The scriptures, and surely many of us in this congregation, are full of stories of the meek being the most receptive to the gospel. It was the poor Zoramites, cast out of the synagogues, who heard and believed the words of Alma and Amulek. Unable to worship with their peers, unable to follow the status quo and profess their goodness upon the altar of pride and check the righteous box for the week, they were motivated to seek divinity. When Alma and Amulek came preaching, they were ready, having prepared their hearts for the spiritual feast for which they had hungered so long. Alma tells them, (vs. 12 of ch. 32) “I say unto you, it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom; for it is because that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble.”
Before preaching to everyone that we all must take a vow of poverty in order to facilitate our spiritual progression, he continues in verse 15 by telling us “he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed – yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.” Thus the onus is upon us to take matters into our own hands. The beauty of his statement is that it transcends economic status: it is not outside powers that force us to meekness, but a choice, or, rather, a lifelong series of choices, that one by one and cumulatively plant the seed of meekness within our hearts.
Alma 32 is best known for the oration on faith, and deservedly so. However it is not until the middle of the chapter, in verse 18, that the word faith is even used. The entire first half of the chapter is the preamble to faith. In verse 16 he says, “blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.” Before faith is meekness, and without it there is no faith.
Elder Neal A Maxwell said, “Meekness permits us to be confident, as was Nephi, of that which we do know—even when we do not know the meaning of all other things. (See 1 Ne. 11:17.) Meekness constitutes a continuing invitation to continuing education. No wonder the Lord reveals His secrets to the meek, for they are “easy to be entreated.” (Alma 7:23.) Not only are the meek more teachable, but they continuously receive, with special appreciation, “the engrafted word,” as the Apostle James said—and, as Joseph Smith declared, the flow of pure intelligence—all from the divine databank. (James 1:21; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 151.)
But what exactly is meekness? How does one go about acting in meekness and how is something viewed by the world as a weakness something that could potentially bring us strength and power? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
Richard C. Edgley, the First Counsellor in the Presiding Bishopric during the 2003 General Conference spoke of the Empowerment of Humility. After summarizing the lives of several members from his own ward whom he considers to be his heroes, he says the following: “As I have pondered these faithful members, I am struck by two qualities they all seem to have. First, regardless of social or economic status or position, their humility leads to submissiveness to the Lord’s will. And second, in spite of the difficulties and trials of life, they are able to maintain a sense of gratitude for God’s blessings and life’s goodness. Humility and gratitude are truly the twin characteristics of happiness.” First of all, I absolutely love that he overtly states that humility and gratitude are the legs of happiness. This immediately throws out the claim that being meek is somehow being a doormat. It reinforces that humility is a choice, as is gratitude, and that the two should be concurrent decisions.
He further continues with more examples of humility: “within the membership of the Church we see men and women of all backgrounds humbly submitting to the counsel of God. We see the prominent business executive graciously and humbly receiving and being taught by a humble, sometimes even intimidated, home teacher.” We had an intimidated home teacher, once. He was the most consistent home teacher we have ever had and I was surprised to find out from his wife that he suffered from shyness that bordered on social anxiety. I had no idea. I was so touched by his humility to swallow his own fears and do as the Lord had asked him to do. Brother Szeles placed the will of the Lord above his own and we were all blessed as a result. I hope that in the subsequent years, when his life took a very difficult turn, that he felt our family’s support, a small token of appreciation for his service.
Brother Edgley teaches us that this humility, this act of placing the will of the Lord above our own, contains within it a remarkable power. “The strength of the Church,” he says, “is in the millions of humble members striving every day to do the will of the Savior—day by day, one step at a time. These humble members come from all nationalities, all social strata, and every economic background. They include those of the highest educational backgrounds as well as those of the humblest who live in the smallest hamlets in the most remote areas of the world—all having hearts throbbing with a vital testimony of Jesus Christ and a desire to serve the Lord.”
The Lord’s organization for us is a cooperative one wherein pride has no place. It is only through the humility of everyone working together, no one keeping score of who works harder or better or with more gusto or with prettier tablecloths, that we can truly accomplish the Lord’s work. Our callings do not delineate our righteousness, nor does our gender, nor our pioneer heritage, nor those with whom we once rubbed shoulders. It is our actions that determine our righteousness. It is what we do with what we’ve got. We need to learn to work under this celestial paradigm of cooperation and forget about the hierarchal, earthly construct of power and the only way to do that is by being meek. Until then we are all jostling for position, acceptance and recognition, none of which enable us to be tools of the Lord.
Being meek requires accepting that we are not perfect. It requires self-examination, repentance and self-correction. As we reflect upon our actions and thoughts in a prayerful manner we can identify areas of improvement and seek the Lord’s divine assistance to change ourselves. Just as we cannot have faith without humility, we cannot have repentance, either, without humility.
Being meek also requires accepting that others are not perfect. Not only do we have to separate the actions of men from the teachings of God, but we need to cut each other some slack. When we accept the fallibility of each other we can allow ourselves to feel compassion.
