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Sunday, May 31, 2015

15. Spiritual Ascension Step #7: Express Gratitude Part 2 (aka "The Fallacy of 'Pray Until You Feel Like It'")

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 15th examining the phrase "keepeth my commandments".

This is interesting.

I was thinking this post was going to be a summary of these 7 Steps of Spiritual Ascension and tying them to D&C 93:1. But nope. For several days, I've been feeling prompted to post something else. In fact, thoughts and feelings have come to me so frequently and clearly that...well, here it is.

The Fallacy of "Pray Until You Feel Like It"


In a previous post, we read how Christ has clearly and consistently stated that LOVE, not obedience, is the cornerstone of anything and everything Celestial. This parallels something I heard the Provo MTC President say many years ago: "Fear is a telestial emotion. Duty is a terrestrial emotion. Love is the celestial emotion."


Sincerity is a natural accompanist to our expressions of love. You may render very kind acts of service, giving the outward impression that you truly love another, but if those actions are not sincere, it's all for naught in the eternal scheme of things.

So it is with your relationship with God. Sure, you may go through the actions with Him, like saying your prayers. But if there's no sincerity behind them, then who are you fooling? Him? Haha, guess again; you're only fooling yourself.

Which leads us to a second teaching that we often hear:
"It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 44; Quoted by John A. Widtsoe in Tabernacle, November 1869; Journal of Discourses, 13:155; Quoted by Elder Marvin J. Ashton, “Know He Is There,” Brigham Young University devotional, November 10, 1992 and Ensign, February 1994, p. 53; Cheryl C. Lant (General Primary President), BYU Fireside, September 9, 2007; Lesson 155, Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual, 2012; Elder Joe J. Christensen, "Ten Ideas to Increase Your Spirituality," BYU—Hawaii Devotional, January 23, 1997; "Feast of Prophets", Friend, August, 2001; Neil J. Flinders, "Principles of Parenting, Part 2", Ensign, April, 1975; Dana T. Griffen, "Choices and Changes, Burdens and Blessings", BYU Devotional, May 31, 2005; "The Legacy of President Brigham Young: A Latter-day Moses", Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), p. 171; "Chapter 6: The Communication between God and Man", Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), p. 41–47).
[I could have posted more sources, but I think I've sufficiently made my point that this is a pretty widely proclaimed teaching].

Brother Brigham continues...
"Some of the brethren come to me and say, “Brother Brigham, is it my duty to pray when I have not one particle of the spirit of prayer in me?” True, at times, men are perplexed and full of care and trouble, their ploughs and other implements are out of order, their animals have strayed and a thousand things perplex them; yet our judgment teaches us that it is our duty to pray, whether we are particularly in the spirit of praying or not. My doctrine is, it is your duty to pray; and when the time for prayer comes, John should say, “This is the place and this is the time to pray; knees bend down upon the floor, and do so at once.” But John said, “I do not want to pray; I do not feel like it.” Knees get down, I say; and down bend the knees, and he begins to think and reflect. Can you say anything? Can you not say, God have mercy on me a sinner? Yes, he can do this, if he can rise up and curse his neighbor for some ill deeds. Now, John, open your mouth and say, Lord, have mercy upon me. “But I do not feel the spirit of prayer.” That does not excuse you, for you know what your duty is" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 45; https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-6?lang=eng).
Now, juxtapose that with Moroni 7:9 --
"And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such" (Emphasis mine).
Moroni later said,
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:4; emphasis mine).
Now, here's Helaman:
"Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name" (Helaman 3:27; emphasis mine).
"We are promised that if we pray sincerely for that which is right and good and in accordance with God’s will, we can be blessed, protected, and directed" (Elder David A. Bednar, "Pray Always", October 2008 General Conference; emphasis mine).

Indeed, as we sing in our hymns, "Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, Uttered or unexpressed" (Hymns, 1985, no. 145; emphasis mine). Not a lot of room for "fake it 'til you make it" in that verse.

Now, in Brother Brigham's defense, he does have another quote that is congruent with Moroni's:
"Let every man and every woman call upon the name of the Lord, and that, too, from a pure heart, while they are at work as well as in their closet; while they are in public as well as while they are in private, asking the Father in the name of Jesus, to bless them, and to preserve and guide in, and to teach them, the way of life and salvation and to enable them so to live that they will obtain this eternal salvation that we are after" (Discourses of Brigham Young, 43; emphasis mine).
Now, if dropping to your knees, confessing your sins and asking for mercy brings you closer to God (even when you don't feel like praying), then fantastic!  After all, confessing your sins and asking for mercy are usually accompanied by sincerity and honesty.

