“Chapter 13: Obedience Born of Faith in God,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 135–44
“Chapter 13,” Teachings: Spencer W. Kimball, 135–44
In March 1972, when Spencer W. Kimball was Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he was experiencing serious heart problems. At the time, one of his doctors was Russell M. Nelson, who would later become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Elder Nelson recounted:
“When President Kimball’s heart was failing and he sensed that death was nigh, he obtained a conference with his file leaders in the Church, the First Presidency. To provide medical information as requested, he invited his devoted cardiologist, Dr. Ernest L. Wilkinson, and me.
“President Kimball breathlessly began, ‘I am a dying man. I can feel my life slipping. At the present rate of deterioration I believe that I can live only about two more months. Now I would like my doctor to present his views.’
“Dr. Wilkinson then reaffirmed President Kimball’s feelings, concluding that recovery would be unlikely and death would ensue in the not-too-distant future.
“Then President Kimball called on me as a cardiac surgeon and asked, ‘What can surgery offer?’
“I indicated that an operation, if it were to be done, would consist of two components. First, an aortic valve replacement would be required. Second, an important coronary artery with a blockage should be treated with a bypass graft.
“President Harold B. Lee of the First Presidency then asked the crucial question, ‘What would be the risks with such a procedure?’
“‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘In a man aged seventy-seven, the risk of either of these operations is significant. But to do both on one whose heart is failing would entail risk so high that the operation cannot be recommended. …’
“As a weary President Kimball responded, ‘I am an old man and ready to die,’ President Lee interrupted. He rose to his feet, pounded his fist to the desk, and said, with his prophetic power, ‘Spencer, you have been called! You are not to die! You are to do everything you need to do to care for yourself and continue to live.’
“President Kimball replied, ‘Then I will have the operation.’
“He underwent that complex operation not because it was deemed to be reasonably safe in the opinion of his medical advisers, but because he was obedient to the counsel of the Lord, expressed through the leaders of the Church—regardless of personal risk.
“The outcome is well known. He was blessed to survive the operation which reversed the tide of his deterioration.”1
Through his example and his counsel to the Saints, President Kimball taught that we are blessed as we show our faith in God by being obedient to His will.
The exercising of faith is a willingness to accept without total regular proof and to move forward and perform works. “Faith without works is dead” [James 2:26] and a dead faith will not lead one to move forward to adjust a life or to serve valiantly. A real faith pushes one forward to constructive and beneficial acts as though he knew in absoluteness.2
One may enjoy the benefits of the miracles in the physical world without a complete knowledge of the underlying principles involved. He may turn darkness into light by pushing a button and read in the darkest night. He need not be able to develop the electricity, nor to have the knowledge to wire the home. But he must have the faith sufficient to secure lamps and faith to turn the switch. He then may receive the light. … He may turn a dial and enjoy sweet music from afar without being able to fashion a radio or understand fully its workings, but the blessing will never be his unless he connects his set with the power, and turns the dial correctly. In like manner, one may receive spiritual blessings and manifestations, by establishing contact turning the dial. Faith manifested by prayer and works is that key.3
We pray for enlightenment, then go to with all our might and our books and our thoughts and righteousness to get the inspiration. We ask for judgment, then use all our powers to act wisely and develop wisdom. We pray for success in our work and then study hard and strive with all our might to help answer our prayers. When we pray for health we must live the laws of health and do all in our power to keep our bodies well and vigorous. We pray for protection and then take reasonable precaution to avoid danger. There must be works with faith.4
There must be a faith in God that will cause men to cleanse their lives; to forget themselves in the service of their fellow men and to overcome all weaknesses of the flesh; a faith that will bring about a repentance which is total, continuing and which will bring them to baptism, the priesthood, and temple ordinances.5
Herein lies the genius of the gospel of Jesus Christ, perceived by only the spiritual eye. Under the gospel’s beneficent laws, everyone—rich or poor, learned or unlearned—is encouraged first to perceive with the eye of faith and then, through effort, to express that faith in a higher, nobler life.6
We render intelligent, constructive obedience when we voluntarily, humbly, and happily obey the commands of our Lord.7
To obey! To hearken! What a difficult requirement! Often we hear: “Nobody can tell me what clothes to wear, what I shall eat or drink. No one can outline my Sabbaths, appropriate my earnings, nor in any way limit my personal freedoms! I do as I please! I give no blind obedience!”
Blind obedience! How little they understand! …
When men obey commands of a creator, it is not blind obedience. How different is the cowering of a subject to his totalitarian monarch and the dignified, willing obedience one gives to his God. The dictator is ambitious, selfish, and has ulterior motives. God’s every command is righteous, every directive purposeful, and all for the good of the governed. The first may be blind obedience, but the latter is certainly faith obedience. …
Is it blind obedience when one regards the sign “High Voltage—Keep Away” or is it the obedience of faith in the judgment of experts who know the hazard?
Is it blind obedience when the air traveler fastens his seat belt as that sign flashes or is it confidence in the experience and wisdom of those who know more of hazards and dangers?
Is it blind obedience when the little child gleefully jumps from the table into the strong arms of its smiling father, or is this implicit trust in a loving parent who feels sure of his catch and who loves the child better than life itself? …
Is it then blind obedience when we, with our limited vision, elementary knowledge, selfish desires, ulterior motives, and carnal urges, accept and follow the guidance and obey the commands of our loving Father who … created a world for us, loves us, and has planned a constructive program for us, wholly without ulterior motive, whose greatest joy and glory is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of all his children? [See Moses 1:39.]8
It is not blind obedience, even without total understanding, to follow a Father who has proved himself.9
Our righteous and wise parents, Adam and Eve, were exemplary in the matter of obedience born of childlike faith:
“… And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
“And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
“And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.” (Moses 5:5–7.)
