Sunday, October 21, 2018

Our Memories are Weak Without the Holy Ghost

I taught in Elders Quorum today. My subject was the talk from President Eyring, His Spirit to be With You.

I started with a story about memory, comparing one woman's memory of what she was doing when she heard about the Challenger explosion one day after the event with her memory two years later.

"When I first heard about the explosion I was sitting in my freshman dorm room with my roommate and we were watching TV," wrote an Emory University student who participated in a memory study a year and a half after the Challenger disaster. "It came on as a news flash and we were both totally shocked." 
But that same student had given a surprisingly different answer, just 24 hours after the tragedy. "I was in my religion class and some people walked in and started talking about [it]," she wrote. "I didn't know any details except that it had exploded and the schoolteacher's students had all been watching which I thought was so sad."
The New Yorker also had an article on the same memory research that goes on at a bit more length than the article linked above.

Why are our memories so fallible? Especially when we're encouraged to remember so often in the scriptures? I believe it is because the Lord expect us to rely on the Spirit to enhance our memories of the important events in our life.

Keryn reminded me of the story of Laman and Lemuel seeing an angel. Did they forget the experience, or come to doubt it later in life? I wonder if they did, in the same way these memories of the Challenger explosion got modified, because the memories weren't being constantly refreshed by communion with the Holy Ghost.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Short Drive With "Saints"

The first volume of "Saints" was released this month. I thought I knew a lot of church history, but I've already learned new things in just the first 8 chapters. Did you know, for example, that Moroni told Joseph that he needed to bring Emma when he went to fetch the plates (see chap. 4)? Did you know that Moroni appeared to Mary Whitmer as an old man and showed her the plates--even before the 3 and 8 witnesses saw the plates (see chap. 7)? I've heard about Thomas Marsh's issue with the milk strippings, but it was cool to read the story of his conversion (see chap. 8 ). 


You can read it or listen to it free with the Gospel Library app.

The goal of the history was to make it accessible to the majority of Latter-day Saints today without feeling stuffy or academic. It reads like a story. On a drive home from a rock-hounding trip with the kids yesterday, I decided to turn on the audio of the book. My 13-year-old daughter (among the 5 kids in the car) was very taken by it. She grew impatient each time we reached the end of a chapter and we had to wait for the next chapter to download before we could hear it. 

We heard this part in chapter 4. 
The angel also told him to bring someone with him next time. It was the same request he had made at the end of Joseph’s first visit to the hill. But since Alvin was dead, Joseph was confused. 
“Who is the right person?” he asked. 
“You will know,” Moroni said. 
Joseph sought the Lord’s direction through his seer stone. The right person, he learned, was Emma.
As soon as the narrator said "Emma," my 8-year-old daughter said, "Called it!"

I look forward to reading the rest of the book and the next three volumes to be released in subsequent years. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Quorum Presidency Meeting Role-Play

I'm the deacons quorum adviser. Our quorum presidency (the boys who lead the quorum) was asked by the stake Young Men's President to help out with a presentation in a stake priesthood leadership meeting by doing a short role-play of a quorum presidency meeting.

We've known about this assignment for a couple of weeks. We had a campout last night and we spent some of our time around the campfire practicing our presentation. We watched a church video of a sample quorum presidency meeting. We went through the session twice by the fire.

This morning, in the car on the way back from the campout, the three members of the quorum presidency that were in the car with me practiced their presentation again. We arrived at the church a few minutes before the meeting and had one more practice.

The role play in the meeting when well. Afterward, the facilitator of the session asked the 13-year-old quorum president something like, "How do you think your advisers have helped you to prepare to run a meeting like this?"

"Well," he answered, "you just see what the boys in the presidency before you did and you just sort of figure it out."

So much of the coaching we do as adult leaders has, apparently, minimal impact on the boys compared to the example of their own peers.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Remembering Truman Madsen

In the late 1980's, Truman Madsen gave a series of lectures about the Prophet Joseph Smith. They were published on cassette tapes and later in a book. I got a hold of a set of those cassette tapes a decade later while I was serving as a missionary in Oklahoma.

