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Meek Warhorse


Norm's last church talk/sermon in Utah before moving to Texas
July 2018, Lehi UT, Traverse Mountain 8th Ward

Hello brothers and sisters, it’s my privilege to speak to you today.  I guess this is our good-bye address even though we haven’t moved yet, which I’m taking as a personal sign that the bishopric can’t wait for the next family to move in. (that was a joke, guys)

In my remarks today, I’m going to cover an alternative definition of meekness that really struck a chord with me.  Once I’ve introduced this idea, I’m going to share my supporting argument for meekness as a strength, and then I’m going to talk about how I believe we can develop this form of meekness in our lives.

As Kristy told you, our topic is “being meek and lowly of heart” which, in the terms I normally think of meekness or lowliness, is a subject that does not come naturally to me.  I am not naturally what I consider to be meek, quiet or, as Kristy would tell you, all that well behaved.  While I’ve heard the phrase hundreds of times as a church member, I want to make sure I really understood what these words mean.  When I hear them, I automatically translate “meek and lowly of heart” to mean “humble, patient, and a bit of a doormat.”  

I really do hear “meek and lowly of heart” and think of an impossible standard of Christlike humility patience, quietness and boring monotony. 

I’m excited to share, however, that a little research into the meaning of these words significantly changed my point of view as to what these phrases mean.  Now, what I’m about to share isn’t meant to conflict with the church definition of meekness, as referred to by Elders Bednar and Soares, and if you choose to listen to either me or Kristy, I would recommend you listen to her version of meekness.  I’m simply sharing something that resonates with me.

Merriam-Webster defines lowly as: “in a humble or meek manner.”  So “meek and lowly of heart” means we should be “meek and meek of heart.”  Why the repetition?  It doesn't seem to make sense, but the focus is clearly on being meek, so what does that really mean?  The phrase that first comes to my mind is “meek as a mouse” which sounds, to my ears, like something that knows it is small and weak, so it should avoid upsetting anything or anyone lest something bigger swat the meek mouse with little to no effort.  And that idea, of being quiet and keeping to myself out of fear, just doesn’t sit well with me.  I would wager it doesn’t sit well with many of you either.

Oxford's definition of "meek" seemed to confirm my low opinion of the word, a definition that reads: “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive.”  Reading that I think I get it in gospel terms – I should be submissive to God’s will, I shouldn’t be prideful, I should be kind and gentle, turn the other cheek, and I want to develop those Christlike attributes.  But man, I don’t like the idea of being imposed on.  It just rubs me the wrong way, which makes me feel like I’m already failing at being “meek and meek of heart.”

So I turned to the church Guide to the Scriptures definition of meek, which Elder Soares references, and it says meek means: “Godfearing, righteous, humble, teachable, and patient under suffering. The meek are willing to follow gospel teachings.”  I consider myself willing to follow gospel teachings, I try to be righteous, but I’m rarely accused of being humble or even all that teachable.  I do try, though, to be humble and teachable, but it’s not natural for me.  What stood out to me here, though ,is that no where does it say meek is being quiet, easily imposed on or submissive.  Maybe we kind of associate those words with humble, but there’s a big difference, in my mind, between being humble and being easily dominated.  So which definition is it?  These two definitions don’t entirely agree.

Unsatisfied with the gap between definitions, I kept digging and looking for alternative explanations.  I eventually found a website (called Bible Hermeneutics (pronounced HERMAN-YOU-TICS)) where several Bible professors, theologians and those interested in understanding the interpretation of the Bible exchanged research, opinions and ideas.  

What I learned, and confirmed through other sources, is that the Greek word that, in the English Bible is translated as meek, is praus. As with many languages, it doesn’t have a precise, easy or direct translation into English.  It is often translated as meek, gentle, mild or humble.  What I learned is that praus was used in Greek not to explain a physically weak or submissive person, but to describe “strength under control.”  Listen to this excerpt:

“From what I am reading meek and gentle have really bad connotations in English that did not exist in "praus". A War Horse would be "praus", but in English it would not make much sense to call a warhorse meek or gentle. It's not a meek horse, it is a horse that humbly works with all his skill and strength under his master's guidance. A lot of what I am reading is saying it denotes an inward calm acceptance of gods will. In fact one of the sources I am reading says that the Greeks used a completely different word to denote physical gentleness, so praus definitely did not mean physical meekness.”

