Faith is an extraordinarily powerful force, tapping into God’s omnipotence when what’s requested aligns with His will. In the New Testament, the Lord taught, “If ye have faith, and doubt not, . . . ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea,” and “it shall be done” (Matthew 21:21; see also Mark 11:23). Relying on this promise, we often say faith can move mountains.
Sometimes, however, the Lord may not want us to move a mountain. After all, moving a mountain is not an end in itself but rather the means to an end. The apostle Paul reminded us that “though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
The author of Hebrews defined faith and gave many examples of those whose faith brought good results (Hebrews 11:1‒35). Among other miracles, people with great faith “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens,” and “received their dead raised to life again” (verse 33‒35).
But others with great faith were not delivered from their trials. Instead, they “were tortured, not accepting deliverance,” “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; . . . they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Verses 35‒38).
Were these people somehow less worthy? No. (Verse 38.) But God in His wisdom allowed them to suffer in this life with the ultimate promise of eternal life and complete healing through the atonement of His Son Jesus Christ.
As God told Joseph Smith while he was suffering in Liberty Jail, “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7‒8.)
When God does not release us from experiencing the trials of this life, He can strengthen us against them, not moving the mountains before us but giving us the strength to climb them.
On Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021, President Russell M. Nelson reflected on the different ways the Lord honored the prayers of the saints during his 2019 trip to Polynesia, a trip on which I accompanied him. He pointed out how Church members in Samoa, Tahiti, and Fiji prayed for good weather, and rain cleared up before the meetings in which he spoke to them. In Tonga, however, it was a different story. Rain fell heavily, and thousands of saints sat for hours in the drenching rain waiting for the meeting to start and then patiently sat through the rain as he spoke.
In all these cases, the saints exercised faith. The saints in Samoa, Tahiti, and Fiji were blessed with good weather as a result of their faith. Those in Tonga were blessed with strength to endure the rain as a result of their faith. Even now as I remember the Tongan saints patiently enduring their trial, I find strength in their example of faith.
It reminds me of Alma and the other faithful disciples of Christ in Mosiah 24. The wicked Amulon “was wroth with him; for he was subject to king Laman, yet he exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them” (verse 9). Alma and his people “began to cry mightily to God,” but “Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death” (verses 10‒11).
In response to their prayers, the Lord did not release them from bondage immediately but promised to “ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (verse 14).
Mormon records that the Lord fulfilled His promise. “And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (verse 15).
The greatest example of this principle, of course, is the Savior, who wrought out the atonement in the face of the greatest pain and suffering anyone has ever faced. In the premortal life, He promised to do the Father’s will and not His own (Moses 4:2). I’m sure that at the time, it seemed like a really good idea. But when Jesus faced the agony of Gethsemane, staring at the awful reality of what He must suffer, suddenly it didn’t seem like such a great idea, and the Savior looked for options to escape the trial.
He prayed to His Father, “saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). At the same time, however, Jesus agreed to endure the trial if the Father felt He must.
God did not remove the trial, but He did give His Son the strength to endure, sending Him “an angel . . . from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). Jesus went forward, taking upon Himself the collective pain, suffering, hunger, thirst, fatigue, afflictions, temptations, and sicknesses of all who would repent” (Mosiah 3:7; Alma 7:11).
As a result, we too can endure. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, if we have faith in Him, we can climb whatever mountain God does not choose to move from before us.
In Revelation 7, John the Revelator foresaw the day when “they which came out of great tribulation” stood before God’s throne with their robes washed clean, purified “in the blood of the Lamb” (verses 14‒15). They served God “day and night in his temple” (verse 15). “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more,” John tells us. “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Verses 16‒17.)
May we find great strength in the example of Jesus Christ and accept His will, even as He accepted the Father’s, and thereby gain the strength to move mountains—or climb them, as the case may be.
