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Building Upon the Rock of Christ in a Whirlwind

“And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance,which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:11-12, emphasis added)

I’ve heard this scripture about a billion times and I’m not complaining, it’s a great one, but sometimes we can tend to overlook the value of things that we are too familiar with.

The phrase “shafts in the whirlwind” always made me think of tornadoes, but having a shaft inside of a whirlwind didn’t make much sense. Then I thought about this one scene from the movie Twister where the fence posts impale the side of a barn:

That’s certainly a little closer to the meaning, I think. Take a look at the definition of “shaft:”

Shaft: “an arrow, a missile weapon; as in the archer and the shaft”

Sure a tornado may throw sticks around and might hit you, but this definition is talking about a weapon, something more along the lines of a spear or arrow. This would be something that could be deliberately aimed and not haphazardly blown about by the wind. This is a targeted attack, using precision weapons.

The very next thought I had was the phrase, “fiery darts of the adversary” in 1 Nephi 15:24, but I remembered that we have the phrase “fiery darts of the wicked” in Ephesians 6:16, so  using my Strong’s KJV app I took a look at the Greek words used there and what they mean.

Fiery: puroó – to set on fire.
Fire: 7. That which inflames or irritates the passions. 12: tumult; rage; contention; to excite to violent action.
Dart: “bel’os – “a missle, i.e., spear or arrow”

This is really interesting, the “fire” in this instance seems related to passions like rage or contention. I then recalled another verse that associated burning with lust so I looked it up:

“And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” (Romans 1:27)

A lot of stuff to ponder there; apparently these fiery darts that are shot at us seek to provoke passions related to the natural man. In Helaman, we see hail mentioned as well. In South Texas where I grew up, I remembered the occasional hail storm. I used to love seeing balls of ice falling from the sky, we never saw snow, so this was the next best thing!

I decided to look and see if there was any connection between hail and tornados and sure enough:

NOAA (National Weather Service): “Often large hail is observed immediately north of a tornado track.”

I have learned from Avraham Gileadi’s work that wind and hail are chaos motifs used by Isaiah and other prophets in scripture. To any agricultural society, hail is particularly devastating because it destroys crops and the ability for people to feed themselves.

Building upon the Rock

What does it mean to build upon the rock of Christ? That is something we read about in scripture and the advice we often give in talks, “just build upon the rock of Christ,” but do the people using that phrase understand what it means? I hope so.

I’m sure there are several ways you can approach this topic, but I would like to go straight to the source which is Matthew 7 in the New Testament. Jesus has been preaching the sermon on the mount and is now wrapping it up with some final words of warning concerning everything that he has just taught:

“Therefore whosoever hearth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that hearth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall off it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

It is actually pretty straightforward. You build upon the rock by hearing and doing those things that Jesus taught. While I think Jesus is specifically referring to the instruction given in his sermon, I think it applies to any instruction that comes from the Lord, including personal revelation. If our body is a temple and a temple is a house of the Lord, then perhaps there is something associated with temple attendance that can help one build their house upon the rock as well.

Note that in these final verses we read about rain, floods and wind, which seems to parallel the whirlwind and hail mentioned in Helaman. These are all weather-based phenomena that can cause chaos in our lives. How we build determines our ability to withstand these forces when the inevitably come our way.

The sources of  whirlwinds

Elder Neil Andersen brought up an important point that inspired this whole search to begin with, pay attention to the two kinds of whirlwinds he describes:

“Not all the whirlwinds in life are of your own making. Some come because of the wrong choices of others, and some come just because this is mortality.” (Spiritual Whirlwinds, Neil L. Andersen, April 2014)

There are two sources of whirlwinds, other people and just plain old mortality. Jesus’ sermon on the mount does a great job at showing us how to deal with other people. We need to forgive, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, let our light shine, etc. But what about the storms that come from mortality?

