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For several years, bestselling author S. Michael Wilcox has been a favorite presenter at BYU Education Week, Time Out for Women events, and adult religion classes. His popular talks on CD represent some of his most inspiring and profound work and have generated countless requests for printed transcripts of these classic addresses. Now these timeless talks have been transcribed, edited by the author, and compiled into a single volume.
Included in this volume are the classic talks Walking on Water; The Jesus We Need to Know; Of Lions, Dragons, and Turkish Delight; The Fourth Watch; Seeing as God Sees; When All Eternity Shook; Your Faith Becometh Unshaken; and Taking the Temple with You.
Brother Wilcox's familiar, erudite style shines through in every chapter, bringing new light and life to familiar scripture stories and doctrines. Readers of Walking on Water will find what it means to be "King Noah-blind" (and how to avoid it), what the connection is between lions, dragons, and Turkish delight, and just what kind of God we worship. Readers will also find out how to deal with faith-shaking experiences in their lives, how to respond to requests from the Lord that seem impossible to accomplish, and how to strengthen their testimonies, brick by brick. Walking on Water truly has something for everyone, whether a new convert to the gospel, wondering where to go next, or a gospel scholar, looking for new insights into timeless themes.,p>
- WALKING ON WATER:
When the Lord Asks the Impossible
- THE JESUS WE NEED TO KNOW
- OF LIONS, DRAGONS, AND TURKISH DELIGHT:
C.S. Lewis for Latter-day Saints
- THE FOURTH WATCH:
When Your Prayers Seem Unanswered
- KING NOAH BLINDNESS AND THE VISION OF SEERS
- SEEING AS GOD SEES:
Discovering the Wonder of Ourselves and Others
- WHEN ALL ETERNITY SHOOK:
Finding Hope and Healing in the Savior's Sacrifice
- YOUR FAITH BECOMETH UNSHAKEN:
Building Your Testimony Pyramid
- TAKING THE TEMPLE WITH YOU NOTES
- Pages: 245
- Published: 04/2011
- Size: 6x9
About the Author
S. Michael Wilcox received his PhD from the University of Colorado and recently retired after thirty-seven years as an institute instructor for the Church Educational System. A popular speaker and award-winning author, his previous publications include House of Glory, Walking on Water, What the Scriptures Teach Us about Raising a Child, What the Scriptures Teach Us about Prosperity, and What the Scriptures Teach Us about Adversity.
Walking on Water
When the Lord Asks the Impossible
Haystacks and Driving Lessons
When I was young, I spent many of my summers on a cattle ranch in Northern Nevada. I had a wonderful uncle, Uncle Verland, who taught me a great many things. He raised cattle and he raised horses, but he was also deeply engaged in raising boys. He had a certain technique in raising boys that has helped me a great deal in life.
My uncle always assumed that we could do whatever he asked us to do. It didn’t matter how difficult or impossible it seemed to me, the assumption was that if Uncle Verland asked me to do something, I could do it. He anticipated we boys could do all that he asked. That helped us not to be hampered too much by doubt or fear. My first driving lesson is an illustration of that technique. I suppose I was about thirteen or fourteen. My uncle seated me behind the wheel of the pickup, gave me the key, and said, “This is the clutch; this is the brake; this is the gas. Here’s first gear; here’s second; here’s third. Put one foot on the clutch and the other foot on the brake. Turn the key on. When you pull your foot off the brake and put it on the gas, you pull your foot off the clutch at the same time, and away we go.” That was my first driving lesson.
We drove down the road and he promptly fell asleep, because my uncle could fall asleep anywhere, anytime. We would sometimes find him out on the range asleep, slumped over on his horse. During my lesson, however, he didn’t teach me how to downshift and as we drove toward a bridge, I panicked. There was a tight hairpin turn before the bridge, which crossed a river. I did make the turn. However, I didn’t quite miss a large boulder on the other side of the bridge and scraped the front fender of the truck. My uncle didn’t say much. He wasn’t too critical, and the next day I was driving again.
The first time he put me on a horse I was about five. The horse ran away with me. When Uncle Verland finally rode up and stopped my running mount, I scrambled off as fast as I could. But he threw me back on the horse, handed me the reins, and said, “You control the horse! You make him do what you want him to do!” Then he rode off.
I had to stack hay during the summer as well. My lesson on stacking hay was brief: “Keep the corners and the sides perpendicular, tromp down the center, and make a nice point at the top.” After that he handed me a pitchfork, boosted me up onto the stack, and walked back to his tractor.
Maybe the most nervous time I ever experienced working for my uncle was the day he handed me the reins of a team of workhorses and told me to drive the wagon down the canyon on a very narrow road that dropped off into the river on one side. I remember feeling borderline terror as I first took the reins, but he assumed I could do it, and I assumed that since he told me I could do it, I could do it. That calmed me down some. I remember hugging the wall of the mountain, watching that dropoff down to the river about ten inches away from the outside wheel. This was the way he raised us.
Let me apply my uncle’s lessons on a little higher level with issues much more critical than stacking hay or handling a team. We believe in a Father in Heaven who is raising not just boys, but who is raising gods. Should we not feel, in our relationship with our Father in Heaven, in his desire to exalt us, the same way I felt about my uncle? If God asks us to do something, we can do it, even though it may appear to be impossible. And sometimes it looks nearly impossible to live up to the expectations we sense or perceive God asks of us.
“Lord, If It Be Thou”
There is a wonderful story in the scriptures to which we may turn for inspiration in facing difficult challenges. It is that brief moment when Peter walked on the water of Galilee. It is his attitude as demonstrated on that occasion that is striking to me. It carries a most remarkable lesson. The story, as recorded by Matthew, begins when the disciples see the Savior walking toward them on the surface of the lake: “And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea . . .” (Matthew 14:26). Try to picture that moment. The first time I went to Israel, we traveled across the Sea of Galilee during the day. In future trips we went out at night, because this story takes place at night, and being on the Sea of Galilee at night is very different from being there in sunlight.
All the artist renditions I’ve seen of that night’s experience have Christ lit up like a lightbulb, in a manner of speaking, while he walked toward the Apostles’ boat, but I don’t think he would have been lit up like a lightbulb. We can picture the winds and the waves in the depths of night—suddenly, out of the night’s obscurity, a dark figure approaches, steadily moving across the surface of the water. Of course we would be frightened. We could not see the comforting face of Jesus, just a shape moving toward us in the darkness. “And when the disciples saw him . . . they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus” (Matthew 14:26–29).