However, in my opinion, adopting the "fake it 'til you make it" strategy of communicating with God, while neglecting "real intent of heart" is sad and clearly a sub-optimal method of communicating with God. Because it's hypocritical, "God receiveth none such."

The Next Time You Don't Feel Like Praying, Try This Instead


Feeling that you don't want to pray is a symptom, not a cause, of a spiritual dysfunction. The real reason you have that feeling is because you have heeded Satan, not the Spirit; you have given evil a toehold into your soul:

"...for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray" (2 Nephi 32:8)

When you feel like this, the treatment isn't MORE evil (per Moroni 7:9) and praying without real intent of heart! You need something genuine and sincere, which realigns you back to God!

So if you don't feel like praying -- or even dropping to your knees -- with "pure intent," consider trying something different:

Just take a minute out. Just stop whatever you're doing, and consider all the blessings and gifts you have in your life.

In fact, consider starting your day doing this!
"Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day" (Alma 37:37; emphasis mine). 
"Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms." (Psalms 95:2; emphasis mine)
Then "live in thanksgiving daily":
"That ye contend no more against the Holy Ghost, but that ye receive it, and take upon you the name of Christ; that ye humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth; and that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you" (Alma 34:38; emphasis mine).

[ https://youtu.be/gXDMoiEkyuQ?t=4m24s ]
"You think this is just another day in your life? It's not just another day. It's the one day that is given to you today. It's given to you. It's a gift. It's the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response... 
...is gratefulness. 
If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well. 
Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes you can open, that incredible array of colors that is constantly offered to us for pure enjoyment. 
Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment, with clouds coming and going. We just think of the weather, and even with the weather, we don't think of all the many nuances of weather. We just think of good weather and bad weather. This day, right now, has unique weather, maybe a kind that will never exactly in that form come again. That formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same as it is right now. Open your eyes. Look at that. 
Look at the faces of people whom you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face, a story that you could never fully fathom, not only their own story, but the story of their ancestors. We all go back so far, and in this present moment, on this day, all the people you meet, all that life from generations and from so many places all over the world flows together and meets you here like a life-giving water, if you only open your heart and drink. 
Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet and there is warm water and cold water, and drinkable water. It's a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience." (http://www.ted.com/talks/louie_schwartzberg_nature_beauty_gratitude/transcript?language=en)

So these are just a small sampling of all the enormous, eternal gifts which you can contemplate and open your heart to. When you do so, let these blessings flow through you. Let their existence in your life become part of you. Then share those feelings, that expression on your face, with everyone whom you will meet on this day. They will be blessed by you -- your eyes, your smile, your touch, even just your presence.

When you feel this gratitude and gratefulness, it will easily overflow into blessings to those all around you. Indeed, it may be that God judges your gratitude more by your hands than your thoughts.

It is then that you are ready.

In fact, you are more than ready to approach He who has blessed your life with so many incredible gifts.

Joseph Smith once said that "it is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another" (History of the Church 6:305). Novelist Thornton Wilder said that "We can only be said to be truly alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures"

When your heart is aligned with the blessings God has richly and abundantly blessed you with, you're far more emotionally and spiritually prepared to converse with Him. Not in a sincere, fakey way, but in a sincere, genuine, spiritually alive state...

...just the very wavelength where He can be found.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Manifestation of a Not-So-Anonymous God

Check out Diane Cohen's testimony (below) from 1:04 to 4:40. Cool!

I love to hear these more-than-coincidental coincidences.

Recently, I felt inspired to write about a certain topic (Love and Obedience):
  • On Sunday, May 3, I wrote and saved (but didn't publish) the blog post -- a fact I had disclosed to no one at the time. 
  • On Tuesday, May 5, another blogger (whom I don't personally know) posted some observations on his blog which were pretty congruent with mine. 
  • On Wednesday, May 6, my post was published. Afterwards, I found out that the wife of a close friend had been inspired with the same thoughts just a day before both of the afore-mentioned blog posts were published. By the way, she isn't a blog reader, so she would not have known what was about to be published on these two blogs.
I really think that God delights in sometimes manifesting Himself in not-so anonymous ways.


By the way, www.imetmessiah.com is a new website that highlights video testimonies of Jewish professionals who met their Messiah.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

14. Spiritual Ascension Step #7: Express Gratitude

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 14th examining the phrase "keepeth my commandments".

In my last post, I talked about love. Loving God and mankind down to the inner core, the holy of holies, of your soul. A love that is manifested no matter where you go and what you say or do.

In this post, I would like to give you a glimpse of where that love will take you.

