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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

YOUR Upcoming Conversation with Jesus Christ

Walking among us, right now, are two groups of people: First, a few who have come to know the Lord in a truly sacred, sublime ("awe-inspiringly grand, excellent, or impressive") way: They have seen Him, and conversed with Him, face to face.

The second: those who are earnestly seeking, striving and awaiting the day when they, too, can meet their Savior while still in mortality.

I have known many of these devout seekers for years. They are my best friends and my adopted extended family. Several (in the second group) have come to me, with their spirits anguishing and tears flowing, because they know of others who weren't seeking an audience with Christ, and had one. Yet my friends have sought Him diligently, and have not seen Him.

Maybe you've felt the same way.

I agree that such an experience would be transcendent above anything and everything this earth can offer.

Unfortunately, it doesn't last forever. It doesn't last for months, weeks or days. Instead, although it is unrushed, it likely lasts minutes, not hours. You see Him, you weep tears of humility before His still-pierced feet, you see his smile and hear His words for you, you mumble out some questions which He answers and, after a while, the experience is over.

Yet it doesn't need to be this way.

The scriptures are filled with examples of ordinary people, just like you and me, who did the extraordinary: they sought God diligently, and listened for Him.

Then, something remarkable happened:

They heard Him.

Then they asked Him a question.

And He answered.

It's no wonder that "It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God" (Joseph Smith Jr., Teachings, p. 345). In other words, one of the foundation stones of the restored gospel is a not only knowledge of what kind of being God actually is, but also knowledge of God.

That's why Brother Joseph further stated, "If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves" (Joseph Smith Jr., Teachings, p. 343) and "If any man does not know God, . . . he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle" (Joseph Smith Jr., Teachings, p. 344). That's why the Savior, in His great high-priestly or Intercessory Prayer, confirmed that life eternal was to "know . . . the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [the Father] hast sent" (John 17:3).

Thus, everything of sacred significance connected with our future rests on both our coming to know about God and, ultimately, our coming to know Him.

Word of God Speak


In my immediate preceding posts (click here for links to all of them), I provided some concepts for you to consider. Because they are firmly rooted in scriptural precedent, they have the potential to help you accurately align with God and hear Him.

And, once you have heard Him, your life will never, ever be the same.

Adam walked and talked with God. So did Enoch and Noah. True, they were prophets. However, as Brother Joseph said:
"There are certain characters that walked with God, saw him, conversed about heaven &c. God is not a respecter of persons, we all have the same privilege. Come to God weary him until he blesses you &c-we are entitled to the same blessings, Jesus, revelations, Just Men &-Angels &c. &c. not Laying again the doctrine of Christ go on unto perfection. Obtain that holy Spirit of promise-Then you can be sealed to Eternal Life." (Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, compiled and edited by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, p. 13-15; emphasis mine)
He also said:
"In this number will be found an extract from the prophecy of Enoch, which was received by revelation, soon after the organization of the church, and first published in the 'Evening and Morning Star.' As it is a relic, too precious to be lost, we extract it for the benefit of the readers of the Times and Seasons. It gives us a specimen of the power Enoch obtained with God, by faith, for we are told 'that by faith Enoch walked with God, and was not, for God took him.' We trust that it will prove a stimulus, to the saints, to action, when they read of the great blessings enjoyed by the ancients and consider that they were men of like passions with ourselves, subject to all the evils and temptations with which we are surrounded; and that the same God, who conferred upon them such great privileges, 'is the same yesterday to day and forever,' and is 'no respecter of persons,' consequently is just as willing to hear and answer the prayers, and bestow as great blessings upon his children now, as in days gone by: therefore, beloved brethren, let us gird up our loins and be faithful, knowing that the days draw near, and the time is at hand, when the just shall stand by faith." (The Prophecy of Enoch, Times and Seasons, vol. 2 (November 1840-October 1841), Vol. 2 No. 1 November 1, 1840, p.203 - 204; emphasis mine)
Here's a fact: You, too, can walk and talk with God. Such experiences are not measured in minutes nor limited to hours. They can continue far, far beyond those temporal time measurements.

And the words He tells you can be just as poignant, just as life-changing, as the words He'd tell you if He were face to face with you.

A Naturally Evolving Relationship


If you've seen Him, then deepen your relationship with Him. Constantly. Until you see Him again.

If you haven't seen Him, remember something He said to Thomas, who wanted so badly to see Him:
"…blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29)
I could be wrong about this, but I believe that in the final analysis, Christ's highest priority for us isn't to see Him (although that's important). It's to have a really deep, meaningful, intimate and truly eternal relationship with Him. He wants nothing more than to spend eternity with you. This is why he constantly uses the allegory of a marriage of Himself (as the bridegroom) and the righteous (as the bride) in describing the depth of relationship He wants with you (Matt. 9:15, 25;1-13; Rev. 18:23).

(If you really want to understand this concept, I encourage you to purchase my friend Donna Nielson's book, "Beloved Bridegroom." And don't forget to check out the comments on the book here, too - 4.9 out of 5 stars is pretty good).

Like the bride of the scriptures, devote yourself solely to Him. Develop a spiritual courtship where you can hear Him, commune with Him, converse with Him, laugh with Him, cry with Him, enjoy Him.

Many people tend to focus on the end result of seeing Him. My invitation is for you to instead focus on the journey. He knows what you want! Be patient, and let Him control the steering wheel and the accelerator of your life. Listen for His "love notes" to you as you travel through this wonderful mortal experience:
"When you hop in the car, leave the radio off. Let's talk!"
"Wow, look over there at that sunset."
"Hey, go tell <co-worker or family member> what a great job they did on their <whatever project>."
"You should tell your <wife/husband/child> you love them."
"Could you do a favor for me? Stop what you're doing right now, bow your head and say a prayer for <somebody's name>."
"<Your first name> -- Go open up the scriptures. Go to <book>, then <chapter> then <verse>. See that? That's my message for you for today."
"Oh, by the way, I just thought you'd like to know Father and Mother wanted me to tell you that They're so proud of you and who you've become."
Just don't worry about seeing Him. Enjoy Him! Because, over time, as your friendship with Him blossoms and grows and flourishes, His coming to you one day, unannounced, for you, his "bride", will be a completely natural, next step in your relationship with Him.