Blind obedience? Assuredly not. They had known Jehovah, heard his voice, walked with him in the Garden of Eden, and knew of his goodness, justice, and understanding. And so for “many days” they killed the blemishless lambs and offered them without knowing why, but in total confidence that there was righteous purpose in the law and that the reason would unfold later after compliance.10
Paul speaking to the Hebrews said:
“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house.” (Heb. 11:7.)
As yet there was no evidence of rain and flood. His people mocked and called him a fool. His preaching fell on deaf ears. His warnings were considered irrational. There was no precedent; never had it been known that a deluge could cover the earth. How foolish to build an ark on dry ground with the sun shining and life moving forward as usual! But time ran out. The ark was finished. The floods came. The disobedient and rebellious were drowned. The miracle of the ark followed the faith manifested in its building.
Paul said again:
“Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” (Heb. 11:11.) …
So absurd it was to be told that children could be born of centenarians that even Sarah doubted at first. But the faith of a noble pair prevailed, and the miracle son was born to father multitudes of nations.
Exceeding faith was shown by Abraham when the superhuman test was applied to him. His young “child of promise,” destined to be the father of empires, must now be offered upon the sacrificial altar. It was God’s command, but it seemed so contradictory! How could his son, Isaac, be the father of an uncountable posterity if in his youth his mortal life was to be terminated? Why should he, Abraham, be called upon to do this revolting deed? It was irreconcilable, impossible! And yet he believed God. His undaunted faith carried him with breaking heart toward the land of Moriah with this young son. …
“He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
“And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.” (Rom. 4:20–21.)
Father Abraham and Mother Sarah knew—knew the promise would be fulfilled. How—they did not know and did not demand to know. Isaac positively would live to be the father of a numerous posterity. They knew he would, even though he might need to die. They knew he could still be raised from the dead to fulfil the promise, and faith here preceded the miracle.11
Remember that Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and others could not see clearly the end from the beginning. They … walked by faith and without sight. Remember again that no gates were open; Laban was not drunk; and no earthly hope was justified at the moment Nephi exercised his faith and set out finally to get the plates. No asbestos clothes or other ordinary protective devices were in the fiery furnace to protect the three Hebrews from death; there were no leather nor metal muzzles for the mouths of the lions when Daniel was locked in the den. …
… Remember there were no towns and cities, no farms and gardens, no homes and storehouses, no blossoming desert in Utah when the persecuted pioneers crossed the plains. And remember that there were no heavenly beings in Palmyra, on the Susquehanna or on Cumorah when the soul-hungry Joseph slipped quietly into the Grove, knelt in prayer on the river bank, and climbed the slopes of the sacred hill.12
In faith we plant the seed, and soon we see the miracle of the blossoming. Men have often misunderstood and have reversed the process. They would have the harvest before the planting, the reward before the service, the miracle before the faith. … Many of us would have the vigor without the observance of the health laws, prosperity through the opened windows of heaven without the payment of our tithes. We would have the close communion with our Father without fasting and praying; we would have rain in due season and peace in the land without observing the Sabbath and keeping the other commandments of the Lord. We would pluck the rose before planting the roots; we would harvest the grain before its planting and cultivating.
If we could only realize as Moroni writes:
“For if there be no faith among the children of men, God can do no miracle among them. …
If we can walk now by faith, if we can believe in the rich promises of God, if we can obey and patiently wait, the Lord will fulfil all his rich promises to us:
It takes a great faith to pay tithes when funds are scarce and demands are great. It takes faith to fast and have family prayers and to observe the Word of Wisdom. It takes faith to do home teaching, [member] missionary work, and other service, when sacrifice is required. It takes faith to fill full-time missions. But know this—that all these are of the planting, while faithful, devout families, spiritual security, peace, and eternal life are the harvest. …
… Just as undaunted faith has stopped the mouths of lions, made ineffective fiery flames, opened dry corridors through rivers and seas, protected against deluge and drouth, and brought heavenly manifestations at the instance of prophets, so in each of our lives faith can heal the sick, bring comfort to those who mourn, strengthen resolve against temptation, relieve from the bondage of harmful habits, lend the strength to repent and change our lives, and lead to a sure knowledge of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Indomitable faith can help us live the commandments with a willing heart and thereby bring blessings unnumbered, with peace, perfection, and exaltation in the kingdom of God.15
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Look at the title of this chapter. Why is obedience an act of faith?
Read about the decision President Kimball had to make in March 1972 (pages 135, 137). What gospel principles do you think apply when we are faced with difficult decisions?
As you read President Kimball’s comparison between “blind obedience” and “faith obedience,” what differences do you see? (See pages 139–40.) What do we know about Heavenly Father that can help us obey Him “voluntarily, humbly, and happily”? What might you say to a person who claims that Church members blindly follow their leaders?
Review the scripture stories on pages 140–42. What are some things the people in these stories have in common? What do you have in common with them? What can you learn from them?
When have you seen that faith precedes the miracle? (For some examples, see pages 142–43.) How can we teach our families that faith precedes the miracle?