It Starts With The Number Seven


Seven days of creation. Seven seals of Revelation. Seven angels having the seven last plagues.

All throughout the scriptures, the number seven can be found almost everywhere.

Virtually all Biblical scholars, regardless of their beliefs regarding scriptural symbolism, recognize seven's special symbolic significance as the numerical symbol of fulness, completion and perfection. I mean, you just can't miss it (it's mentioned at least 490 times)!

God Himself introduced seven's importance when He finished the work of Creation (Gen 2:2). And like a great historical chiasmus, seven reemerges as the temporal existence of the earth -- and its telestial status -- draws to a close (Revelation 10:5). Additionally,
  • Pharaoh in his dream saw seven cattle coming from the Nile (Exodus 41:2). 
  • Samson’s sacred Nazarite locks were braided in seven plaits (Judges 16:13). 
  • Seven devils left Mary of Magdala, signifying the totality of her previous possession by Satan (Luke 8:2).
  • "Seven other devils" will enter the purified but vacant life of a person (Matthew 12:45). 
  • There were the seven spirits of God (Revelation 3:1). 
  • In the seventh year the Hebrew slave was to be freed, having completed his time of captivity and service (Exodus 21:2). 
  • There are seven main biblical holidays.
  • How many candlesticks are on a Menorah?
  • Every seventh year was a sabbatical year (Leviticus 25:4). 
  • Seven times seven reiterates the sense of completeness. In the Year of Jubilee (at the completion of 7 x 7 years = the 50th year), all land is freed and returns to the original owners (Leviticus 25:10). Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, is seven times seven days after Passover. 
  • There are 70 elders (Exodus 24:1) in Israel. 
  • Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years (Jeremiah 25:12) to complete its punishment. 
  • "Seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22) reiterates this still further. The Lord was not giving Peter a mathematical number of times that he should forgive another person, but rather, was insisting on limitless forgiveness for a brother’s sin.
  • "Into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46)
  • There were seven churches in the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 25:23)
  • There are seven presidents of the 70 (D&C 107:93,95).
  • There are seven Lectures on Faith (www.lecturesonfaith.com).
Yet, I strongly disagree with the frequently-mentioned hypothesis that seven also symbolizes an end of things.

Nope, wrong-o!

In my opinion, seven is also the number of a brighter future.

So it is with the seventh step in YOUR spiritual ascension. It is the final, conclusive step you take in turning your back on the world, where you decisively declare to the heavens and the earth that YOU stand with God, regardless of what challenges to your devotion come your way. It is also the final step necessary in demonstrating your readiness to personally partake of the fulness and perfection of Jesus Christ and, possibly, our Father Himself.
"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)
And now, Step #7: Express Gratitude...

Of Self-Deceiving Expectations...


I hear it, see it or sense it practically every week:

Church members who honestly believe that they will someday be partakers of eternal glories and exaltation, to co-mingle above the angels and with the gods, despite the fact that they regularly refuse opportunities to serve; ignore the sick, the lonely and the poor without a second thought; and, quite frankly, unabashedly trust in man, not God.

"That man may last, but never lives,
Who much receives, but nothing gives;
Whom none can love, whom none can thank,
Creation’s blot, creation’s blank.
(Thomas Gibbons, "When Jesus Dwelt")

How can one even possibly consider the notion of living in exalted glory when they can't even hack maximizing their limited time in telestial glory? I'm confident this is what Brother Joseph had in mind when he said,
"A man who cannot sacrifice his own wishes, who cannot say in his heart, 'Father, Thy will be done, not mine,' is not a truly and thoroughly converted child of God; he is still, to some extent, in the grasp of error and in the shades of darkness that hover around the world, hiding God from the presence of mankind." (Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star, 20 Jan. 1893, p. 79)
"It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him." (Lectures on Faith 6:8)
"All intelligent beings who are crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives must pass through every ordeal appointed for intelligent beings to pass through, to gain their glory and exaltation. Every calamity that can come upon mortal beings will be suffered to come upon the few, to prepare them to enjoy the presence of the Lord. If we obtain the glory that Abraham obtained, we must do so by the same means that he did. If we are ever prepared to enjoy the society of Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or of their faithful children, and of the faithful Prophets and Apostles, we must pass through the same experience, and gain the knowledge, intelligence, and endowments that will prepare us to enter into the celestial kingdom of our Father and God. How many of the Latter-day Saints will endure all these things, and be prepared to enjoy the presence of the Father and the Son? You can answer that question at your leisure. Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.345) 

...And Wrenched Heartstrings

"The great task of life is to learn the will of the Lord and then do it." (Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, April 1988 General Conference; or Ensign, May 1988, p. 4)
If this is the case for all of us, it is even more true for those to are truly, sincerely serious about returning to Father in the glory of exaltation.