And because you endured so much time having believed in Him, without actually having seen Him, you will be even more blessed.

In my next post, we'll discuss some accounts of Him that will help you experience His fantastic sense of humor, His eagerness to forgive that is both immediate and breathtaking in its scope, and His overwhelming desire to spend His life with you…

…and for you to spend your life with Him…

…starting now.

Also see:
About "The Perfect Day"
Walking and Talking with God, Part 1
Walking and Talking with God, Part 2
Walking and Talking with God, Part 3
Walking and Talking with God, Part 4
Walking and Talking with God, Part 5
Walking and Talking with God, Part 6
Walking and Talking with God, Part 7
Walking and Talking with God, Part 8
Walking and Talking with God, Part 9
Spiritual Land Mine #8: The Missing Link to Seeing the Lord
Enter the Presence of the Lord
Spiritual Ascension Step #3: Align (Start the Millennium...NOW!)
The Way Back Home

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Alignment, Part 6 of 6: When One Becomes the Compass and the Square

This miniseries has six parts:
  • Part 1: Face To Dirt - Align yourself to God by laying hold of the word of God. The doctrine of approaching God in profound humility. 
  • Part 2: Hands to Heaven - The doctrine of praying with upraised hands, displaying clean hands and a pure heart.
  • Part 3: Penetrate the Veil - How do we best approach God? The scriptures indicate that we kneel, meditate, descend (physically, emotionally and psychologically) and display upraised hands. This may have been the sequence of steps - as detailed in the scriptures and historical accounts - which ordinary people, just like you, took to approach God.
  • Part 4: Dialogue with God - Approach God in silence, prepared to do a lot of listening and with an expectation of receiving an answer. Address God using a little-known pattern found in the scriptures. Ask Him for forgiveness, light and knowledge, opportunities to help others and insights about yourself. Offer yourself as a living sacrifice to Him, and weary Him until He blesses you.
  • Part 5: See the Light - Recognize the blessings, the "love notes", that God spreads forth abundantly in your daily life. Express your gratitude to Him and others, and let the light that comes from that expression grow and emanate to affect others. As you do so, you will be like Him in a way. And you will be on the path to the perfect day, when you will see Him as He is.
  • Part 6: When One Becomes the Compass and the Square - Where a literal pattern emerges, combining the concepts explained in the previous five segments. It is a pattern which, when approached in solemnity, deepens man's relationship with God and leads to an outpouring of "more and more light until there is finally power to pierce the heavenly veil and to know more than man knows." 

The Literal Pattern of Aligning with God


The scriptures may indicate a three-phase pattern:

First, the individual approached God in the humblest of postures. They knelt, meditated, then descended with their face to the dirt.
 

Secondly, they beseeched God by raising their hands to heaven. We see in Facsimile No. 2, Figure 7 - as well as an image from the church's archives of a sacrament meeting in Ephraim, Utah's tabernacle in the early 1870s - that arms were upraised at opposing 90-degree angles (like this:  |_o_|   ). While in this posture, they addressed God using wording found in Psalms. They asked for forgiveness, light and knowledge and more. They submitted themselves as a living sacrifice to God and covenanted to do His will.

Thirdly, they returned to their initial posture of humility in thanking God for His goodness and mercy.

When combined in a graphical representation, their worship displayed the following chiastic pattern.
 

As you can see, they started "down," then went "up," then back down again. Diagrammed, this creates an "upward" pointing triangle, or compass point, in the middle (see 1 Nephi 18; Alma 37:43-44). At the apex of this sequence, the individual approached God with their arms and hands in a posture resembling a carpenter's square, as mentioned above.

They became the compass and the square - the very symbols which:

Are found in the Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2 Figure 7.
Are viewed as the instruments marking out both the pattern of the universe and the foundations of the earth. (Hugh Nibley, "On The Sacred and the Symbolic," in "Temples of the Ancient World," edited by Donald W. Parry, p. 379, http://fc.byu.edu/jpages/faithintellect/nibley/30_Sacred_1.pdf; Nibley, "Early Christian Prayer Circle," in Mormonism and Early Christianity, CWHN 4:73-74; http://www.jefflindsay.com/lds/temple-blindness). Image is from the exterior of the (former) Endowment House in Spring City, UT, constructed in 1876;  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2006/12/mormon-symbols).

Prof. Hugh Nibley described as having been found on Egyptian the garments of ancient Egyptian mummies and a veil from an ancient Taoist-Buddhist tombs in Central Asia (which included the Chinese phrase, "kuei chu," meaning, "the way things should be, the moral standard") (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1123&index=6; http://www.templestudy.com/2008/09/17/nuwa-and-fuxi-in-chinese-mythology-compass-square; www.elarsen.net/lessons/Compass%20Square%20and%20Circle.docx).
Are included in the original architect's sketch of a proposed Nauvoo temple weathervane, circa 1846. In this image, the angel is dressed in special temple clothes and carries a trumpet and open book (rendering probably by William Weeks).

Were worn (as a pin) by Brigham Young (David John Buerger, "The Mysteries of Godliness", p. 131; click image for larger size).


Going Beyond the Compass and the Square


I believe that the above pattern is a natural, outward manifestation of several inner commitments: that the person wishes to overcome their self-recognized sinful and fallen state, have faith in to God and His will, and that they are ready and willing to receive further light and knowledge from God.

