A story of prayer from 1960s Germany

I recently re-read Enzio Busche’s book, Yearning for the Living God. Enzio Busche, who became a Mormon in his late twenties in his homeland of Germany, is a former general leader in the Church who had responsibilities over many areas.

The book is a collection of experiences he has had in seeking a personal relationship with God and helping others to do so as well.

Here’s an account from the 1960s he shares about a young man named Wolfgang. I particularly like this experience because it shows what can happen when we turn to God for help. Too often we think a matter is too small or simply falls outside the domain of what God can – or should – do for us.

[Wolfgang] was working as an unskilled laborer in a foundry where hot iron was poured into molds after it had been melted in huge ovens. He was working in a very hard environment among all kinds of rough and tumble people and felt most unfulfilled in his job. He suffered especially because of his young age. He was only seventeen, and he was the special target of a tall, husky co-worker who teased him whenever he could. This man would deliberately take Wolfgang’s tools, then, when confronted by Wolfgang, would gruffly defend himself saying, “Are you calling me a thief?” The man would regularly shove him around and even beat him up.

 

One day when Wolfgang was again humiliated by that man’s behavior, he remembered that he had learned that God is alive and cares to help us when we ask Him in faith. He realized he could ask God to fight his battles with him. When a hammer Wolfgang had just purchased turned up missing and the man claimed it was his, Wolfgang went into the restroom and knelt in prayer to Heavenly Father. He explained with emotions of a soul in despair, “I have this miserable situation, and I don’t know how to deal with it. What should I do?”

 

[In relating this story], Wolfgang told…how he suddenly felt a great peace come into his soul. Calmly, he went back to the man and apologized to him, saying, “I have accused you of things for which I am sorry. I do not want to accuse you. I have so many reasons to be grateful that I am permitted to work with you. You are a good man, and I look up to you as an example because I need to have an example in my life.” Wolfgang said this sincerely because he was also aware of the goodness hidden in that man.

 

The man broke down in tears and said, “I am not a good man. I am not a good example.” The man then admitted to taking Wolfgang’s tools and returned them all to him, saying, “I am not worthy to be an example to you but, from now on, I will try” That was the beginning of a solid friendship.I still remember the overwhelming happiness Wolfgang radiated as he described that first experience with the power of prayer and the Lord’s ability to help us deal with difficult circumstances, even turning around seemingly hopeless situations.

 

The Burden of Belief and Pursuing Truth: Part 2

“Since truth is the only meaningful foundation upon which we can make wise decisions, how then can one establish what is really true?” –Elder Richard G. Scott

In part one of this blog post I explained my background (it got real – I even admitted to wearing a bolo tie), and I described a paradigm-shifting crisis of faith. I seriously questioned the existence of God and in so doing learned that with or without God there is an inability to comprehend the undeniable eternity that surrounds us, and therefore there is a need for belief, for faith in something that is not seen but is believed to be true. I learned that rejecting God does not relieve that burden of belief, and I determined to make my best judgment after examining three things: my own experience, the experience of others, and the “facts”.

My Own Experience

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is designed to actively involve its members in spiritual pursuits. Being raised in that environment, I have always said regular prayers, read scripture, attended church meetings, and served others in various capacities. None of my varied experiences are undeniable proof of God, but all of them add up to strong personal evidence of his existence. When pursuing answers to big questions or guidance during turbulent times, I have found feelings combined with thoughts that seem to come from outside of me and confirm the existence of a Heavenly Father that is concerned with my well-being.

The Experience of Others

In addition to my own experiences, I find my belief in God strengthen by the experiences of others. For example, the Book of Mormon and the Bible are essentially the spiritual journals of men from long ago, and the stories they tell testify without hesitation of the existence of God and of his love for his children.  In more recent times Joseph Smith said he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ and they spoke with him face to face, and modern-day apostles and prophets testify that God and Jesus Christ live. My own close friends and family members have had significant experiences that convince them of God’s existence.

The “Facts”

The “facts” as revealed by science are inconclusive. The materials that make up the Earth date back millions of years, and we can observe evolution in nature. But we don’t really know how dramatic leaps in evolution happen or how a habitable planet was formed from a big explosion of energy. In fact some non-religious scientists believe the evidence suggests an intelligent design as opposed to an accident. I believe at some point instructions were issued so that order could come from chaos. I believe God was the author of that intelligence. In short, while there is definitely no proof of God’s existence from science, there is plenty of room for belief in Him.

Pursuing Truth

Every one of my three pillars of belief can be discounted, argued, or contradicted. There is no easy answer. In fact I believe this Earth life was designed to allow us to make decisions without a sure knowledge so we could gain experience that only that type of environment could afford.

Truth be told (pun intended) I am not trying to convince you to believe in God, I am trying to convince you to pursue truth. Truth is the only meaningful foundation on which to make decisions, and identifying it is the first step to leading a peace-filled life. So pursue it. Relentlessly. And when you find it, or when you think you find it, take action! DO whatever it is that truth would suggest is right.

Your pursuit of truth may lead you to believe exactly what I believe. Or perhaps your pursuit of truth will lead you to something totally different. The God I believe in would not fault someone for honestly pursuing truth and not finding it. I believe our pursuit of truth and our best effort to act according to the truth we find makes this life meaningful and valuable and enjoyable.