Brother Truman was very popular among the missionaries. Through his lectures, we could feel his obvious and deep love for Brother Joseph. Through his testimony, our love for the Prophet deepened. Madsen was aware of every claim both for and against the character of the prophet. His love for Joseph was not naive, but knowing. Because of that, it was all the more meaningful to me.

A few years later, I was browsing through available religion classes at BYU and noted a class on Isaiah taught by Ann Madsen whom I knew to be the wife of Truman Madsen. I signed up. While she wasn't a clone of Truman and didn't share his uniquely captivating speaking mannerisms, she was sweet and warm. She required us to use a non-KJV translation of Isaiah, which surprised me. But I was grateful she did! She gave me greater appreciation for another prophet of the Lord.

As our final exam in the class, as was apparently her tradition, she invited us over to her home where we sat around together to share our favorite scriptures from our semester of study in Isaiah. As that session concluded and the students were standing around chatting, Truman came strolling out of his study.

Several of the Truman-worshipers, including me, tried to appear casual as we geeked out about the opportunity to meet him in real life--in his own home! Somehow, we drifted back into his study. I remember that he had copies of the death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith on his bookshelf. These were like family members for him. His love was again so obvious. I was reminded how we speculated as missionaries about the warm embrace that Truman and Joseph would someday share.

Today, I was listening again to those lectures by Brother Madsen. Even though he's been gone from this earth for more than 8 years, it is a blessing that his works and words can still be with us to inspire and uplift us. I hope he and Joseph are having some great conversations together!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ordinances For Power

Would God really break up a loving couple at death merely because they failed to get married by the proper authority in the temple? Doesn't he want our everlasting happiness?

Perhaps the nature of the universe is such that it is impossible or intolerable to stay with one person throughout eternity without outside help. Perhaps the ordinances of salvation are a source or connection to reinforcing power rather than a legalistic check box.

I hadn't thought of it that way until Teryl Givens framed it that way in the following interview.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Science Doesn't Prove. Science Describes.

Listen to Guy Consolmagno, the head of the Vatican Observatory (yes, they have one) talk about the scientific process. 

That also is how science works. You take the same data and you devise more than one story to explain what is going on. Because you're not satisfied with a story that works. You want to have a story that you can test, a story that you can interpret, a story that will lead you on to newer and more interesting questions. Because you're never satisfied; because science is never finished.  
Anybody who tells you that such and such has been "proved by science" is only proving that they don't know what science is. Science doesn't prove. Math proves, but science doesn't prove. Science describes.

A few minutes before this spot where this link takes you in the talk, Consolmagno described the perfectly logical assertion that there were water canals on Mars and a civilization struggling to survive. That conclusion was logical based on the evidence available to observers with simple telescopes. Later evidence helped them reinterpret what they were seeing. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Two Men on the Bus

Today on the bus, I was two men.

A teen sat on the seat across from me, sitting with his headphones on and bobbing to the music that only he could hear. After a couple of minutes, snatches of phrases of the song started to escape from his mouth. At first they were quiet, but they started to get louder and louder.

The first man in me heard the bits of music and thought, "This guy is crazy. Doesn't he know you're supposed to wear earphones on the bus? I guess the rules don't cover singing... but still the driver ought to say something. What if he's bugging people on the bus. Is he bugging me? He shouldn't be singing out loud. He's making a scene."

The teen started to sing out the chorus of his song with full voice. The bus wasn't very full. He didn't seem self conscious.

The second man in me thought, "His voice isn't bad. It's actually pretty good. The bus isn't too full and he isn't singing something offensive. Isn't it great that he's feeling the music so much? Isn't music a blessing?"

The first man in me turned his head to look straight at the singing teen, perhaps to shame him with a glance. The second man in me smiled at the teen when our eyes met.

The chorus was over and the teen lapsed back into silence. Still, I smiled the smile of the second man until I got off the bus.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Have Not Seen, Yet Have Believed

Thomas the apostle famously refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected unless he, like the others, could actually see him. When Jesus did appear, he said to Thomas, "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29)

One man gave me a different twist on this concept. He said that he's made a lot of mistakes he wished he would have avoided. He was grateful he could repent, but he would have preferred to avoid the sin altogether in the first place. And then he quoted the verse above and applied it to himself. He wished he could have learned from the experiences of others. He believes he would have been more blessed not to have experienced the consequences of sin for himself but instead to believe on the words of those who had walked the path before him.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lone Survivor: A Knowledge Problem

I've sometimes imagined what it would be like if I had to bear the sole responsibility of passing on all the world's knowledge to the next generation. What if, through some apocalyptic scenario, only I and a small band of people remained on the earth.