In this sense, those who approached God recognized one profound fact: Prayer is not just something you do. Prayer is not just something you say. Prayer - true communion with God -- is something you enter into.
"Let us therefore come [Greek: προσέρχομαι, to come to, approach, draw near to] boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near [Greek: προσέρχομαι] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." (Hebrews 10:19-22)
The ancient Hebrews understood this concept well. When they approached the tent of God, they saw a veil. Later on, in the temple, it became doors. As they proceeded deeper and deeper into the temple, they entered into the holy place, then the Most Holy of Holies, where God communed with his people.
"When you went in to the holy place, if you would look to your left, you would see the great seven-branch Menorah that burned in the darkness. You could only see it when you went inside, and nobody saw it but the priests (except those who had the honor of entering in). What does that mean? When you get deep into the presence of God, you will be given light. You will be given something that will lighten you up. When you get into the presence of God, it lights you up. It puts something there inside of you so that no matter what happens to you on the outside, it's still shining. You could be at your worst moment in the world, yet if you're spending your time with God, there's going to be a light down there. And the more time you spend in God's presence, the more that light shines. No matter what's happening to you physically or emotionally, you have a light that shines in the darkness that always gives hope and strength. 
Your time with God is something you enter into. If you're really going to experience God's blessings in your life, you need to enter in. You don't just do it. You get into it. You go inside of it. 
It means prayer is immersive. And when you get in, you don't see anything but God.
In order to be in God's presence, where would you have to go ultimately? You would have to go to the Holy of Holies - the deepest part, the inner sanctum of the tent. What does that tell you? That in order to get the greatest blessings from God, you need to get deeper in God. God wants depth. Thus, the more you focus on physical things, the things of this world, the more shallow you become. 
The more you get into the presence of God, the deeper your walk becomes, deeper your faith becomes, deeper your strength becomes. 
Look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. With all the experiences she had, we read that she treasured all these things in her heart. She was deep, because she had God. She was deep with God. And her closeness with God intersected with the things you couldn't see with your eyes. But that's what makes you deep. It was her - and is now your - antidote to what's happening on the outside." (Rabbi Jonathan Cahn, "The Tent of Heaven," https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgnaBzSYozE).

Conclusion


I am now concluding this mini-series how to align yourself to God, and to experience Him in a truly personal, intimate way. Although this is not intended to be, nor is it, a complete recitation of all that's required to do so -- nor is it a customized, personalized set of insights for just you -- it is a summary of what I've found to be a journey which can take one to the deepest of depths and the highest of heights.

Words cannot describe how deeply both Jesus Christ and His Glorious Father wish to be part of your life. They reach out to you in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ways everyday - to share beauties and mysteries you gloss over in your life, to share laughter at funny things, and to weep with you when you are sad.
"Christianity is all about having a personal, interactive, dynamic relationship with a real, caring, loving, and personal God who is actually interested the things you worry about, your fears, pain, the problems you face, the things that fill you with joy, your successes as well as your failures." (Ansel Elliott, http://www.anselelliott.com/#!the-greatest-adventure/c1lzb)
The Eternal Father is anxious to have you share from His immense reservoir of truth all that you need, to have intelligent perception.

Jesus Christ far prefers a dialogue -- reasoning together (Isaiah 1:18; D&C 50:10) and bestowing communion over interacting with you just having a listening ear.

This journey is not easy. Satan will seek to overthrow and thwart you. He will tell you that the promises of the scriptures concerning the power of mighty faith are beyond the possibilities of belief, and that they can never be realized.

This is not so. It IS possible. Those who truly walk with the Lord cannot either be overthrown or thwarted. Try Him and see how greatly He will aid you. In fact, I highly suspect that even more is possible for those of mighty faith than has yet been disclosed.
"I have learned that where there is a prayerful heart, a hungering after righteousness, a forsaking of sins, and obedience to the commandments of God, the Lord pours out more and more light until there is finally power to pierce the heavenly veil and to know more than man knows. A person of such righteousness has the priceless promise that one day he shall see the Lord’s face and know that he is (see D&C 93:1)" (Spencer W. Kimball, "Give the Lord Your Loyalty," Ensign, March 1980, p. 4)
Yet both Father and Jesus Christ are immeasurably meek (D&C 121:41). They will not ask to be part of your life, nor beckon for your attention. You must ask for it. And, true to their word, when you ask, they will respond, in their own ways and own times.

Blessed are all such as shall draw close to the Lord in lowliness of heart, in great love, sacrificially, and in great faith.  Such will be pillars of strength and instruments of power in His hands.

If you are filled with a Godly concern, if you become of great faith, if you will call on Him in mighty prayer, if you will prepare yourself, if you will go apart into the quietness of the woods or hills or desert places -- into places where you can listen for the still small voice -- He shall wondrously show you what lies ahead. He will show it to the spiritually awake among us, be they aged or young.

And in typical, God-like fashion, the answer to your knocks on the holy doors of heaven will likely and eventually surpass anything that has ever entered into your heart and mind.

I invite you to read, and re-read, the posts in this mini-series - Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. "Look to God and live" in a way you never knew you could. Experience Jesus Christ and Our Father in a way few ever have.

This is MY invitation to you, and it is MY testimony, which I bear to you independent of any living creature, past or present, pronounced in the name of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Alignment, Part 5 of 6: See the Light

In my most recent post in this series, I invited you to "Come to God weary him until he blesses you" - an invitation which originated with Joseph Smith himself. I hate to put words in Joseph's mouth, but I'm sure he'd agree that you should never give up. You may be one prayer away from success.

There's a natural link between asking God for blessings, prayer and thanksgiving:
"But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils." (D&C 46:7; emphasis mine)

Love Notes From God


As you interact with God more and more, you'll become more and more familiar with His personality. What He's really like. You'll learn He has a really cool sense of humor that you can relate to. You'll see how He renders compassion at every turn, and is, if anything, overly anxious to forgive you. He's in "child saving," not "judgment" mode.

And as you become more familiar with His personality, you'll become closer to Him, as He will to you. In fact, you'll discover that He's far more anxious to interact with you than you've ever suspected.

He'll leave you love notes along the journey of your life. They may be in the form of a hearing a baby's giggle, seeing an awe-inspiring sunset, a goal at a kids soccer game, hearing a song on the car radio that hits you - or getting a call from a friend - at just the right time. Maybe His love note to you is found in the mere fact that you woke up, you have food to eat or you have a bed to sleep in.

And you know all those blessings you asked for, and are wearying Him for, in point #9? You'll learn that nothing - absolutely nothing - compares to just being with Him.

Not surprisingly, as you find yourself in this ever-deepening relationship with Him, you are internally motivated, at the spiritual level, to thank Him. I mean, you can't help but be thankful when you feel Him so close to you throughout the day. This may even motivate you to thank God for the smallest things throughout your day, as you recognize this mound of love notes from Him that seems to be relentlessly piling up all over your life.
"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18; emphasis mine) 
"And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance-
Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;
Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.
And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.
And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments." (D&C 59:15-21)

The Gratitude Journal


My friend, John, reached a spiritual breaking point about eight years ago. He needed help climbing out of the pit of alcohol addiction. He had developed lots of bad habits. He had become controlling, manipulative, judgmental, critical, cynical, depressed, anxious and desperate man.

