On Fear and Faith

This talk was delivered on January 31, 2021 to the Orem Utah Canyon View 8th Ward.

I am speaking today by assignment from our stake presidency. I testify that they are inspired leaders who are leading us through perilous days. They have prayed over the needs of our stake and felt inspired to ask each high councilor to talk about a very timely topic in every ward today. Let me read you what they said:

Please offer your own personal assurance to be of good courage. The Lord foresaw our current conditions, and by being obedient to the gospel He promised that we would have the power to recognize and resist the powers of evil. His promise to never fail us or forsake us still stands.

I love that. I think it is spot-on and a message that we need to hear over and over. It has occupied my mind for almost an entire month. As I’ve pondered and prepared, I have felt the presence of the Holy Ghost, so now, I pray that you will too. I desire that he will plant afresh in your heart the truth that the primary role of Jesus Christ is to be our Savior. He will save us. And I’m not just talking about saving us from death and sin, he will also save us from as much fear and pain as allowable—all we have to do is exercise courageous faith.

Joshua

Whenever I think about courageous faith and the lack of it, I think about the ancient Israelites as they left Egypt and walked to the Promised Land. The journey should have only taken 2-3 weeks. Under the direction of Moses, they witnessed some of the greatest miracles ever recorded in the Bible, but because of a lack of faith in the Lord and a fear of the people who were already inhabiting the Promised Land, the Lord sent them back into the wilderness for a 40-year march—a 40-year death march.

After the older generation passed away, the younger generation rose up to the challenge and was willing to do whatever the Lord asked them to do. So Moses transferred the prophetic mantle over to Joshua and Joshua led them into the promised land. But before that happened, the Lord gave the following revelation to Joshua (Joshua 1:5-9):

There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee. I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage.

Isn’t that a marvelous promise? Now we continue reading for a few more verses, and here’s what we find. The Lord says a second time:

Be thou strong and very courageous.

And again, a few verses later, the Lord says this:

Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

Three times the Lord told Joshua to be strong and have courage. When the Lord repeats something three times, I’m pretty sure he really means it.

The good news is Joshua remained strong and had courage, and wasn’t dismayed, and followed the Lord’s commandments with exactness. And for the most part the Israelites followed his lead. As a result, the Lord was with them and helped to fight the battles, and it only took a few years before they were firmly planted back into the lands of their inheritance.

Our Battles

Brothers and sisters, I testify we are spiritual if not literal descendants of those Israelites. We are latter-day Israelites. And we are about to enter the Promised Land—we call it the millennium. A thousand years of peace and Garden of Eden-like paradise when life will be wonderful and sickness-free because Jesus will have sent the wicked to Spirit Prison, leaving the earth for those who are trying to be righteous.

But first—sad to say—things are going to get worse before they get better. According to the scriptures, we will soon start developing more enemies than we know what to do with. Entire nations and even the currently unrevealed anti-Christ will make war with the Saints of God.

But, the Lord’s promises are sure. He is perfectly consistent. His promises haven’t changed since Joshua’s day. And he renews them with each of us, one-by-one, in the form of covenants and ordinances. Therefore, as will fight for truth and righteousness in our own lives, the Lord will be with us—if we remain obedient to his commandments.

Even though we know that—intellectually—it still seems a little frightful—emotionally—doesn’t it? Especially after watching the news or reading comments on social media.

Thinking About the Future

When I think about the future, my first reaction is to worry about things. But I’m a sensitive, people-pleasing type of guy who probably needs a shot of testosterone. Listen and see if some of these worries sound familiar:

Will my family be okay? Have we prepared enough? If the world calls good evil and evil good, how can I discern between them? If even the very elect can be deceived, what chance do I have? Do I really believe that the Lord will help fight my battles? How do I deal with my fears? How do I acquire more courage? Am I up to it? I’ve been through so much lately that I don’t know if I can take any more. I worry that my heart is already beginning to fail me, just like the Savior said would happen in the last days.

So let’s talk about these worries and see if we can find some relief.

Fear

Sometimes we say that fear is the opposite of faith. That’s partially true. But fear is an emotion while faith is a choice. Faith is a decision to believe even though we don’t have physical evidence sitting in front of us. To help us choose faith, we must summon up replacement emotions until they overcome fear, emotions like courage, trust, calmness, curiosity—there’s lots of good, virtuous emotions that will do.