Here we sense a wonderful attitude arising from Peter’s fears. I assume his motivation was, “I desire to do everything my Master does—even the impossible!” I’ve often wondered what the Savior’s face looked like when Peter said, “If it’s really you, ask me to walk on the water.” Do you think that the Savior looked disappointed? Do you think he thought, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Peter, I guess you’ll have to learn the hard way”? I don’t. I picture the Savior smiling, pleased at Peter’s desire, at that soul-lifting motivation—if my Master does this, I want to do it too. I think he was more than satisfied with Peter’s accompanying attitude, which I assume was, “If my Master can do this, and he invites me to do it, if he bids or asks me to do it, I can do it. I can walk on water too. I can do what no man has ever done before. I can do even the impossible.” This theme is such an important lesson for us to learn here on earth that it is repeated a number of times in scripture.
I Can Do All Things
Another example is Nephi’s conversation with his brothers when he was asked to build a boat. The brothers said: “Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters.” Nephi replies, “They did not believe that I could build a ship; neither would they believe that I was instructed of the Lord. And . . . they did rejoice over me, saying: We knew that ye could not construct a ship, for we knew that ye were lacking in judgment; wherefore, thou canst not accomplish so great a work” (1 Nephi 17:17–19). Notice Nephi’s response to their delighted skepticism. “And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done” (1 Nephi 17:50).
I think the formula we should use when God seems to ask us to walk on water, which even today is an expression for doing the impossible, can be expressed briefly and simply: The Savior can do it, and since he can do it, I want to do it, because I want to do everything he can do. I want to obey and love and forgive and pray just as he did. If he asks me to do it, I can do it!
There are many times in our lives when it seems like the Lord asks us to walk on water, or at least there are times when we might be tempted to say, “Lord you might as well ask me to walk on water as to do that, because I don’t think I can do it.” The scriptures contain walk-on-water phrases that are applicable to all of us. For instance, “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). When I read those words I think, “I want to do this, Lord, but to be exactly like you—that’s impossible. Yet, if you can walk pleasingly before our Father, and you ask me to do it, I must be able to do it. I will not be discouraged with myself, but keep trying.” Maybe the greatest walk-on-water command of all is: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Again, we are tempted to say, “You might as well ask me to walk on water, Lord, as to ask me to be perfect.” Here is another command that poses walk-on-water challenges: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45). On and on we can pull phrases out of the scriptures that are difficult, walk-on-water kinds of commands.
There are other aspects of life we might consider, short of full scriptural exhortation. Here are a few that I have seen in my own life or in the lives of others. We are often asked to do the following:
- Reject and resist every temptation, just as Christ did.
- Overcome crippling habits and addictions.
- Change our very character, our personality, our desires, our lifestyle, and our very thought patterns.
- Conquer fear.
- Fulfill and master God-given talents.
- Accept and develop a difficult—even an unwanted—calling.
- Consecrate all of our time, all of our talents, all that we have, and all that we ever will have, to the Lord’s work and kingdom.
- Let go of the traditions of past prejudice, anger, and hate.
- Forgive the unforgivable.
- Love the unlovable.
- Maintain faith in a God of goodness in the face of the vast inconsistencies, trials, and unfairnesses of life.
- Learn to trust a God who allows incredible suffering and allows men to be cruel and inhumane to one another.
- Endure crushing disappointment or betrayal.
- Rise from a suffocating, oppressive, or abusive environment.
- Live chaste in thought and deed in an immoral, sexually exploitive world.
- Mend broken, deeply wounded relationships.
- Sacrifice our most precious things.
- Rejoice and be of good cheer in the midst of pain and unfulfilled longings.
I could go on and on. Everyone probably has walk-on-water moments of life, times when you want very badly to do what you feel God is encouraging you to do—what you see he could do and did—but feel that it simply is impossible. Let us never forget, if he asks us to do it, the assumption is that we can do it. We must believe we can do the things he asks us. I think it is interesting to ponder that the sign Peter specifically asked for, in order to know that the dark shape on the water really was the Savior, was to do what Christ himself was doing—the impossible—just as if Peter thought, No one else would ask me to do that. It must be my God.
“Wherefore Didst Thou Doubt?”
Now, in fairness, one might say, “But Peter failed.” There is some comfort to me in that. He did fail. But let us return to the story: “When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased” (Matthew 14:30–32).
Three ideas seem to stand out in this description—little faith, afraid, and doubt. I ask myself, afraid of what or whom? Doubted what or whom? Little faith in what or whom? Did Peter doubt the Savior, or his gracious invitation to come to him on the water? Was he afraid that his desire was not proper? Or did he doubt himself and his own ability to do it? I sense it was this last—our challenge in life is to learn to have faith in ourselves, to conquer doubts regarding our ability, to conquer the fear that we will fail to do what we’re asked to do, even to the extent of totally perfecting ourselves.
How do we do that? May I suggest a half-dozen things the scriptures offer that have been very helpful to me, that the Spirit whispers to me, when I face those walk-on-water moments of life, desiring to do, but fearing, and doubting, and feeling my faith draining away.
“Look, Learn, Listen, Walk”
First: Remember the three Ls! In the Doctrine and Covenants, there are three words that all begin with the letter L that instruct us what we are supposed to do with the multiple examples the Savior’s life presents. Remember it was the very example, the very image of Jesus walking across the surface of the Sea of Galilee that gave Peter the motivation and the desire to do likewise. In Doctrine and Covenants 6 the Savior says, “Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; . . . Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good. . . . Perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you” (D&C 6:33–35). Then he gives us the first L: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36; emphasis added). It seems to me that the Savior is teaching that the very act of looking at him in every thought helps to conquer the doubts and the fears. “Look unto me in every thought!”
In Doctrine and Covenants 19 we get the other two Ls. Speaking to Martin Harris, the Lord says, “Learn of me.” There is the second L. The third L immediately follows: “Listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me” (D&C 19:23; emphasis added). Here we have a wonderful formula which will move us forward in life and conquer fears, doubts, and little faith. Jesus instructs us to look unto him in every thought, learn of him, listen to his words, and then walk, as best we can, as he walked.
Here are a few examples of how this can work in day-to-day life. Have you ever been impatient with a child? You don’t seem to have enough time for all you need to do and a child asks for attention. “I just don’t have the patience to deal with this child now,” you might think. My granddaughter comes to our house and she wants to play “My Little Pony.” She has every little pony that you could imagine and has all kinds of little circuses they can perform in. Sometimes she likes Grandpa to play with her. Perhaps this particular time I’m impatient. I want to sit down and read or watch TV. I don’t want to play “My Little Pony.” Then the Lord says, Look unto me in that thought, in your impatience and irritation. Learn of me. Listen to my words: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). Now walk in the meekness of my Spirit. Somehow, looking at that example, hearing those words, I soften, and the desire and ability to turn the news off and sit down and pull out the ponies and play becomes much easier.