I liked the idea of the war horse – first I’m supposed to be a mouse, now I’m supposed to be a war horse!  We’re headed in the right direction!



I also liked the idea of war horse because it feels like it fits really well with the Savior’s use of meekness.  In Matthew 11:29 He says: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  With my new understanding of the word meek meaning strength under control, like a well-trained warhorse, it makes more sense to me that the Savior is using the analogy of a farm instrument, a yoke, that is designed to harness the raw strength of a powerful animal.  So if I were to restate the Savior’s words, I think it would sound like: “Harness your strength to mine, and learn about who I am; I am strong and in control of my strength, and by learning to control yours as I control mine, you will find a deep, inner peace you wouldn’t otherwise know.”

This idea of meekness as “strength under control” really resonates with me.  When I think of the Savior when He walked the earth, I don’t think of a man who was easily intimidated or easily imposed on.  I do think of a man who was humble and kind, but not humble because he was afraid or easily imposed on.  He was humble because He knew His own strength.  When I think of the Savior being the perfect example of meekness, I think of a man who was strong mentally, strong spiritually and, as a carpenter, someone who was also strong physically. 

A quick review of the Savior’s life confirms He was not easily intimidated, forced to submit or imposed on:

In the short space of the few years before His crucifixion, the Savior:

·         Faced and cast out a legion of demons
·         Faced down Satan after fasting for 40 days
·         Calmed a tempest
·         Faced down the culture and authority of his day by being a counter-culturalist, which he knew would earn a death sentence.  He did this when He:
o   Ate with sinners and cared for lepers
o   Declared Mosaic Law obsolete
o   Healed on the Sabbath
o   Proclaimed Himself the Lord of the Sabbath
o   Named Himself greater than Jonah and Solomon
o   Chased the moneylenders out of the temple
o   Named himself Jehovah

To me, these acts are not the acts of a timid, scared mouse.  They are the acts of a confident, kind warhorse who knows His own strength and uses it only for the good of others, or in obedience to His Father.  He was still gentle, kind, compassionate and loving, but He was clearly unafraid, ready to act, and confident in His own capabilities.  This meekness, this strength under control, is perfectly exemplified in Matthew 26.

When the soldiers come to take Jesus away, Peter wants to fight them, injuring one of the soldiers.  Jesus stops him, heals the solider and reprimands Peter, saying “Don’t you think that I could pray and have 12 legions of angels here to fight for me?  Put your sword away; control yourself.  This is part of the plan, that the strongest man to walk the earth controls His strength and surrenders His will to the Father’s and His life to mortal enemies.”

This idea of strength under control is so powerful that in the Beatitudes, Jesus taught that the meek shall inherit the earth.  I used to think that meant that, in typically cryptic Bible-talk, that the weakest and quietest will be put in charge.  My thinking had been that in the long view, those who were powerful on earth would find out that power didn’t go with them when they died, and the good, righteous people, who also happened to be quiet and easily dominated, would just get their turn to be in charge because , karmically, God would make it that way and would force the people who had been strong on earth to take orders from those who had been weak/meek on earth.


Now I read it to mean that the meek-weak won’t inherit the earth, but those who are quietly strong and don’t need to prove their strength, they will inherit the earth because they’ve mastered themselves as the Savior has mastered Himself.  They are in control of themselves and, by extension, their environment.  This will put them in a spiritual position where they’re ready and able to confidently and quietly lead in the Lord’s kingdom.