But before we can do that, let’s examine fear a little closer.

What are you afraid of? All of us are afraid of something. That’s completely normal. Even Superman is afraid of kryptonite. While you think about what you are afraid of, let me throw out a couple of definitions.

Fear relates to a known or understood threat. Anxiety, its soul-sister, relates to an unknown or poorly defined threat. Because both produce similar reactions to perceived dangers, I’m going to address them as if they were the same.

We also need to establish that these emotions of fear and anxiety aren’t always negative; they often protect us from real dangers. Fear can be very healthy and constructive. But if the stress we feel from them gets out of control and turns into distress, it becomes negative and hinders our ability to do things. It limits our options and thwarts our progress. Left unchecked, fears and anxieties can make life miserable.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker told Yoda he wasn’t scared to fight the evil empire. Yoda replied, “You will be. You will be” So if you haven’t thought of anything to be afraid of yet, let me give you a few suggestions. I’m sure we’ll find something.

Just about every baby starts off life with an innate fear of falling. Why we sing them the terrifying lullaby “Rock-a-bye Baby” is beyond me. Of course, ask any 90-year old if they’re afraid of falling. They probably are. You see, some fears don’t go away with time.

Researchers tell us that 1 out of 8 of us suffer from some sort of social anxiety disorder. This is where we fear being judged so much that we avoid some situations, like eating in front of others, answering questions in class, teaching lessons, or delivering speeches and sermons.

Some of us have growing anxiety about being out in the open, and so we avoid specific places or isolate ourselves. Some may say that is justifiable during a pandemic, and perhaps it is.

Some of us are afraid of heights. Going to the top of a tall building, or walking along the edge of a cliff, riding an escalator, or even climbing up on a stool at the pulpit.

Some are afraid of flying in planes. Or insects, or snakes, or dogs. Or storms or needles. Or doctors and dentists. Actually, we all should all be afraid of dentists and other monsters.

Most of these fears stem from some sort of bad experience with these things in the past. Therefore, now, when we encounter a similar circumstance, we remember feeling afraid. We don’t like that feeling. We don’t want to experience it again. So we become afraid of being afraid.

For example, I recently developed a new anxiety. Yay! I never thought I was claustrophobic until I had to visit an MRI machine: the old Magnetic Resonance Imaging coffin of doom. My neurologist was trying to figure why I had so much back pain, so he scheduled a body scan. I remember that day well. My back was actively spasming at the time—you could see the muscles quivering. They strapped me down to the tube’s bed and told me not to move a muscle for 45 minutes. I spent every bit of my mental energy trying to stop myself from moving. Even though I had studied psychology for years, it felt like the walls of that noisy machine were closing in on me. My mind was racing. I could barely breathe. My heart was pounding. I started to sweat even though the room was icy cold. I felt nauseated. I even felt phantom itches that desperately needed to be scratched. At least my bladder didn’t explode. This panic attack wasn’t a pleasant experience, to say the least. I felt like Bill Murray in the movie, What About Bob.

Thankfully, the next time, my doctor gave me a “mother’s little helper”, a pill that starts with an X, which helped a whole lot. During the next scan I slept like a baby. Of course, now I don’t think I’ll be able to manage another MRI without a pill, but we’ll face that when it happens.

So we’re all afraid of something. Over the past year, the entire world has learned how to be afraid of each other. We are afraid to shake hands, to hug, even afraid to be seen in public without a mask on. We’re afraid to visit with friends and family and neighbors. We’re afraid of our social media platforms, afraid to speak out without being cancelled, afraid to lose our followers. We’re afraid of the economy, of government overreach, and wonder which freedoms and liberties may be taken away next.

And if we’re not afraid of external influences we may be afraid of internal influences. Such as the fear of displeasing others, the fear of losing our temper, the fear of losing our cherished relationships, the fear of failure, the fear of looking incompetent, the fear of having your fears exposed. And this big one: the fear of having our secret sins revealed.

Facing Fears

Are you afraid yet? I am.

Now, what shall we do with our fears?

Actually, that last fear I mentioned, the one about having our secret sins revealed, can be easily remedied. We can simply stop doing what is wrong, repent and ask for forgiveness. Then, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can cross that fear off our list. In fact, that fear is probably the most onerous of them all. Once you get that monkey off your back, just about everything gets much, much easier, because you are entitled to divine assistance. You’re entitled to have a member of the Godhead be your constant companion!