How good a job could I do at preserving the knowledge of the centuries? Perhaps I could sit down and make an effort to write down everything I could remember about every subject. On many subjects, I'd only be able to write the merest hints about the depth of the subject.

  • Pi is a handy number that is defined by the relationship of the length of the perimeter of the circle to its diameter. It is a number that you can never get to the end of writing because it just goes on and on forever. There is a way to calculate it out by hand, but I've never had to do so and don't know the procedure.
  • A laser is a beam of light that is so focused that it can travel for a long distance without becoming diffuse. It is being used for all sorts of things, including medical procedures. I'm not sure how to make a laser, but I think it has something to do with generating a light and getting it to pass through the right lenses back and forth to focus it.
  • An iPhone is a device with a billion tiny transistors and integrated circuits that allow it to do general purpose calculations and communicate over large distances wirelessly. There are so many steps required to put technology like this together, including the production of the necessary metals, that I have no hope of being able to write enough to help our little society get to the point. The machine is wonderful, though. I can see on a small screen the words of thousands of books and I can listen to music stored in the device and I can play games of complex strategy. It responds to my touch though it has almost no moving parts. 
Future generations would refer back to my works to mine them for ideas of what to create and build. The words would seem strange and distant to them. Without all the background knowledge that I failed to write, they would probably misinterpret many of the things that I wrote. They would think they built some of the things I described, though they would probably be very different than what I would recognize by the same name.

I wonder if it is like that when we read the words of a prophet after a vision. John or Nephi describe things with the best language available to them, but we are missing so many details that it is hard to imagine what they really meant sometimes. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Time Travel

If you could go back in time, what would you change? Are there horrible things you would prevent? 

If you changed the past, would you change the present in ways that make you sad? As brutal as the events of the past have sometimes been, have they born good fruit in the present? 

God can see all through time as though it is the present for him. Our future is just as real for him as our present. If he intervenes in our world today, in ways we may sometimes be desperate for, he might rob our future of something important to us or our children. 

We see through a glass darkly. He understands our pain in the present, but he can weigh that against our glorious future. Trust him, even in trials. Especially in trials. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Unconditional Love

There is some confusion about the love of God. As a parent, I can't imagine ever ceasing to love my children. Yet we are taught that the love of God is not unconditional. How can it be that I believe my love for my children is unconditional?

I think that there are perhaps two definitions of love at work here. The first we might call beneficent love. This is the love that is an action that provides benefits to the object of that love. This is the "verb" kind of love. It is the love that pours down blessings on our heads. In this sense of love, our Father's gifts are certainly conditioned upon our choices. 

The second type of love might be called affectionate love. This is the feeling in our hearts that reaches out to others and helps us empathize with them and desire to serve them. This is the "feeling" kind of love that causes our hands to continually be outstretched toward our children to welcome them back when they exercise their agency to return to us after an absence. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Knee Deep in Sardines

Via Bill Reel, I discovered a fantastic talk by Dale Sturm of BYU-Idaho. Two things need to be cited from this talk that I'd like to remember. First, is Brother Sturm excellent telling of the story of Peter in one of his early meetings with the Lord when the Lord commanded him to throw in his net for fish.
Try to imagine this with me: The sermon is over and the boat is brought back the few yards to shore. Peter drops his now washed and dried and folded nets into the empty boat. He sighs that tired sigh that means the work is finally done. Perhaps he now turns his thoughts to breakfast and home and rest. It is in this moment that the Lord Jesus Christ looks Peter in his weary face and says, “Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” In other words, “Take those nets you just cleaned and put away, and sail back out on to that Sea you just spent all night on, and use your tired, aching muscles to throw the nets out again and see if we can’t catch some of those fish that are nowhere to be found today.” Can you imagine the look on Peter’s face in this moment? Peter seems to begin his response to the Lord intent on saying no, but something happens half-way through: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.” I imagine a long pause here as the Lord listens to Peter while calmly, firmly, lovingly, expectantly gazing at him. Peter changes course: “Nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net.”
And then this.
Now amidst the excitement and the yelling and the laughter and the splashing, Peter stops and falls to his knees right in the fish. “Depart from me,” he says to Jesus, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” We may come to know Christ and feel our testimonies move up to the next level at the most surprising moments. For Peter, it happened when he was weary and discouraged and knee deep in fish; but when he had, nevertheless, responded to an invitation from the Savior; when he had done something he was not in the mood to do. Faith is not just a feeling; it is a decision. I think that sometimes the pay-off is more powerful in moments like these because the Lord has allowed us to illustrate—to Him and to ourselves—that our commitment is bigger than the circumstances.
I love the phrase upon which Brother Sturm built his talk, "Faith is not just a feeling; it is a decision."