God used the habit of gratitude to help change John's attitude and outlook on life. The first step in developing this habit was to keep a daily gratitude journal of three items - wholly unique every day.

At first, it didn't change any of John's feelings or actions. He kept the list begrudgingly at first because he had been asked to do it. John's attitude was not yet transformed.

After a few months, John noticed himself paying more attention to the good moments in his day, to the kind acts of the people around him, and to the beauty in the world. Why? He was looking for items for his gratitude list. He'd become accustomed to focusing on the good, and his focus on the good had minimized the appearance of the bad.

Lo and behold, a few years later, gratitude had become the norm, and the grumbling, whining, self-pitying and worrying began falling to the wayside.

The more John focused on what he had to be grateful for, and the more energy he expended thanking God and thanking others - either in words or actions - the less time and energy he had to dwell on things that bummed him out, made him worry or ticked him off.

And gradually, but imperceptibly, John was physically, emotionally and spiritually enhanced (click here, or to the left, for a super cool video on how gratitude affects you; you can also find a transcript here).

Today, John makes gratitude lists in his head and on paper. He chooses to bite his tongue when he wants to whine and moan, and instead, tries to say something positive - usually expressing gratitude for someone, or pointing out the good around him. John gives gifts - whatever he has to give - because his heart is full of gratitude for God's love and the miracles He's done in his life. Giving to others gives John an outlet for that love.

He deliberately looks for opportunities to thank people who've made a positive difference in his life. He tries not to post negative comments or updates on his personal social media pages or blogs; instead, he chooses to share what's good.

When Sore Trials Come Upon You


John (and two other friends of mine, Elizabeth and Jennifer) kind of remind me of the Texas Aggies college football team. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this team, you may be surprised to learn that Texas A&M has no cheerleaders - just five, all-male, non-gymnastic student Yell Leaders (video here or to the left) who are elected to their positions annually by the student body. They lead the Aggies in a dozen or so yells. And let me be very clear with you: nothing gets these guys down. Nothing. So, how do the 20,000+ Aggies who attend these games know these yells? They practice them after each football game. No matter if the team is victorious, "outscored" or "runs out of time" (because "Aggies never lose"), a mini-Yell Practice is held at Kyle Field before the crowd disperses.

Sometimes we win our games. Sometimes we lose them. Bad things happen to these friends (whom I mentioned above) all the time. But when they do, they thank God for - and ask for more light and knowledge about - the lessons God is having them learn. I know this doesn't make sense to many, but even amidst the most difficult circumstances, they thank God for being with them, for loving them, for teaching them.

Their "yells" are authentic. Their rejoicing is real. They are metaphorically slamming their foot down, saying "I am not going to lose. This negative experience is not going to win today." They also encourage others to be similarly grateful, because if the people around them are positive and thankful and mindful of God, then they'll encourage and motivate my friends in return.

Blessings Which Surpass Expectations


By looking for opportunities to be grateful, then expressing that gratitude to God and others, God then justifies exceeding our prayerful requests. This daily expression of gratitude to God and others literally kicks open the windows of heaven with blessings far surpassing our expectations.

(Which is another attribute of God - He delights in [I mean, is really, really thrilled with/gets a kick out of] exceeding our expectations of His goodness and mercy).

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you;
And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.
And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more." (D&C 78:17-19; emphasis mine)

Shine Forth


As your gratitude towards God and others grows, you find yourself gravitating more towards God's light, and the light that's in others, no matter if they see it or not. Rejoicing is contagious. It affects your whole environment. As you see the reality of this in your life, you - yes, you - become a living, breathing manifestation of D&C 50:24 and Moroni 7:48:

"That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." (D&C 50:24)

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:48)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Alignment, Part 4 of 6: Dialogue with God

Let's review what we've covered in this miniseries thus far:

  • Part 1: Face To Dirt - Aligning oneself to God by laying hold of the word of God. The doctrine of approaching God in profound humility. 
  • Part 2: Hands to Heaven - The doctrine of praying with upraised hands, displaying clean hands and a pure heart.
  • Part 3: Penetrate the Veil - How do we best approach God? The scriptures indicate that we kneel, meditate, descend (physically, emotionally and psychologically) and display upraised hands. This may have been the sequence of steps - as detailed in the scriptures and historical accounts - which ordinary people, just like you, took to approach God.

These three parts all lead to Part 4: Dialoguing with God.

5. Prepare to Dialogue 


You have affixed your soul to God's word, bowed your head below your heart as a symbol of the true humility of your life, emptied yourself of the cares and worries of the world, and like a baby taking their first steps while reaching their hands to a loving parent, you have reached your heart and hands to God.

Make no mistake: If your heart is in the right place, then you have unquestionably, undeniably caught heaven's attention.

Now what?

A few subpoints:
A. Approach God in Silence 
I've always been a big believer in praying in silence. Why? We have ample evidence that Satan and his forces monitor every move we make and record every word we utter. 
The less they know, the better. 
Note that in Part 2 of this series, about midway down the page, you'll read a bulleted quote where the School of the Prophets knelt with their hands uplifted and "each one praying in silence." The result:  
"a personage walked through the room from East to West, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. He (Brother Coltrin) experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him." (Minutes of the Salt Lake School of the Prophets; Oct. 11, 1883, p. 58-60) 
B. Be Prepared To Do a Lot of Listening 
The Lord gave us a good way to get the conversational ice broken: 
"Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth." (1 Samuel 3:9-10) 
The Lord wants all of us to hear His voice: 
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). 
"for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts" (D&C 29:7). 
C. Expect an Answer
"During His journey to Tyre and Sidon, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus, begging Him to heal her daughter, "but he answered her not a word" (Matt. 15:22-23).  Not willing to be dissuaded, she continued her entreaties, "and his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us" (v. 23).  But she would not be sent away.  "Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.  But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs" (v. 25-26).  Quick-witted, and undeterred by his insulting dismissal, she replied, "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."  I imagine that a hush fell over the disciples at this point, their eyes darting back and forth between the two.  Then Jesus, his voice breaking, spoke: "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt" (v. 27-28).  That very hour, her daughter was healed.  A woman--and a Canaanite woman at that--had persisted in faith until the Lord granted her desire." (http://toeveryonethatbelieveth.blogspot.com/2014/03/i-will-not-let-thee-go-except-thou.html; emphasis mine) 
The example of the Savior's interaction with the Canaanite woman demonstrates the mercy and compassion the Lord has for those whose faith is not only active, but persistent. They aim higher, reach further and attain greater manifestations of divine grace because they expect miracles - an activity the Lord delights in: 
"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God." (Isaiah 58:2) 
Brother Joseph understood this principle as well: 
"[Joseph's] heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was so lost to every thing of a temporal nature, that earth, to him, had lost it charms, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God. [And as Joseph recorded]: …for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one." (JS History 1:29; emphasis mine) 
"At length the family retired, and he, as usual, bent his way, though in silence, where others might have rested their weary frames 'locked fast in sleep's embrace;' but repose had fled, and accustomed slumber had spread her refreshing hand over others beside him-he continued still to pray-his heart, though once hard and obdurate, was softened, and that mind which had often flitted, like the 'wild bird of passage,' had settled upon a determined basis not to be decoyed or driven from its purpose." (The Papers of Joseph Smith, Volume 1, Autobiographical and Historical Writings. Edited by Dean C. Jessee. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1989, pp. 50-51; emphasis mine)

