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Sunday, January 18, 2015

04. Spiritual Ascension Step #1: Ask

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


"Why leave me standing here, let me know the way.
Many times I've been alone, and many times I've cried.
Anyway you'll never know the many ways I've tried.
And still they lead me back to the long and winding road.
You left me standing here a long, long time ago.
Don't leave me waiting here, lead me to you door."

As I contemplate my life, I think of two things:

First, the Savior's beckoning call to "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48).

Being perfect doesn't mean checking off some kind of celestial to-do list. I've known plenty of people -- men and women -- who checked off plenty of boxes: temple recommend this, high-falutin' church calling that, successful job here, kids all went on missions/sealed in the temple there -- (and although these things are important), they were anything but Christlike in their demeanor to others, especially loved ones, behind closed doors.

Perfection, it seems, lies not in lists. It lies in something deeper, far more profound and definitely non-telestial. Or, as we read in the Greek translation, you're whole. You're complete. You have integrity.

Second, I think of my own inadequacies. I look at the totality of my life so far, and contemplate all the mistakes I've made, the stupid decisions I've declared, my transgressions, my sins, my unworthiness, my unprofitability, my "nothing-ness" before God.

It seems impossible to reconcile "Be ye therefore perfect" with "if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants." (Mosiah 2:21).

Maybe when you come to a true, sincere understanding of these two dynamics -- when you reach out to God and cry, "Son of God, please forgive me," indeed, when you realize what an imperfect mortal you are, and still keep trying your hardest, THAT is when a spark that powers the celestial engines come to life.

It is the spark of faith, the spark of (spiritual) life. The moment that you are, ironically, "acceptable before God" (Moroni 7:44).
"What is our obstacle? Why don't we have the faith and the revelations that go with it? Moroni 7:43–44 tells us--it's because we're not honest. We are not meek and lowly: "I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek and lowly of heart" (Moroni 7:43). That's what being honest is, recognizing what you don't know, not what you do. Forget degrees and everything else. "The glory of God is intelligence." Intelligence is problem-solving ability. . . . How do you go about solving a problem? You always, step by step, find out what you don't know. "This is where I'm ignorant." "This is what I don't know." And so I have to fill that gap. There are no fields; there are only problems to solve. If you have a particular problem you have to work on and it requires a certain language, you've got to get the language. If it requires certain math, you've got to get the math. See, it's not the field you're in that makes it; it's the problem you have to solve. You have to get whatever you lack. You can't fall back on your degrees and your reputation and all this sort of thing and say, "well he's an authority on the subject." There are none such. You have to be honest and smart enough to realize where the limitations are and where we're supposed to go. But only by a systematic and progressive revelation of your own ignorance can you do that. That's a humiliating process, and very few will face it. They must be meek and lowly.
The greatest classical philologist who ever lived, Joseph Justus Scaliger, lived back in the sixteenth century. He went to Rome and lived in the ghetto to learn Hebrew. They spoke Hebrew in those days. The little children laughed at him when he'd make mistakes, and his fellow colleagues disowned him. He wasn't scholarly about it at all. You don't go down and mix with vulgar people. His colleagues wore fur-lined robes and everything else, but their knowledge of Hebrew was less than elementary. That's the difference, you see. You have to be meek and lowly if you're going to learn anything or do what the Lord wants you to do. Realize your situation and what you really are." (Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 4, p. 283).

