There is a story of the blacksmith who gave his heart to God. Though conscientious in his living, still he was not prospering materially. In fact, it seems that from the time of his conversion more trouble, affliction and loss were sustained than ever before. Everything seemed to be going wrong.
One day a friend who was not a Christian stopped at the little gorge to talk to him. Sympathizing with him in some of his trials, the friend said, "It seems strange to me that so much affliction should pass over you just at the time when you have become an earnest Christian. Of course, I don't want to weaken your faith in God or anything like that. But here you are, God's help and guidance, and yet things seem to be getting steadily worse. I can't help wondering why it is."
The blacksmith did not answer immediately, and it was evident that he had thought the same question before. But finally, he said, "You see here the raw iron which I have to make into horse's shoes. You know what I do with it? I take a piece and heat it in the fire until it is red, almost white with the heat. Then I hammer it unmercifully to shape it as I know it should be shaped. Then I plunge it into a pail of cold water to temper it. Then I heat it again and hammer it some more. And this I do until it is finished."
"But sometimes I find a piece of iron that won't stand up under this treatment. The heat and the hammering and the cold water are too much for it. I don't know why it fails in the process, but I know it will never make a good horse's shoe."
He pointed to a heap of scrap iron that was near the door of his shop. "When I get a piece that cannot take the shape and temper, I throw it out on the scrap heap. It will never be good for anything."
He went on, "I know that God has been holding me in the fires of affliction and I have felt His hammer upon me. But I don't mind, if only He can bring me to what I should be. And so, in all these hard things my prayer is simply this: Try me in any way you wish, Lord, only don't throw me on the scrap heap." (Lynell Waterman)
Adversity is the common lot of all mankind, and our individual fulfillment or downfall results from what we do with our adversities. Tragedy is not what happens to us; tragedy is failing to grow from what happens to us. And know, too, that our adversities are not always to be overcome. Sometimes we are asked to do something more difficult -- we are asked to endure them.
Elder Hugh B. Brown told a story about a young gardener who, in the early dawn, was pruning his trees and shrubs. He had one choice currant bush which had gone too much to wood. He feared therefore that it would produce little, if any, fruit. Accordingly, he trimmed and pruned the bush and cut it back. In fact, when he had finished, there was little left but stumps and roots.
Tenderly he considered what was left. It looked so sad and deeply hurt. On every stump there seemed to be a tear where the pruning knife had cut away the growth of early spring. The poor bush seemed to speak to him, and he thought he heard it say:
"O, how could you be so cruel to me; you who claim to be my friend, who planted me and cared for me when I was young, and nurtured me and encouraged me to grow? Could you not see that I was rapidly responding to your care? I was nearly half as large as the trees across the fence, and might soon have become like one of them. But now you've cut my branches back; the green, attractive leaves are gone, and I am in disgrace among my fellows."
The young gardener looked at the weeping bush and heard it's plea with sympathetic understanding. His voice was full of kindness as he said, "Do not cry; what I have done to you was necessary that you might be a prize currant bush in my garden. You were not intended to give shade or shelter by your branches. My purpose when I planted you was that you should bear fruit. When I want currants, a tree, regardless of it's size, cannot supply the need."
"No, my little currant bush, if I had allowed you to continue to grow as you had started, all your strength would have gone to wood; your roots would not have gained a firm hold, and the purpose for which I brought you into my garden would have been defeated. Your place would have been taken by another, for you would have been barren. You must not weep; all this will be for your good; and some day, when you see more clearly, when you are richly laden with luscious fruit, you will thank me and say, `Surely, he was a wise and loving gardener. He knew the purpose of my being, and I thank him now for what I then thought was cruelty.'" (Hugh B. Brown, Eternal Quest [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956], pp. 243-245)
In the garden of this earth, the Lord is the gardener. He knows the purpose for which each one of us are here. He tries to shape and guide us through instruction, inspiration and by placing us among good examples. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to temper our souls through the fires of affliction, the hammer of adversity and the cold water of despair because in this way a tool is tempered to be made strong enough for it's intended purpose. We can choose to either bend or be broken. But even if we do break, we need only ask the Lord, "Please try again." That is the lesson of the prodigal son.
Even Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane prayed, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." Our Heavenly Father knows what we need to do and He gives us the opportunity to do it. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, understood that principle and taught it to us when He knelt the second time in the garden praying, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink of it, thy will be done." Christ knew that to endure is more than just suffering; more than just taking your lumps. Enduring to the end is moving forward toward that end even as you receive scrapes and bruises. Sometimes, the only way out is through. Courage, brothers and sisters. Courage is knowing what's right and doing it.
Behind the city of Colorado Springs, at the back of the U.S. Air Force Academy stands a mountain called Eagle Peak which is a popular destination among local hikers. From it's summit you can peer into the depths of the Rocky Mountains on one side or overlook the vast expanse of the Great Plains on the other. Each summer the trail leading to the peak is trod by those who've walked it's track before as well as those who make of it a new experience.
The inexperienced hiker is generally always told, if he cares to ask, that the hike will take all day to go up and back. He is told to start early and to set a strong, steady pace for the journey will be difficult and rigorous. The inexperienced hiker who follows this advice and plans accordingly can be easily disappointed and even become confused or angry upon reaching the beginning of the trail, because he can see with his own eyes from the parking lot that the hike to the summit and back would take far less than half a day with little difficulty at even the most leisurely pace.