But what do we do with our other fears? How do we handle them? I’m a simple guy. So I see only two choices here.

First, we can let them sit and simmer. We even feed them with new fuel from time-to-time. Celebrities, media influencers, and commentators help out there. We can let negative thoughts cripple us or scare us into inaction or denial. We can let fears destroy our hope, destroy our dreams, and destroy our faith. We can let them eat us up like a cancer, except this tortuous tumor targets our spirit. If we allow fears to dictate our attitudes and behaviors, then eventually we become miserable. And nothing would make the devil happier. So stewing over our fears and playing the “what if” game is not a good choice. If you’re doing that now, stop it. Just stop it.

The second alternative is much better. We can intentionally replace those fears and anxieties with more constructive emotions, such as hope, optimism, and courageous faith! If we follow these emotions with positive changes in our attitudes and positive changes in our behaviors, then all of a sudden, things become clearer and more easily managed.

Of course, this is always easier said than done, especially if we’ve developed some deep neural ruts. But with consistent and persistent effort, often with the help of others, which may be our fellow members, our church leaders, or even professional counselors and therapists, we can do it.

For example, let’s suppose I was afraid of the dark. Now this is a true story. I was probably five or six years old. Which was only about 20 years ago (smile.) I had a nightmare where I was strapped into a rocket and was flying in space. Stars were zooming past me and I was twisting and turning and getting dizzy. I was hearing screams all around me so, naturally, I started to scream too. This nightmare happened over and over again. One night, my mom tried to wake me up during it. She tried giving me a drink from a glass of water. I was so upset that I bit the glass and cut my tongue and mouth.

So how did I overcome that fear? She took me into a closet where it was dark. She held my hand and calmly talked to me. She had me take deep breaths and try to relax. The first time she did this, I didn’t stay in the closet very long. But on the next day we tried it again. Then again on another day. Every day I got better and better until I could stay in the closet in the dark all by myself for hours and hours and hours. Come to think about it, maybe I should talk to a therapist about that. But the point is I got over it with the help of my wonderful, insightful mother.

By the way, I experienced that nightmare in real life about 10 years later. And it happened exactly like I pictured it. The ship, the straps, the darkness, the stars, the spinning, the screams. It happened as I was riding a new ride at Disneyland called Space Mountain. But this time, I was having a wonderful time.

So overcoming fears is often sped up with the help from others. We all need help from time-to-time. There’s no shame in that. In fact, if we don’t ask for help, we probably also have a problem with pride.

When you combine the help from others with the power of prayer, the power of faith, the power of the priesthood, the power of ordinances, the power of the scriptures, the power of service, the power of repentance, the power of spiritual gifts, the power of testimony, the power of miracles, the power of ministering brothers and sisters and unseen ministering angels—all of whom are operating under the direction of the Holy Ghost and are trying to do the things the Savior would do if he were present—then how can we fail?

Eventually, with enough trial and error, with enough courageous faith, we’ll get to the point where if we sense fear overtaking us, then we can immediately arrest those feelings and switch our attitudes and actions to something that is more constructive. Rather than reacting negatively to stimuli, instead we take positive proactive measures. We think good thoughts, we shift our perspectives, we count our blessings, we adopt a quest for positivity, we do something nice for someone else. We model the behaviors of a worthy mentor. There are so many good things that we can do rather than spending our time worrying.

Remember, fear isn’t a bad thing, especially if it motivates us to be cautious, to be prayerful, to think before we act, to think of the big picture, to think of the effect on others, to seek for help. How we respond to fear is our choice, and our choice alone.

But you may say, Brother Bryce, there are some fears that are just too big for me to handle. I’d agree with you. There are some problems—many problems—that are far too big for us to face on our own. These things require divine interaction.

America

Let me give you an example. The Book of Mormon repeatedly teaches that the American continent is a land reserved for freedom and liberty. The theme of “inasmuch as ye keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land” is repeated over and over and over again.

As we read in the Book of Ether 2:12:

Behold, this [America] is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ.

But what happens when a nation chooses to serve itself and not keep the commandments of Christ? Seems like we’re there, aren’t we? Well, the record is clear on what happens next, isn’t it? It happened to the Israelites, it happened to the Nephites, it happened to the Jaredites, it happened to the Mulekites. It has happened to virtually every society in the history of the planet. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well.

