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In 2 Kings 20, I see a tender story of a righteous man who pleaded with a loving Lord. King Hezekiah was very ill, and Isaiah came to him and prophesied of his death. Then this happens.
2 Kings 20:2-3
2 Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying,
3 I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
Isaiah has left by this point, but the Lord tells him to return with a new prophecy; Hezekiah will be healed and live fifteen more years. Hezekiah is commanded to go to the temple on the third day. Hezekiah asks Isaiah for a sign that this will truly come to pass. Isaiah essentially says, “Do you want the clock to go back ten degrees or forward ten degrees?” Hezekiah feels that moving the clock back ten degrees would assure him more fully that this would come to pass.
This story is absolutely fascinating to me for a couple of different reasons. Hezekiah was originally supposed to die, but he received fifteen more years when he prayed to live longer. We know that “no man shall be taken before his time,” so you’re not going to die early if you’re doing what’s right. But is it possible that humans can live much longer after they have completed their pre-mortal promises? Is it possible that we can continue on in this life after we’ve finished the specific work we were given to do?
This story would argue yes. Hezekiah was a good man, and the Lord planned to take him home. However, after some pleading on behalf of Hezekiah, the Lord told him that he could stay. There was more than one path Hezekiah could take that would still please the Lord.
There are a couple of principles we can pull from this story. These principles can help us understand the balance between making our way in the world and giving deference to a loving Father in Heaven.
Choosing the good we want for our lives
We all have been given specific roles to play here on earth. We all made promises before we came here. We all have divine destinies, and we have specific gifts that we are meant to use. However, we can do much more than what we were assigned. If Hezekiah was supposed to die, and if he were a righteous man, then we can assume his specific work was complete. Though his mission was complete, he went to live on for fifteen more years. I don’t believe the Lord wanted him to sit around just because he finished what he was supposed to do; the Lord wanted Hezekiah to go about doing good of his own free will. He didn’t want to compel Hezekiah. He didn’t want to mark out Hezekiah’s every step. The Lord wanted Hezekiah to choose the good that Hezekiah wanted to accomplish rather than being a slothful servant.
And there is the implication for all of us. Sure, we all have divine roles, but we were meant to do far more than those specific divine roles. We need to fulfill our premortal promises, but then we also need to seek out opportunities to do good and to contribute to mankind.
Our agency often plays a bigger role than we realize. The Lord doesn’t want to show you each step you should take; He doesn’t work like that. He prefers the method of course correction. Imagine the power we could have if we simply took responsibility for our own agency. Imagine the good we could accomplish if we didn’t sit around, waiting for the Lord to show us what to do. I am so proud of my daughter when she does what I ask, but I am so much prouder when she chooses to do good on her own without any prompting from me.
Move forward. Choose the good you want to do. Choose what you want to look like at the end of your life, and work as hard as you can to become that person on purpose. Move forward with excitement because the Lord will course correct when necessary. Trust Him on that. It doesn’t mean He won’t ever allow you to go down a difficult path; those are necessary parts of life. But trust Him to help you find your way. You don’t have to be scared; I can assure you that if you have somewhere you want to go or something you want to do, the Lord will be overjoyed at your desire to carve out a fulfilling life for yourself. Sure, you should always be willing to default to His will, but part of His will includes us choosing the good we want to do in our lives.
Ask for what you want
Hezekiah literally asked to live longer. I don’t know about anyone else, but if President Nelson told me that it was my time to die, I don’t think I would have had the courage to ask for more time. I would be afraid that I was going against His will.
But as I examine this story a little bit closer, I realize that the Lord has no problem with us asking for what we want. It’s part of us taking control of our own agency. There is an attitude you can take upon yourself in life. It goes a little bit like this.
“Lord, you and I have an understanding. I want to be happy and grow and find fulfillment in my life. I want to fulfill my premortal promises. I have a testimony that the best way to live my life is to follow Thy will for it. I have learned through experience that I can live a beautiful life by following Thee.
Here is what I’m thinking for my life…(insert personal desires here).This is what I want for my life. I’m asking because I would love this, but I also recognize that I’m looking through my limited view. Please change anything You like.”
When we turn back to 2 Kings 20:3, Hezekiah claims to have walked before the Lord with a perfect heart. I don’t believe Hezekiah was literally perfect, but I believe that Hezekiah had a deep love and respect for the Lord. I believe that Hezekiah must have loved those around him. He was a good person. Part of that goodness must have included his sincere desire for the Lord’s will. It wasn’t some trite saying at the end of a prayer, he really did want the Lord’s will, and the Lord was aware of this.
He also wanted to keep living. AND SO HE ASKED. And guess what? The Lord didn’t mind. In this particular scenario, Hezekiah was obviously not needed on the other side immediately. Hezekiah could do good work on both sides of the veil, and so the Lord happily conceded.
Perhaps we harp on Joseph Smith’s story of losing The Book of Mormon pages too much, or perhaps we take the principles from that story out of their proper bounds. Joseph kept asking and eventually the Lord gave in. I think we fear this result. We fear that the Lord will just let us go and off and do something “wrong.” However, the true problem with Joseph’s situation was that he wanted to please Martin more than the Lord. In his heart (that was not yet perfect), Joseph was more worried about Martin. That was where Joseph made a mistake and learned a very hard lesson.
When we have learned to love and trust the Lord in the way that Hezekiah has, it’s not scary to approach Him with your desires. It is also not scary to trust Him when He has a different idea.
Asking for a sign
So Hezekiah asks to live. Isaiah tells him he’s going to live fifteen more years, and then this happens.
2 Kings 20:8-11
8 And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the asign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up into the house of the Lord the third day?
9 And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?
10 And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.
11 And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz.
So Hezekiah is asking for a sign that he’s actually going to have his desires fulfilled. Normally, sign seeking is seen as a bad thing. However, it’s not really the sign seeking that bothers the Lord. It is the lack of faith that bothers the Lord. We ask for “signs” all the time. Any time you ask for revelation or a testimony of something, you’re technically asking for a sign. You want some assurance from your loving Heavenly Father.
Circling back around to the fact that Hezekiah had a perfect heart, we can assume he was asking for assurance. I don’t think Hezekiah had a lack of faith. After seeing his faith in action when the Lord saved Jerusalem and after reading his prayers to the Lord, I’m not worried about Hezekiah demanding any signs from the Lord. I see a man pleading for assurance from a God whom he knows personally.
Picture yourself as the Lord
Picture yourself as the Lord, not in a sacrilegious way, but as an exercise to better understand Him. When you picture your child whom you love more than anything, how do you want them to feel about you? How do you want them to feel about their lives?
I imagine that the Lord wants us to be excited about the freedom He has given us in our lives. He wants to watch us grow and develop and make choices and step into who we are. He is a loving parent. He doesn’t frown down upon us; He doesn’t withhold blessings until we twist His arm enough. He wants us to go out and do so much good, all by ourselves, and then He wants to hear from us on the “phone.” He wants to hear all about the good we chose to do in our day. He wants to hear the trust in our voice when we ask His advice about where we should go. I can’t imagine that there is a better feeling for Him.
Develop the kind of relationship with God where you aren’t afraid to ask Him. Develop the kind of relationship where you trust Him deeply even when things don’t go according to plan.