I think this conveys a sense of security, a confident assuredness that, with strength under control, there is no need to prove oneself to anyone, or to seek more than is needful.  This translates to humility and lack of bluster, as none is needed by those who know their own strength and have mastered it.  I hope these examples have given some credence to the idea that we can think of meekness as “strength under control.”  So if we accept that premise, then how do we develop this type of meekness, this strength under control?  Please allow me to suggest ways to develop meek control over our strengths:

Ruling our own spirit:

When Christ’s disciples woke him during a tempest, His first words to them were “Why are ye fearful?”  When, after His resurrection, He walked on the water and they thought He was a ghost, He said “Be not afraid.”  When Jairus came to Him, asking if Christ could do anything for his dead daughter, Christ’s answer was “Be not afraid, only believe.”  I don’t believe He was just saying this as a way to calm them; I think He was also instructing them, saying “Control your fear.  It’s going to be okay.”  He was teaching them to control their spirit.

Think of all the different teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.  Be merciful, hunger and thirst after righteousness, be a peacemaker.  All of these are about controlling our spirit and our emotions.

I’d like to share a mental exercise that has helped me as I’ve tried to manage my own emotions.  I read about it, in all places, in a book about the phases of business growth.  In one part of the book, the author mentions something he calls the rock and the pond.  It’s a very small part of a very good book, but it’s the part I remember most. 

The point of this exercise is to think of our minds like a beautiful, still pond.  If we were to throw a rock in a pond, what happens?  There is a short-term splash that lasts for a second, and then ripples last for another minute or two.   Then the pond is perfectly still again.  What’s beautiful about the pond is that it responds to the rock with exactly the right amount of energy – not one ounce more or one ounce less.  The splash is exactly proportionate to the size of the rock and the ripples last for exactly as long as is necessary and not one second longer.
  
The goal of this mental exercise is to follow the pond’s example.  Our minds are the pond, and we know that part of life is that rocks will be thrown at our pond.  Some rocks are bigger than others, but they will come.  When they do, is our mind throwing up a splash worth of a boulder when life threw us a pebble?  Are we rippling for 3 days after someone says something we didn’t like, or are we allowing our ripples to calm themselves?  Sometimes, do we even let our ponds ripple when we see a rock heading for someone else’s pond?

This mental technique has helped me control my mind, emotions and spirit by giving me a tool I can use to gauge my response to a rock heading my way.

Practicing Perspective

Having tunnel vision is a maddeningly mortal mannerism.  Referring back to those times when I was experiencing a great deal of doubt about making a big decision with Kristy, the way she would help me feel better would be to widen my perspective.  She would help me take a step back and look at the big picture, and to see that what I was seeing as a giant boulder approaching my pond was really a smaller, more manageable stone or pebble.

The Savior did the same thing.  He reminded the people he taught about His Father’s house and his Father’s kingdom.  He also told Joseph Smith, in the midst of his afflictions, by way of reminder, that his trials were but for a little while.  It’s super hard for me to do that at times, to see outside of my circumstances.

As Kristy and I have been contemplating the idea of taking this job in Dallas, all that it would mean for our family, and as we’ve been navigating the family challenges Kristy mentioned, I cannot tell you how many times I have been afraid.  I’ve been scared, I’ve been nervous, I’ve been anxious, and I’ve prayed so hard.  I’ve prayed, fasted, worked, meditated, prayed some more, and I still had days of crushing doubt and fear.  And Kristy would have her days of fear and doubt, too.  What’s remarkable is that not once did we have a down day at the same time.  Any day I was down, she was in a place where she could pick me up, help me take a deep breath and rein in my worries.  And on the few occasions when she needed me, I was in a place where I could do my best to lift her up.

In the midst of this, to have the assignment to learn more about meekness and to prepare to share what I’ve learned, it’s really helped me.  I’m able to see myself more as a capable warhorse, not only blessed with strength of my own, but also with access to a strength and a grace beyond my own.  I’m grateful for our Savior, for His example of humility and strength under control, and for His personal involvement in our lives. 






Comments

  1. “maddeningly mortal mannerism” <3
    Thanks for sharing Kristina.

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    Replies
    1. Love that you read it, and thanks for commenting too! I appreciate your support and insights.

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