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Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Gift of Discernment Part 6: Internal Discernment

My responsibilities demand that I spend a lot of time on the internet. As I do, I'm increasingly alarmed by what I see:
  • Too much judgmentalism, both of self and others, among those who profess to be followers of Christ and are anxiously awaiting Zion. 
  • Blissful naiveté which ignores harsh realities very few want to confront, let alone know about, which invariably impedes their discernment. 
  • A dependency on the status quo which, in many respects, will no longer exist.
I think most people who read this blog are also interested in LDS prophecy. I know I am. I have 1.1 gigabytes of it in my laptop's hard drive. And with all the information I've amassed over the decades (down to studies on electrical grid vulnerability, WWI-era root cellars and Chinese asymmetrical warfare), and all the books by those who've had Near Death Experiences, dreams or visions, I still have the funny feeling that the Lord is going to throw some major curve balls our way which we've either never heard of (let alone even fathomed), or have been misinterpreted by others.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say we should count on it.

Regardless of their nature, when these future events happen -- without warning -- circumstances will demand an immediate change of our ways:
  • We will need to instantly shed a lot of the naiveté and false beliefs which are alarmingly rampant among us. 
  • We will need to understand scriptures we never read nor understood, because Netflix, sports, video games or online forums were more important. 
  • We will need to love people who aren't Mormon and maybe not even Christian - I mean, truly, sincerely love them - at a time when insecurity and chaos, death and destruction will be more commonplace than the internet is today. 
  • We will also need to instantly shed our pride while adopting not only selfless, Christlike mindsets and behaviors, but also an actual, first-hand knowledge of Christ's voice. 
  • And it will be plum too late to learn about and master the principles of meditation which (as Pres. McKay eloquently stated) help us enter the divine presence.
For many, the demands of instantaneous spiritual maturity will prove insurmountable. All the excuses in the world won't matter, because our physical and spiritual survival will depend upon God's say-so, and nobody else's. You may be able to fool everybody, but you can't fool God.

So, what will you say…when you're held to the flame?

That's why I feel that all of us have been given a small window of time to make some needed, sincere course corrections.

"Corrections? Me? What corrections?" you ask?

Discerning Our Own Self-Destructiveness

Up to now, we've discussed some simple, clear-cut discernment concepts. Many have focused on the things which others have thought, said, written and done.

Yet there are some aspects of discernment which are so subtle, so insidious, that you likely rarely see them for what they really are:

The things which are most directly destructive to your own soul.

And because you have - and likely often still do - fall for them, you essentially widen the distance between you and God.

The sad thing is, even if you feel any consequences, what do you often do? You gingerly skip through life and widen that gap some more.

When You Lack the Discernment to See You're Cursing Yourself…and Others

In Mark Chapter 11, we read about how on one day, the Savior cursed a fig tree, saying "No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever." The next day, the Savior and his disciples walked past the fig tree, and found it withered and dying (Mark 11:12-14 and 11:20-24)

I believe the words we speak have tremendous power. They ARE power. They're like seeds. When you say something, you give life to what you're saying. If you continue to say it, it eventually becomes reality.

It's great when people ask how you're doing, and you say, "I'm blessed!" It's terrific when we have the attitude, "With God, I can accomplish anything!"

Unfortunately, negative thoughts come to us all. And when you speak them, you give them life. Thus, you are essentially prophesying self-destruction when you tell yourself or others, "I can't hear God" or "My prayers rarely make it past the ceiling."

Indeed, there are times when the enemy doesn't have to defeat you. You defeat yourself when you tell yourself, "I'm NOT the Right Stuff", "I'm a failure", "It's impossible", "I'm unforgiveable" and the always-popular, "Bad things always happen to me".

At these times, you're not exercising faith in God. You're cursing a son or daughter of the Most High God, because whether you realize it or not, you are prophesying your future. Your life moves in the direction of your words.

"Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof." (Proverbs 18:21)

You can't talk negative, and expect to have a positive life. You can't speak defeat, and expect to have victory.

Your tongue will either bless your life, or curse your life. I pray that you'll change and start planting good seeds - especially in your relationship with God, others and yourself.

So my invitation to you today is to first decide to be more compassionate. You see, true compassion does not allow harm to ourselves.

Once you're determined to be more compassionate to yourself and others, you can be even more observant than you ever have been about the words you say to yourself and to others (see here and here). True, negative thoughts hit us all the time. But if you don't speak them, you don't breathe life into them.

See what kinds of seeds you're spreading, and what kinds of fruit you're planting. Are your words blessing your life, or cursing it? Are your words blessing another's life, or cursing it?

If you don't like what you're seeing, start sowing some different seeds. You can either plant apple seeds or cactus seeds, and watch them grow in your life or another's. But make no mistake: you will eventually reap fruit from the exact same seeds you've been sowing.

