Recently, a missionary companionship working in a large European city received a text message from the assistants to the mission president with a challenge for that week: Each companionship in the mission was being asked to set a baptismal date for an investigator.
“We opened our week with a prayer wherein we told God that we would be working extra hard this week in talking to everybody and looking for the person who was prepared to hear the gospel, and that as we did so, would He put that prepared person in our path,” one of the elders wrote in a letter home to his family.
The missionary wrote that he and his senior companion had been working hard all that week and that he himself had become extra bold in approaching people on trains, streetcars, buses and elsewhere with a gospel message and invitation.
“By Wednesday we still hadn’t found that person yet, and we had actually had not many lessons or success in general,” the elder recounted in his letter. “So we fasted on Wednesday, and our miracle came almost immediately. The following morning, we were walking down the aisle of the train, and a man stopped us and asked if we had any cards with our church address for him.”
They provided him with a card, though it was not convenient at that moment for them to sit down and converse with him. But at the train station, he followed them off the train. They invited him to come with them to a nearby Church-operated young-single-adult center, where they could engage in a discussion.
“He agreed, and things exploded,” the elder wrote. “We taught him about the Restoration, about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Then we invited him to be baptized, and he said, ‘Of course!’ We had an excellent lesson, the Spirit was strong.”
The missionary reflected, “In a matter of a few hours, we met, taught, and committed someone to be baptized!” He said such a thing is a most unusual occurrence in the land where his mission is located.
“I can definitely bear witness that God hears and answers prayers,” he wrote. “I learned a lot about faith as well. When I was younger, I would just pray for things and expect them to be given. It rarely worked. Faith is a principle that is intertwined with action. We have to do our part. We have to show faith in order for God to grant us miracles.”
He likened their experience to the account in Joshua 3 wherein the Lord instructed Joshua to command the priests bearing the ark of the covenant to go to the Jordan River and stand still in the water at the river’s edge. As they obeyed the commandment, and as the soles of their feet touched the water, the river would be parted, enabling the Israelites to pass over on dry ground.
The priests did as they were commanded and the expected miracle transpired.
The missionary expounded, “How often do we come to the metaphorical river in our lives, and stop and say, ‘OK, God, I’m here, part the water’? We have to make the leap of faith and step into the water and get our feet wet. Only then does the water part. Miracles don’t come first in the equation, they come last in the equation. Miracles do not produce faith, but they confirm faith.”
Repeating that faith is intertwined with action, the elder concluded, “Sometimes the action may be to just wait and put your trust in God, but there will always be an action that accompanies faith and miracles.”
The missionary observed a principle that has been demonstrated again and again throughout the ages in the course of God’s dealings with His children.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” the apostle Paul wrote to the Hebrews before citing a long list of scriptural instances where righteous men and women, under God’s direction, had accomplished great things through faith.
The powerful complement of prayer, faith and action is concisely summarized in a saying attributed to St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depended on God; work as though everything depended on you.”
Oliver Cowdery learned that lesson when he tried unsuccessfully to translate the Nephite record by the power of God.
“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me,” the Lord chided him in a revelation give through Joseph Smith and then explained that the divine process of translation, as with other things we seek God’s help in accomplishing, requires exertion on our part (see Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9).
As we work earnestly, God magnifies our efforts, inadequate though they may be, to accomplish the task before us.
We must also trust in the Lord to respond to our prayers and faith in His own way and according to His own timetable. Often prayers are not answered in a manner we might expect, though an answer will surely come if we have sufficient faith.
The miracle experienced by the missionaries in the above example came through unexpected circumstances not directly related to their own efforts, although, had they not been working diligently to bring to pass their goal, they would not have been in a place and a time to encounter the man who approached them on the train.
That said, we must always hold out hope that the Lord will indeed bless us with the fulfillment of our righteous desires as we exercise our faith.
As the missionary said, “Miracles do not produce faith, but they confirm faith.”