Also moving was the poem he quoted about a lanyard woven at summer camp as a gift for a mother. 
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.
Most of us have felt, I'm sure, that our token repayments have been sufficient. Brother Sturm says,
And even more disturbing, I find that I sometimes think the same way about what I owe to God. I go on as if my sporadic temple attendance and my pretty-good personal prayers and my hit-and-miss family nights are enough to make us even; that these “lanyards” I offer to God are a sufficient trade for Eternal Life and Glory and “all that [the] Father hath.”
We can do better, with His help. We will never be "even" but we can do better.

While browsing through Brother Reel's site looking for the post with the reference to Brother Sturm's talk, I also noted a great post on "praying with your feet." It is one I think I'll read again in the future.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Early to Church

My wife is brilliant. She carried over a tradition from her family growing up to our young family. She labors to get our family to church 20 minutes before the meeting begins.

When she first proposed this practice to me, she suggested 30 minutes early but I was able to negotiate her down.

This has at least two wonderful effects. First, when we accomplish the goal, we easily find a bench big enough for us all to sit together comfortably. We are able to get settled with our 5 young children and really prepare for the meeting.

Second, it provides a safety valve for us that makes the morning less stressful for everyone. If we need to hunt for a missing pair of shoes, it only elevates our blood pressure half as much a it would if it was going to actually make us late to the meeting. If we are "really late" like we were today, we still get to our seats 5 minutes before the meeting starts.

I wouldn't want to apply this strategy to every meeting I have to attend, but it works especially well for a meeting that we attend together as a whole family.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Teaching Reverence

This counsel stung a little bit.

"But remember, if reverence is rooted in love, so is the teaching of it. Harshness in our training begets resentment, not reverence."

That is from Margaret S. Lifferth, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Small and Simple vs. One Great Thing

A well known statement attributed to Brigham Young presents a theological problem for Latter-day Saints. Speaking of the heroic young men who helped to rescue struggling pioneers across a freezing river, President Young is reported to have said, "that act alone will ensure C. Allen Huntington, George W. Grant and David P. Kimball an everlasting salvation in the Celestial Kingdom of God, worlds without end."

One act can be enough to get you salvation? That doesn't square with everything else we know about the doctrine of "enduring to the end."

Chad Orton provides some additional background on this episode in an article for BYU Studies, "The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look" from volume 45 number 3 (2006). He also does a superb job in helping us to understand this theological issue. He also looks at some of the other sources and tries to give us a more complete picture of the Sweetwater Rescue than we traditionally hear. The story is still inspiring, even with the additional sources, a claim that doesn't hold true for every faith promoting tale. The upshot of the analysis is that Brigham Young certainly didn't mean to imply that we could do a single act and then goof off for the rest of mortality.

In a recent BYU Devotional address, I heard this quote from David O. McKay which also addresses the subject of being saved by a single, mighty act.

There is no one great thing which we can do to obtain eternal life, and it seems to me that the great lesson to be learned in the world today is to apply in the little acts and duties of life the glorious principles of the gospel. Let us not think that because some . . . things . . . seem small and trivial that they are unimportant. Life, after all, is made up of little things.

In the rest of that devotional address, J. Michael Hunter also talk about some of the simple things that made a great difference in his life. I was most touched by his story of his association with his cousin who helped him find friendship and kinship while far from home. The cousin who helped him, Larry St. Clair, was also my freshman biology teacher. 