I know some of this may sound like "Prosperity Gospel" talk. It's not my intention that we speak positively so we can amass fortune and fame. I mention the power of words, and making it a characteristic in your life NOW, so that we can re-orient ourselves to promises, not problems. So that when the tough times ARE upon us, you can be a light, and not darkness, in a world apparently desolate and devoid of hope.

When You Lack the Discernment to See the Pit You're Digging for Yourself

It's one of the saddest things I've seen in the last year.

Two people in an internet forum, with thousands of subscribers. No matter if it's in their forum, or privately via email, they spew negativity, disdain, hatefulness and contempt for another person. The ironic thing is, they are well-known advocates for Zion and growing closer to the Lord.

It's a fact that you can't establish a residence in Zion and simultaneously have a summer cottage in Babylon (see Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light [1990], p. 47). You cannot seriously seek salvation while conducting cybervengeance.

In fact, when you focus negativity upon others, you often do so without taking cognizance of the slippery ground in which you're standing, which could lead to your downfall.
"And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." (Mark 11:25-26)
"Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men." (D&C 64:9-10)
"For, if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you; But if ye forgive not men their trespasses neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (3 Nephi 13:14-15)
Now, to make negativity a little bit more palatable, many will wrap it within charitable phrases like, "<I'm concerned about / I'm worried about> a person because they're doing <fill in the blank>."

I'm reminded of a ward member who privately approached a fellow ward member and started the conversation with, "Brother XXX, I love you. But I'm concerned about you. I haven't seen you at church for three weeks, and I'm worried that you're apostasizing from the church." I had to chuckle because (1) I didn't know that a three-week absence from church now constitutes apostasy, and (2) the object of this deep concern replied, "Well, I'm not sure if spending the last three weeks in the hospital's intensive care wing after a triple bypass surgery counts as apostasy. Which reminds me, if you were so concerned, then why didn't you stop by my hospital room?"

The fact is, if we want to know love, then we need to stop judging and discontinue the unofficial quest to be right, and to be seen as being morally, ethically, ecclesiastically, scripturally, doctrinally and spiritually superior. if we want to find happiness, then we need to let go of negativity and befriend gratitude. You're never going to wrest yourself - or others - from darkness by turning out your light. And you're never, ever going to make it to the ultimate city of light by spreading darkness. Not by a long shot.

I wonder what it would be like if we worried less about changing the world and more about changing ourselves. If we quit trying to be doctrinally superior and instead sought to be examples of true believers. I think that power is within us.

And once we have that power, the Lord will open up opportunities to utilize it as He deems best, enabling us to do wonders in even the darkest of conditions.

When You Lack the Discernment to See How to Handle Negativity

I once had a psychology professor named James T. Kirk. (I know. Pretty cool, huh!)

I don't remember a lot from his class, but there's one thing that always stood out in my mind: "When people treat you like crap, nine times out of ten, it's because they feel like crap. So, don't take on their internal struggle. Send them off with peace."

Psychologically, it's a fact that that our statements, actions and reactions are the sum result of our total life experiences to date. Thus, when somebody lashes out at you, there's a pretty good chance they've been lashing out at themselves, and for a while, too.

How often do we react to a statement of another by being offended rather than seeing that the other might actually be hurting?

Have you ever considered the possibility that every time you're offended, it's actually an opportunity to extend kindness to one who may be suffering-even if they themselves do not appear that way on the surface?

All anger, acting out, harshness and criticism are outward manifestations of something that's happening inwards: suffering. And while people are usually not too keen on someone pointing out to them that they're suffering, there may be a way to defuse or snuff the negative situation, and maybe even turn it into something positive.

I believe this process begins when we ask the Spirit, "Obviously, this person is hurting. What can I say or do to help them?" and then heeding the Spirit's advice.

All of a sudden, the arrows are pointing away from you, not at you. All of a sudden, you're thinking of others, not yourself. You're trying to be of one heart and one mind. By seeking the Spirit's guidance, you're seeking righteousness and no spiritually or psychologically poor among you. That's a recipe for Zion right there.

There's one scene in the fictitious NBC series "A.D." that's particularly noteworthy. In the scene, the Apostle Peter is approached by a magician who thought he could obtain the spirit of God with money. Both men were transformed. The magician learns (the hard way) that God can't be bought. And Peter learns that only by turning to God, not confrontation, could change the magician's heart.

"Internal Discernment"? You better believe it.

The bottom line:

We're far more capable of discerning things external to us only after we have discerned - and are working with God in resolving - the negativity within us which blocks effective discernment.

The Kingdom of God is coming. It's my prayer - I mean, my fervent, passionate and often tear-filled prayer - that you'll be fit to enter into it…

And for all of time and eternity, when others see you, they'll catch a glimpse of He who loves us more than words will ever say.