Do you ever struggle with a commandment that you have difficulty obeying? Maybe it is worse than just difficult; you don’t want to obey it. We wrestle in our desires, in our spirits. Then the Lord says, Look unto me in that thought. Learn of me. Listen to my words: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). Now walk in the meekness of my Spirit as best you can. Once again, somehow, with that example in mind, with his words meekly singing in my ears, it is much easier to obey.
Perhaps someone has offended us or has done something against us. We’ve been hurt. We’re bitter. We’re angry. Yet we know we need to forgive. We sense the Lord urging us to do so. Then we pray, “Lord, to ask me to forgive under the circumstances, you might as well ask me to walk on water. I can’t do it. I want to but I can’t force the pain out of my heart.” And he says, I understand. Look unto me in that thought, in that challenge, in those pains. Learn of me. Listen to my words: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Now walk in the meekness of my Spirit. We could go on and on and on. In the scriptures there is an example in the Savior’s life for almost every challenge, every disappointment, every frustration, every need, and every impossible walk-on-water request. I can look and learn and listen and then walk. When we’re asked to walk on water, let us remember the three Ls. There is strength and inspiration in them.
The Fleeces of the Lord
Second, God will give us fleeces. Look for fleeces! Ask for them! Anticipate them! Sometimes he will give us fleeces even when we don’t ask because he understands human nature and human insecurities. From the story of Gideon and the Midianites in the Old Testament I have coined the expression “the fleeces of the Lord.” To introduce it, we will discuss another story from the New Testament, one involving the Savior and an anxious fearful father. We can all relate to this father’s anguished expression. He had a son who needed to be healed. He had asked the Apostles to do it, but they failed. This was a blow to this father’s budding faith. Jesus was not present, but when he arrived later, the father approached him with his son and his request for intercession.
He has suffered a blow to his faith. He comes to the Savior in a state of desperation and asks, “If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us” (Mark 9:22). Jesus turns his words around using his own doubtful if: “If thou canst believe,” he responds, “all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:23–24). Have you ever cried out that way? I believe. I know what you want me to do, what you expect of me. I want to do it, but it just seems so hard, so impossible. I believe. Help my unbelief. I need a fleece. I need something to encourage my belief, to sustain it, to prompt its saving faith.
In Judges we learn of a wonderful young man named Gideon. Gideon, like Peter, is easy to relate to because he is wonderfully human. We are introduced to him while he is hiding from the Midianites, threshing wheat. The Lord addresses him, saying, “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour” (Judges 6:12). I can visualize Gideon looking around and saying, Are you talking to me? A mighty man of valor? I’m not one of those.
Gideon replies, “Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?” They have been almost constantly raided by the Midianites. He continues, “And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of?” (Judges 6:13).
“And the Lord looked upon him, and said,”—notice the assumption that Gideon can do it—“Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites.” I can almost see the doubt in Gideon’s face. The Lord adds, “Have not I sent thee?” (Judges 6:14).
When my daughter was preparing for her mission, she had worked with some students from Taiwan in a summer program and had listened to them speaking Chinese. She came home one day and said “Chinese has to be the hardest language in the world to learn how to speak. That is the last language I hope I ever have to speak.” Can you predict the outcome? You have to be careful when you say those types of things, lest the Lord is listening. When her mission call arrived, she was called to Taiwan. She felt like Gideon: I am not a mighty woman of language ability. We sat down and looked at this wonderful story in Judges and I said to her, “You have to look at it just like Gideon did. I think the Lord would say to you, The Lord is with thee. Have not I sent thee? If I call you and I’ve sent you, I know you can do it.” And she did!
Gideon still isn’t convinced. “Oh my Lord,” he asks, “wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). The first thing the Lord asks Gideon to do is to tear down the altar of Baal. He is afraid to do it in the daylight, so he destroys the altar in the middle of the night when nobody will see. As I said, he is easy to relate to—who among us wouldn’t think of doing just that? Eventually Gideon does gather an army and prepares to go against the Midianites, but when he sees their numbers he doesn’t feel like a mighty man of valor, and even though the Lord is with him and sent him, he needs a “fleece.” He needs confirmation. He needs strengthening. He needs assurance beyond what he has already received. And the Lord responds.
“And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the [threshing] floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water” (Judges 6:36–38).
That should be enough, one would think. But Gideon is human, just as all of us are. Sometimes in the walking-on-water experiences of our lives we may say, “Lord, could I have two fleeces?”
“And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me [in other words, don’t get upset, I know I should be satisfied with one fleece but . . .], and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground” (Judges 6:39–40).
All of this might sound like seeking for signs, which is something the scriptures are rather harsh against. However, there is a difference between sign-
seeking and fleece-asking. Sign-seeking says, “I’m not going to do it unless you give me a sign.” Its foundation is usually doubt and opposition. When we ask for fleeces, we want to do what the Lord’s asking. We intend to do it. We are going to do it. We have hope. We have faith that he has asked us to do it. We just need encouragement. We just need a little help. “I believe,” we cry, “help thou mine unbelief.” God is very good in granting that to us.
Shortly after receiving his two fleeces, Gideon is told by the Lord that he has too many soldiers. His ranks were reduced by the Lord to three hundred, based upon the manner in which they drank from the spring at Harod. Gideon had already promised the Lord when he received his second fleece that he would not ask again, but he had only three hundred men and his enemies were as numerous as grasshoppers. I think God knew Gideon intimately and so he mercifully asks, “Would you like another fleece?” Without Gideon even asking, the Lord offers him an additional confidence-building fleece. It is time for battle, but if you’re afraid, go down to the host and you’ll hear something which will give you the courage you need. And so Gideon climbs down to the edge of the Midianites’ camp, where he hears a man recount a dream with its accompanying interpretation and realizes he will truly scatter the Midianite army (see Judges 7:13–15).
“Come over into Macedonia, and Help Us”
Let me give you an example in my own life of the mercy of fleeces. A number of years ago I was on the religion faculty at Brigham Young University. When I accepted the full-time position I assumed that I was going to teach at BYU forever, at least until retirement. This was an end-of-your-career move. Where would I go after having accepted an invitation to teach at the Church’s flagship institution? The year before they asked me to join the faculty, I had taught one year at the institute adjacent to the University of Utah. I loved it. It was a wonderful year. I could not have been happier. I loved the students. I loved the environment. I loved the university. I loved the other instructors. Of all the places I had ever worked in the Church Educational System, the institute adjacent to the University of Utah felt most like home. There was a comfort zone there that fit me uniquely. I distinctly remember walking into the institute building the very first time and saying, “This feels like home.”
A year later, the offer from BYU came. It was too hard to turn down for a number of personal reasons, so I went to BYU and joined the faculty and taught in Provo for four years. I received a call one day from the placement director at the Church Educational System who said, “Mike, there’s an opening at the institute adjacent to the University of Utah. We’d like you to consider taking it and returning to your former assignment.”