And it happens even faster in our choice land. God cannot tolerate anti-Christian behaviors here as he has in other lands. Why? Because this is the land where Zion will be re-established, where the Kingdom of God will be administered from the New Jerusalem. Like Brother Brigham said, “This is the right place.” Please don’t drive on. There needs to be some righteous people here to help make that all happen.

Furthermore, let’s never forget that God is the literally the author of our liberty. It wasn’t Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Jesus said he was the one that inspired our Founders to write the constitution and its bill of rights. Therefore he is the one that will protect it. Only he has that kind of power. But if we, as a nation, aren’t worthy of his protection, he will certainly withdraw it and his enemies, from both within and without, will destroy it.

But take hope. Remember, these are the latter days. Daniel’s rock that was cut out without hands will continue to roll forth and will continue to gather numbers and momentum. True followers of Christ all around the world will choose to become better and better while the rest of the world chooses to become more and more wicked. Eventually, demarcation lines will be drawn and after a handful of woe-filled years, those who prefer to choose evil over good will be destroyed by God so that the earth may be cleansed and prepared for the great millennial reign of Christ.

Let’s keep in mind that the battles of the last days belong to the Lord. We act under his direction and under the voice of his inspired servants. We do not act out of anger, out of hatred, out of malice, out of revenge, even out of a sense of righteous indignation. We don’t disparage, defame, or deface. We don’t even call people names. We act when moved upon by the Holy Ghost. Period. Until then we pray for our enemies, and pray for peace, and pray that people will awake and arise and choose to walk the straight and narrow path. Not the more popular broad highways, but the relatively small path that leads to Christ, the Tree of Life.

So try not to worry too much about things we can’t control. Which, by the way, is just about everything. The only thing we can control without exercising unrighteous dominion is ourselves. We alone control our thoughts, our attitudes, our behaviors. But as you’re doing that, make sure you don’t exercise unrighteous dominion on yourself. Cut yourself some slack. You are probably harder on yourself than you need to be.

You will have some fears that may never go away. In fact some of our greatest fears may lie in what happens after mortality. But learning how to cope with our weaknesses and imperfections, psychological, physical, intellectual, spiritual—that is why we are here on earth. Learning to handle what we can handle, and then leaving the rest to God—that’s the secret of life.

You are a child of God who created you with a handful of strengths and myriad weaknesses. He did it on purpose. We don’t understand that purpose right now, but it would be wise to trust the judgment of an omnipotent, omniscient being. As children of God, we have an unlimited potential for greatness which will certainly take longer than a lifetime to master—it might even take an eternity.

So for the time being, right here in the year 2021, we cannot solve our global political, social, and economic problems without divine help and intervention. So we pray for it and act on any inspiration that comes our way. We try to become or elect righteous leaders and encourage them to do the right thing. But in the end, national governments and world governments won’t save us. Only the Lord can do that. That’s his calling.

All we have to do is follow inspired church leaders and stick within the boundaries the Lord has set. He will then help us focus on our daily labors.

Daily Labors

Now let’s talk about our daily labors for a minute.

If you’re anything like me, I tend to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I need to do in life. The list is so vast that I’m pretty sure I won’t ever finish it during the two decades I have left. Sometimes I wish I could be like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and live every day over again for hundreds of years until I learn everything I want to learn. But I suspect that isn’t going to happen.

So what do I do? I follow the teachings of the Apostles. First, to start with, I follow the Apostle Paul’s sniff test: if it isn’t virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, it immediately goes off the list. That crosses off lots and lots of things. Next, I’ll apply the Apostle Oaks priority test, and sort everything that left over into buckets that are good, better, and best. Then I start with the best bucket and spend most of my time there.

But in the best bucket there are still lots of things to do. Do I spend time writing in my journal? Do I work on my family history and find the names of those who need temple ordinances? Do I call my relatives who live in other states? Do I work on my Come Follow Me assignment? Do I bake a loaf of bread for my neighbor? Do I volunteer down at the homeless shelter? Do I go walk around the park to get some exercise? Do I sit down and play with my children and grandchildren? Do I invite my ministering brothers and sisters into my life? Do I try to find someone that the missionaries can teach? Do I consider running for local politics? Do I spend some time meditating on the scriptures? Do I work on magnifying my calling? Do I work on my talents? And on, and on.

