God-given Agency

CinnamonRolls SMALL

First attempt at Cinnamon Rolls!


January 18, 2016 Portalegre, Portugal

Mom and Dad,

So, we realized this week that we can now go into a member’s house, because of a clarification by President Amorim. I mean, we have a member family, a mom and 2 kids that we could previously only talk to in the doorway unless her other, (older) nonmember son was home. But now we have permission from President to visit them. We took full advantage of it this week by having 2 family nights with them. They’re simply incredible. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but out here where we are the leadership and the priesthood, it’s truly a blessing.

In that same family, the mom had a birthday this week. We planned a family night at the church on the day of her birthday, and we actually had a surprise birthday party for her with food and desserts. It was awesome!

I gave a talk in church this week derived from a talk given by Elder Bruce R. McConkie called “Agency and Inspiration.” He talks about how we need to use our agency to make the best choices we can, even though God has commanded that we always look to him and ask for His direction. How can we find a balance between our own agency and God’s inspiration in order to make correct decisions? We make hundreds, maybe even thousands of decisions everyday–what to wear, what to eat, where to go, what to say…etc. Many of these are insignificant decisions, but there are many decisions that can ultimately determine our happiness in this life and our Salvation in the world to come.

It is during these decisions that we are in the most need of the Lord’s guidance. In his talk, Elder Bruce R. McConkie gives 3 examples, 2 of which I will explain, that help us to understand the unique correlation between agency and personal revelation.

1. “You have not understood”

When Oliver Cowdery was writing down the words of the Book of Mormon as Joseph Smith read them, he desired to also have the power to translate. So, surely enough, he asked Joseph to ask God if he could also translate and the Lord said, “Oliver Cowdery, verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive.” Alright, he thought, sure thing. He had faith, he honestly wanted to be able to translate, so he followed the direction given through the prophet, prayed, and tried to translate, but he failed, being totally unable to translate. He then wondered why it was he was not able to do it and the Lord responded, “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” D&C 9:7. So, it wasn’t that Oliver lacked faith, but it was that he hadn’t done everything in his power to work out the problem for himself before he asked the Lord. Because obviously, had he done so, he would have realized that it was not the will of the Lord for him to translate, but that he should be content with his work and help uphold the prophet in his calling. The Lord also clarifies, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong…” (D&C 9:8-9) We can learn that the Lord wants us to use our agency to its fullest by searching for answers and weighing the outcomes. For, how can we thing that the Lord would give us an answer when we “took no thought save it was to ask [him]” ?

2. “Why are you asking me?”

The second is more well-known. It is the story of the brother of Jared. The Lord showed the Brother of Jared, how he was to build the barges, and he did likewise. But there was a problem – they needed air in the Barges. This was a problem that was “totally beyond his capacity to solve.” So, he took it to the Lord, and the Lord tells directly to make holes in the top and the bottom of the barges and when water starts to come in, plug the holes. “Do thus and so and you’ll have air.” Oh! Easy enough; one problem solved. Now, there is one other problem– No light. All who are familiar with this story know that when The Brother of Jared asked the Lord, the Lord responds very differently than the first time, by saying “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (Ether 2:23). So, The Brother of Jared goes to work, carving and shaping stones pure stones from rock of which he believed that if the Lord touched, would glow in the barges, giving light during their journey. And after showing his faith, he presents his plan to the Lord, which is accepted. The Lord knew that The Brother of Jared was capable of finding the solution to the problem, and in the end, learned much more than he would have learned had the answer been given to him. God knows what’s best for each one of us. He wants us seek his counsel and work out problems for ourselves. Many times, we have to weigh the options and present our plan to the Lord. He will answer. He always answers.

Anyway, thanks for all your love and support. Things are going well here and I hope the same is true back home.

Hey Dad!

Thanks for your intuitive insights and perspective. I laughed quite a bit here in the library while reading your email. The other people in the room probably think I’m crazy 🙂 I just finished a lengthy conversation with a retired engineer from England that now buys, fixes, and sells pocket watches on EBay. I don’t know what part of England he is from, but his accent is so thick! I seriously understand Portuguese people better than this guy! It doesn’t even sound like English!

Thanks a lot for the ideas to help M_ quit drinking coffee. We’re going to work to apply them this week. He really needs a stronger testimony of the gospel. Hopefully he will see that the Lord’s ways are higher than the ways of the world.

I kind of miss the snow, actually (I can say that now while I’m here, anyway…). You’re completely right: It’s so much better shoveling someone else’s’ snow than your own. Doing service can be hard, but it’s very fulfilling.

I can only imagine that your family history work has been going steadily. I really would like to get into it, but I just don’t know where to start. I think it would be so much fun to do indexing of names from Portugal! You’ll need to show me the ropes when I get home, how to find names and such. I wonder if Madison still does anything with that after having been assigned by the stake to help people with their family history.

Also, this Wednesday, we’re going to have a world-wide missionary broadcast that we will see with the rest of our district in Abrantes. Should be really cool!

We made cinnamon rolls 🙂 I actually had no idea that cinnamon rolls took so much work! And they grew so big!!!!


Elder Zwahlen


About Elder Zwahlen

Elder Cory Zwahlen is serving a 2-year proselyting mission in the Lisbon, Portugal area, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He entered the Provo MTC on July 9, 2014. One of Elder Zwahlen's favorite scriptures is Alma 29:1-2 "O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth."
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