My first reaction was, “Well no, I’m at BYU. I’m at the end of the road. I’m at the flagship. Why would I do that?” Yet something inside of me said, “Don’t answer just yet. Think it over.”
So I said, “Could I have until Monday [the call came on a Friday] to give you an answer?”
He said, “Yes, by all means. You take all the time you need and call me next week.”
I prayed and fasted and did all the things we always do when we’re trying to make a big decision. One evening that weekend while I was praying, the Lord very clearly spoke only two words to me. He simply said, “Go home.” I knew what he meant. He was referring to that feeling I had when I first walked into the institute adjacent to the University of Utah. “Go home.” It was as clear and solid an answer as any I had ever received, but it was such a difficult decision. Everyone was encouraging me to do just the opposite and wondering why I would even entertain the thought of returning to the University of Utah.
I went to the Jordan River Utah Temple. As I sat in the chapel waiting for the session, I picked up the Bible, held it in front of me with both hands, and thought, Lord, I know I have already received a clear answer, but I really need a fleece. I need to know this is truly what I should do, what you want me to do, and what is best for me to do. I need a fleece. I suppose this could be looked on as a presumptuous thing, or even a silly thing, but I was hoping I’d get an immediate fleece by turning to an unavoidably clear verse in the scriptures that would validate my decision. I assume most of us have done this. We pick up our scriptures, open them, and anticipate that the answer is going to be right there on the page in front of us. In a way it’s like saying, “Father in Heaven, give me an answer right now.” I don’t do it very often, but I was full of anxiety and hoped God would respond to me as he had to Gideon.
I opened the Bible to Acts 16. I looked at the top of the page and I thought, “Well, that didn’t work.” I had been teaching about the book of Acts and the life of Paul, and I knew that Acts 16 was his second missionary journey. I couldn’t imagine there was anything there that could help me. I was just about to close the book. Sometimes if it doesn’t work the first time we say, “I’ll give you a second chance, Lord.” But before I closed the book, my eye caught the very first verse on that page. This is what I read. You tell me if, in his kindness and graciousness and his mercy, knowing this was a difficult thing for me, the Lord gave me a fleece:
“After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go unto Bithynia [I even noticed that Bithynia had the letters B and Y in it. Probably not significant, but I couldn’t help seeing the irony]: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; and from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia” (Acts 16:7–12; emphasis added).
Did I receive my needed fleece? When I saw Philippi mentioned, I realized how powerful the fleece I’d been given was, because I knew that Philippi was one of Paul’s favorite cities. The Philippians were so good to him. Their relationship with Paul had a number of unique features. The Epistle to the Philippians is one of the sweetest of all the epistles and a personal favorite of mine. This was God’s way of saying to me, “The University of Utah will be your Philippi.” He gave me my fleece.
A final thought on fleeces. All of the truths and principles of the gospel, as taught in the scriptures, are delicately balanced. We must always remember that our very human need to find reassurance or validation or courage to face walking-on-water challenges is not an invitation to engage in subtle sign-seeking. It is, rather, a desire to interpret God’s will correctly, to advance in the manner he wishes, and to increase our confidence—not so much in him or in his commands, but in ourselves and in our ability to read spiritual promptings properly.
Sometimes, as in the case of Peter on the Sea of Galilee, the situation may not have anything to do with the will of the Lord. It may be instigated by our own desires to which the Lord is finely tuned and anxious to both know and fulfill. We should not attempt to uncompromisingly dictate or demand how, where, or when the Lord provides the needed fleece. Each situation will define those parameters.
Neither must we be afraid that our requests for a fleece will be seen as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness or that the Lord will perceive it as sign-seeking. We cannot reduce the gospel to simple formulas that define all behavior. Even a cursory reading of the scriptures reveals that, though we often try or earnestly wish that we could. The only hope I can offer in finding the right balance is this thought: When I desire a fleece in my own life, if I can sincerely say to the Lord, “Father, it is not a matter of seeing with the eyes before I move forward or of comprehending with the mind (though understanding would be helpful), but one of feeling with the heart. I’m not trying to do an end run around faith, but there is comfort in feeling the water drip from my hands.” Having offered these thoughts to the Lord, I wring the fleece with hope, anticipation, and ultimately gratitude.
Third, God often gives us eagle’s wings to carry us over the surface of the water we’re trying to walk upon. He increases our strength, our faith, our courage, our wisdom, our ability to forgive, our love, our willpower, or whatever is needed. Let us look at a verse in Isaiah that speaks of the lifting empowerment of eagle’s wings.
Before doing so, I want to return to the story in Matthew and again visualize Peter walking on the water. He did do it for a while, didn’t he? Yet after his initial success we read, “When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink . . .” How deep do you picture him? I always like to use my imagination and visualize events in the scriptures. Do you see him knee-deep? Waist-deep? Neck-deep? How deep is “beginning to sink”?“Beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand.” In my own mental image of this moment, Peter doesn’t sink too deep in the water before the Savior immediately reaches out and catches him. Then Jesus, standing next to him as they together walk on the water, says, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:30–31). Do you imagine he said that to him while Peter was still halfway in the water? I don’t picture it that way. I believe he lifted him up, and after he steadied Peter next to him, strengthened him, and upheld him, he asked the question.
How do you imagine their return to the ship? They must have taken a few steps to get back to the ship, because the next verse says, “When they were come into the ship, the wind ceased” (Matthew 14:32). That seems to suggest there was at least a little distance they had to cover together. Do you imagine Jesus had to drag him through the water? Did the Savior hook Peter’s hand on the side of the boat and say, “Climb back in?” I don’t picture it that way. Jesus reached out to him, caught him, steadied him, and lifted him up. Then, with the Savior by his side, Peter walked again on the water back to the ship.
We have promises literally throughout the scriptures that the Savior will help us, God will help us, and the Holy Spirit will help us. In Isaiah, the Lord promises, “I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:13). And his help is wonderful. My favorite description of God anywhere in scripture is found in Isaiah 40. It is a poetic image, but it is simply a beautiful one.
Isaiah paints a picture of a majestic and powerful God, the God we all worship, a God “who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand” (Isaiah 40:12). Can you picture that? The Father we worship can encompass the oceans in his cupped and upturned hand! He can hold the Pacific Ocean right there in his palm. It is a beautiful, poetic image.
Isaiah continues, “And meted out heaven with the span . . .” Our God can measure all the heavens between his thumb and little finger, which constituted a span—a measure similar to the English foot. “And comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure . . .” A measure was roughly a few gallons, a small bushel basket. God can hold all the dust of the earth in a little container. “And weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance” (Isaiah 40:12). Can you see with your poet’s eye the Lord grasping a little handheld scale? He is going to put the Himalayas, or the Rockies, or the Alps in the dish and tell us how much they weigh. “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him?” Isaiah asks (Isaiah 40:13). The Lord doesn’t need anyone to counsel or teach him. “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance” (Isaiah 40:15). Can we imagine? Here is China, Russia, Brazil, Australia—just specks of dust on the balances that he can blow away with a whisper.
