I had oft heard the quote by President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Twelve Apostles, of the counsel he received once from then Elder Harold B. Lee to do something difficult. When Brother Packer hesitated, Elder Lee told him, “Do you know what is wrong with you – you always want to see the end from the beginning.”
When Brother Packer “replied quietly that I wanted to see at least a few steps ahead,” Elder Lee “quoted from the sixth verse of the twelfth chapter of Ether” and added, “My boy, you must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and perhaps a few steps into the darkness, and you will find the light appear and move ahead of you.”
Certainly, this is good counsel on faith. What I didn’t know is that President Packer elaborated on what exactly he was asked to do in his book The Holy Temple, which I have been reading recently:
I had been called as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, and we were to move to Salt Lake City and find an adequate and permanent home. President Henry D. Moyle assigned someone to help us.
A home was located that was ideally suited to our needs. Elder Harold B. Lee came and looked it over carefully and then counseled, “By all means, you are to proceed.”
But there was no way we could proceed. I had just completed the course work on a doctor’s degree and was writing the dissertation. With the support of my wife and our eight children, all of the resources we could gather over the years had been spent on education.
By borrowing on our insurance, gathering every resource, we could barely get into the house, without sufficient left to even make the first monthly payment.
Brother Lee insisted, “Go ahead. I know it is right.”
I was in deep turmoil because I had been counseled to do something I had never done before – to sign a contract without having the resources to meet they payments.
When Brother Lee sensed my feelings he sent me to President David O. McKay, who listened very carefully as I explained the circumstances.
He said, “You do this. It is the right thing.” But he extended no resources to make the doing of it possible.
In other words, President Packer had been asked not only to do something difficult, but he had been asked to do something the Church had counseled for many, many years not to do – to live beyond his means. While not similar in severity, this is similar in principle to Nephi being commanded to slay Laban, or Abraham to sacrifice his child. All three of these men were told by God or a representative of Him to do something He had expressly told them not to do in the past.
While it is certain that you shouldn’t disobey commandments unless told to by a representative of the Lord or the Lord Himself (and make sure it’s the Lord and nothing something else), it shows how flexible the Lord requires us exactly to be. Just living the commandments, the rules and regulations, the ordinances and covenants is a difficult thing, requiring a great deal of faith and discipline. Still, with all we live in the Church, we are blessed with the knowledge of what will happen. We know the Lord has promised us blessings if we pay our tithing, exaltation as we receive all the ordinances and covenants necessary to do so, protection if we live the commandments, spiritual power as we keep the rules. But the real tests, apparently, don’t start to happen when those rules are turned on top of their heads. The true test of faith comes when the Lord personally asks us to do something that may at first seem against the rules, and the real challenge there is that we don’t know where following that request will take us. He hasn’t exactly told us yet.
But, as President Packer notes earlier in the book, sometimes we have to be flexible. Quoting Joseph Smith, he writes:
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all.
Before, I had always thought of “the fire” as your standard persecution, trials, and temptations. But upon re-thinking this, I don’t think it’s true. This “fire” may well be when God asks me to do something I had tried to avoid for decades, and by then, hopefully I have the hope and faith to step into the darkness without seeing the light, and my faith has been tempered enough not to shatter instantly like glass.
Moral of the Story: The Lord sometimes asks very difficult things from us. Sometimes, that difficulty itself is because the Lord has taught us not to do what we asked us to do in the past. Flexibility and faith seem to go hand in hand, but the flexibility must be mandated by the Lord, not us.