6. Address God


In many cases in the Old and New Testament, people literally called upon God. Here's a small sample from just from Psalms (emphasis mine):
"Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray." (Psalms 5:2)
"My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up." (Psalms 5:3)
"Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping." (Psalms 6:8)
"Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me." (Psalms 27:7)
"Blessed be the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications." (Psalms 28:6)
"For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee." (Psalms 31:22)
"Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth." (Psalms 54:2)
"Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication." (Psalm 55:1)
"Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." (Psalms 55:17)
"Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy." (Psalms 64:1)
"But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer." (Psalms 66:19)
"Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications." (Psalms 86:6)
"Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness: O Lord, quicken me according to thy judgment." (Psalms 119:149)
"I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications." (Psalms 116:1)
"Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications." (Psalms 130:2)
"I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God: hear the voice of my supplications, O Lord." (Psalms 140:6)
"I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication." (Psalms 142:1)
By my count, that's 17 instances - in just one book of scripture - where people prayed to God with the expectation (or knowledge) that He would hear the words, cries and pleas of their mouths.

Hugh Nibley also noted that a number of apocryphal sources also emphasize this manner of addressing God in prayer, done in succession three times:
"When Abraham, according to and old and highly respected source, 'rebuilt the altar of Adam in order to bring a sacrifice to the Eternal One,' as he had been instructed by an angel, he raised his voice in prayer, saying: 'El ,El, El! Jaoel! [the last meaning Jehovah] . . . receive the words of my prayer! Receive the sacrifice which I have made at the command! Have mercy, show me, teach me, give to the servant the light and knowledge thou hast promised to send him!'" (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/19/2/S00006-50901ff4d24f85EarlyCh.pdf; emphasis mine)   
"According to First Enoch, Noah also prayed in his distress, 'calling upon God three times and saying, Hear me! hear me! hear me!'" (Hugh Nibley, BYU Studies, 19:1, p. 53; emphasis mine) 
"Abraham was following the example of Adam, who prayed to God for three days, repeating three times the prayer: 'May the words of my mouth be heard! God, do not withdraw thyself from my supplication!' . . . Then an angel of the Lord came with a book, and comforted Adam and taught him." (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/19/2/S00006-50901ff4d24f85EarlyCh.pdf; emphasis mine) 
Regarding that last quote - I love love love the phrase, "do not withdraw thyself from my supplication!" Wow! That's REAL faith! It pleases God when we "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16; emphasis mine)

And for those who don't believe it is appropriate to say such things in one's personal prayers, here's a quote from the April 1984 General Conference:
"We do not give memorized, ritualistic, or repetitions prayers. We seek the guidance of the Spirit and suit every prayer to the needs of the moment, with no thought of using the same words on successive occasions.  But it would be appropriate for us to use words that convey such thoughts as these in our prayers: Father, we ask thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, to hear the words of our mouth..." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "Patterns of Prayer," Ensign, May 1984, p. 32-33; emphasis mine)
Not only is it appropriate to do so in our prayers, but it's entirely within scriptural bounds to do so with our hands upraised (emphasis mine):
"Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle." (Psalms 28:2)
"And Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven: And he said, LORD God of Israel, [there is] no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart:" (1 Kings 8:22-23)
"Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee." (Psalms 88:9)
"Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee. Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." (Psalm 141:1-2)
"And he stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands: For Solomon had made a brasen scaffold, of five cubits long, and five cubits broad, and three cubits high, and had set it in the midst of the court: and upon it he stood, and kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven, And said, O LORD God of Israel, [there is] no God like thee in the heaven, nor in the earth; which keepest covenant, and [shewest] mercy unto thy servants, that walk before thee with all their hearts:" (2 Chronicles 6:12, 13, 14)
Nibley also noted (emphasis mine):
"When Adam and Eve found themselves cut off from the glory of the Lord, according to the intriguing Combat of Adam, they stood with upstretched hands calling upon the Lord, as 'Adam began to pray in a language which is unintelligible to us.' The so-called Coptic Gnostic Writing purports to give us Adam's words on the occasion as being composed of the elements io?i?a and i?oy?el, meaning 'God is with us forever and ever,' and 'through the power of revelation.'" (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/19/2/S00006-50901ff4d24f85EarlyCh.pdf
"The prayer asks for light and knowledge as well as other aid, and the answer is a teaching situation. Thus the angels who came down in answer to Adam's three-fold appeal, "May the words of my mouth be heard!" etc. "came with a book, and comforted Adam and taught him." Or, in another version, when Adam and Eve prayed at their altar, three messengers were sent down to instruct them." (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, ibid.) 
"Bartholomew says, 'She [Mary, the mother of Jesus] began by calling upon God with upraised hands, speaking three times in an unknown language' (the usual code introducing the prayer). 'Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.' (Psalms 28:2)" (Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton, p.164-165) 
"Mary, standing before them, raised her hands to heaven" and began to call upon the Father in an unknown language, a number of versions of which are given." (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, ibid.)

