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Thursday, May 29, 2014

05. Walking and Talking with God, Part 4: Fearlessness

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the fifth examining the phrase "obeyeth my voice".

Anciently, prophets of old would climb -- or be carried away by the Spirit to -- a tall mountain.  At the top, they would meet a heavenly being (often God) face-to-face, and speak with Him as one man speaks with another (Exodus 33:11).  Afterwards, they would descend, usually to circumstances that grossly contradicted the divine experiences they had just enjoyed at the top of the mountain.

So it is with you.

Christ constantly beckons you to ascend to the top of your beliefs, which is a belief in Him.  Yet once you do so, the instant you trust Christ, when you surrender a part of yourself (or maybe all of yourself) to Him, two simultaneous processes are put into motion:

First, you win.  Decisively.

Second, Satan escalates his game to pull you down from the top of the mountain.  It's a customized, personalized, well thought-out strategy which is:

  1. More subtle than you suppose (Alma 12:4),
  2. Based on millennia of experience and a knowledge of you which likely surpasses even your own knowledge of yourself, and 
  3. Implemented by some of Satan's most capable, results-oriented captains and generals who won't go down without a fight.

Thus, a new (or renewed) battle for your soul takes place.

Only, it needn't happen.

You can stay on the victor's podium.  You can disregard Satan's lies that say you don't deserve to stay there, and in so doing, you can render his tugs at you unproductive and useless, frustrating and futile.

Spiritual Root Cause Analysis


Root Cause Analysis
(RCA) is a method of problem solving that tries to identify the root causes of faults or problems. Instead of simply addressing the symptoms of a problem, RCA attempts to (1) identify the core cause of a problem, (2) correct it and (3) prevent recurrence of the problem.  Today, RCA is used to reduce the incidence of pain in medical patients or to determine why seeds don't germinate.  It was also used as part of the investigation into the Challenger space shuttle explosion.

So it is with spirituality.  When you experience a decrease in your spirituality, it may be helpful to employ a little RCA to determine the root cause of the fault or problem.  Luckily, we have some good insights on one such common fault or problem: fear.
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)
The equation is clear: You can't be fearful and be on the Lord's side.  When you cease trusting in God, you disconnect yourself from His protective influence (which includes power, love and having a sound mind).

Without that love, you engender the spirit of fear (1 John 4:18; see below) -- for example, the fear of failure.  Fear of not being good enough.  Fear of letting go of control.  Fear of being alone.  Fear of abandonment.  Fear of discomfort.  Fear of missing out.  Fear that you’re not OK as you are or your life isn't OK as it is.  Fear that some ideal won’t come true.

This fear endows, empowers and enlivens the parasite of evil power.  Thus, it becomes apparent that fear is not the opposite of faith.  Instead, it is a form of faith -- just in the wrong power source.

In the midst of this "spiritual dissonance", the symptoms of fear can manifest in a number of recognizable ways: for example, impatience, insecurity, boastfulness and a lack of brotherly kindness.

Naturally, under those conditions, you begin to feel like you're losing control.  The more you seem to be losing control, the more you step up to take control.  Thus, a new, renewable energy source is created: pride.  From there, a multitude of destructive directions can be simultaneously pursued.

The Secret About Fear That Satan Doesn't Want You To Know


Saul feared that the people believed David was a better warrior than he.  He feared his position was threatened, and that David would be the next king.  To cope with his fears, Saul was full of pride, making increasing overtures to garner the affection and respect of the people while relying on his own skills and strengths in seeking to take David's life.

David’s response was the opposite: He didn't rely on himself or others.  He simply trusted in the Lord:
"The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)
"The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 118:6)
It was as if David's spirit was quoting this to him:
"Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants. Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come." (D&C 68:5-6)
Thus, as you trust the Lord, you actively demonstrate your love for Him.  Fear, and all its attendant symptoms, evaporate under the protective love of God.

A friend recently said,
"Fear & faith aren't opposites in the way we usually think.  It's not faith that casts fear from our hearts, but love.  A knowledge, first-hand and personal, of the love of God, is what casts out fear and gifts us faith in the Giver of that Good Gift."
Indeed,
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18) 
"perfect love casteth out all fear" (Moroni 8:16)

An Invitation


Within minutes of saying "I will not cease to call upon God," Moses began to fear.  Here's how he overcame his fear:
"And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory." (Moses 1:20)
What I've found helpful: Whenever I feel myself becoming fearful, I calm down and empty my mind (see "kintsukuroi" or any post here regarding meditation).  Then I turn my thoughts to Christ.  I picture Him in my mind.  I remember His promises to me.  Then, I put Him to the test by inviting Him to assuage my fears.  I ask Him for a reminder of His love (see here for another example).

Receive the Lord, and the promise of His hope, and you'll win the battle.
"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Then (in the spirit of RCA point #3, above), you'll be far more capable in helping to create an environment which will repel fear and maintain the sweet, subtle influence of the Spirit...