Here is my favorite passage from the devotional.

When we are willing to accept assignments from the Lord, they may only take a moment, but they might also take a month or a year or a lifetime. The important thing is that we are in tune enough to see the one within our reach who needs our help and that we have enough faith to accept the assignment. It won’t be convenient. I hope nothing I have said here today has given the impression that I believe “small and simple” means easy, because it doesn’t. But I believe these small and simple things will become our most valued university experiences.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Forgiving the Excommunicated and Disfellowshipped

The church's topic study page for "forgiveness" includes a link to a talk by Elder Theodore Burton in 1983 on the subject of forgiving those who are working through the process of church discipline. This is a topic I don't recall ever having heard addressed in general conference in my adult life. He had some really profound stuff to say. All emphasis added by me.
To teach people to overcome sin and change their lives for the better is the sum and substance of Christian service. We must do everything in our power to help sinners to change their lives for the better. Otherwise, as the scriptures warn us, we will have to shoulder their sins ourselves. Our obligation is to teach and help them, and the sinner’s obligation is to listen and learn. He will have to bear the whole burden himself if he refuses. But regardless of his present attitude, we must never abandon him nor think his reformation is hopeless. There is hope for everyone, and we must never cease trying to help people understand that through the atonement of Jesus Christ not only the sins of mankind in general but also their personal sins can be forgiven.
I've struggled with this myself--to forgive and forget when people in the church who know better commit serious sin. One of Elder Burton's responsibilities was to prepare the materials for the First Presidency about people who were seeking to be rebaptized into the church after having been excommunicated. Some of those materials included letters from people who had been harmed by the transgressor. Sometimes very seriously wounded, in fact. 
One thing causes me great concern as I read letters from those who have been injured. I am concerned with the feeling of resentment and hatred some individuals have expressed against the spouse that betrayed or abused them and their children. ...Some individuals have expressed such resentment against a former spouse that they write that nothing that spouse could ever do could right the wrong he or she committed. They insist they can never forgive a spouse for the pain and suffering that spouse has caused.

A person with that attitude can hardly be called a follower of Jesus Christ. Even of those who were so wicked they crucified their Savior, he said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.) So, when Peter asked the Lord how often he should forgive a person who sinned against him, “Till seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:21–22.) People can and do change, and our duty is to forgive them.
Ouch. That is a pretty blunt statement I've highlighted in bold above. He is warning us that, no matter how seriously someone has sinned against us, their eternal debt is not to us but to their Redeemer. Jesus paid the price for their sins and it is He who must decide when forgiveness is appropriate.

I don't believe he is saying that people are not expected to pay their debt to society. One who abuses his family may suffer the punishment of the law, perhaps evening serving time in jail. But in our hearts, we must not image that we can deny them forgiveness without poisoning our own souls.

This is also not to say that we should institutionally forget about those who have committed past crimes. Especially when children are at stake, the church keeps a record of such offenses so that those people are never placed in a position in the church where they will be alone with children. Far from representing a failure to forgive, this policy helps to shelter previous offenders from a situation that may present them with a challenging temptation. It is a policy of mercy and wisdom.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Brain Waves

We can probe a person's brain with a tiny bit of electricity and cause sensations similar to a spiritual experience. You might conclude from this sort of research that you've identified the source of alleged testimony and that you can safely dismiss the spiritual experiences of yourself or others.

This makes no more sense than assuming that because you could jolt the mouth muscles with a bit of electricity to form a smile that you've identified the source of laughter and joy.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Marital Fidelity in Politicians

Do our political leaders need to me honorable men who avoid sinful behavior? My heart tells me they do. I want to have people in office who can hear the whisperings of the Spirit and can lead the people to do right. Book of Mormon talks about how quickly people fail when their leaders fail.

On the other hand, we have stories of evil kings being used for God's purposes in the Bible. 

Victor Davis Hanson wrote the following which was a useful encapsulation of the problem for me. 