Hebrews 11:39 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]
Hebrews 11:39, NIV: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,”
Hebrews 11:39, ESV: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,”
Hebrews 11:39, KJV: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:”
Hebrews 11:39, NASB: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised,”
Hebrews 11:39, NLT: “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”
Hebrews 11:39, CSB: “All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised,”
What does Hebrews 11:39 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]
Verses 39 and 40 provide a stunning climax to the writer’s overall point, a conclusion made complete over the first two verses of the next chapter. Early chapters of this letter explained in great detail why we ought to have the greatest possible confidence in the new covenant, through Jesus Christ. Given that confidence, we should look back on the example of those in the Old Testament who exhibited faith. This “faith”—godly faith—is defined as trust. It means relying on God, despite doubts and fears, because of what He has already done (Hebrews 11:1–3). Heroes of the faith succeeded specifically because they had that kind of trust in God (Hebrews 11:32), and their feats were legendary (Hebrews 11:33–35). At the same time, these faithful ones often suffered persecution and hardship for their faith (Hebrews 11:35–38), but they remained faithful.
These hardships are listed both to encourage Christians to “hold fast” during persecution (Hebrews 3:6; 10:23), as well as to keep their own sufferings in perspective.
Earlier in this chapter, the writer pointed out that those who exhibit truly godly faith are looking to the future—the ultimate future. The hope of a believer in God is ultimately in His promise to “work together for good” all things (Romans 8:28) from an eternal perspective (Hebrews 11:10–16). For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see that some of these Old Testament heroes died without seeing an earthly fulfillment of God’s promises (Hebrews 11:13).
And yet, even now, these faithful ones have not yet obtained the ultimate reward, which is to see God’s final victory over sin and death (Hebrews 11:10). The reason for this delay is given in the next verse. The humbling, awesome truth is that God has granted us, those who are alive and hearing the gospel today, an even clearer presentation of the truth, so that we’ll be able to believe and join in that ultimate reward.
We Can All Find Joy within Our Personal Prisons
By Hannah Pirzadeh
Because of Christ, our darkest times can be the happiest chapters in our story.
Woman sitting at a bay window
“For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). These are the words of Paul in a letter to the people of Philippi. But to be content no matter where we are or what we are going through is easier said than done.
It is especially astonishing that Paul, of all people, was able to be content in the state he was in. He wrote these words while bound in prison—and it wasn’t like the prisons we think of today, either. Today, prisons are typically a room with concrete bricks, a toilet, food, and clean clothes and offer a chance to work and interact with others, at least to some extent. But Paul was in a prison that historians describe as “twelve feet [3.6 m] deep into the ground” and “disgusting and vile by reason of the filth, the darkness, and the stench.” This room, which was 6 ½ feet (2 m) high, 30 feet (9 m) long, and 22 feet (7 m) wide, was where “prisoners who had been condemned to die either by strangulation or starvation were thrown.”1
That’s where Paul was.
And yet, somehow, in this dire place, he wrote what many Christians call the happiest book in the Bible. He expressed gratitude (see Philippians 1:3), hope (see Philippians 1:20), and trust in the Lord (see Philippians 2:19). He referenced joy and rejoicing over 15 times in this letter alone.
Unlike Paul, most of us do not spend our days locked up within prison walls. But so many of us can be locked in a prisonlike state of mind—trapped within a trial that appears to be closing in on us. Our prisons could be a lost job, the death of a loved one, loneliness, fear, financial turbulence, addiction, hurt, or anxiety. When we feel locked in our own personal prisons, do we, like Paul, fill our hearts and our speech with thankfulness, hope, faith, trust, and joy? Could we look back at our times in prison and refer to them as the happiest chapters of our lives? How is that even possible?
This becomes possible when we believe what Paul believed when he said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). It is through Jesus Christ that we can be so full of joy even in our darkest places, “in whatsoever state I am” (Philippians 4:11).
Paul pleaded with the people of Philippi, “Be careful for nothing”—in other words, don’t be unduly concerned about anything, “but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). Paul continued, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). When we’re in our prisons and pray with everything we’ve got, thanking Heavenly Father for all He has done, we can truly rest assured that everything will be all right because of Jesus Christ.
Just remember, it was because of Christ that, when Paul was in prison, he wrote the happiest book of the Bible. Our own prisons can be our happiest chapters too. As President Russell M. Nelson taught, “When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation … and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.”2 We can be happy and strengthened through Jesus Christ, in whatsoever state we are.
Joseph Smith, D&C 127: 2
Christ in Gethsemane. Seemed like a good idea.