7. Ask Away


Now that you've just addressed God, and you're ready to listen to Him, it's time to ask. Knock.

Go read the scriptures, especially the accounts of those who approached God with a question. Abraham, Moses, Nephi, Joseph Smith and countless others did so. Many times, God's answer was light years beyond anything they had even considered.

The nature of these questions is appropriately prompted by the Holy Ghost.
"And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire."
"And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof" (3 Nephi 19:24-25).
"…it was given unto them what they should pray" - by whom? All indications are it's the Holy Ghost:
"He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh" (D&C 46:30). 
Below are some suggestions on what you may want to ask God. Regardless of what the Spirit inspires you to ask for, one thing is sure: Your heart must be totally, completely and sincerely seeking answers from God. The video above (also accessible here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc6JqpYfmko) does a pretty good job of expressing this emotion.
A. Ask For God's Forgiveness
It's clear that God is loathe to interact with those who deal unjustly or uncharitably with others. In Isaiah 58, He provided us with some questions to ask ourselves: 
"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." (Isaiah 58:2-11) 
It is clear that when we not only reconcile ourselves to others, but also turn our hearts and minds (Moses 7:18), God will likewise turn His heart and mind to you. As you show mercy unto others, he will show mercy unto you (Matthew 5:7). 
"Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;
Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
Yea, and 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 34:17-27) 
B. Ask for Light and Knowledge
As was mentioned above, in 1 Jeu, Abraham is said to have asked God to "give to the servant the light and knowledge thou hast promised to send him." (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/19/2/S00006-50901ff4d24f85EarlyCh.pdf). 
This is entirely in keeping with D&C 50:24: 
"That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." (D&C 50:24; emphasis mine because I like those last three words) 
I firmly believe that God wants to bless us with increasingly greater amounts of light and knowledge. However, we, ourselves, who muck up the process. 
Why? One possibility is that people often believe there is some kind of a "royal shortcut" in obtaining greater light and knowledge. 
The truth is, there isn't one. We must first pay a price by turning to and receiving the words God has delivered this far. You can go here and here to see why we must seek out and know the general commandments before we can expect to know personal commandments. 
C. Ask to Help Others
As we receive the gift of the Atonement in our lives (by asking for God's forgiveness) and by asking for light and knowledge (to help God's Kingdom), we are naturally positioned to ask God for opportunities to help others. 
Another blog put it this way: 
"The Kingdom of God must be built by human beings having human relationships with each other. The only people who can build Zion are those who know how to see other people as God sees them-as imperfect, wonderful, complicated, broken, amazing, and divine individuals worthy of love and respect for who they are and not for what they do.
Elsewhere in the Bible, the prophet Ezekiel defines the sin of Sodom as having 'pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy' (Ezekiel 16:49). This goes hand in hand with what I am arguing here. From a purely transactional world view, the poor are those who can do nothing for us. They require our attention and our resources, but they cannot satisfy any of our desires." (http://bycommonconsent.com/2015/10/10/was-the-sin-of-sodom-multi-level-marketing/
Or, as Moroni put it, 
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:48) 
D. What Lackest I?
Life -- all life -- is about asking questions, not about knowing answers. 
It is wanting to see what's over the next hill that keeps us all going. 
We have to keep asking questions, wanting to understand...even when there's the possibility that we may not find the answers in this life. 
I really liked Elder Larry Lawrence's October 2015 General Conference talk, "What Lack I Yet?" It's an appropriate question, and his analysis is chock full of references not about other men, but God, Christ and the Holy Ghost. Awesome. 
"If spiritual growth is not a priority in our lives, if we are not on a course of steady improvement, we will miss out on the important experiences that God wants to give us. Years ago I read these words of President Spencer W. Kimball, which had a lasting impact on me. He said: "I have learned that where there is a prayerful heart, a hungering after righteousness, a forsaking of sins, and obedience to the commandments of God, the Lord pours out more and more light until there is finally power to pierce the heavenly veil. ... A person of such righteousness has the priceless promise that one day he shall see the Lord's face and know that he is." (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/10/what-lack-i-yet?lang=eng

8. Offer yourself as a sacrifice, a gift to God 


There is no doubt whatsoever that if you have truly conversed with God, you will soon discover He longs, He yearns for, you to be closer to Him. He is far more thrilled to be, or the prospect to be, in your presence than you can conceive.

To ensure this upward trajectory in your relationship with Him, He will invite you to shed and discard the telestial ballasts which weighs you down. This invitation often involves sacrifice:
"Behold, I have seen your sacrifices, and will forgive all your sins; I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you." (D&C 132:50) 
"Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice-yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command-they are accepted of me." (D&C 97:8) 
"And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost…" (3 Nephi 9:19-20) 
"For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him." (2 Chronicles 16:9)
I believe that many are all willing to sacrifice all things for the Lord. However, would the Lord want us to cast others down and out, drawing lines of inclusion and exclusion, and set lines around loving others?

If we were to jump head first with just (sacrificing) material things to come unto him, we would unfortunately NOT be sacrificing all earthly possessions. The Lord asks us to also forsake negative spiritual things, like impatience, fear, pride and entitlement (to name a few) and replace them with patience, long-suffering, selflessness, love, and charity.

Sacrificing these negative spiritual possessions is often much more difficult than sacrificing material possessions. In my case, waiting on the Lord is one that I have always struggled with. So we are asked to sacrifice impatience as an earthly possession. By patiently waiting on Him to direct us individually, we are giving up a difficult earthly possession.
"Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." (Psalms 141:2; emphasis mine)

9. Weary God until He blesses you


As you continually approach God, expect His blessings and continually sacrifice to realize those blessings, weary Him until he blesses you:
"God is not a respecter of persons, we all have the same privilege. Come to God weary him until he blesses you &c we are entitled to the same blessings" ([recorded in Willard Richards Pocket Companion, 78-79] cited in The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [1980], p. 15; https://archive.org/stream/TheWordsOfJosephSmith/The%20Words%20of%20Joseph%20Smith_djvu.txt). 
"And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation. And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me." (Ether 1:43) 
"And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me." (Luke 18:1-8) 
"Do you get answers to your prayers? If not, perhaps you did not pay the price. Do you offer a few trite words and worn-out phrases, or do you talk intimately to the Lord? Do you pray occasionally when you should be praying regularly, often, constantly? Do you offer pennies to pay heavy debts when you should give dollars to erase that obligation?
When you pray, do you just speak, or do you also listen? Your Savior said, 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' (Rev. 3:20.) 
…Should we ever fail to get an answer to our prayers, we must look into our lives for a reason" (President Spencer W. Kimball, "Prayer," New Era, Mar. 1978, p. 17).
In my next post in this miniseries, I'll give Step #10…and one simple picture that puts all of this into perspective.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why Most People Failed This Last Weekend

The Miracle Healing


This last week was a particularly troubling one for me.

