The account of Lazarus and the miraculous events surrounding his death and resurrection is beloved by Christians worldwide for its powerful witness of Christ and His compassion. However, another important principle can be found between the lines of scripture about the nature of God and what is asked of us as willing participants in this great test called life.
From the beginning, Mary, Martha, and the other disciples are required to act. The sisters send word to Jesus of Lazarus’ illness and Martha runs to Jesus for comfort when he finally arrives seemingly too late. Both sisters affirm their testimony and belief in Jesus before their brother is raised from the dead. The people of town must show Christ where the grave is, a “cave, and a stone lay upon it.”
Then, when He finally comes upon the grave in mourning, Christ makes a very important request.
“Take ye away the stone.”
Lifting His eyes, He then expresses His gratitude and implores the Father to hear Him. After He “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth,” Lazarus emerges from the tomb. Jesus asks them to remove the shroud and napkin which bind Lazarus.
With infinite power, Heavenly Father and Christ could have completed or completely eliminated the tasks found in this account. Christ could have removed the stone. Lazarus could have come forth in a splendid robe of white. Indeed, our beloved Father and Son could have done anything they wished. But they didn’t and they don’t.
Rather, they ask us to do the majority of what is necessary and then, when only God can complete a task, He comes in mercy to do it. Only the power of God could raise a dead man from His grave. And Christ did it. But everything else was left to those around Him. As my mission president would say, “God will only do what only God can do.”
We all have stones in our lives that we wish would be rolled away. Many of us, myself included, often get into the habit of asking why God isn’t doing something for us. We learn from the account of Lazarus that if God can use someone else, He will. If there is someone He can inspire, someone He can send, He will. If there is something we can learn by acting, with the Atonement of Christ always there to give us strength, He will allow it. If there is some other way, any other way, that will allow God to use His children, He will choose that way. And in those moments, when only His power can complete the task, He will be there.
How can we apply the “Lazarus Principle” in our own lives? Here are three ideas:
- Never Stop Striving. In the midst of great pain and exhaustion, it is easy to curl up in a ball and give up. While we all need to be still and take appropriate time to physically and spiritually rest, striving to have an attitude of “What would you have me do?” can keep the gates of heaven open and our hearts soft. Pray for opportunities to act in whatever manner you can. Using your agency to choose and act can provide strength and courage in the midst of troubled times.
- Serve Others. Lazarus couldn’t complete any of the tasks that needed to be be done. He could not roll away his own stone or remove himself from the shroud. There are people all around us who may feel that they have reached a state of death. By metaphorically rolling away the stone for someone else, we help prepare ourselves when the stone will be rolled away for us.
- Keep Your Eyes (and Heart) Open. We have all likely wished for a miracle as grand as the raising of Lazarus from the dead in our own lives. Whether we receive our great miracles or not, there are small ones in our everyday lives. Elder David A. Bednar called them tender mercies and Gerald N. Lund referred to them as divine signatures. Look for the hand of God in your life, doing only what God can do. He is likely working through you, with you, and for you more than you realize.
In the account of Lazarus, we see the mercy and love Christ has for us. By acting in faith and always striving to move forward, we can lay hold on some of the richest blessings available for us, even when all hope seems lost.