It seems highly paradoxical that loving God would want to "thoroughly" prove you, and give you opportunities to prove that you're "determined to serve Him at all hazards." Yet that is precisely what happens. In fact, the degree to which God will go to prove you was poignantly described by Brother Joseph:
"Did you ever know it is necessary that we should be tried in all things? If you do not you will find it out before you get through, and we are not through yet quite. In this connection, I am reminded of what I heard the Prophet Joseph say, speaking more particularly with reference to the Twelve, "The Lord will feel after your heart-strings, and will wrench them and twist them around, and you will have to learn to rely upon God and upon God alone." (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 20, p.259 - p.260, March 2, 1879
"I heard the Prophet Joseph Smith say to the Twelve, 'You will have all kinds of troubles and trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried, even as Abraham and other men of God.' And said he, 'God will feel after you and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings. And if you cannot stand it, you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.'" (John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 24, p. 197; Church News, October 7, 1972, p.14

Ace-ing the Ultimate Tests...

"The Lord told Joseph that He would prove him, whether he would abide in His covenant or not, even unto death. He did prove him; and although [Joseph] had the whole world to contend against and the treachery of false friends to withstand, although his whole life was a scene of trouble and anxiety and care, yet, in all his afflictions, his imprisonments, the mobbings and ill treatment he passed through, he was ever true to his God." (Wilford Woodruff, Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, Oct. 18, 1881, p. 1)
Even though Joseph knew that he was destined to swim in deep waters of tests, trials and tribulation (D&C 127:2) and often wondered why such was his fate (D&C 121), he taught all of us nto to murmur in affliction, but to be thankful for God's goodness. On December 5, 1833, the Prophet wrote to Church leaders presiding over the Saints who were being persecuted in Missouri:
"Remember not to murmur at the dealings of God with His creatures. You are not as yet brought into as trying circumstances as were the ancient Prophets and Apostles. Call to mind a Daniel, the three Hebrew children [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego], Jeremiah, Paul, Stephen, and many others, too numerous to mention, who were stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword, and [who] wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and in mountains, and hid in dens and caves of the earth; yet they all obtained a good report through faith [see Hebrews 11:37–39]; and amidst all their afflictions they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to receive persecutions for Christ’s sake." (History of the Church, 1:450; from a letter from Joseph Smith to Edward Partridge and others, Dec. 5, 1833, Kirtland, OH)
I have one friend who, to me, is a sterling example of the kind of saint whom Joseph is describing. Whenever she is being put through a test, She asks God, "What are you trying to teach me? What's this lesson about? How can I ace this test?"

And mercifully, over time, the answers come.

Even when she returns and reports to Father, and in tears expresses her remorsefulness for being so imperfect, she thanks Father for showing her her weaknesses.  Then she begs for His help, His presence, His understanding to help turn those weaknesses into strengths. She knows that the Lord has promised that he will not leave you comfortless (John 14:18), and she holds him to his promise.
"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27
THEN, with knowledge of the nature of those tests, and His ever-present comfort, she thanks God. Again, the Prophet provides a real-life example:
"This being the beginning of a new year, my heart is filled with gratitude to God that He has preserved my life, and the lives of my family, while another year has passed away. We have been sustained and upheld in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, although exposed to all the afflictions, temptations, and misery that are incident to human life; for this I feel to humble myself in dust and ashes, as it were, before the Lord." (History of the Church, 2:352; from a Joseph Smith journal entry, Jan. 1, 1836, Kirtland, OH)
Regarding his recovery from an illness in June 1837, Joseph said,
"This is one of the many instances in which I have suddenly been brought from a state of health, to the borders of the grave, and as suddenly restored, for which my heart swells with gratitude to my heavenly Father, and I feel renewedly to dedicate myself and all my powers to His service." (History of the Church, 2:493; from “History of the Church” (manuscript), book B-1, pp. 762–63, Church Archives)
"Stand fast, ye Saints of God, hold on a little while longer, and the storm of life will be past, and you will be rewarded by that God whose servants you are, and who will duly appreciate all your toils and afflictions for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s. Your names will be handed down to posterity as Saints of God." (History of the Church, 4:337; from a report from Joseph Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency, Apr. 7, 1841, Nauvoo, Illinois, published in Times and Seasons, Apr. 15, 1841, p. 385)