I witnessed three friends knowingly turn their backs on truth (and no, this had nothing to do with church policies).

The common denominator: Pride. Pride that they know more than the Lord. Pride that they know more than the scriptures. Pride that their way is best. Period.

It was really hurting me for days.

I was grieving about this situation this afternoon as I walked to my car for an appointment. Before I opened the car door, the thought struck me that I should call a friend, whom I hadn't spoken with for a while. As I hopped into the car, I received a ding on my cellphone. I switched it on to discover a text message from the very friend I'd just been thinking about. The text said, "Call sometime, I'd like to lift you..."

A Macro-Example


Sometimes, it's the Spirit who bids us to comfort the brokenhearted. Other times, it's pretty easy to see who needs comforting.

The events which transpired last weekend in France rightfully generated a worldwide wave of support and prayers. Still, there were a few who responded either with celebration (mainly in the Middle East) or indifference (The White House) to the attacks.

In my opinion, some passed the test of compassion. Others just outright failed it.


Did You Fail This Opportunity To Be Christlike?


Yet there was another event which occurred last weekend -- one which saw many fail the compassion test.

As the Washington Post reported on November 16th, about 1,500 people resigned their memberships in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints two days earlier. On that same day, there were 15,372,337 members on the rolls of the church. By my count, about 0.00009757787 of all church members submitted their resignations.

That's a pretty small percentage. Quantitatively, no big deal, right?

That's what some believed. In fact, some proudly posted to other supposed followers of Jesus Christ that the number was not only insignificant, but meaningless, because the vast majority of the 1,500 resigners were (statistically) inactive or former members of the church.

Real, Direct Quotes

"Mehhh, big deal. They're mostly non-members or inactives anyway." 
"By in large, they were on their way out the door anyway." 
"They're obviously not faithful Mormons, faithful Mormons would never leave." 
"I think this cleansing will be good for the LDS Church. They can easily walk down South Temple and find another church that supports their lifestyle." 
"I hope they enjoyed the attention they crave, their 15 minutes in the sun."
(I could post similar comments from online forums dedicated to obeying church leaders, following Christ, studying Last Days events and temporal preparation).

In the vast majority of the pictures I saw of the mass resignation, and the blog posts I've read of those who felt pushed out, pushed away and ostracized, none appeared to be having the time of their lives. Many were sad, mad, distraught, hopeless, helpless and very emotional about the situation.

Now, regardless of where you stand on the church's recent policy changes, one fact remains:

The Lord just handed the other 99.99024221235847% of the remaining Church members a golden chance to display compassion. To "weep with them them weep" (Romans 12:15), "to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:9).

Judging by the social media posts, online newspaper article comments and private hallway conversations at church, how do you think we did?

Next Time


How can we, who have been given so much light and truth, ever expect to survive "the holocausts that shall surely be" and qualify for Zion, if we lack compassion -- especially during times of relative ease and comfort?

If you've ever read Isaiah (which the Lord commanded us to search, "for great are the words of Isaiah"; 3 Nephi 23:1), you'll quickly realize that someday soon, there will be a day of judgment, a day of reckoning, a day of visitation. The D&C 88:91 says that "all things shall be in commotion." Although many are dismissive in believing that such prophecies apply to some long-distant time in the future, I beg to differ. They are at our doors.  Now.

When these events arise, what will be your attitude regarding those who are captured by invading armies or suffering the effects of trauma-induced depression, disease or drought?
"Mehhh, big deal. They had their chance to prepare. They did it to themselves"??? 
"By in large, they were on their way out the door anyway"??? 
"They're obviously not faithful people"??? 
"This cleansing will be good for the new Millennial era"???
If you say you'll be different then, but weren't that way now, congratulations -- you've discovered something to work on.

The Take Away


Let's face it, my friends: by and large, with few exceptions, many of us failed the compassion test last week.

I invite you to join me in learning from this circumstance.

Resolve to do better the next time an opportunity arises to display true compassion.

Pray that the Lord blesses you with an abundance of the Gift of Compassion.

Then await your opportunity to be a Good Samaritan.

Because I have no doubt that the Lord will fulfill that righteous desire, thus empowering you to proactively say to another, "I'd like to lift you."

My friend was led by the Spirit to heal my troubled soul today -- a fact for which I am immeasurably grateful. I feel whole again.

I invite you to make a similar difference in others' lives from now on.
"Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy
… And he did heal them every one." (3 Nephi 17:7,9; emphasis mine)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Alignment, Part 3 of 6: Penetrate the Veil

In a previous post, I highlighted a quote from one latter-day church president who said "Men do not know how to approach God" and another church president who provided some clues regarding "the proper way" to approach Him.

1. Kneel


How do we best approach God?

A good policy of mine: when in doubt, emulate the Master's example (emphasis is mine):
"And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed" (Luke 22:41) 
"And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.
And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him." (3 Nephi 17:14-15)
One more thought: Some of the greatest truths, some of the most profound interactions I have ever had with God have been on my knees. And I have no doubt that if the Lord were to appear before me, or anyone, we would quickly (almost instinctively) find ourselves on our knees.

2. Meditate


Take a look at Luke 22:41 (above) one more time. Do you see what He did? When He prayed, He withdrew from everybody. He wanted to be in seclusion, in solitude, with only one person: His Father.

The "frequency" of the Spirit is both still, soft, small and subtle (Psalms 46:10; 1 Kings 19:11-13; D&C 85:6). To effectively "tune in" to such a state, we must rid ourselves of any and all distractions. And the best way to do that is to meditate.