Isaiah asks some questions next: “Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:21–22). Here is an image to contemplate. Can we see the horizon off in the distance? The Lord is sitting there on the edge of the world, contemplating the heavens above him, a benign presence in the midst of eternity. God, Isaiah assures us, “stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.” We are invited to “lift up [our] eyes on high” and contemplate the wonders of the galaxy (Isaiah 40:22, 26). At night we often ponder the stars. “Behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth” (Isaiah 40:26). He knows the names of all those stars. He holds all of them in their orbits.
And this God, who holds the ocean in the palm of his hand, measures the heavens with the span of his thumb and little finger, weighs mountains in scales, and sits on the horizon enveloped by the tent of the universe, calling the stars by name—this God is the God that you and I casually talked to this morning in the intimate conversation of prayer. There is something wonderfully humbling about the dignity that that thought bestows on us. It is this God who promises, “I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, . . . Fear not; I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:13).
It is in the context of that cosmic drama of universal majesty that Isaiah records these words about the Lord: “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord [that is, hope or anticipate help from God] shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29–31).
Sometimes I look at this verse and wonder if maybe the order of movement should be reversed. The actions are descending from highest to lowest. Would it not be better if the listing went lowest to highest? “They shall walk and not faint. They shall run and not be weary.” It takes more energy to run than walk, doesn’t it? “They shall mount up with wings as eagles.” Now they are flying. Walk, run, fly. I’ll renew your strength in ever-increasing amounts as the need arises. Yet the more I think about it, I suppose it is better that it starts from highest to lowest—flying, running, walking—as if the Lord is saying, “I will more than renew your strength. I will give you more than the faith, the love, the courage, the forgiveness, the talents, the willpower, whatever it is that you feel you need. I will renew your strength from your highest needs to even your simplest ones.”
The theme that God will increase what we have, making it sufficient for whatever need we have, is so important that we see it taught again and again and again in the scriptures. When Jesus fed the five thousand, all of his disciples were focused on the need—on the hunger of five thousand men, women, and children. The Savior wanted them to focus on what they had—the five loaves and two fishes (see Matthew 14:15–21). He can increase what we have to fill the hungers of the moment. So often in my life I focus on the five thousand and not on the five. The Savior asks them what they have, just as he asks us to bring whatever we do have to him. He then blesses what they have (and what we have) and makes it sufficient. Yet the story does not end there—twelve baskets of fragments are left over. He gives us sufficient for our needs and beyond. Always in this genre of stories you get more than you need. You are allowed to gather up the fragments of his abundant blessings and power to use in future times of need. This happened after they had already eaten as much as they wanted and were filled. So it is in our own lives.
In 2 Kings, we meet a woman who is facing a creditor who threatens to take her two sons to fulfill the debt. She hurries to Elisha for help, and Elisha asks her, “What hast thou in the house?” (2 Kings 4:2). The question is critical. God always asks us to bring what we have. Peter had a “little faith”—not enough for an extended walk across the face of the Sea of Galilee—but he had to bring that little faith. He didn’t have enough, but he brought what he had. “What hast thou in the house?” Elisha asked the widow, and she answered, “Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil” (2 Kings 4:2). I don’t have enough for the need, she thought. What I do have is not “any thing” that could even begin to face this crisis. Elisha told her to borrow empty vessels of many kinds from all her neighbors and shut the door and then start pouring the oil out. “So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons. . . . And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a
vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed. Then she came and told [Elisha]. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest” (2 Kings 4:5–7).
In this story we find all the elements in the feeding of the five thousand. We find them also in the feeding of the four thousand (see Matthew 15:32–38) and in the barrel of meal and cruse of oil that Elijah multiplies for the widow he meets at the gate (see 1 Kings 17:8–16). There was enough oil for the needs of the widow in 2 Kings 4 and beyond. There was enough meal and oil to feed the widow at the gate through the famine. Time and time again we read in the scriptures of people who have needs that are not sufficiently met. Is this not a fairly clear assessment of the human condition? The Lord asks us to bring what we have. How can he ask for more? He is not unjust! He will bless what we have, multiply it, make it sufficient for the need, and always—always—beyond. God strengthens his children. He gives them wings as eagles so they can fly. Not only run, not only walk, but fly.
Let Down the Nets
Fourth, when it seems like I am trying to walk on water, the Spirit sometimes whispers, “Let down the nets.” This spiritual encouragement comes from another story about Peter. The Savior is in Capernaum and is crowded by followers, so he enters Peter’s boat and pushes off from the shore to give him some room to teach. When he is finished, he turns to Peter: “Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught [for a catch]. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing” (Luke 5:4–5). When I read this passage, I always put a little pause at this moment. Perhaps, Peter is thinking of the reasons—good reasons—why he shouldn’t do something at this particular time. He is the fisherman and the fishing is done for the day, but it is the Savior asking. Occasionally, I think like Peter when I face a difficult thing. I sometimes respond: “I already tried and I failed, so why try again?” But in that pause, I see the Savior just looking at Peter, even smiling, and eventually Peter answers,
“Nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake” (Luke 5:5–6). There are times we simply have to “nevertheless let down the net.” In spite of all our own expertise and reasoning the proper response is one of “nevertheless.”
When we face challenging things, even things which we have already attempted and failed, it may be difficult to return to the task. We can personally arrive at many reasons why we shouldn’t try again, but because the Lord asks us, we let down the net. We may fail again and again and again, but each time we must say “nevertheless . . . I will let down the net.” Maybe the very grace that Christ gives us is discovered in our ability to keep trying in the face of repeated disappointments.
C. S. Lewis once said, “I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given.”1 We simply must continue to let down the nets. What if Alma had not gone back to Ammonihah? (See Alma 8.) I’m sure he could have thought of many good reasons why he shouldn’t go back. They had rejected him; they had spat upon him; they obviously didn’t want to listen to his message. But he went back. He faced a “nevertheless” moment and responded just as Peter did. Down went the nets, and he caught Amulek and Zeezrom.
I recall just such a moment in my own life while serving a mission in France. My companion and I had just finished thoroughly tracting an area. I found myself in that same area, working with the zone leader and some members. There was a little building with maybe a dozen apartments in it. We had tracted it out the previous week. The Spirit said, “Tract out that building again.” Well, I argued, saying in so many words, “Master, we have toiled all the night [at that building] and have taken nothing.” Pause. “Nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net [again in that building].” You know the outcome. This is one of those “last-door missionary stories.” It wasn’t the last door, actually. It was the second-to-the-last door. We found a wonderful man who joined the Church two weeks later with his wife. A few weeks later his brother joined the Church. His sister joined the Church. I received a letter a few years ago from that family telling me how many of their children had been on missions, how many had been married in the temple, how many grandchildren were in the mission field at that time. What if I had not let down the nets again? There are times when we must try and try and try again. Let down the nets!
