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Monday, November 18, 2013

13. Spiritual Land Mine #2: Trusting in the Arm of Flesh

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 13th examining the phrase "calleth on my name".

As we read in my previous post, as you wait patiently for the Lord to manifest his voice and, ultimately, a fulness of his presence in your life, he will incline himself to you.

Unfortunately, while we are waiting on the Lord, we all too often hear nothing but silence or static.  The supposed inactivity on our side of the veil naturally leads us to believe that there is inactivity on the other side of the veil.


Dr. Michael Evans, in his book called "The Light," includes this in the book's introduction:

"Scientists in a laboratory attempted an experiment to measure the power of attitude in rats. They wanted to see how attitude affected the will to live.
One rat was placed in a large tub of water with sides so high it could not get out. The tub was placed in a dark room. They timed how long the rat would keep swimming before it gave up. The rat struggled to survive for a little over three minutes; then it gave up.  
The researchers then placed another rat in the same tub. This time, however, a bright ray of light was allowed to shine into the room. The second rat swam more than 36 hours, 700 times longer than the rat with no light.  
Why was that? The rat with no light had no hope. He saw only darkness. There was no reason to keep swimming." (Source:
That's often what happens when we don't hear anything from God.  We expect words, phrases or sentences from him, and often hear or feel nothing.  We then lose our passion, our enthusiasm, our faith and our belief in he who loves us most.

In many of these cases, when those solutions don't emerge from the Lord, to whom do we often turn?

Another mortal.

Let's Talk Specifics

In my opinion, it's pretty tough to hear the Lord's voice if you're trusting exclusively in another mortal, not him.  Consequently, many Latter-day Saints have become experts in creating exemptions and exceptions to the following words from God:
"Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (2 Nephi 12:22, Isaiah 2:22)
"With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah." (2 Chr. 32:8)
"Thus saith the Lord: Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." (Jer. 17:5)
"O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm." (2 Ne. 4:34)
"Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost." (2 Ne. 28:31)
"The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh." (D&C 1:19)
These scriptural statements are just the tip of the iceberg.  Our tendency to trust in the arm of flesh has been a consistent concern to many apostles and prophets from Old Testament times to today. (Click here for a 5+ page compilation of all quotes I've found regarding trusting in the arm of flesh, in rough chronological order.  If I've missed one, e-mail it to me here).

Let me make this abundantly clear: No matter if a person is a prophet or disciple, if they have seen Christ or not, speaking in an auditorium or meeting room, we are ALL fallible.  ALL of us make mistakes.  And if the statements by the Lord, his prophets and apostles are any indication, we are cursed -- or in jeopardy of being cursed -- if we trust solely in the arm of flesh:
"[Joseph Smith] Said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall--that they were depending on the prophet hence were darkened in their minds from neglect of themselves--envious toward the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy." (Eliza R. Snow, Instruction to Nauvoo Female Relief Society, Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes, May 26, 1842) 
"How often has it been taught that if you depend entirely upon the voice, judgment, and sagacity of those appointed to lead you, and neglect to enjoy the spirit for yourselves, how easily you may be led into error, and finally be cast off to the left hand?" (Brigham Young, JD 8:59; emphasis mine)
Why?  Perhaps trusting solely in the arm of flesh:

1. Is a form of idolatry (which we'll explore with more depth in a subsequent post), because we express faith in a mortal, and not God, thus taking away honor from God and giving it to men.
"The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law." (Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 322)
2. Is a form of ingratitude for the gifts we have been given.  We've been given a spirit, a brain and more to see if he will develop and use them.  We don't if we just blindly heed what any leader or teacher says.
"So long therefore as the people rely upon their leaders, they are not manifesting that degree of faith, they are not in a position to think and reflect for themselves as they should." (Moses Thatcher, JD 26:328)
3. Takes away our agency and potentially our salvation.
"Serve God and trust in Him. You cannot serve man, nor make flesh your arm, for your salvation." (Pres. Wilford Woodruff, Coll. Disc. vol. 2, Apr. 6, 1890)
I love this picture of the Lord
smiling while carrying what?
The black sheep.  Yep,
even the black sheep
get his personal attention.

The Lord Is My Shepherd

"Joseph Smith said to this people, that all the wisdom he had was received from the hand of the Lord." (Brigham Young, JD 1:78)
There are many ways in which we can turn to God while avoiding trusting in the arm of flesh.  Below are two of them (please use the comments box below to submit more):

Strategy #1: If You Find Faults, Leave Any Possible Managerial Decisions To The Lord