I wish I could believe (because I want to believe) that fidelity is essential in a leader, but unfortunately history tells me that Charles Lindbergh was a better pilot and inspiration than his more moral rivals, that the wayward George S. Patton saved thousands of lives by his brilliance in a way the more admirable but limited Omar Bradley did not, that the randy Bill Clinton was a better president than the devout Jimmy Carter, and that recklessly promiscuous JFK was no worse and probably more effective than loyal Richard Nixon. But marriage has so many variables (the devout husband can be mentally cruel and indifferent, the noble wife can be a shrew, the publicly supportive spouse can privately forgo sex, the faithful husband can be lazy and a leach), and leadership so many contours (natural brilliance, rhetorical flair, stamina, courage), that fidelity in marriage simply cannot quite trump them all. Was the wonderfully devoted Harry Truman a better president than Dwight D. Eisenhower (who once or twice probably strayed with his chaufferess), and if so, was it because he never looked at other women other than Bess?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Finding politicians

Keryn and I have been talking recently about finding politicians to run for office.  There is a joke that you probably don't want anybody to serve in office who would be interested in running.

I know that there are lots of cabinet secretaries and other high ranking government officials who serve out of a sense of civic duty when they are asked.  But that's different than someone running for office.  Who asks them?  Should we find good people and beg them to run?

I was reading in the Book of Mormon today and noticed this interesting verse about a father who refused to compel his son to serve as king.

Now I say unto you let us be wise and consider these things, for we have no right to destroy my son, neither should we have any right to destroy another if he should be appointed in his stead. (Mosiah 29:8)

This father offered his sons the opportunity to be king.  When none of them wanted the job, he changed the entire system of governments to avoid the risk of future war.

I'm not sure exactly what this verse teaches me about my original question, but it is certainly food for thought.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wilberforce, Newton, and Amazing Grace

After walking out of the BYU Forum address by Michael Flaherty, the president of Walden Media, I phoned Keryn and had her immediately add the movie Amazing Grace to the top of our Netflix queue. I wanted to see the movie that had come from the great story he told.

It turns out the movie focuses on the story of William Wilberforce. The early movie shows his internal conflict about whether he should pursue a life in politics where he showed great promise, or whether he should pursue a life of Christian reflection and ministry. His friends persuaded him that a life in politics could be the sort of ministry that would change the world.

They were right. Wilberforce was a pivotal figure in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. You really should see the movie. It was a moving experience. I'm sure we'll purchase the film.

More lightly touched in the movie is the story of John Newton, the man who penned the lyrics to the famous hymn, Amazing Grace, from which the movie draws its name. Here is the story of Newton as Flaherty related it in the forum address. (This story is in the last few minutes of the talk.)

The film was called Amazing Grace after the famous piece by John Newton. After hearing the song, I always assumed that Newton had experienced a complete and instant conversion to Christianity. But it turns out the story was a little more complicated and his conversion was a little more drawn out.

Newton is best described in his own words, “an infidel, a libertine, and a slave trader.” One night as he was sailing back to England, his ship started to fill with water and was about to capsize. Newton prayed to God for help and the ship was miraculously saved. By the time he got back to England, Newton was reading his Bible daily. He went to church on Sundays. He stopped gambling. He stopped smoking. He stopped swearing. I bet he even stopped dancing. [laughter]

But for more than three more decades, he continued in the slave trade. For all of his new found insight and proper behavior, he didn’t at first see any reason for a career change, but instead resolved to be the most moral slave trader in all of England.

For his time and place, this didn’t seem like an outrageous contradiction. How could it be, when neither the law, nor the crown, nor even parts of the church would condemn slavery as evil. By all outward appearances, Newton could be considered an upstanding Christian in mid-eighteenth century England.

It was in prayer, however, that the truth broke through. Not in a flash, but over time. Like the prophet Samuel before him, Newton learned that the Lord doesn’t look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Finally, after many years, the things that broke God’s heart began to break John Newton’s heart. He became a dedicated abolitionist, a trusted friend to William Wilberforce, and of course, the author of Amazing Grace. With that first prayer from a stricken ship a whole new story was set in motion. The slave trade lost its most upright merchant and the world gained its most beautiful hymn. That’s the power of prayer. And saving a ship was the least of the miracle.

Prayer can be subversive in that way. It doesn’t always advance our ambitions, but sometimes can even undermine them and set us in an entirely new direction.

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