Often the Lord sends us help through others. Maybe you have been succored by someone and felt that they were the answer or help that you needed. Perhaps you have been our Father's tool and helped someone else. This is a beautiful way for the Lord to accomplish His purposes. I'm reminded of Moses who, as long as he held the rod of God in the air for his armies to see they prevailed. When he lowered his arms the tables would turn and their enemy Amalek prevailed. Of course we know Aaron and Hur stepped in and helped hold up his arms. Periodically, the Lord finds it necessary to not send help but rather allow us to push ourselves to our limits and then increase our capacity. What does this have to do with the atonement you might ask?
In my favorite devotional of all time, The atonement and the Journey of Mortality, Elder David A. Bednar spoke of the atonement: '"[Grace is] a word that occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul. The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.
'“…. It is through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”
Grace is the divine assistance or heavenly help each of us desperately needs to qualify for the celestial kingdom. Thus, the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity."
The atonement is our gift from the One who loved us enough that he would "tremble because of pain, and bleed at every pore." D&C 19:18. He wants us to take advantage of it, not just the repentance part but of the enabling power also. I think many don't fully understand this area of the atonement or realize we can call upon the Lord through the atonement this way. Because Jesus Christ suffered for us individually- experienced all our pains, infirmities, flaws, sins, losses and hardships he understands completely. But it's more than just understanding our feelings, pains and desires. Partner this with his knowledge of the bigger picture and he knows HOW to help us. He knows what we need to manage and endure our trials. He knows what we need to learn and grow and be strengthened. He knows how best to bring us back to him and our Father. He truly is the best friend we have.
A few months ago in the Ohio, Columbus mission 6 new Amish converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints touched the hearts of a congregation and those of us who've since been privileged to hear their story. Imagine for a moment the reaction to their decision to join the LDS church. They must have known their community wouldn't take it well. But these faithful, brave men and women were more concerned about pleasing the Lord than pleasing their family, friends and community-a lesson for many of us in and of itself. Because of their choices they have had to withstand major persecution and could possibly lose "their employees, their businesses, their extended family member’s friendship and support, their children’s schools, etc."
On this particular Sunday, one of the six, a man named Paul was giving the closing prayer in Sacrament meeting and said these humble words, “Help us stay strong. We don’t want a lighter load, we just want help to carry it.” What a courageous, inspiring plea. I've thought a lot about this story over the last few months. This is a not just a call for help from the Lord but a desire for personal growth and strength not unlike Alma who with Amulek had been imprisoned and tortured for many days when finally "Alma cried saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound;"
For the past few years I've been enduring the trial of my life. Because it involves someone else I won't go into detail but I've had occasion to need strengthening from the Lord. Sometimes he's sent another person, mostly he's sent peaceful and comforting feelings from the Holy Ghost. Enduring for so long has been a trial all on it's own. Recently I decided to take Paul and Alma's examples and put them to use. I prayed for strength to handle this trial in a Christ-like manner when all I really wanted to do was crumble. My experience was amazing. I can't pin-point an actual moment that it happened but soon after I started praying for this strength my burden seemed lighter. Not in an "I don't care anymore" way but more in a "The Lord has things under control" way. It has left me not just able to function but able to do more of the work the Lord wants me to do. My capacity to handle things has grown and I feel peace again. I liken it to a cup that is completely full of water, even another drop of water would make it spill over. Then that cup is replaced with a quart and that cup of water isn't such a burden anymore because the actual vessel is bigger. The Lord said, "Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden and I will give you rest" Matthew 11:28. I love this way of accomplishing it.
Some day this challenge will be over and the outcome will be wonderful. I look forward to that day. Let me quote Alma again. "And Oh, what joy and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain." Alma 36:20 That is what the Lord has in store for us. He's done much of the work for us. We just need to call upon him.