Brigham Young -- who was no stranger to Joseph Smith's imperfections -- once commented:
"Though I admitted in my feelings and knew all the time that Joseph was a human being and subject to err, still it was none of my business to look after his faults.  It was not for me to question whether Joseph was dictated by the Lord at all times and under all circumstances or not.  He was called of God; God dictated him, and if He had a mind to leave him to himself and let him commit an error, that was no business of mine.  And it was not for me to question it, if the Lord was disposed to let Joseph lead the people astray, for He had called him and instructed him to gather Israel and restore the Priesthood and kingdom to them.  
It was not my prerogative to call him in question with regard to any act of his life. He was God's servant, and not mine. He did not belong to the people but to the Lord, and was doing the work of the Lord, and if He should suffer him to lead the people astray, it would be because they ought to be led astray. If He should suffer them to be chastised, and some of them destroyed, it would be because they deserved it, or to accomplish some righteous purpose. That was my faith, and it is my faith still." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 4:297-298)
Elder George Q. Cannon also stated:
"Nevertheless, God has chosen these men. He has singled them out, … but He has selected them, and He has placed upon them the authority of the Holy Priesthood, and they have become His representatives in the earth. He places them as shepherds over the flock of Christ, and as watchmen upon the walls of Zion. And He holds them to a strict accountability … for the authority which He has given to them, and in the day of the Lord Jesus they will have to stand and be judged for the manner in which they have exercised this authority. If they have exercised it wrongfully and against the interests of His work and the salvation of His people, woe unto them in the day of the Lord Jesus! He will judge them...” (George Q. Cannon, "Gospel Truth", p. 276; Spencer W. Kimball, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 34-35) 
"[T]he officers of this Church … are responsible to God. God chose and nominated [them], and it is for him to straighten [them] out if [they] do wrong." (George Q. Cannon, Deseret Weekly, May 21, 1898, p. 708; Spencer W. Kimball, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," Ensign, Jan. 1973, p.33)

Strategy #2: Investigate What You Learn

I love what one friend said:

"The Gospel is not about our relationship with the church or with our church leaders. The Gospel is about our relationship with Christ, and until we meet Christ Himself, that relationship is enhanced through the Holy Spirit and the Holy Ghost. We must constantly be seeking confirmation for the significant decisions in our lives. If we are not, we subject ourselves to slavery, which is, in my mind, an abomination in the sight of the Lord in that it contradicts the essential doctrine of agency."

Elder Charles W. Penrose said,
"President Wilford Woodruff is a man of wisdom and experience, and we respect and venerate him, but we do not believe his personal views or utterances are revelations from God; and when 'Thus saith the Lord', comes from him, the saints investigate it: they do not shut their eyes and take it down like a pill." (Elder Charles W. Penrose, Millennial Star Vol. 54 #12 p. 191)
We investigate truth by turning to the one and only infallible source: God.
"The best of men will fail us, . . . but our God can be trusted to the very utmost." (Elder George Q. Cannon, Des. Weekly, Mar. 1891, p. 374) 
"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6) 
"O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name." (2 Nephi 9:41)
 Brother Joseph summarized how we can come unto the Lord in at least two ways:
"[1] Search the scriptures--search the revelations which we publish, and [2] ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how He will save them." (TPJS, pp. 11-12; brackets mine)
In other words, we turn to:

The Revealed Word to Mankind (aka "The General Commandments")
"We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256; emphasis mine). For more about the importance of focusing on the scriptures first, please click here.
The Revealed Word to You (aka "The Personal Commandments")
"How easy it would be for your leaders to lead you to destruction, unless you actually know the mind and will of the spirit yourselves. That is your privilege." (Brigham Young, JD 4:368)
Sometimes, I wonder why our leaders have also repeatedly stated that "we live far beneath our privileges" in having the Spirit of God signify to us His will, and to guide and direct us in the discharge of our duties, in temporal as well as spiritual exercises (see here for more).

I think the reason is simple: We "seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way" (D&C 1:16).  Therefore, you should:
"Go to your secret chambers and ask God and plead with Him, in the name of Jesus, to give you a testimony as He has given it to us, and I promise you that you will not come away empty, nor dissatisfied; you will have a testimony, and light will be poured out upon you, and you will see things that perhaps you cannot see and understand at the present time..." (Wilford Woodruff, Conf. Rept., Oct. 6, 1890)

In Summary

When we trust in the Lord, we depend upon him with the same trust that a little child has in his father.  This covers all areas from one's daily life to eternal life.

The revealed word of God -- through the scriptures and prayer -- provides us with a solid, iron-like foundation that prevents us from stepping onto land mine #2:

"While on our journey here below,
Beneath temptation's pow'r,
Through mists of darkness we must go,
In peril ev'ry hour.

Hold to the rod, the iron rod;
'Tis strong, and bright, and true.
The iron rod is the word of God;
'Twill safely guide us through.

And when temptation's pow'r is nigh,
Our pathway clouded o'er,
Upon the rod we can rely,
And heaven's aid implore.

And, hand o'er hand, the rod along,
Through each succeeding day,
With earnest prayer and hopeful song,
We'll still pursue our way.

Afar we see the golden rest
To which the rod will guide,
Where, with the angels bright and blest,
Forever we'll abide."

So please, avoid land mine #2...

Stop making excuses to trust solely in the arm of flesh.  Stop it now.

