A Private and Public God of Miracles

My Lenten journey continues apace. I think I accidentally missed a day this week, so I only have 6 talks recorded. That’s too much ground to cover in a single post, so I’m just going to observe some overall feelings and then focus on one talk in particular, “Sweet Power of Prayer.”

I haven’t had any really grand revelatory moments so far, but I didn’t expect to. Instead, I’ve found that the talks I’ve been reading from President/Elder Nelson have given me unexpected help and insights with things I encounter throughout my week. I suspect that I won’t receive a lot of extraordinary confirmations about these talks because I haven’t yet met with anything that I don’t already recognize to be good and true–which is proven in the way they help me each day.

Sweet Power of Prayer

This talk stood out to me because some friends had recently published an article introducing work they are doing that I’m very excited about. They are striving to reexamine the traditions and assumptions in psychology through a gospel lens. They argue that psychological reasoning and therapeutic practices can be improved by consciously adopting a framework informed by revealed truths. As someone who has spent a lot of time undergoing treatment with a variety of mental health professionals–all of them LDS–I felt that a lot of good could come from consciously allowing the truths of our faith to inform mental health practices.

Unfortunately, a lot of people disagreed–even other members of our faith. It pained me to see people so quickly reject a faith-informed approach to healing, many of them claiming that it simply couldn’t be done because revealed truth would necessarily contradict empirical evidence. I have no doubt that there would be various tensions produced through trying to integrate gospel truths with science-based medicine, but it has also been my observation that such tensions ultimately bring forth our greatest knowledge and miracles. In President Nelson’s talk, “Sweet Power of Prayer” he provides a stunning example.

One of his patients was seeking surgical treatment that then-Dr. Nelson’s medical expertise had taught him was ill-advised. There was no currently available surgical treatment for his condition and Dr. Nelson told his patient, who was dying from heart failure, several times that he would not operate.

His patient, however, was a man of great faith. He sought guidance from the Lord about his condition and the Lord revealed to him that he should get help from Dr. Nelson, to whom he would reveal the way to help this man’s heart.

This man’s faith profoundly affected Dr. Nelson and he moved forward with the operation, not knowing beforehand how exactly he would help this man. Miraculously, during the operation, the Lord revealed to Dr. Nelson exactly what steps he should take in order to help this man’s failing heart valve, which had never been done before. The operation was a success and the man lived for many more years. Additionally, the medical world now had a new surgical procedure that would benefit countless more individuals with the same condition.

This was a profound example to me of the way great blessings of healing can be given to us as we pursue both the best knowledge available to us and the Lord’s guidance. President Nelson could not have performed that surgery without his extensive training. The operation which the Lord revealed to him still required a vocabulary of medical knowledge and skilled hands obtained over years of study and practice. But it used that knowledge in a new way that was not obvious to a man who had spent his entire career in the field of cardiac medicine–but who nevertheless believed that God was still God in his private as well as his public life. And the result was a miracle that has blessed many lives.

President Nelson for Lent

For Lent this year, I am listening to/reading one talk each day from President Nelson. So far I’ve read his talks “Self Mastery,” “With God, Nothing Shall Be Impossible,” and “Living By Scriptural Guidance.” Here are some of my insights so far.

We tend to acknowledge the way that actions follow our convictions, but I think we sometimes under-estimate how convictions come from action. Fasting is an example of the latter. Then-Elder Nelson says that “Fasting fortifies discipline over appetite and helps to protect against later uncontrolled cravings and gnawing habits” and “faithful payment of tithing…defends you against dishonesty or shabby temptations.”

I have often felt it was important for me to fast, even when for health reasons (such as during pregnancy) I have not been able to do a traditional fast from all food and drink. I believe there is something very important to God about mastering our appetites, some of which are brain appetites (like craving our phones). During the times I have been unable to fast from food and water, I try and choose something that a typically use or crave a lot, such as sweets or digital media. Sometimes I will even extend the fast since it’s not something I need to live. It has been remarkable how much power these items have over me and how much more peace and control I feel when I loosen their grip on my life.

“With God, Nothing Shall Be Impossible”

What stood out to me in the talk is that President Nelson talks repeatedly about having faith. Obviously that’s a common theme in General Conference, but it stood out to me because he never explicitly mentions “faith in Christ.” I realized that this talk was given in the 1980’s and it occurred to me that the reason he probably never explicitly directs our faith to Christ was that, at the time, there weren’t a lot of conflicting cultural slogans about it. In our own day, people frequently meme-ify having faith in everything from fairy tale magic to your one true love or an impersonal universal intelligence. It struck me that prophetic language changes as our times change because the prophets must find ways of communicating eternal truths within our own cultural moment. God’s truths are eternal, but he sometimes changes the way he communicates them so that we can understand them.

“Living By Scriptural Guidance”
President Nelson here teaches that “because truth given by revelation can only be understood by revelation, our studies need to be prayerful.” He later adds “you cultivate such revelatory experiences by living according to the light already given you and by searching the scriptures with pure motives—with real intent to “come unto Christ.”

I’ve realized recently how often different social media influencers seem to find scriptural and prophetic support for their particular thing while others can use the same scriptures to mean something opposite. It struck me that the scriptures are only authoritative in our lives when we study them with the intent to learn God’s will, rather than searching out passages we can use to support our own will. President Nelson here teaches that we need the Holy Ghost to interpret the scriptures correctly in our lives. And that will only happen as we humbly set aside our own objectives and try to adopt the Lord’s. I think the Lord calls it having “an eye single to the glory of God.”