How do we build upon the rock when it comes to things that just happen because we are floating on a rock in space, spinning around, and shaken like a snow globe? Well, this is where something in the New Testament jumped out at me. Chapters 5-7 of Matthew contain the sermon on the mount and show us how to live a Christ-like life, but chapter 8 deals with a string of individuals that suffer from the effects or whirlwinds of mortality.

What can we learn from what they do and how they “build upon the rock?” Let’s look at a few of their situations:

“And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:2-3)

The leper came to Christ and worshipped, he respected him and honored his will. He didn’t ask, “please make me clean,” he said, in effect, ‘if you will, you can do this.’ Jesus responds to his faith and grants him the desire of his heart immediately.

Next is the story about the Centurion with a sick servant (Matthew 8:5-13). This story is interesting because Jesus is perfectly willing to travel to see the servant so he can heal him, but the Centurion requests that he simply say the word and let it be done. He compares the situation to his own and explains that when he gives orders, people follow them. It seems as if he somehow understood that Jesus’ power worked in the same way.

Jesus appears astounded by this man’s faith and the servant is healed at that very moment. There’s a lot more to this situation that I’d like to go into some time.

We have the account of Peter’s mother being healed but there isn’t much to go on there. Next there is a group who, “brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick:” (Matthew 8:16)

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this next story is inserted here. Jesus and some of his disciples enter a ship and a bad storm comes along (Matthew 8:23-27). Somehow Jesus is sleeping during all of this; perhaps it was just a busy day.

The disciples panic and wake Jesus, who appears a little frustrated, perhaps because he has been trying to teach them that they have the ability to do the same things he is doing. At any rate, he is patient and rebukes “the winds and the sea,” and there we see those chaos motifs appearing again. Jesus taught about the winds, rain and floods at the end of his sermon and how if they build on the rock they will be safe.

Well, here you have that metaphor playing out in reality. When the winds, rain and floods come for real, you don’t feel very safe! Perhaps if they were on the shore it would have been different, the comfort of the ground would have been welcome. But Christ was talking about building on the rock, and he was the rock and the rock was with them, yet they didn’t realize it. It’s hard to have faith in a whirlwind it seems.

Applying this today

While it is possible to be ministered to directly by the Lord, the mortal ministry has been placed in the hands of agents.

In Doctrine and Covenants 84, the portion that contains the “oath and covenant of the priesthood” (D&C 84:35-36) we read these words:

“And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;”

In our imaginations, most of us would like to think that we would have just run up to the Savior and believed, but would we? Would you have believed that a man as ordinary-looking as you was not just a great prophet but the Creator of the Universe? The God of Israel?

Most might have simply assumed that he was a great prophet of some kind. But regardless, they demonstrated faith and in Lecture 7 of the Lectures on Faith, we find some excellent wisdom:

“Let us here offer some explanation in relation to faith that our meaning may be clearly comprehended: We ask, then, what are we to understand by a man’s working by faith? We answer: We understand that when a man works by faith he works by mental exertion instead of physical force: it is by words instead of exerting his physical powers, with which every being works when he works by faith…” (Lecture 7:3)

“And this is the reason, that men, as soon as they lose their faith, run into strifes, contentions, darkness and difficulties; for the knowledge which tends to life disappears with faith, but returns when faith returns; for when faith comes, it brings its train of attendants with it—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, gifts, wisdom, knowledge, miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc. All these appear when faith appears on the earth, and disappear when it disappears from the earth. For these are the effects of faith and always have, and always will attend it. For where faith is, there will the knowledge of God be also, with all things which pertain thereto—revelations, visions, and dreams, as well as every other necessary thing in order that the possessors of faith may be perfected and obtain salvation;” (Lecture 7:20)

In Matthew chapter 8 we saw people coming to the Lord and voicing their desires with audible words. Jesus has called servants to represent him and his authority on the earth, but how often do we “receiveth them?”

Have you ever considered how important your home teachers may be? Typically, we wait around for them to come to us, but in the New Testament, note the number of miracles that occurred because people sought him out. In our day, the Lord has said that they who receive his servants, receive him.