I've written extensively on this blog about meditation being a key step in approaching God (click here, then select "Meditation" to read relevant meditation posts). President David O. McKay said:
"I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion.
In our worship there are two elements: one is spiritual communion rising from our own meditation; the other instruction from others, particularly from those who have authority to guide and instruct us. Of the two, the more profitable introspectively is meditation.
Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord." (Pres. David O. McKay, "Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life," Improvement Era, June 1967, pp. 80-82; emphasis mine).
Even Pres. Monson stated,
"In this fast-paced life, do we ever pause for moments of meditation-even thoughts of timeless truths?" (Pres. Thomas S. Monson, "The Race of Life," April 2012 General Conference)
Contrary to commonly-held beliefs, meditation doesn't involve focusing on something. It's just the opposite; you empty yourself of all the cares and concerns, worries and wonders of life.

When you set aside anything and everything that has to do with mortality, all you're left with is immortality.

3. Descend


The more we move away from mortality, and towards immortality, the closer we get to God. And the closer we get to God, the more we feel (then know) that we are nothing - so much so, that we are compelled to physically reflect such a feeling.

In Moses 1:1-8, Moses literally lifted above the mortal and into the immortal. Then something very paradoxical happened:
"And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed." (Moses 1:9-10; emphasis mine)
In Part 1 of this "Alignment" mini-series, I detailed how prayer (in the past) involved assuming a posture of unquestionable obeisance: with faces to the dirt, and heads subservient to hearts.

This is an eternal principle echoed across the Standard Works:

  • "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11)
  • "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:14)
  • "He that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that abaseth himself shall be exalted." (D&C 101:42)
  • "Nevertheless, inasmuch as thou hast abased thyself thou shalt be exalted; therefore, all thy sins are forgiven thee." (D&C 112:3)
  • "Let him therefore abase himself that he may be exalted. Even so. Amen." (D&C 124:114)

I think Rabbi Nachman put it best:
"Spiritual descent is necessary for spiritual ascent: When a man has to rise from one level to the next, prior to his ascent, he must first undergo a descent. The paradox is that the very purpose of the descent is the ascent. From this you can see how much strength is required in the service of God. Even when you fall or descend in any way, you must never allow yourself to be thrown off balance to the extent that you come to look down upon yourself or to hold yourself in contempt." (Rabbi Nachman, trans. Avraham Greenbaum, Likutey Moharan, "Restore My Soul" [Monsey & Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, 1980], p. 16-17; here).
Enos was an absolutely fantastic example of approaching God with deep, profound humility:
"And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens." (Enos 1:4)
My goodness! Look at that humility! Look at that endurance! In my (humble) opinion, the reverberations from Enos' prayer must have shaken the heavens with such force, that God had to respond. And boy, did He:
"And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed." (Enos 1:5)
Of course, the ultimate exemplar of humility is Jesus Christ. He was born in the lowliest of circumstances, associated with sinners and the sick, was despised, betrayed and ultimately killed. He "descended below all things" by suffering every individual act of frustration, sadness and pain ever experienced in the history of earth. This enabled him to not only comprehend "all things," but also to rise above all things so that he would know how to help us rise above our daily difficulties (D&C 88:6; see also D&C 122:8 and here).

Now, let's bring this to you:
"As the unredeemed soul, even a guiltless one, closes the gap between himself and his Maker, he perceives the contrast as so overwhelmingly great that he is sorely tempted to shrink back, to give up the quest. Those who will not be redeemed do shrink, overcome by fear of this encounter (e.g., the Israelites in Exodus 20:18-21); but those who are determined to be redeemed press boldly on, and, exercising mighty faith, penetrate the veil, and receive the transformation they so desire." (M. Catherine Thomas, "The Brother of Jared at the Veil" in "Temples of the Ancient World" (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1994, p. 392, emphasis mine; to download, click here).
THAT, in a nutshell, is how you do it.


 4. Upraised Hands


I used the word "paradoxical" above because it's very appropriate when discussing aligning with God. The scriptures are replete with examples of those who, after approaching God in the humblest of positions, then raised their faces from the dirt and, like a small child reaching for help from a parent, upraised their hands to God.

In Part 2 of this alignment mini-series, you read scores of scriptures where the faithful called upon God with their hands uplifted to heaven.
"I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting." (1 Timothy 2:8; emphasis mine)
Yet two questions regarding upraised hands emerge:

A. Did supplicants pray with upraised hands while kneeling or standing? In some scriptures (like 1 Kings 8:22-23) and historical accounts (as detailed by Hugh Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, p. 73-79), supplicants stood. In Ezra 9:5 and 1 Kings 8:54, they knelt. In 2 Chronicles 6:12-14, they stood, then knelt. After researching this topic for months, I found that for every historical anecdote of praying with upraised hands while standing, another equally valid anecdote emerges for doing so while kneeling. Therefore, it may have been left to the Spirit to dictate whether prayers were offered standing or kneeling. Quite possibly because (according to the scriptures) the Savior consistently knelt in prayer, kneeling may have been the preferential choice.

B. Were the hands thrust straight up, or at right angles? When one reached their hands straight above them, it was symbolic of submission or surrender -- natural positions when one is humble. (Understanding Isaiah, Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry, and Tina M. Peterson, p.16).

Yet others raised their hands with their arms at 90-degree angles (like this:  |_o_|   ), a posture resembling a carpenter's square. This was documented in an image from the church's archives of a sacrament meeting in Ephraim, Utah's tabernacle in the early 1870s. There, three mature men are officiating at the sacrament table, with the "acting priest" blessing the sacrament with uplifted hands (see William G. Hartley, "From Men to Boys: LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offices, 1829-1996, Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 22 No, 1, 1996, p. 95). Facsimile No. 2, Figure 7, in the Book of Abraham, also shows an upraised hand at a right angle (although the person is not praying). So, like the above question, equally valid cases could be made for those upraising their hands straight or at right angles…and again, the Spirit was probably the best arbiter of which position was appropriate in a given situation.



In this post, we linked (1) Kneeling, (2) Meditating, (3) Descending and (4) Upraised hands in prayer. This may have been the sequence of steps - as detailed in the scriptures and historical accounts - which ordinary people, just like you, took to approach God.

And you know what?

It worked.

In my next post, we'll explore what people did after they employed the four steps above....and effectively approached God.