...and Obtaining the Ultimate Reward


No matter what you are called upon to trudge through in your own personalized path to perfection, know that all things will "work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28; Letter from Joseph Smith to William W. Phelps and others, Aug. 18, 1833, Kirtland, Ohio; Joseph Smith, Collection, Church Archives). Brother Joseph also said,
"When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has, for the truth's sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life." (Lectures on Faith 6:7
"After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands),which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 3:379-381)
It all begins with the Seventh Step: asking about, and expressing gratitude to God for, His thoroughly proving you. It is an action that angels and gods look upon with eternal reverence, because it signifies the changing of an eternal life.
"...Our trust is in God, and we are determined, His grace assisting us, to maintain the cause and hold out faithful unto the end, that we may be crowned with crowns of celestial glory, and enter into the rest that is prepared for the children of God." (ibid)

A Personal Testimony


Exactly one year ago this week, I went through a series of tests that all occurred within three weeks' time. I was laid off my job. Then a "friend" had accused me of some falsehoods. Finally, a younger sibling of mine died of cancer, leaving behind two young children. It was an extremely painful time for me.

Yet through it all, I was blessed with a priesthood blessing given by a friend who had practically written the book on not only enduring, but also shining though ("ace-ing") huge, gargantuan, very public tests. I had a spouse who was understanding, supportive and motivating. And I had true friends who sacrificed in truly selfish ways to ensure we had bread on the table, mortgages paid and a smile on my face.

Yet right after that storm had passed, and I was cognizant of the fact that I had truly been blessed (if not "overly blessed", as I often describe it), something remarkable occurred:

I was blessed with an unmistakable, undeniable witness that Father Himself approved of my endurance and faith in Him. As I type this, I can vividly recall the tone of His voice, His love and His smile. Tears are flowing just as much now as they did a year ago, when I learned for myself that He delights in exceeding our expectations, doing "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20)

I testify to you that God's blessings far, far surpass the trials He sends us through. The "ROI" (Return on Investment) in our individual paths to exaltation will definitely wrench your heart-strings! But God *is* with you every step of the way, and will manifest that fact to you in time.

As you demonstrate your gratitude for God's guiding you to become a better person, you enable the process to repeat itself...

...and your journey up the spiraling, ever-expanding ladder to heaven will continue undeterred.
"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)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

13. Spiritual Ascension Step #6: Obey (aka "Why Obedience Is Not The First Law of Heaven")

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 13th examining the phrase "keepeth my commandments".

When one takes Elders Maxwell and Holland up on their invitations to not "wait too long to find the altar or to begin to place the gift of your wills upon it" and to "place it all on the altar of God, kneel there in silent submission, and willingly walk away" (their quotes, not mine), now comes the hard part:

Obedience.

But, obedience to who? A mortal leader? If you fear man more than God, if you place a man between you and God, then it's high time you reacquaint yourself with D&C 3:7, Luke 18:2-4, 1 Peter 2:17, Job 1:1 and D&C 122:9.

It's clear that we need to "live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4, D&C 84:44 and 98:11).

Obviously,
"We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know, unless we comply with or keep those we have already received." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256.)
Why is that? Because
"Once a person is true to the light he has received, he is then capable of receiving more light and obeying it. Until he is true to the light already given, additional light would only condemn him, for he is capable neither of understanding it nor appreciating it. Observing our covenants may not always be easy, and it may require sacrifice. The Lord said, '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)" (Stephen R. Covey, The Divine Center, p. 213-216)
Thus, we see that further light and knowledge (a true blessing) is predicated upon obedience:
"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:20-21)
So, here's my question: what is obedience predicated upon?

Is Obedience Really the First Law of Heaven?


There is no doubt that obedience is a vital, critical component to our eternal salvation. Over the years, it's achieved the remarkable status of being "the first law of heaven".

“Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 539).

Having a sincere interest in this doctrine (which is promulgated in almost all curriculum materials), I investigated the origins of this doctrine. Here's what I found:
"It is frequently said that order is the first law of heaven. I wish to put this in a different light. Order in the Church is the result of obedience to the laws of God and to the discipline which He has established among men. My opinion is that obedience, which one of the ancient prophets said was "better than sacrifice," is the first law of heaven—if there can be any law called the first or above all others. Without obedience there can be no order, no discipline, no government. The will of God cannot be done, either in the heavens or on the earth, except men will obey the will of the Father. And when men obey the will of the Father, order is the result. Confusion ceases, and peace is made to prevail, when men yield obedience to the requirements of the Father, or to the laws of God. Discipline is that practice which is necessary to bring men and women into an understanding of the laws and requirements of God; or, it is that condition which will exist when men understand the laws of God and yield obedience to them." (Joseph F. Smith, 1896. Brian Stuy, Collected Discourses Vol. 5, p.121)
  • It was quoted by Pres. David O. McKay in his book, Gospel Ideals.
  • It has been reiterated in many General Conferences in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The Problem With The "First Law of Heaven" Teaching


Again, there is no question that obedience -- the voluntary adherence to God's laws -- is essential for eternal salvation (Abraham 3:25–26; Helaman 14:30–31).