Will the Real Thomas Please Stand Up!
Fifth, we must learn to see as we are seen, and to know as we are known. That is a promise the scriptures give to us—that one day we will see as we are seen and know as we are known. I read that very, very positively. I sense that the Lord is saying, “Mike, you don’t know yourself as well as I do. You don’t see yourself as I see you.” And he always sees us at our most competent.
If we return again to the same story in Luke where Peter lets down the nets, we find some additional interesting details: “And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink” (Luke 5:7). There is a certain truth in this story I really love, and it’s this: God tends to ask us to leave when our nets are full. Have you ever noticed that? Why did he work this fill-the-nets miracle? I think it may be to teach us that one of the walk-on-water, impossible things he might ask us to do is to leave when the nets are full. Let me illustrate. The nets may be full when a boy has an athletic scholarship to his dream college and the Lord’s call for a mission is extended. It may be when a girl is asked to the prom by the coolest guy in the high school, but she is only fifteen and a half years old. It may be when we have a houseful of wonderful grandchildren and the Lord says, “I’d like you to serve a mission as a couple.” It may be when we have everything to live for that cancer or something else calls us home. God tends to call us when the nets are full.
Continuing on with the narrative, we read: “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Peter saw himself as a sinful man, not worthy of Christ’s presence. “And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men” (Luke 5:10). I like Matthew’s version of that call a little better. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Peter saw himself as a sinful man. Jesus saw him as a fisher of men, an Apostle, and one worthy of his intimate friendship.
We are taught the same truth in the calling of the Apostle Paul. After his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul was waiting for Ananias to come and to give him back his sight. “And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth. . . . Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name” (Acts 9:10–11, 13–14). How did Ananias see Paul? He saw him as a persecuting problem. “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me” (Acts 9:15). What was Paul? A persecuting problem or a chosen vessel? God saw his potential. He always sees our potential.
My favorite see-as-we-are-seen and know-as-we-are-known (or learning-to-see-ourselves-at-our-best) story is the story of Thomas. How would any group in our church, or any Christian church, fill in the following blank: _______ Thomas? They would say “Doubting Thomas.” We remember Thomas at one of his worst moments. After asking the first question I like to ask people a follow-up: “Do any of you know of another story about Thomas in the New Testament?” I rarely get a response to that question. But there is another story about Thomas in the New Testament. In it we see him differently. Mary and Martha have sent word to Jesus that Lazarus, their brother, is sick. Jesus knows from the beginning he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Their home is in Bethany, just over the Mount of Olives, close to Jerusalem and danger from the Jewish authorities. “His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?” (John 11:8). When they realize that the Savior truly is intent on returning to Bethany, even though they fear for his life, Thomas shows his true colors. “Then said Thomas . . . unto his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Is the true Thomas, the real Thomas, the one we call “Doubting Thomas,” or should we change it to “Devoted Thomas”? “Sacrificing Thomas”? “Willing-to-die-for-Jesus Thomas”? I think the real Thomas is Thomas at his best. The real Paul was the chosen vessel. The real Peter was the fisher of men. One day we will see as we are seen and know as we are known.
The Hard Sayings
Sixth, there is one last idea I want to share that helps me when I face a walk-on-water moment. It is a realization that gives me courage to move forward even without much assurance. This idea comes from a question Peter asked at a critical juncture in his relationship with Jesus. He said: “To whom shall we go?” (John 6:68). There are times when we realize there isn’t any other choice. This expression comes from a story in John 6. Jesus has just fed the five thousand; he has walked on water during the night; and he arrives at the synagogue in Capernaum. The disciples are there, many of his followers are there, and he teaches them the bread of life discourse. In that discourse he essentially says to the Jewish nation, “I cannot be the kind of a God you want me to be. I did not come to solve all your physical problems. I came to solve spiritual problems. You must accept me as my Father wants me to be, not as you want me to be” (see John 6:26–59). This is very difficult for many of the disciples—not just the curious listeners, but also the believing disciples. We then read this rather poignant sentence: “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60).
All of us face what we can call “hard sayings.” They come at different times and in different ways. We don’t need to judge one another in these matters. Your hard saying may not be hard for me, and mine may not be difficult for you, but there are many “hard sayings” we run into in life. Some come directly from God and some are delivered to us by the vicissitudes of mortality. One way or the other we wonder how God can ask this of us, or why he would allow it. Is it not impossible? We simply can’t do it! It’s a hard saying.
“When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? . . . From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:61, 66). You can see that moment in the synagogue in Capernaum. There is complete silence as the disciples—not the Twelve, but the other followers—slowly file out and leave the Savior. He has asked too hard a thing of them. They can’t do it. Then in a very poignant moment in the Savior’s life, he turned to the Twelve and said, “Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:67–69).
Are there not times in your life when you simply have to say, “Where would I go? I really don’t have any choice. It may be a hard saying, but what do I do? The gospel is true. The commandments are real. The Savior is my Lord.” That idea is taught again and again in a number of different ways.
In the Book of Mormon the three days of darkness teach this very relevant truth. Notice that when Mormon describes those days, he doesn’t emphasize so much that it’s dark, he emphasizes that there is no light. Four times in his description he stresses the complete absence of light. We read, “And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all” (3 Nephi 8:21). He states it twice in the above sentence. He then adds, “And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land. And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen” (3 Nephi 8:22–23). He mentions it two more times in this sentence to equal four times in total. We receive the impression that we’re really supposed to understand that there is no other source of light anywhere. Out of that darkness Christ introduced himself by saying, “I am the light and the life of the world” (3 Nephi 9:18). The implication is that there is no other light!
There are a lot of “I am” statements made by the Savior throughout the scriptures. Jesus compares himself, for instance, to bread, a vine, a shepherd, the way, the truth, the life, a rock, a nail, living water, and so on. “I am the bread of life,” he tells us (John 6:35).
Sometimes we respond by saying, in so many words, “I’m sure you bring nutritious bread, but there are other breads I’d like to eat whose flavors are more to my liking. I’m going to go and eat that other bread.”
And he answers, “You don’t understand. There is no other bread. I am the bread of life.” He is “the way” (John 14:6).
Once again we may respond, “Your way is probably very good, Lord, and I’d love to walk it, but it is a hard way sometimes, a bit too steep in places. I’m going to walk this other way.” He gently replies, “You don’t understand. There is no other way. I am the way. I am the light. I am the truth.”