...which is the topic of my next post in this series.



In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

...

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand.

Monday, May 19, 2014

04. Walking and Talking with God, Part 3: Trust

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the fourth examining the phrase "obeyeth my voice".

D&C 93:1 promises us that:
"Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;"
Note that "the Lord" beckons us to "obeyeth my voice".  Who's voice?  His.

To do that, you must first hear His voice.

In my previous two posts, we discussed doing just that: walking and talking with God.  It's been done by both man and woman alike since the beginning of recorded time.  And (as we are promised over and over again throughout the various dispensations), God is no respecter of persons; all the blessings and opportunities for spiritual experiences had by anyone, at any time, are offered to you, too.

Some have found it somewhat natural to carry on a dialogue with Jesus.  Among these people, some are truly hearing His voice, while others, regrettably, are hearing a counterfeit voice.

Yet it's been my experience that the vast majority of those who truly want to converse with Him find it difficult to do so, for a variety of reasons.  Some encounter futility.  After having tried to engage in a dialogue with Him for weeks, months or even years, yet finding no success, they sometimes throw up their hands in defeat.

I believe that Christ wants to converse with you -- in fact, He is perhaps more anxious to converse with you than you are with Him.

Why?

Why is it that some can hear His voice, and others can't or don't?  Why is it that two people can claim to hear His voice, yet one seeks to build up others while another seeks to assume even a molecular amount of power, authority or fame?

"I will call upon Your name"


I believe that in order to obey Christ's voice, you must first hear it -- clearly, unambiguously and unmistakably.

And before that happens, you must first put your trust in Him.

I invite you to listen to this song and to read it's lyrics.  Ponder the feelings that stir within you, and how the lyrics resonate within you.

Ponder how you can better trust in Him...even if it's with a mustard seed of faith.

If you are ready -- really ready -- to let His sovereign hand be your guide, without hesitation or reservation, then you're likely ready to take your first steps to hearing His voice.

Keep your eyes above the waves...

and your soul will rest in His embrace.


"Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)"
By Hillsong United

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

[6x]
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

Friday, May 9, 2014

03. Walking and Talking with God, Part 2

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the third examining the phrase "obeyeth my voice".

The prophets of old -- they who walked and talked with God -- were clearly not "pray three times a day" kinds of people.  Their hearts contemplated the things of God continually, and behaved accordingly.  They were able to fill the voids in between morning, mid-day and evening prayer with a quiet, inner communion that enabled them to walk and talk with God.  Their strategy could be summed up in three words: They "prayed without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17):

  • The prophet Samuel said "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you..." (1 Samuel 12:23).  
  • Nephi told us "that ye must pray always" (2 Ne. 32:9).
  • Alma and his fellow laborers admonished their brethren "to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things" (Mosiah 26:39).
  • Ammon encouraged others to "prayeth continually without ceasing" (Alma 26:22).
  • Jesus told the Nephites to "watch and pray always", then a few verses later, said we "must always pray unto the Father in my name" (3 Nephi 18:18-19).
  • Later, his disciples prayed "steadfastly, without ceasing" (causing Christ to "smile upon them"; 3 Nephi 19:24,30).
  • While Peter was inprisoned, the church prayed for him "without ceasing" (Acts 12:5).
  • Paul made mention of others "without ceasing" in his prayers (Romans 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:3).

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (quoted above) is an interesting verse.  When read in the original Greek, we learn that it actually means "Pray without intermission", without allowing prayerless gaps to intervene between the times of prayer. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, http://bible.cc/1_thessalonians/5-17.htm).
"When the apostle Paul instructed the Thessalonians to 'pray without ceasing' (1 Thes. 5:17) and when Alma instructed the church members of his day to 'pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all things' (Mosiah 26:39), they were not only advising them to pray formally, but also to feel and react to the presence of God in their lives" (H. Dean Garrett, instructor, Tempe Arizona Institute, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Feb. 1978, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1978/02/i-have-a-question?lang=eng)
In my opinion, praying continually does not mean we are always (physically) on our knees or vocally calling upon God; doing so would clash with other parts of our lives which should be attended to.  Instead, it means that we are letting all our "thoughts be directed unto the Lord" (Alma 37:36) and counseling "with the Lord in all our doings" (Alma 37:37).  We live all of our hours and days so conscious of God, that we are actually (to one degree or another) keeping company with him...always.

The Blessings of Continual Prayer


To walk with God -- to be in continual communion with Him -- is to "walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:1); it is to "walk worthy of the Lord...being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10); it is to "walk in the light" (1 John 1:7); it is to "walk in truth" (3 John 1:4); it is to "walk guiltless before God" (Mosiah 4:26); it is "walking in his ways and keeping his commandments" (Mosiah 23:14); it is to "walk circumspectly before God" (Helaman 15:5).  