However, the notion that it is "the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest" is problematic:

1. I've known plenty of people who were flawlessly obedient -- attending all church meetings, paying full tithes/fast offerings, 100% home/visiting teaching, working in the cannery, going to the temple every week, doing family history -- you name it. Yet they avoided associating with people they didn't like. They prided themselves on not "giving in to those deceitful beggars" (a direct quote) just outside the Walmart parking lot. A few were verbally abusive to their spouses and/or kids. Wearing the finest clothes, driving the finest cars and living in the finest house was of paramount importance.

2. If you tried to count how many commandments we are to obey -- including instructions to grow a garden, visit the sick, do your family history, learn the signs of the times as well as all the written commandments – you'd find thousands. And what do you think the chances are that you'll obey them all. Zero, right? There are just too many "commandments" to keep them all perfectly. With that being the case, then technically, none of us should make it into heaven.

3. "Obedience" itself is never declared a "law". The Ten Commandments? The Law of Moses? Now, those are are laws! But obedience, as I understand it, denotes a voluntary compliance to laws (see D&C 130:21 above).

4. Logically, even if obedience were a law, it would be impossible for it to be the first law of heaven. After all, unless another law existed first, there would be nothing for obedient souls to obey.

The TRUE First Law of Heaven


Luckily, the Lord understood these four points just listed above. To clarify the matter, He stated:

"But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together.
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22:34-40)

In other words, all the revelations which God has made to man in every age, all the utterances of the prophets, all the voices of history, lead us to one inescapable conclusion: we must FIRST love God. Then, immediately after that, we must love our fellowman.

These are the two grand links that unite God to man, man to his fellows, and men again to God.

Paul expounded on this fact:
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:10; emphasis mine)
The duties which we owe to God are founded in our relationship between God and ourselves. Were there no such relationship, the perfections of God might be a matter of admiration, but could not be the ground of duty and obedience.

Thus, if we love God, and consider Him as the Lord and Governor of the world, our love will soon become obedience:
“If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
These acts of obe­di­ence then become outward indica­tions of an inward change...
"For the nat­ural man is an enemy to God, and has been since the fall of Adam and will be for­ever and ever, unless he yields to the entic­ings of the Holy Spirit and putteth of the nat­ural man and becometh a saint through the atone­ment of Christ the Lord. And becometh as a child, sub­mis­sive, humble, meek, full of love, will­ing to sub­mit unto all things whatso­ever the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth sub­mit to his father." (Mosiah 3:19; emphasis mine).
...and eventually elevate us to a discipleship level:
"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:35)

Resolving a Few Lingering Questions


Q: "So, how does one learn to love God?"
A: Good question. Christ answered, "Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me." (D&C 19:23). So, read about Christ -- primarily in the four Gospels and 3 Nephi. If closing your eyes and visualizing Him helps, click here for some suggestions.

Q: "As you said, there's no way I can be perfectly obedient to all the commandments. Am I doomed?"
A: Nope. Remember that we are to "live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4D&C 84:44 and 98:11). President Monson's story (here) of leaving a church meeting to give someone a blessing, only to find that the man had died a few minutes earlier, is a perfect example of this concept. I'm sure Pres. Monson felt that attending the church meeting was an act of obedience. But after learning of the consequences resulting from disregarding divine promptings, he learned a valuable lesson: the Spirit can be the final say in what is "totally obedient" and what is not.

Thus, you can be totally obedient, even when a few things remain undone. If and when the Spirit sends you out to say hi to a neighbor instead of doing your family history work, you will obey. If He never sends you to plant a garden, you will also obey. You simply are obedient. In the final analysis, the Lord will not judge us according to our gardens nor our family history work; He will judge us according to our hearts -- what kinds of beings we have become.

When your heart truly loves God, you seek after -- and receive -- the Holy Ghost. When you do that, you are sanctified and spotless before God (3 Ne. 27:19-20), even if some things remain undone.

If You Want To Truly Understand The First Law of Heaven...


Besides the scriptures, I have two resources for you:

1. Go buy "Spiritual Roots of Human Relations" by Stephen R. Covey. The book's basic premise is simple: The way we treat God is also reflected in how we treat others, and visa versa. Both our relationships with God and others emanate from our spiritual roots. Thus, if we love God (The First Commandment), we'll also love others (the Second Commandment), and if we love others, we love God (Mosiah 2:17).