Even that bucket is too big. So what do we do first? That’s where we let go. God is pleased that we want to do so many good things. He knows we have obligations that take up a lot of our time, and he wants us to fulfill those. But he also knows that we need a balance of work and fun activities, that we don’t run faster than we have strength.

I am so happy that he knows exactly what everyone needs at any given moment in time. Therefore we’re going to ask him. As Carrie Underwood sings, we’re going to let Jesus take the wheel. We’re going to say, “Tell me what you would like done today, Father, and I’ll do it.” Then we wait on our knees until an inspired thought pops into our minds and heart.

That takes faith. But faith always precedes the miracle. Sometimes the answer may be, “It doesn’t matter to me child, they are all great choices, pick one.” If so, do that. But make sure that there is some sort of divine communication going on in this process. If we feel like we have the Lord’s blessing and authorization, then we have absolutely nothing to fear as we courageously work on it. No fear. Just faith and faithfulness. That’s the secret! Personal revelation! Exactly what our current prophet has told us critical for our survival and thrival.

Channeling Fears

So let’s channel our fears and anxieties into something that is positive. And what is that? Well, we’ve already covenanted to consecrate our heart, might, mind, and strength to the Lord. So let’s do that. That’s enough to keep us busy for awhile.

Let’s surrender our will to the Lords. Let’s stop doing the things we want to do and instead do the things God wants us to do. Let’s sacrifice our own egos and purge ourselves of pride and vanity. Let’s share more. Let’s volunteer more. Let’s spend more of our leisure hours helping others. Let’s lift others whose burdens are tough to carry, build loving relationship with as many people as possible, serve those who desperately need help. Let’s forsake any expensive trappings of the world which bind us down, and in return, put on our beautiful garments and sincerely work to build up Zion.

We start with ourselves. Remember, we can’t make someone else do anything. That would be Satan’s approach. All we can do is gently persuade with kindness and long-suffering. We can be an example of goodness. Those who know us will see that we’ve changed, that we’re happier, that we’re kinder, that we’re more loving. Our countenances will start to shine brighter.

Because light is so beautiful and wonderful, it won’t take long before it spreads throughout our families. Of course, only some of our loved ones will get it right away, others need more time. This will surely tug at our heart strings. But it has always been that way. Even our perfect heavenly parents lost at least a third of their children. But this goodness will be so good that it becomes something awesome to behold.

People will see the stark contrast in our lifestyles than the lifestyles of the world. More and more people will willingly sacrifice telestial laws and the telestial glories for the terrestrial and celestial. Our cities will become places of freedom and refuge for good people of all faiths. Our temples will be the center of our lives. All the nations will see that we are different. Our cities will start to shine with so much light and truth and joy and peace and harmony and unity that nothing can affect us.

Oh the dark side will try. We will yet see a day filled with persecutions and troubles. I suspect we will lose a few battles here and there, but we will eventually win the war. With Christ on our side, how can we lose? This is his world. He is its king, whether or not the world admits it. And because he loves all of us, saints and sinners alike, he wants to save everyone and give us each a kingdom of glory. Just how much glory, though, depends on how well we align ourselves with eternal truths and his divine will.

That’s our divine destiny. That will happen. So don’t be afraid of the future. Don’t be afraid of the gathering darkness. Don’t give into the hate and anger, the dark side of the force. The scriptures and our prophets have taught us and will teach us all we need to know. The Holy Ghost will give you as much personal guidance as you let him. Let him hold your hand in the dark closets of your life, then move forward with courageous faith.

Let me close with some comforting words from Elder Richard Scott. This came from a conference address back in 2010. He said:

The Transforming Power of Faith and Character, Richard G. Scott, October 2010

“If you have determined to live righteously, don’t become discouraged. Life may seem difficult now, but hold on tightly to that iron rod of truth. You are making better progress than you realize. Your struggles are defining character, discipline, and confidence in the promises of your Father in Heaven and the Savior as you consistently obey Their commandments. May the Holy Ghost prompt you to always make decisions that fortify your character and yield much joy and happiness.”

Brothers and sisters, I testify that more power, strength, and confidence is available to each of us than we can imagine. There is absolutely no limit to the amount of good that we can do or the good that we can become, when we have courageous faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and are faithful to his invitations. May we all pray for more faith, and then act in more faithful ways. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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