Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Be of Good Cheer"

The Apostle Paul has always been one of my scripture heroes. Once in a group of young married couples gathered for game night, the question was asked, "Who is your favorite author?" My reply, "Paul." Everyone demanded to know, "Paul who?" My answer: "Paul the Apostle." "Oh," was the predictable response. I was admitting my lack of literary awareness in their eyes.

But I stand by the answer. Paul was once in bondage among his accusers, the Jews. It seems they were divided as Sadducees and Pharisees, and offended by his doctrine of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul, notwithstanding his eyewitness testimony of the events on the road to Damascus, was vilified and discredited among his peers. Here's one example from his life:

And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.
And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy. (Acts 23:9-13, emphasis mine).

The Lord said to Paul, who was in chains, "Be of good cheer." That's optimism from the Lord to one faced with certain death. In essence, "You've been incarcerated for my name's sake in Jerusalem, but they won't kill you yet, because you're still going to Rome to testify of me." What Paul couldn't know after he miraculously escaped that conspiracy at Jerusalem was that things would really get dicey in Rome.

Perhaps it was the resurrected Lord quoting the condemned mortal Jesus. Facing the cruel agony He alone knew He would face in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, the Savior said to his baffled disciples:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.
A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.
And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.
These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father.
At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you:
For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.
I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.
His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.
Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God.
Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?
Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:20-33, emphasis mine).

How could the Savior possibly say, "Be of good cheer" under such adverse conditions? And how audacious to think He had "overcome the world" when the world was about to crucify Him in the fashion of cruel Roman justice to pacify the Jewish co-conspirators!

I thought of the Savior's encounter with stormy seas in the wake of the devastation we have witnessed this past week in what has been dubbed "the worst storm ever" in the Philippines. These images are sobering as we think of the suffering of the families of those estimated 10,000 who perished. The actual number may never be known, the proportions of destruction now being described as "Biblical."

Earlier during His mortal ministry, after learning that day John the Baptist had been beheaded, the Savior spoke to and fed a large multitude. He sent His Apostles into a ship and went alone into a mountain where He observed them toiling all night in a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee. Late that night, just before dawn, in the "fourth watch" between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., He appeared on the stormy waters before them. Then we have this account, once again an indication of His optimism in the face of imminent disaster:

And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain, apart, to pray.
And when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with the waves; for the wind was contrary.
And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. (JST John 14:19-23, emphasis mine).

He tried their faith until the uttermost extremity in the early morning hours. And so it is with us sometimes. And after the winds and the waves have sufficiently beaten us down to a point where there is little left to hope for, He appears and reminds us there is nothing to fear after all. He brings "cheer" to comfort us.

We have other examples from scripture. On the night before the Babe of Bethlehem was born, the true believers on the American continent half a world away were faced with certain death at the hands of the unbelievers, who threatened to put them to death unless they disavowed their faith in the Promised Messiah:

Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.
Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.
And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers.
And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.
Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son — of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given. (3 Nephi 1:9-14, emphasis mine).

In our day as early as 1831 in Hiram, Ohio:

Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come. (D&C 68:6, emphasis mine).

A year later, also in Hiram, Ohio:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.
And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. (D&C 78:16-19, emphasis mine).

To Thomas B. Marsh in Kirtland, Ohio, 1838:

Nevertheless, inasmuch as thou hast abased thyself thou shalt be exalted; therefore, all thy sins are forgiven thee.
Let thy heart be of good cheer before my face; and thou shalt bear record of my name, not only unto the Gentiles, but also unto the Jews; and thou shalt send forth my word unto the ends of the earth.
Contend thou, therefore, morning by morning; and day after day let thy warning voice go forth; and when the night cometh let not the inhabitants of the earth slumber, because of thy speech.
Let thy habitation be known in Zion, and remove not thy house; for I, the Lord, have a great work for thee to do, in publishing my name among the children of men.
Therefore, gird up thy loins for the work. Let thy feet be shod also, for thou art chosen, and thy path lieth among the mountains, and among many nations.
And by thy word many high ones shall be brought low, and by thy word many low ones shall be exalted.
Thy voice shall be a rebuke unto the transgressor; and at thy rebuke let the tongue of the slanderer cease its perverseness.
Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers. (D&C 112:3-10, emphasis mine).

So in the space of a week I've gone from pondering the effects of "sore trials" to the seeming irony of the Savior's injunction, "Be of good cheer."

Sometimes in life we encounter circumstances over which we have absolutely no control. We buckle under the weight of burdens we cannot possibly overcome or sustain. We are promised, however, in sacred precincts that we will be blessed to bear the weight of those burdens placed upon our shoulders. I am grateful for an optimistic God. I am grateful for His optimistic prophets, who seem to have no fear in the face of seemingly impossible odds stacked against them to move the kingdom of God forward in the earth in these last days.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
I was reminded this week of something Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote:

"Gospel gladness is possible even in the midst of affliction, because of the reassuring realities that pertain to our mortal circumstance. The everlastingness of certain things puts the temporariness of other things in perspective. God's promises to us are so rich that even difficult tactical circumstances cannot conceal our causes for genuine cheerfulness: God is in charge; God's plan of happiness is underway; momentary tribulation does not set aside the universal resurrection, which is a reality; individual identity and personality are thereby assured; death has been defeated by Christ's atonement; and Satan and his misery-causing minions will finally be defeated. Each of these (and many more) form the litany of reassuring reality.

"Thus we should not let the gray mists of the moment obscure the bright promises and prospects of eternity. Gospel gladness is a precious, precious perspective — essential to have, if one is to keep his attitudinal balance while traveling the straight and narrow way. The way is often no more than a path. It inclines sharply, and it is strewn with loose rocks. Indeed, there are points along the way to be traversed only on one's hands and knees." (Neal A. Maxwell, Even As I Am, 98).

Elder Maxwell concluded this chapter in his book with a marvelous metaphor:

"If in all of this there is some understandable trembling, the adrenalin of affliction can help to ensure that our pace will be brisk rather than casual. His grace will cover us like a cloak — enough to provide for survival but too thin to keep out all the cold. The seeming cold is there to keep us from drowsiness, and gospel gladness warms us enough to keep us going." (ibid., 109, emphasis mine).

President Harold B. Lee
I also stumbled over a poem (source unknown) that President Harold B. Lee cited in his last First Presidency Message (Ensign, August 1974):

May You Have. . .

Enough happiness to keep you sweet,
Enough trials to keep you strong,
Enough sorrow to keep you human,
Enough failure to keep you humble,
Enough success to keep you eager,
Enough friends to give you comfort,
Enough wealth to meet your needs,
Enough enthusiasm to look forward,
Enough faith to banish depression,
Enough determination to make each day better than yesterday.

I believe we have "enough and to spare" when it comes to our hope in Christ's atonement. He did overcome the world - that means the effects of sin and death - all of which is only temporary based upon our miscalculations about their importance in mortality. I conclude with Jacob, the brother of Nephi:

Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves — to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.
Wherefore, may God raise you from death by the power of the resurrection, and also from everlasting death by the power of the atonement, that ye may be received into the eternal kingdom of God, that ye may praise him through grace divine. Amen. (2 Nephi 10:23-25, emphasis mine).


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