2. Listen to this song, "Love is the Answer" by England Dan and John Ford Coley. The lyrics are below.



In Conclusion


In my previous posts, we discussed giving everything -- everything -- to God at our own altars. I have found that the toughest challenge I face in holding to that commitment is letting go of my pride and loving others. I mean TRULY loving them:

No judgmentalism.

More understanding.

Respecting others' feelings.

Patiently and caringly building relationships with inclusion, not exclusion.

It has been said that the Savior was able to perform the greatest act of consecration -- the Atonement -- because of His love for every one of us. I truly believe that. I also believe that as you, too, subjugate your will to God's, and seek out and perform acts of love for your fellowman, you will be all that our Father has hoped and dreamed for you.

And that Perfect Day?

Yep. It'll come.
"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)



"Love is the Answer"
Performed by England Dan and John Ford Coley
Written by Todd Rundgren

Name your price
A ticket to paradise
I can't stay here any more
And I've looked high and low
I've been from shore to shore to shore
If there's a short cut I'd have found it
But there's no easy way around it

[Chorus]
Light of the world, shine on me
Love is the answer.
Shine on us all, set us free
Love is the answer.

Who knows why
Someday we all must die
We're all homeless boys and girls
And we are never heard.
It's such a lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely world
People turn their heads and walk on by
Tell me, is it worth just another try?

[Chorus]

Tell me, are we alive,
or just a dying planet?
(What are the chances?)
Ask the man in your heart
for the answers

And when you feel afraid
love one another
When you've lost your way
love one another
When you're all alone
love one another
When you're far from home
love one another
When you're down and out
love one another
All your hopes run out
love one another
When you need a friend
love one another
When you're near the end
love, we got to love,
We got to love one another

[Chorus]

Sunday, May 3, 2015

12. Spiritual Ascension Step #5: Consecrate (Part 3 of 3)

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 12th examining the phrase "keepeth my commandments".

As we discovered in my past two posts,
"Consecration is thus both a principle and a process, and it is not tied to a single moment. Instead, it is freely given, drop by drop, until the cup of consecration brims and finally runs over." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father", October 1995 General Conference)
In doing so, you "yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit" and
"through the atonement of Christ...becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19).
Your daily acts of consecration change and elevate you to a point where you are prepared to make the ultimate consecration:

You give or dedicate all you have, or will ever have, to the Lord.
"...the submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. The many other things we 'give,' brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God's will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!" (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father", October 1995 General Conference) 

Consecrate the Only Thing That's Truly Yours


The greatest act of consecration is found in the Lord's prayer in Gethsemene:
"And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26:39)
"And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt." (Mark 14:36)
Imagine integrating the Master's example in your own life, and personalizing this approach!

Should you do this? Definitely! As Brother Joseph said,
"Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth's sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life. (The Prophet Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith 6:7)
Now read this following quote carefully. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland tells you how to do it:

"We must be willing to place all that we have -- not just our possessions (they may be the easiest things of all to give up), but also our ambition and pride and stubbornness and vanity -- we must place it all on the altar of God, kneel there in silent submission, and willingly walk away." ("The Will of the Father", emphasis mine)

Avoiding the Temptation to Hold Back


Your kneeling in silent submission, placing all you ever have or will have on the altar of God, and willingly walking away, is a moment of profound, unparalleled discipleship.

It is an act of faith which entices Satan to knock you off of this course, by convincing you to be fearful at what the Lord may require of you. When these doubts emerge, you may be temporarily or permanently inclined to NOT consecrate and dedicate everything to God:
"In pondering and pursuing consecration, understandably we tremble inwardly at what may be required. Yet the Lord has said consolingly, 'My grace is sufficient for you' (D&C 17:8). Do we really believe Him? He has also promised to make weak things strong (see Ether 12:27). Are we really willing to submit to that process? Yet if we desire fulness, we cannot hold back part!" (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Consecrate Thy Performance", April 2002 General Conference)
In consecrating all we have, are and ever will be to the Lord, we may tremble at what the Lord may require of us, and be tempted to "hold back" a part of us.
"There’s an almost infinite variety in the number of ways you and I can hold back a portion. One, for instance, might be very giving as to money, or in even serving as to time, and yet hold back a portion of himself or herself. One might share many talents, but hold back, for instance, a pet grievance, keeping himself from surrendering that grievance where resolution might occur. A few may hold back a portion of themselves so as to please a particular gallery of peers. Some might hold back a spiritual insight through which many could profit, simply because they wish to have their ownership established. Some may even hold back by not allowing themselves to appear totally and fully committed to the Kingdom, lest they incur the disapproval of a particular group wherein their consecration might be disdained. So it is in the Church that some give of themselves significantly, but not fully and unreservedly." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, transcription of remarks given at a banquet on October 5, 1991; also see here).
The Prophet Joseph said, "We ought to...keep nothing back." (The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980, p. 7)