Elder Bednar, in a devotional in 2001, reminds us that knowledge comes “line upon line, precept upon precept.” With a desire to clarify personal revelation he says the following: “I believe many of us unknowingly accept a faulty assumption about the Lord’s pattern. And this faulty assumption then produces erroneous expectations about how we receive spiritual knowledge. And that faulty assumption and our misinformed expectations ultimately hinder our ability to recognize and respond to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Let me suggest that many of us typically assume we will receive an answer or a prompting to our earnest prayers and pleadings. And we also frequently expect that such an answer or a prompting will come immediately and all at once. Thus, we tend to believe the Lord will give us A BIG ANSWER QUICKLY AND ALL AT ONE TIME. However, the pattern repeatedly described in the scriptures suggests we receive “line upon line, precept upon precept,” or in other words, many small answers over a period of time. Recognizing and understanding this pattern is an important key to obtaining inspiration and help from the Holy Ghost.”
It takes patience to acquire information little by little, but the easy things are rarely worth pursuing. Sometimes it means we have to stumble along for a time. It takes a powerful desire to seek the truth and study it out to be sure it is true. This is not a gospel of quick fixes and easy answers. This is a gospel wherein we are expected to ask the tough questions and find out for ourselves. There is no room for ego in this equation, only humility. It is the humble prayer, the thoughtful meditation, and the patient searching that proves our dedication to our Father.
Recognizing the line upon line principle with regard to acquisition of knowledge also allows us to be more patient with humanity. If I don’t have all the answers then I must out of necessity allow my brothers and sisters the space to seek out their answers as well. If I can remember the days when I really wrestled with an idea then I can have compassion toward someone else who is figuring things out for him or herself. We can work together, share our ideas, and we may even be the answer the other is seeking.
With regard to answers, few people have been shown it all. Of those who have received the big picture, and have recorded the experience for our benefit, it never came because they sought glory. They sought only to glorify God and do His work. They were willing to do whatever the Lord asked. The written records of these events highlight the magnitude of the knowledge: that the vision would leave a person physically spent, that the new prophet would -could- never be the same afterward, and that it was too marvelous to record. Most of us here have many more lines and precepts to learn before we are ready for our own theophany. It’s important to note, however, that even those enlightened prophets had to return regularly to the Lord for more guidance. Even they could not do it alone: neither, then, can we. Relying on the arm of the flesh will never be the catalyst we require to change ourselves to reflect the image of Christ.
Jesus Christ, after all, was the epitome of meekness. With his oration as a boy he stumped the rabbis; he could surely have self-represented at his trial and defended himself. With his power he wrought many miracles; he could surely have saved himself from death. Even in the garden of Gethsamane, where he took upon himself the unbearable pain of all our sins and suffering, he could have stepped back when it got too hard, justifying that he went halfway and we should do the rest. He even called out to Father in agony. But He knew this was the will of Heavenly Father. He knew the role for which he had volunteered. He submitted to the pain and indignity of it all. It was not an act of weakness but an incredible act of strength to do so.
Neal A Maxwell said, “It is meekness … which helps us to step gratefully forward to place on the altar the talents and time and self with which we are blessed—to be at God’s and His children’s disposal. The offering is of a gentled self, a self concerned with charity—not parity. Yes, there are real costs associated with meekness. A significant down payment must be made. But it can come from our sufficient supply of pride. We must also be willing to endure the subsequent erosion of unbecoming ego. Furthermore, our hearts will be broken in order that they might be rebuilt. As Ezekiel said, one’s task is to “make you a new heart and a new spirit.” (Ezek. 18:31.) There is no way that such dismantling, such erosion, such rebuilding can occur without real cost in pain, pride, adjustments, and even some dismay. Yet since we cannot be “acceptable before God save [we are] meek and lowly in heart” (Moro. 7:44), the reality of that awesome requirement must be heeded! Better to save one’s soul than to save one’s face.”
Elder Bednar agrees and expounds upon this with a brief how-to. “The process of discerning between our will and God’s will becomes less and less of a concern as time goes by and as we strive to rid ourselves of worldliness—and thereby cultivate the spirit of revelation in our lives. That is, as we mature spiritually, we begin to develop sound judgment, a refined and educated conscience, and a heart and mind filled with wisdom. It is not just that we have grown older, nor have we simply become smarter and had more experiences on which to draw, as important as those experiences are. Rather, the Holy Ghost has over time been expanding our intellect, forming our feelings, sharpening and elevating our perspective, such that we increasingly think and feel and act as the Lord would under similar circumstances. In short, we have made steady progress in obtaining “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).”
Meekness can be a strength in our lives. Without it there is no faith. Without it there is no repentance. Without it we cannot be the hands of God on earth. Richard Edgley concluded his talk with the following thoughts, “Humbly submitting our will to the Father brings us the empowerment of God—the power of humility. It is the power to meet life’s adversities, the power of peace, the power of hope, the power of a heart throbbing with a love for and testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ, even the power of redemption. To this end, the Savior is our supreme example of the power of humility and submissiveness. After all, His submitting His will to the Father brought about the greatest, and even the most powerful, event in all of history. Perhaps some of the most sacred words in all the scriptures are simply, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
I would like to add my testimony to those I shared today. I believe that as we place ourselves upon the altar of the Lord, as we refine ourselves to be more in tune with His will, and as we learn to overcome ego and pride and work together, that our collective strength will be powerful beyond measure. I believe that the unique individuality with which we have been inherently blessed makes us singly important in the Lord’s plan, and that aligning ourselves to His will allows our uniqueness to be a blessing to others, fulfilling a role none other could do. I believe that we are loved beyond our mortal comprehension and that it is when we are serving others that we can catch a glimpse of that infinite affection. May we all strive for the meekness required to do the Lord’s will, and may we desire, rather than be compelled, to be meek is my prayer.