Adversity – Stanley Ward – Olathe Kansas Stake

Adversity, the building block of character

I’m grateful to have been given the topic of Adversity to base my message today, because who wouldn’t want to air out all their problems in front of a big crowd like this. But seriously, as I’ve grown in the gospel, I’ve learned not to think in terms of adversity or trials. I replace these words in my own thoughts as mortal or life experiences, and as character building opportunities. And this will be the approach of the words I share with you today.

As I look through the scriptures, and consider the early history of the restoration of the Church, it’s clear that there is great opposition to the work of the Lord. The plan of salvation proposed that we come to this earth, to gain a body – at least that’s what we hear said often in our teaching, but we should really think of that not so much as gaining a body, but gaining the life experiences that having a mortal body will bring. It is only under this apparent testing ground that we prove ourselves to see if we’ll put off the natural man by yielding to the enticings of the holy spirit (Mos 3:19), showing that we will do all things whatsoever that the Lord Commands us (Abr 3:25).

When we think of the topic of adversity, the scriptures that teach us about putting on the full armor of God come to mind. Eph 6 and D&C 27 both record the Lord’s directions to use in overcoming life’s experiences. Eph 6: 11-18 reads:

11. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

12. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

13. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

14. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

15. And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16. Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

17. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

18. Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

The example of armor brings to mind armies and great battles, in fact, the abridger of the Book of Mormon, himself a general, chose to illustrate many principles of the gospel through the continual conflicts contained in that book of scripture. Everywhere we read it seems the Lord wants to emphasize the point to us – that this is a literal battle being fought by individuals, wards, stakes all the way up to the general councils of the church.

I really love reading and learning history. For several years I’ve been intrigued by books, films, and shows depicting the battles of World War II. I’ve recently been listening to a book about the campaign of North Africa, the first battles of WWII that American troops were involved in, and under the supreme allied command of Eisenhower, an American General. This campaign revealed to the Americans that they had a lot of catching up to do to be the world leader in military strength. An extra year was needed just to recover from severe losses, to regroup, weed out poor leaders, and learn to coordinate multiple aspects of this type of war, Naval, Air and Ground forces needed to all be on the same pages, this was not demonstrated very well in the beginning in North Africa, but through it all our Military gained in strength and knowledge.

Then we invaded Italy, the military learned from its mistakes and grew tougher, stronger, and better at taking objectives and smarter at picking those objectives. The officers that remained were those that made the best decisions in the field and the fighting men who were left were veterans, hardened by previous campaigns.

It took time and experience to gain the upper hand, it wasn’t ours at first, but eventually the Allies won the day.

In our own lives we may not face an opponent in open battle militarily, but spiritually we will face situations that certainly make life difficult. And they grow in strength as we learn and overcome those placed before us. As a young man or woman we will face many difficulties, just to grow older and encounter different and stronger opposition to our progress. I think back to when I was a young man receiving my Patriarchal Blessing, I’m not one to talk about my blessing outside of my family, but there is a phrase from that blessing I feel it appropriate to share at this time. To paraphrase it the Lord told me that Satan will seek to destroy you – not hinder you, not get in your way, not be a nuisance to you, but destroy. As an 18 year old that didn’t mean a lot to me, because I was invincible, but as I grow older, I learned to respect those words more and more, to guard against the destroyer. Brothers and Sisters, it is my testimony that this is a literal battle.

Our stake has had its share of serious challenges to whole families, loss of jobs, military service, and some deaths in families. I have a good friend who lost his wife recently leaving him with 3 children to take care of. I recently had some good conversations with him about that situation, and Feel that he really has a solid understand of facing adversity in this life. He told me that they were very lucky to have had their time together to come back into the church, be sealed as a family and have the assurance that they will be together again. I remembered back several years to when he was coming back to activity, and she joined the church, I was a home teacher at a time of much change in their lives as they prepared to go to the Temple. Down came some of the art, to the garbage went movies, music, and more. Tears came to my eyes as I saw how grateful he was for just the short time he had with her. Here was a man who understood the plan of salvation, and his role within it. I’m glad to have known him. I’m a better person for it.

The new gospel reference entitled True to the Faith (hold it up) states, “Adversity comes to use from different sources, some times just as a result of the mortal experience, but other times it comes as a result of decisions made by you or those close to you… your success and happiness, both now and in the eternities, depend largely on your responses to these difficulties of life.”

I think that it is vital in this life to understand that most of these difficulties are naturally occurring. Sometimes I believe that we mistakenly say that the Lord wants me to learn something specific, and that’s why he gave me this particular challenge. I believe this is in error; otherwise, all of us would be given the exact same challenges to learn the exact same thing.

I think we have three options open to us when difficulties come our way, and any of them can help us build character and become better individuals, but I think they rank as a poor, good, and excellent way to approach our adverse life experiences.

The first, is just to get through the experience….. Hanging on for dear life, hopefully to the iron rod, in fact I’ve been known to say, that sometimes, I am repelling off the iron rod. This probably won’t help us learn and grow from the experience, but we can always repent and promise the Lord to do better next time.

The second is to take this on by ourselves or within our family, growing in our character and understanding of the gospel learning what the Lord wants us to learn.

The third is to do the second, but to include our church families, home and visiting teachers, quorum and group leaders, working together, everyone will grown from this experience.

It is my firm testimony that we in our ward organizations will be called upon at some future point to work as a cohesive group, and that if we don’t many will suffer.

Let me share an example from my life. A couple years back, on the day of the birth of my second daughter, I was laid off my job, a job that I was assured was safe, but nonetheless wasn’t. What a humiliating feeling, with both sides of the family around, I was distraught. I called my home teacher to come over and have a chat. I let him know what had happened. It was several weeks later that the Bishop and my EQ president talked to me about, you see my home teacher kept that information to himself. I was in contact with the Ward employment specialist within days, that person didn’t tell the Bishop either. I was teaching the gospel doctrine class, and half the ward knew I was out of work. It was pretty comical to me. Now you may say that It was my responsibility, but it shouldn’t be if the quorums and auxiliaries are functioning, my home teacher had the duty to report this to the EQ president, and thus on up to the Bishop. The Bishop shouldn’t be responsible for seeing to the needs of my family, the Quorum is. Anyway, things turned out well for me, and though many of my friends looking for work had been out for several months, within 5 weeks I had two offers to choose from.

During this time my wife and I realized that we needed to start doing some things that really hadn’t been done well in our family, we put our faith and trust in the Lord, redoubled our efforts at keeping our covenants, and it changed our lives. I think that I tried to use my previously stated third option, but ended up with the second option. My family and I grew, but that support structure within the church didn’t get much of a chance to grow with us (in this one case).

It is my testimony, that the four cornerstones of our faith should be a testimony of the Divinity and Atonement of Jesus Christ, a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s first vision, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of the priesthood All of which are deep understandings that the spirit has spoken to me. 2 Peter 1:4-8 reads:

4. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

5. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

6. And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

7. And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

8. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter has just explained to use how to be partakers of the Divine Nature, which is in all of us, starting with the basics of faith, grow in spiritual character following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ.

In closing, let me sum up my thoughts to you this day. It is the purpose of our lives to go through this mortal experience. It’s how we deal with those experiences that develop our character and potential divinity. We need to come together as a church and be there for one another, magnifying our callings and especially those veterans among us leading and teaching those of us who are green. I will close with the words of Elder Oaks, from the October 2000 General Conference:

…we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts-what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts-what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.

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