So, it behooves you to deeply contemplate anything and everything you may be tempted to hold back and not devote to God.
"Remember the rich, righteous young man who was told by Jesus, 'One thing thou lackest'? (Mark 10:21) Ananias and Sapphira, otherwise good members of the Church, 'kept back' a portion instead of consecrating their all. (Acts 5:1–11) Some would never sell Jesus for thirty pieces, but they would not give Him their all either!
Unfortunately, we tend to think of consecration only in terms of property and money. But there are so many ways of keeping back part. One might be giving of money and time and yet hold back a significant portion of himself. One might share talents publicly yet privately retain a particular pride. One might hold back from kneeling before God’s throne and yet bow to a particular gallery of peers. One might accept a Church calling but have his heart more set on maintaining a certain role in the world." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Settle This in Your Hearts", October 1992 General Conference)
"Increased consecration is not so much a demand for more hours of Church work as it is for more awareness of Whose work this really is! For now, consecration may not require giving up worldly possessions so much as being less possessed by them." (ibid)
Consequently, if you shrink from deeper consecration, then you are not worthy of Him who, for your sake, refused to "shrink" in the midst of His deepening agony during the glorious Atonement! (D&C 19:18)

Progressing Beyond Your Altar 


In consecrating your ALL to God, God is only asking you to lose your old self in order to introduce you to a new -- and better -- you.
"Men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life to God will find he has eternal life." (President Ezra Taft Benson, New Era, May 1975, p. 20)
As you experience these tremendous outpourings of grace from God, you will develop a spiritual confidence which
"increases when you are truly striving, for the right reasons, to live a consecrated life in spite of your imperfections." (Elder Jörg Klebingat, "Approaching the Throne of God with Confidence," Ensign, Nov. 2014, 36.)

I Testify


Here's a verse I'd like you to mark in your scriptures and remember in your noggin:
"Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20)
  • I am convinced that when the Brother of Jared went up on the mount, he had no idea that a short while later, he would not only be seeing the Lord in bodily form, but also be told that "And never have I (God) showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast." (Ether 3:15)
  • I am convinced that when Moses went up on the mount, he had no idea that he would end up performing a great work as the long-awaited lawgiver who would lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage and into the Promised Land.
  • I am convinced that young Joseph Smith had no idea that when he entered the grove that spring morning, that he would not only meet God face-to-face, but also be called as one of a few in the history of the world to lead a dispensation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
These three men approached God expecting something was going to happen -- probably not what they anticipated, but they did expect something nonetheless.

It's a proven fact: when we turn something over to God, He not only resolves the problem, but also does so in a way that's truly awe-inspiring. God delights in exceeding our expectations and abundantly delivering blessings, not a few, above and beyond what you could even ask or think.

So it is with me.

Several years ago, I took Elder Maxwell's and Elder Holland's invitations to heart. Yet for the longest time, I feared what God would require of me if I consecrated all that I have, all that I am, and all that I ever will be, to God. It took years for me to develop the faith to proceed, and even then, only after the Lord told me that "everything will be okay" on three different occasions in a week.

Not long afterwards, in the quiet solitude of prayer, I followed through on my commitment.

Since then, I have found that God is not some punitive, punishing being. Sure, I've had to trudge through some very difficult circumstances.  Yet I believe that God has blessed me, and even my spouse, with even more generous tender mercies because of my consecrated life to Him. Truly, as I have tried to draw closer to Him, He has drawn closer to me. MUCH closer. God has truly over-delivered on the promises just elaborated in the section above.

I can unequivocally testify that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Here's a hint at what I'm trying to say:
"If one is obedient to a lower covenant [like daily consecration], more light and power is given. Then comes a higher covenant [at the altar], until eventually a person is taught how he can return to the presence of God and how he can commune with him here and now." (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Consecrate Thy Performance", April 2002 General Conference; bracketed comments are mine)
Thus, I second Elder Maxwell's invitation:
"Don't wait too long to find the altar or to begin to place the gift of your wills upon it! No need to wait for a receipt; the Lord has His own special ways of acknowledging." (Neal A. Maxwell, "Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been," General Conference, April 2004)

"O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me;
let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.
Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy:
yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God." (Psalms 43:3-4)