The Three Letters Which Shatter the Perfection/Imperfection Impasse


Since the beginning of time, the Lord has given us a very simple formula that starts you on a path of spiritual growth and ascension. It's all embedded in three letters, or one word. Its found 94 times Old Testament, 127 in the New Testament, 47 in the Book of Mormon and 68 times in the Doctrine and Covenants:
"Say unto them, Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (JST, Matthew 7:12) 
"Seek unto my Father, and it shall be done in that very moment what ye shall ask, if ye ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive." (JST, Mark 9:45) 
"ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:24)  
Also,
"Behold this is my will; ask and ye shall receive; but men do not always do my will" (D&C 103:31) 
You see, from the beginning of the Bible to the end of the Pearl of Great Price, the Lord shows us how spiritual ascension really starts with a simple question:
Joseph Smith asked, "Which of all the sects was right?" (JS-History 19).    
Moses asked, "What is his name? what shall I say unto them?" (Exodus 3:13).     
The Psalmist, who lived close to God's heart, was full of questions (Psalm 74:1; 10:1). 
The whole prophetic book of Habbakuk is built around a dialog between God and the prophet Habbakuk as Habbakuk asks God a series of questions, then waits in faith and dread for God's reply (Hab. 1:3,13;2:1).  
Peter's great sermon in Acts chapter two was launched by a question from the crowd (Acts 2:12).    
Paul's letter to the Romans is built around a series of questions (Romans 3:1-3; 5-9; 4:1; 6:1). 
Paul's letter of I Corinthians seems to be built around answers to a series of questions the church has asked him (I Cor. 5:1; 6:1; 7:1). 
The first chapter of Hebrews begins and ends with questions and answers (Hebrews 1:5, 13).
But the One who seemed to love questions the most was Jesus. He could not have been more clear in articulating His approval of our asking questions and seeking answers:
He commended His disciples and "those with them" for asking Him about the meaning of His parables, even saying that the questioners had found the secret of the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:10-11).  
He got angry at the Pharisees when they stopped asking questions and were silent (Mark 3:5). 
He often answered a question with a question, to keep the question mode going (Mark 2:18-1924-25; John 1:48-50).  
Jesus summarized His view of questions when He told His disciples specifically to "ask, and you will receive, seek, and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you., for whoever asks receives…" (Matt. 7:7-8).  

A Daily Habit of Turning the Spark into Constant Candlelight


"If you have faith in Christ then 'ye shall have power'. 
God will show you truth but you must take action first. 
Put it to the test. - Alma 32" (Hugh Nibley)  

You have to admit: Hugh's right.

Do what the Lord has asked you to do: Put Him to the test.

How?

I recommend starting with asking this simple question:
"Lord, are you there?"
And maybe, just maybe, you'll feel, somewhere deep inside you, these words:
"I'm always with you, and love you more and more each day."
If asking Him a question -- and getting an answer -- is a thrill for me, I can only imagine it's a thrill for Him, too. Finally (!), someone is reaching out to Him! Finally, someone is taking Him up on His promise that if we ask, He'll answer! Finally, someone is seeking at-one-ment with Him.

I think there's a pretty prevalent misconception out there that if and when we ask God for something, it's got to be, has to be, during prayer. I strongly, vehemently disagree.

Asking can be a 24/7/365 thing.

And consequently, answering can also be a 24/7/365 thing, too.

Here, let me give you a few examples:
"Lord, do you know how much I appreciate that beautiful sunrise?  I mean, wow, that is just breathtaking! Thanks so much for letting me see it!"(Listen for a response) 
"Lord, when I was in the break room a while ago, ______ seemed kind of, I don't know...distant, disconnected, maybe even sad. What can I do to help cheer him up?"(Listen for a response)
"Lord, what's something -- maybe just some little thing -- I could do to show my wife how much I love her?"(Listen for a response)
"Lord, I just saw that beggar on the corner by Wal-Mart. Should I do something for her?"(Listen for a response)
By carrying on this dialogue, you acquaint your heart and mind to God's constantly-broadcasted signals. It's not loud (like Satan's signals) nor indecisive (like our own). It's soft, it's confident, it's non-judgmental and loving beyond anything earthly.

Questions That Shake The Heavens


In all the arsenal of questions we could ask the Lord, there's one that undoubtedly shakes the heavens into action:

"Lord, what lack I yet?" (Matthew 19:20

Or

"Lord, what am I supposed to learn from this?"

When you ask God what you're lacking, what you need to work on, the reverberations from your small, sincere act of faith energize the gears and pulleys and levers of the Celestial Kingdom. You can count on an answer headed your way soon enough.

When I have sincerely asked these simple questions, I have always obtained an answer from God. Always.

Sometimes, the answer is immediate. Other times, it's not. Sometimes, I like what I hear. Other times, not so much.

Sometimes I may not hear anything at all. In those cases, I may need to "exit Babylon" to obtain a coherent answer...perhaps in a temple or out in nature (click here and read the posts on Meditation for more details). Maybe I need to repent of a sin.

But the answer can and will come. It has to; otherwise, God (who's work and glory is to bring about your immortality and eternal life; Moses 1:39) would cease to be God.

The Door Awaits You


The simplest thing you can do to begin spiritually growing and ascending is to simply ask.

Ask ask ask ask ask!

Ask Him questions periodically throughout your day. Ask Him what you need to do to be closer to Him. Then simply wait on the Lord until an inevitable, certain answer comes.
"So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God." (Proverbs 2:2-5 
"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 58:11