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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)

5 comments:

  1. Thank you! I needed this today.

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  2. New to your site. I am really enjoying it. Keep uplifting us!

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  3. Thank you for redoubling your efforts! I can tell. It's helping me to redouble mine too! Seriously! Onward and upward!
    JRA

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  4. Love your thought process. I always come away with the sense that I'm on the right track and something to think about and something to do.

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  5. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful personnel testimony of the Lord being mindful of our trials. So powerful.
    Your blog is a strength to so many. God bless you for your efforts.

    ReplyDelete