There Is No Other Stream
In The Silver Chair, one of the Chronicles of Narnia series, C. S. Lewis writes of an exchange between a girl named Jill and the great lion Aslan, who represents the Savior in those books. She is very thirsty. As she walks through a forest she comes into a little clearing where she sees a stream. She breaks into the clearing, heading for the stream, and then sees a great lion sitting by the bank and freezes in fear.
“She knew at once that [the lion] had seen her, for its eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then turned away. . . . ‘If you’re thirsty you may drink.’”
For a moment, Jill is confused as to the source of the voice, then realizes it is coming from Aslan. The voice renews its invitation.
“‘Are you not thirsty?’ said the Lion.
“‘I’m dying of thirst,’ said Jill.
“‘Then drink,’ said the Lion.”
The voice was not like a man’s voice but “deeper, wilder, and stronger, a sort of heavy golden voice.”
Jill responds to this second invitation by saying, “‘May I? Could I? Would you mind going away while I do?’ said Jill. The lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“‘Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?’ said Jill.
“‘I make no promise,’ said the Lion.
“Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“‘Do you eat girls?’ she said.
“‘I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,’ said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“‘I daren’t come and drink,’ said Jill.
“‘Then you will die of thirst,’ said the Lion.
“‘Oh dear!’ said Jill, coming a step nearer. ‘I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.’”
Now you can tell me what the Lion’s going to say, can’t you?
“‘There is no other stream,’ said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion. No one who had seen his . . . face could do that.”2
There is no other way! To whom shall we go? There is no other light! There is no other bread. There is no other water! He is the living water. If we understand this, even though we may face the hard sayings, even though life’s challenges or the Lord’s counsels are difficult, we can succeed.
“Silver and Gold Have I None”
It is often helpful to ask ourselves if we’re attempting to walk on the wrong sea, or to walk on water the Savior has not asked us to walk on, or to attempt an impossible act of our own making. This is only a warning thought we may need occasionally. Often we want to do the impossible, particularly as it relates to others. We would like to give life, to restore health, to create testimony, to take away someone’s pain, to fix a marriage or to create one for someone, to bring happiness, to end sorrow. Often we feel these longings for our children and they can unintentionally create a certain guilt, a certain subtle anxiety, because we want so much to bring blessings to other people’s lives and we can’t always do that. In those moments when I’m trying to do the impossible that, perhaps, God hasn’t asked me to do, or I have no means or ability to do, I have to remind myself of the “silver and gold” principle.
In Acts 3, as Peter and John entered the temple to pray, “A certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:2–6).
There are many times, particularly with my own children, in my own situation, sometimes with students, when I would love to supply for them what they need, what they want, or to bring some happiness into their life, but I can’t. And I have to say, as Peter did, “Silver and gold have I none.” This, however, doesn’t mean I haven’t something to give. “Such as I have give I thee.” I can only give what I have. I’d love to provide a husband for a daughter, a baby for another daughter who would love very much to be a mother and is not able to have a child. I deeply desire to create health for a wife and a testimony for a beloved friend. I would love to place forgiveness into the heart of another friend riddled with bitterness. None of those things do I have the power to do independently. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do something. There are times in our lives we must say, “Silver and gold have I none. Such as I have give I thee.”
I have learned through my own experiences that occasionally we demand of life what it really cannot give. There is a verse in Doctrine and Covenants 101 that I have fought all of my life. I probably still fight it. Sometimes I want total fulfillment in this world, splendid and encompassing happiness in this very realm, and yet as the Savior said to the Saints in the midst of the Missouri persecutions, “Fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full” (D&C 101:36). I have fought that truth most of my life. I want joy to be full in this world somehow, but that is an impossibility. That is water we’re not asked to walk on, finding total fulfillment and satisfaction in this life. That doesn’t mean there isn’t joy in life. There is joy in life, and happiness, and great reason to be glad. We’re encouraged constantly to be of good cheer, but only in the Savior is our joy full. Not in this world.
“Lovest Thou Me?”
May I add one more L to the three Ls? What is the most powerful agent in replacing doubt and fear? I believe that agent is love. Shortly after the Resurrection, the Savior asked Peter to do a very difficult thing. Jesus took him aside, walked with him along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me” (John 21:18–19).
He had asked Peter to follow him earlier, also on the shore of Galilee, in being a teacher of the gospel. Now he was asking him to follow him even in his death, even in the manner of his death. This seems to me to be so fitting for the Peter who manifested in his life the attitude, “I want to do everything my Master did!” His life would terminate in like manner. How difficult that would have been for Peter. He would live the rest of his life knowing that when the end finally came, not only would he die for the Savior, but he would be crucified as Christ had been. I suppose Peter must have been a little bit shocked when the Savior said that to him. Again, as at his first call to follow the Master, I hear a little pause before those last words, “Follow me.” Jesus tells Peter he will die a similar death, and pauses to let it sink in, and then those last two words, “Follow me.” Will you, Peter, follow me even in my death?
What would give Peter the ability to do that? To live, knowing what lay ahead for him? I think we find the answer in the conversation that immediately precedes that sobering announcement. It is a famous conversation:
“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17).
It is the love of the Lord and the love of his lambs that gives Peter strength and courage. “If you love me, Peter, and I know that you do, then follow me. Even in this last, great, impossible walk-on-water act I have asked of you. Give your life as a final testimony for both me and my lambs.” It is this same love that the Savior himself felt that enabled him to endure Gethsemane and Calvary. Of all the impossible things that were ever done in the history of the world, of all the walk-on-water-difficult, heart-tearing things to face, surely the Savior’s own sacrifice is unequaled. When faced with the reality of this sacrifice, Jesus himself pleaded with the Father that he would not have to go through it. Yet he did it. What power enabled him to accomplish it? It was his love. John introduced the last hours of the Savior’s life with these words. “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1–2). It is love that gives us the power to walk on water. We look unto Christ in every thought. We learn of him. We listen to his words. We love. Then we step off the boat onto the surface of the water and walk.
Of Mice and Mazes
I would like to share a story as a small illustration of the power of love in helping us do impossible things. When I was in the eighth grade, I entered the school’s science fair contest. I decided that I would test the intelligence of guinea pigs, rats, and mice to find out which species was smartest. (In case you want to know, the rat is the smartest of the three.) I built a large and complex maze, and I trained the animals to go through it. I timed them and ran graphs and charts comparing their learning speed. After they had learned to race through the maze to the food at the other end, I placed metal plates that gave the animals a tiny electric shock to see if they could change their route and find the end using a different way. It was great fun. I actually won the school science fair project. It was amazing to me, and I had an opportunity to represent my grade in the California regional science fair.