Not surprisingly, praying continually adds virtual turbothrusters to your spirituality.  It does so in at least two ways:

1.  You have enhanced abilities to avoid sin:

  • "Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him" (3 Nephi 18:15).
  • "Pray always, lest you enter into temptation and lose your reward" (D&C 31:12)>
  • "Pray always that you enter not into temptation, that you may abide the day of his coming, whether in life or in death. Even so. Amen" (D&C 61:39)
2.  You can qualify to know the mysteries of God:
"In Jewish tradition, Enoch's walking with God was taken to mean initiation into the mysteries of the universe, and the secrets of the past and future" (Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia, p.624). 
This is confirmed by Ammon:
"Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing —- unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance" (Alma 26:22)

Important Things to Remember When Trying to Walk and Talk with God

  • Remember God in all that you see, say and do:  When you travel with a friend, there’s a lot to talk about: sights you see, the experiences you have and decisions you make.  When you travel through life with God, there’s just as much to talk about.  And although you cannot physically see or touch God, He is really with you – a thinking, feeling, willing, communicating, listening person.  You literally make it a habit to talk to God about our everyday experiences.

    You probably already have some prayer triggers in your life: waking up, eating a meal or going to sleep.  My daughter and I make it a habit to say a prayer before we drive off to school and then work.  
"Others have learned to pray for every person they meet, every needful situation that comes on the news, every time they enter their place of work, every time the phone rings, every time they hear a fire siren or see an accident, or every time they pass a church." (http://www.bristolhouseltd.com/content/excerpts/Bristol-Love-to-Pray-Living-Prayerfully.pdf
In this respect, our minds never lie dormant.  Our hearts are constantly turned towards God and others. 
  • Remember our dependence on God: Thus, "the saints are always needy, they are always in want of mercies of one kind or another, and therefore should continually go to the throne of grace, and there ask for grace and mercy" (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, http://bible.cc/1_thessalonians/5-17.htm)
  • Remember others: If we are to become more like the Master, He who came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (Mark 10:45), we must place others' needs among our top priorities.  Amulek said, "When you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you" (Alma 34:27). Here, 
"Amulek is not describing a formal or verbalized prayer here - it would not even be verbalized in thought. He is counseling us what we should do when we 'do not cry unto the Lord': cause our hearts to continually be full of concern for ourselves and others, recognizing that God is the only one who can fully help us. That continual fulness of heart Amulek calls prayer." (H. Dean Garrett, instructor, Tempe Arizona Institute, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Feb. 1978, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1978/02/i-have-a-question?lang=eng)
The attitude of constant regard for others -- and ourselves -- in a spiritual sense is reflected in Amulek's instruction that "If ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart [not] of your substance...to those who stand in need-I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain." (Alma 34:28.)
  • Be continually grateful: "Praying without ceasing could be a condition rather than an act.  We must be aware of the Lord's constant blessings to us. Both Paul and Alma closely linked the idea of praying unceasingly with expression of gratitude to the Lord. 'Pray without ceasing,' Paul said; 'in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit.' (1 Thes. 5:17-19.)" (H. Dean Garrett, Instructor, Tempe Arizona Institute, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Feb. 1978, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1978/02/i-have-a-question?lang=eng).  When we are sensitive to our great gifts from our Father in heaven, we are likely to be far closer to the Spirit, and therefore better able to stay in communication with the Lord.  Ingratitude to the Lord quenches the Spirit and closes us off spiritually; to pray unceasingly, we must be unendingly aware of our debt to the Lord and his powerful role in our lives.

An Invitation


Tomorrow morning, say your morning prayers.  When you're done, get off your knees physically...but keep praying.

Yes, this is easier said than done.  And yes, your thoughts will stray (as stated earlier, you have aspects of your life that must be attended to).

Don't beat yourself up when you do stray from continually praying.  After all, you're taking baby steps here, and it's natural that -- like a baby -- you'll fall on your bum.  That's perfectly fine.  Just remember that wherever/whenever possible, turn your heart back to God -- by remembering Him in all you see, say and do, by remembering your dependence on Him, remembering others or simply expressing your gratitude.

Then at the end of the day, return and report to Father.  And don't be surprised if He expresses exuberant joy at your attempts to spend your day with Him.  Will He focus on the times you "fell on your bum" and forgot Him?  I doubt it.  I think He will focus on the times that you stood up, and took several steps with Him.  He'll also encourage you, motivate you, strengthen you to take more steps with Him the next day.

Also know that as you attempt these things, Satan will be there behind you, beside you and in front of you to ensure you don't succeed at this new endeavor.  We'll focus on some strategies to better commune with God continually in forthcoming posts.

Yes, you can walk and talk with God.

Yes, the development of this doctrine in your life can inevitably lead to greater, more profound interactions with God in the future...

for you are strong when God is on your side, but weak when you are out of communion.