And so he changes his plans. He meanders up the trail wandering frequently from the path, taking numerous side-trips and detours. He stops to play and to snack on some of the supplies he had brought since he obviously won't need so much for such a short trip. He goes well out of his way to avoid some of the more difficult parts of the trail. This he does until about half way through the day when he finally climbs to the summit only to discover that it was his eyes which had deceived him and not the words of those who had gone before. For he now stands on a false summit which had blocked his view of the higher summit far above.
Realizing his lack of foresight, this hiker now quickly reevaluates his time and decides that if he pushes himself hard enough he can still make it to the summit and back before it gets too dark. And so he sets off at a frantic pace; stumbling, crashing through the brush, receiving bruises, scrapes and scratches as the sun moves steadily toward the horizon. Until at last he reaches his mark and looks up at still another summit. You see, Eagle Peak has two false summits, both of which must be traveled over before reaching the real goal.
Our inexperienced hiker now sadly begins his trek back down the mountain knowing he fell short of the goal he had sought after. He will try again another day, for there are many beautiful days in Colorado Springs. Wiser for his experience, he will doubtless reach his goal on the next occasion.
In our journey through life, however, we are not so fortunate. Life is not a dress rehearsal. There are many false summits and if you strive toward only those goals which you can see, you will fall far short of the genuine goal.
If your journey is discouraging because you can't see the end of the road, then just go as far as you can see and then you'll see farther. We well know that Joseph Smith the prophet, was no stranger to despair. Several times in his darkest hours, the Lord spoke to him with words which apply equally well to each of us in our lives. In various places in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord told Joseph Smith,
"...peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; (D&C 121:7) And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, ... if thou be cast into the deep; ... if fierce winds become thine enemy ... and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; ... know thou, ... that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:7) And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high... (D&C 121:8) Therefore, hold on thy way... (D&C 122:9) for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God. (D&C 101:16)
Many of us have difficulty understanding why such a perfect being as God would be mindful of such an imperfect, disobedient, and unprofitable creature as ourselves. Even the Psalmist once wrote, "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour." (Psalms 8:3-5) But why? Of what value are we to Him?
Most all of us are familiar with the parable of the merchant seeking goodly pearls (Matt 13:45-46). I'm sure you've heard an interpretation of that parable before, but I'd like you to consider an interpretation you may not have heard. The scripture in Matthew 13, verse 45 states, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls." If we consider that Christ is the merchant man, being the only person who could be "like unto heaven," then that would make us the goodly pearls, since we are that which Christ seeks. "Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it." Christ truly did give all that He had; and it was for you, yourself as an individual, separate from everyone and everything around you. Christ knows your name, and even if you were the only creature in all of creation who ever needed redemption from sin, He would still have given all that He had for you.
I once saw a plaque on someone's wall which said, "I asked the Lord how much He loved me. He said, `I love you this much,' as He spread His arms wide and died." One of the saddest mistakes we make in this life is failing to accept the value we have in the Lord's eyes. We let our priorities slip, putting the opinions others have of us above the opinions of God. We fail to believe the words which Christ has said regarding us -- we fail to believe Christ. It is important to remember that the Lord usually doesn't measure success with the same yardstick we do; often He doesn't even measure the same things we think are important. And even if we do achieve what we consider success, it can be just another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be. (Harry Lloyd)
The destinations to which we travel will not always be reached along the paths we would imagine. I'd like to share one last story with you, where:
Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds above him. "I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!"
The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on it's way to the ocean. "I want to be a strong sailing ship," he said. "I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the strongest ship in the world!"
The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and busy women worked in a busy town. "I don't want to leave this mountain top at all," she said. "I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they will raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world."
Years passed. The rains came, the sun shone and the little trees grew tall. One day, three woodcutters climbed the mountain. The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, "This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining ax, the first tree fell. "Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest," thought the first tree. "I shall hold wonderful treasure."
The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, "This tree is strong. It is perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining ax, the second tree fell. "Now I shall sail the mighty waters," thought the second tree. "I shall be a strong ship fit for kings."
The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and bravely pointed to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. "Any kind of tree will do for me," he muttered. With a swoop of his ax, the third tree fell.
The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought him to a carpenter's shop, but the carpenter was not thinking about treasure chests. Instead, his work-worn hands fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold or filled with treasure. He was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry animals.
The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took him to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ships were made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. Too small and too weak to sail an ocean or even a river, he was taken to a little lake. Every day he brought in loads of dead, smelly fish.
The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumber yard. "What happened?" the once tall tree wondered. "All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountain top and point to the Lord."
Many, many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box. "I wish I could make a cradle for him," her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. "This manger is beautiful," she said. And suddenly the first tree knew that he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.
One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out onto the lake. Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. He knew he did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and rain. The tired man answered. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, "Peace." The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew that he was carrying the King of heaven and earth.
One Friday morning the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile. She flinched as she was carried through the angry, jeering crowd. She shuddered when the soldiers nailed a man's hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning when the sun arose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God's love changed everything. It made the first tree beautiful. It made the second tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.
(stroy by Angela Elwell Hunt)
The good news of the gospel is not that perfect people can be reconciled to God, but that imperfect people can be. You are loved, and nothing is more important than that. Stay close to the Lord and He will guide your path and bring peace to your soul. Our Lord is mindful of us and our wishes. We need to be more mindful of Him. God is above all things, but not beyond their reach. (Pope Gregory I) Nikita Ivanovich Panin once said, "Two men please God - he who serves Him with all his heart because he knows Him; he who seeks Him with all his heart because he knows Him not." You too, can be one of those people.