"look to God...and live." (Alma 37:47)


  1. Excellent, excellent thoughts and verses to consider. Thank you. It is so sad that so many seem to chant these words over and over again, as if they were the true doctrine: "Follow the Prophet, follow the prophet...don't go astray...." When in reality they are putting their trust and the hope of their eternal life in the Arm of the Flesh! I counter with "Follow the Lord" and I would argue that following the prophet is not the same as following the Lord. I re-emphasize your quote from Brigham Young above: "How easy it would be for your leaders to lead you to destruction, unless you actually know the mind and will of the spirit yourselves. That is your privilege." (Brigham Young, JD 4:368) To all those reading this blog.... do you know the mind and the will of the spirit yourselves? His voice is powerful, pure, sweet and beautiful. I hope that we may all continue to trust in the Lord and find His mind and will for our lives and not rely on anyone else but Him to guide us. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us in the post!

  2. I am reminded from your post the scripture from Paul the Apostle in Galations chpater 1 verse 8 which reads,

    “8 But though we, or an a angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”

    The person who is accursed is the one who accepts any other gospel even if taught by an apostle of the Lord or even an angel from heaven. Only Christ can save us.

    In 1 Kings Chapter 13 verse 1-32 illustrates this beautifully. He a prophet of the Lord lies to another prophet of the Lord and the prophet who disobeyed God for believing the prophet who lied to him is killed because of it. I remember that the wise virgins in the parable of the ten virgins took the Holy Ghost as their guide not man. So must we. Never assume anything about anything. In the story below the first prophet of the Lord assumed that the other prophet of the Lord would never lie to him but that assumption cost the prophet who assumed that his life. For he was killed by God who sent a lion to execute him. See 1st Kings:1-32
    Again we need to know the mind and will of God so we can know what we need to do. I like the story in the Book of Mormon where Lehi receives revelations from the Lord as to what he needs to do, which was to prepare every needful thing and get his family safely our of Jerusalem. He did not go to his priesthood leader, Jeremiah, the presiding authority upon the earth who at that time was imprisoned in Jerusalem. That could be likened unto us by waiting for directions from the brethren in Salt Lake City. No, Lehi did not do that, but did as the Lord directed him personally. Yes, the brethren in authority teach and testify of Jesus Christ and try to teach us how we are to come unto Christ. For that is their calling. But we need to make every effort to come unto Christ ourselves. We alone are responsible for our own salvation.

  3. I really enjoyed this post, but some of the comments do confuse me. I think following the prophet can be a very valuable tool. To say that singing "follow the prophet" is a will to follow the flesh is misleading- because we have been told again and again the prophets can be the mouthpiece for the Lord... as in 'whether from my mouth or the mouths of my servants' for one instance. This theme is taught again and again, and often in the scriptures when people turn away from the prophets there are problems and curses in the land. What you need are both, hand in hand, personal revelation and witnesses and words of living prophets to guide us a people. Sometimes in our lives our personal revelations falter, and our own vision is clouded. Those times would be much better handled if we at least cling to the word of God, even from the mouths of a prophet, then nothing, wouldn't they? Again- I love this post in it's entirety, and finding out what God is asking of you and working through you is vital in spiritual progression- but to insinuate that just "following a prophet" is wrong feels like a jump I just can't get my own heart to make. Perhaps because the words of the prophets have changed my life and helped me so many times, I fell this is a sensitive subject to push.

  4. Oh, make no mistake, Ramona: The words of the Prophets *can* make a significant difference in our lives. For example, Pres. David O. McKay said some beautiful words 46 years ago about meditation: "Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord". To me, that's wonderful counsel which very few of us have taken seriously.

    What the Lord repeatedly condemns, however, is our relying *solely* upon *any* mortal, without weighing in with the Lord on the matter ("maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord" [Jer. 17:5] or as Joseph Smith stated, "depend entirely" upon "those appointed to lead you"). Hence, the Church's own statement that "Individual members are encouraged to independently strive to receive their own spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of Church doctrine. Moreover, the Church exhorts all people to approach the gospel not only intellectually but with the intellect and the spirit, a process in which reason and faith work together." (

    Unfortunately, the gift of the Holy Ghost lies dormant in the lives of many members -- so sayeth Brigham Young and Neal A. Maxwell, who were both prophets (links to these quotes are in this post).

    This is why the Joseph Smith quote under Strategy #2 is so critical -- *when* you hear statements by another mortal, check them out! That way, you won't be *solely* dependent on man for the knowledge of God.

    So says the Lord, his church and its leaders.

  5. The blog's author is doctrinally sound and matches perfectly what Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in the April 2012 General Conference:

    "At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such.” President Clark, quoted earlier, observed:

    “To this point runs a simple story my father told me as a boy, I do not know on what authority, but it illustrates the point. His story was that during the excitement incident to the coming of [Johnston’s] Army, Brother Brigham preached to the people in a morning meeting a sermon vibrant with defiance to the approaching army, and declaring an intention to oppose and drive them back. In the afternoon meeting he arose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning, but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address, the tempo of which was the opposite from the morning talk. …

    “… The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest.” - The Doctrine of Christ by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Ensign, May 2012.

  6. The bottom line to me is Don't be spiritually lazy! Get a confirmation for yourself of what anybody -- ANYBODY -- professes to be truth. Because nobody -- NOBODY -- is perfect. And deep down, you know that. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good"