A couple of weeks before the final competition was to be held at the regional level, the mouse grew ill. He was sneezing. Have you ever heard a mouse sneeze? It’s a dreadful, dreadful sound if you’re an eighth grader with a science fair project to defend. I begged my mother to let me bring the mouse into the house. She said, because she hates mice, “All right, son, bring him in, but promise me that the mouse will stay safe. I don’t want him loose in the house.” I promised quickly enough. I brought the mouse into the house, put him in a shoe box, and locked it in the bathroom—not a smart thing to do. In the morning there was a lovely little hole chewed in the bottom of the shoe box and no mouse. I sneaked around my bedroom and into the hall, quietly trying to find the mouse. I could not find him. I finally had to go into the kitchen where my mother was preparing breakfast and break the tragic news to her that we had a mouse loose in the house. That was not one of my more triumphant moments.
I stayed home from school that day and the next searching the house, desperately hunting for my mouse. My mother said, “You will find that creature.” I found everything anyone had ever lost since the pre-mortal life. I just couldn’t find the mouse. For a few days we experienced the mystery of the flashing mouse. We would be watching TV and he’d go scurrying across the carpet behind the bookcase. Everyone would scream and we’d try to surround him, but we couldn’t catch him. Finally, when there were just a few days before the science fair project, I noticed a different attitude in my mother. She began to realize what I knew from the beginning: If I didn’t have that mouse to run through that maze, my hopes of doing anything at the regional science fair were pretty much dashed.
One night as she was sleeping—she had a long bedspread that draped over the bed—the mouse climbed up her bedspread, right onto the pillow next to her head. She woke up and could hear something on the pillow. Terrified, she began to slowly reach over to try and turn on the light. She did get the light turned on, but her movement and the sudden light scared the mouse and he ran right across her head into her hair. She sat upright and pulled at him, throwing him onto the middle of the bed. Can you picture this scene? There sits the mouse, right in the middle of the bed, watching and waiting for a brief second. He starts to move toward the edge. My mother’s mind went through the following thought process: There’s the mouse! My son needs that mouse. But I hate mice! My son needs that mouse. Without even thinking, just reacting on her love for me, she reached out and scooped him up in her hands. Then she realized what she had done. But rather than let him go, she began to shake her hands back and forth so the mouse couldn’t stop and bite her. She rushed through the house, yelling for me, trying to turn on lights with her elbows, all the time continuing to shake her hands. I was deep in sleep, but finally woke up with all the commotion. She said, “Mike, I’ve got the mouse! I’ve got the mouse!”
I said, “Where is it? Where is it?”
“Right here,” she responded, shaking her hands in front of my face. Then, with relief, she dropped it on the bed. I got ready to pounce, but I didn’t need to because the poor little fellow looked like he had been on a three-week bender—he could hardly walk straight. I did pick up the mouse, returned him to his cage, and a few days later he was able to run the maze for the judges at the regional science fair. However, he never quite walked the same way through the maze again.
The memory of that story makes me laugh. It is a very simple story, but I realized from that day forth that my mother really loved me and that her love for me enabled her to do something impossible for her, or at least something extremely difficult. It is our love for each other and for our Heavenly Parents and for the Savior that enables us to do all the difficult, impossible, walk-on-water things.
Mustard Seed and Mountains
There is a scripture in Matthew which for years and years I read literally and always felt guilty regarding my lack of faith. It is the “mustard seed/moving mountains” verse. I felt dejected by that verse because I knew I didn’t have enough faith to move a mountain. I’ve since realized in my study of the scriptures that a verse isn’t a whole lot of good if its application is so infinitesimal. This usually signals to me that I am reading it too literally or that I am misunderstanding it. There are so few people who are ever going to need enough faith to move a real mountain that if the Savior’s statement to that effect is meant to be read literally, the verse is irrelevant. I don’t think the Lord deals in irrelevancy; there must be more to it than that. If I read it on a figurative level, however, it suddenly strikes me with great power. These are the Savior’s words: “Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matthew 17:20). The mountain symbolizes every impossible, walk-on-water challenge, commandment, difficulty, trial, hope, or action life may bring to us. We can overcome every obstacle that stands in the way of our progression. The mountains will move with just a little faith. That faith must be not only in God, but also in ourselves.
May we doubt not. May we fear not. May we, like Peter, carry always in our hearts the desire to do what our Master does. May we know that if he does it—no matter how difficult, no matter how impossible—if he does it, and he asks us to do it, even to the extent of being perfect, even to becoming a God, we can do it. May we say as Paul once did, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
So glad they put these in a book!
by Cathy - reviewed on July 23, 2011
I have most of Brother Wilcox's talks on CD's and love them all! He is such a gifted teacher and truly makes the scriptures come alive. There have been many times when I have started and stopped a CD repeatedly so I could write down the scriptures and concepts that he was sharing. I was thrilled to see that they put them all in book form. I can now mark this book up and take the time to read and reread and ponder the things that touched my heart. Highly recommend!
by Bobbie J - reviewed on June 23, 2011
We all have trails some harder than others. A good book to help ponder ideas of where I am headed and where I need to be going not to give up and to find joy in the journey. Alot of good parables of Narnia and I would like to thank brother Wilcox for his book!
One great book
by Matthew - reviewed on July 13, 2011
Walking on Water and Other Classic Messages is one of best books I have read. The book contains several topics. These topics include: • The messages of Jesus Christ. • How to avoid being blinded as King Noah. • How to make your faith unshaken and other various topics. Here is a quote that sums up the content of the book: May we know that if he does it – no matter how difficult, no matter how impossible – if he does it, and he asks us to do it, even to the extent of being perfect, even to becoming a God, we can do it. May we say as Paul once did, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” One of the book’s strengths was the clarity that Michael Wilcox presents Jesus’s ‘walk on water’ statements. An example of this clarity is when he presents the doctrine of performing the impossible things that God commands us to do. He gives the example of how Nephi was commanded to build a boat and his brothers thought that he was foolish for even trying. Wilcox uses a scripture in which Nephi says, “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them” (1 Nephi 17:50). The author then goes on to say that this applies in any situation whether it is accepting a calling or forgiving others. His explanation was clear to me and has helped me understand this doctrine. This was the case for many of the other doctrines found in the book. Despite its strengths, this book does have a weakness. One thing I found to be a weakness was the wording that caused some confusion. One such part was in the chapter about making your faith unshaken. Wilcox talks about faith and how we need a solid foundation in case we encounter faith shaking experiences. He then goes on about talking how to build a solid foundation. Here the wording gets a little confusing because he uses abstract words and ideas that take more time to fully comprehend than normal. Overall, Walking on Water and Other Classic Messages is definitely one of the best books I have ever read. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to strengthen their faith and learn more about Christ. I enjoyed this book every time I picked it up. It will bring enjoyment to you as it has brought enjoyment to me.