Courage in the ShadowsLiving in the moments of quiet testimony
One of the blessings I have been given recently is to have a New Testament course at BYU. My professor, Brother Merrill, is brilliant and I enjoy the opportunity each week to be reminded of the life and mission of Christ. I'd like to share a few of the thoughts I had this week as we learned together in that class
In John 6 there is recorded the story of the feeding of the five thousand - a powerful story in any context, but John also records an incident shortly after. Christ and the apostles journeyed across the sea shortly after the miracle, and there is an interesting interchange between Christ and the people when they find him again the next day.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye, seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
I'm not going to spend too much time on this because I'd like to get a verse later in the chapter. Basically though, Christ knew these people were here not because they believed in him, but because they sought to have food. To them, his miracle had bolstered no faith, it had been nothing more than an amusing parlor trick and a free meal. When Christ does not humor them with a repeat performance, the multitude leaves. Then we have the following conversation:
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hasn't the words of eternal life.
And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Reading this story, we get a bit of a sense of the comfort Peter wishes to give in his voice. He wanted to reassure the Lord, he wanted to help him know they would always be there. But his first words are not that they know he is the Christ they are "to whom shall we go?"
Do you get a sense of how careful Peter's confession of Christ is here? How timid, and unsure his testimony really is? Let's compare this with his later statement in Matthew 16.
When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
What changed between these two events? Peter's two testimonies used the exact same words each time, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" but what made one event so much more powerful than the other? Many things led to this change, and discussing that is beyond the scope I intend to cover. I would instead like to discuss how we often also have these differences in determination of testimony, and how we may handle them.
We all know the feeling of the Spirit - that strength and determination that comes when it is there to testify to you. At least in my life these moments come rarer than I would like, and most of the time I feel left in the shadow. We all can have the Spirit with us when we are worthy, but the majority of the time I am left wondering what happened to the power and strength of moments like these?
I think it's important to remember that God values our agency more than anything. In these moments of great conviction we (like Peter) can do anything - we can hold to our principles against any temptation - why would we do otherwise? But that's not how God intended us to live . . . He desires for us to choose in spite of temptation, not without it. I think it's also important to remember that during these times of our life without life-changing spiritual moments, the Spirit is not gone.
We do not despair and say the sun is gone, just because it is night. We do not mourn that all hope is lost just because we sit in the shadow of a massive round rock. These times in our life of quiet testimony are a lot like that. Those powerful spiritual moments are still with us in memory - even if they are currently hidden from immediate view. The Lord has planned for us to pass through these shadows of life, and he will not leave us without guide.
In the same way that we find the night dark just after leaving a warm fire, we will find these moments of shadow to be very dark and lonesome if we are unprepared for them. We must not allow ourselves to lose our way because of temporary darkness. Instead we must search for the sources of light still in our lives - study the scriptures, pray fervently, and serve others. If we do, we will find the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in a more subtle way. Like the light of the moon, it may not seem bright while we sit beside the flame of fervent conviction but as we become accustomed to its light and guidance we will be able to find our way clearly.
The shadows will never disappear completely - God did not intend for them to. But I know that we can continue through life with confidence when we carefully listen for the Spirit. It may not always come with all the power and force of testimony as it does on occasion, but it is always there and it always leads us back to God.