I count my doubting the existence of God as one of the great blessings of my life because it forced me to think and to personally pursue truth. I am thankful for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for it is in this church I have found answers to life’s most important questions and had experiences that convince me of God’s love and our eternal worth. May we continue to relentlessly pursue truth, even (especially) when it contradicts what is popular, what is tradition, or what is culture.

A Lesson from Screwtape

Screwtape

Not long ago, I pulled from my bookshelf a 1961 copy of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and began to read the first few chapters. This particular copy had belonged to my dad when he was a teenager and was the same copy I read when I was in high school 12 years ago. As you can see, the binding’s a bit loose and the title page has been reattached with some tape – can’t remember if that was my handiwork or if I inherited it that way – but most impressive, the jacket says this book originally cost $0.95, which I’m told by this website is worth $5.70 in 2013 dollars. Oh, the good ol’ days!   

I think many people are familiar with this book, but if you aren’t or simply don’t remember, Screwtape is a senior devil writing letters to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, offering professional guidance on how to successfully lead a human soul or “patient” to hell. This one excerpt from Screwtape’s first letter impressed me:

you don’t realise how enslaved [humans] are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter…I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably bade the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what he says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line, for when I said, “Quite. In fact much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,” the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,” he was already halfway to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true.

My experience leads me to believe that we are indeed slaves to the pressure of the ordinary, perhaps even more so today than in 1942 when Screwtape was first published. Nowadays, it’s so easy to let our phones, the news, and other gadgets consume our time, thought, and attention. I’m certainly not perfect at shutting off and powering down the electronics in my life, but I have found that there is immense value in taking some time each day for personal solitude. Sometimes I’ll write down some recent learning experiences, the things I’m grateful for, or my desires and goals. Other times I’ll write questions or observations I’ve had. Combined with prayer and reflection on some meaningful scriptures, I find these practices make it easier to arrive at a spiritual center.

This aligning of our souls creates an environment where we just might receive the messages God wants us to receive. Doing so likewise strengthens our capacity to recognize destructive influences which may initially seem so subtle and harmless.

Does God Speak to People? Part II

The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes, which I have previously written about here, and which was the topic of a recent guest post here. Those two posts deal mostly with God’s communication through his prophets – both ancient and modern – and discuss the restoration of Christ’s gospel beginning in the 1820s.

But more personally, does God speak to ordinary individuals directly? Does he communicate with normal, everyday kind of folk to help us in our affairs? The Book of Mormon teaches that “God is mindful of every people” and that he “give[s] unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.”

Many times in life I have felt God gently communicating with me to help direct my path. Sometimes that communication has come as tender and loving feelings that bring me peace, specific knowledge, and insight. Other times, the communication has come in the form of distinct phrases, like dictated words into my mind. In fact, a couple of months ago in my personal prayers I asked a specific question and then made a note in my phone about what I had asked. Several weeks later, having forgotten about my prayer and the note, I suddenly had a phrase come very clearly into my mind. I wrote it down somewhere else in my phone and went on with what I was doing. A day or two later, I was reviewing all the notes in my phone and discovered that what I had sensed the day or two before was a direct answer to my recorded prayer several months earlier. 

Although it can burst upon us unexpectedly, revelation from God typically responds to direct questions that we ask him. Consider the following from Spencer W. Kimball:

Spencer_W._Kimball3When man begins to hunger, when arms begin to reach, when knees begin to bend and voices begin to articulate, then, and not until then, does the Lord make himself known. He pushes back the horizons, he breaks the curtain above us, and he makes it possible for us to come out of dim, uncertain stumbling into the sureness of the eternal light.

On another occasion, Spencer Kimball taught the importance of having pure motives and sincere desire:

…Do you want guidance? Have you prayed to the Lord for inspiration? Do you want to do right or do you want to do what you want to do whether or not it is right? Do you want to do what is best for you in the long run or what seems more desirable for the moment? Have you prayed? How much have you prayed? How did you pray? Have you prayed as did the Savior of the world in Gethsemane or did you ask for what you want regardless of its being proper? Do you say in your prayers: “Thy will be done”? Did you say, “Heavenly Father, if you will inspire and impress me with the right, I will do that right”? Or, did you pray, “Give me what I want or I will take it anyway”? Did you say: “Father in Heaven, I love you, I believe in you, I know you are omniscient. I am honest. I am sincerely desirous of doing right. I know you can see the end from the beginning. You can see the future. Tell me, please, loved Heavenly Father, and I promise to do what you tell me to do.” Have you prayed that way? Don’t you think it might be wise? Are you courageous enough to pray that prayer?

The key then, seems to be desire and asking the right question. Sarah Edwards, the wife of the 18th century Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, described one of her experiences with the divine this way. Once, when feeling a strong desire to be alone with God, she prayed earnestly, and

sarah edwardsin the moments that followed, ‘the presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of anything else. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their

inconceivable loveliness and mildness, and gentleness, and their great immutable love to me…The peace and happiness, which I hereupon felt, was altogether inexpressible.’¹

My conviction is that God does speak to people and He is mindful of us and our needs. And the great news is that each of us can learn this for ourselves, for as the Lord said:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

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¹ Givens, T. & Givens, F. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Ensign Peak (2012). 21.
For another account, check out this blog post.