the Lord can deliver unto us the righteous desires of our hearts if we but have faith!  I give all the glory to Him for bringing this miracle to pass and acknowledge His hand in every good thing I do!  I am grateful for His Spirit which has led and guided me each day and changed my life, little by little, for the better!  I only pray that I can continue to humbly learn and grow and endure to the end!”

Again, I want to say that in sharing this remembrance with you, I am not claiming that my experience was any more unique or special, than any of the countless miracles, both great and small, that God bestows upon His children throughout the world each day.  But I share it as a witness that God indeed truly does love us, and desires to bless us, even through miraculous ways far beyond coincidence or chance!

A true miracle, can never be forced and will never happen because of our own desires.  It will only happen if it is God’s will and if our will is in alignment with His.

In reality, miracles have very little to do with our paltry offerings of faith, and literally everything to do with His love and tender mercies in our behalf, but there is a vital reason why we must have Faith to unlock those miracles in our life – and that is not because He has to prove his power and love to us, but that it is through our Faith in Him that we become convinced of His miraculous love and power in our behalf.  Faith does nothing to change God, who is already perfect in every way, but Faith has the power to change us because of our belief in Him.

And that change in our hearts to trust in Him, His timing, His will and His purposes and not our own, through Faith in Him and His love, is perhaps the greatest miracle of all.