Why not call your home teachers and invite them into your home, discuss with them your family challenges and ask for blessings in faith. Why be shy and pray alone for God to deliver us, only to physically or mentally turn away his servants.

I was talking to my wife’s aunt, the other day. She was sick and praying for the Lord’s help when her visiting teachers showed up, but she sent them away. She suggested that she had foolishly turned away the very answer to her prayer.

When the whirlwinds of mortality are upon us, we can seek the Lord not only through prayer, but by exercising faith in the weak and clearly mortal servants he has put here for us.

In fact, God didn’t call Joseph Smith because he was amazing, here was his reasoning: “for unto this end have I raised you [Joseph Smith] up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth.” (D&C 124:1) So when you tend to doubt that those goofy home teachers are too old, too young, too apathetic, too whatever, you might want to reconsider.

Now the only reason I mention home teachers specifically is because they are perhaps the closest and most intimately intended official representatives of the Church to the average member. The Bishop, Relief Society President and Elders Quorum President try to get out and visit everyone, but that is primarily the duty of the home as well as visiting teachers (I was recently released as an elders quorum president so my knee-jerk focus toward home teachers is showing).

The main point is this: God has given us the tools, he has given us the instructions and the example to follow. We have the task of applying these things to our day and our individual situations. We will make tons of mistakes, but that’s ok, it is all part of learning and why we are here. We will fail ourselves, but that is why there is repentance. We will fail each other, but that is why there is forgiveness.

Remember, God can turn water to wine.

  • Richard J. Nobbe III

    “So when you tend to doubt that those goofy home teachers are too old, too young, too apathetic, too whatever, you might want to reconsider.” Amen, Amen, and Amen. And I would hope sisters apply this to their visiting teachers, children apply this to their primary leaders, (or better yet, their parents!), and that wards would apply this to their Bishop. I can honestly say with all my heart that I NEVER had a Bishop that I did not love. Some were a lot easier to love/work with than others. But if we find fault in ANY of our leaders, perhaps it is we who need to look in the mirror and “cast out the beam in our own eye.” The greatest thing that will try the Latter-day Saints is the enmity of Pride. (Benson)

  • Richard J. Nobbe III

    I wanted to add some additional insights I have from studying this scripture. This might seem fairly obvious to some, but I think it is significant that it does not say “if” the devil shall send forth his mighty winds…it says, “when.” We know they are coming – in our own lives. This is why we build upon the rock of our Redeemer. Again, it says “when” all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you – this is important. We know not just that the adversary is capable of this, I think we get hard evidence that he does this regularly and is always planning his next attack. But, we are given one of the most sacred promises that WHEN this happens, SHOULD we build our foundation on the rock of our Redeemer, it shall have no power over us.

    And if that was not enough, Helaman seems to elaborate the point so we really really get the message. He goes on and on about the foundation, telling us many things and reiterating the most important points. But it is the ending of the scripture that I love the most. He says, “if men build, (on the sure foundation), they cannot fall.” I had an institute teacher talk about the word “cannot” for almost 20 minutes, trying to impress upon our minds that this was the most powerful word Helaman could have used. He said try and replace the word with “will not,” and it is not as powerful a statement. Along with my teacher, I submit that “cannot” is by far a more powerful expression. The Lord’s covenants with man are binding and he is bound to bless us when we obey. It’s not only that we “will not” fall – with the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are given the promise that it is impossible to fall when we build on the rock of our Redeemer. We literally Cannot fall, and His blood Cannot fail us. It will always suffice. It will always be enough.

    • oneclimbs

      You’re right, the words indicate an inevitabilty. Sometimes we grow complacent and think “all is well” when all isn’t well. The storms come as sure as death follows birth. It is comforting to learn that there is balance and a way to not be doomed to destruction, that there is something sturdy and solid to build upon. Metaphors must become reality for each of us though.