So, how did Abraham do it? How did he find the spiritual strength to say, “Yes”, when God asked Him to move to Egypt and pretend his wife was his sister to keep their lives safe; when God told Him to leave his father and family to embrace God’s covenants and receive more; when God asked him to sacrifice his birthright son, Isaac? How did Moses do it? Where did he get the spiritual mettle to trust God and walk into Egypt and put it to pharaoh? How did the Apostle Peter do it? How did he, after denying Christ thrice—a spiritual embarrassment—find the spiritual strength to repent, and then preach Christ without a hint of fear, and to do miracles in his name? How did Alma the Younger stand with courage and preach Jesus after he had fought against Him?
We could make a list, couldn’t we? Joseph in Egypt, Mary the mother of Jesus agreeing to appear before all the world as an unwed mother when only a few knew she was the mother of the prophesied Savior of the world who would conquer sin and death… It seems like these historical figures from the scriptures had something spiritually extra. When God asked them to do hard things, they did. They had what I like to call spiritual mettle. They were spiritually strong and tough.
It may feel like those people were in the scriptures because they just were spiritually strong. But all of the scriptures reveal—upon a close study—that even our spiritual heroes began just like you and me. So, then the question is, how do we get spiritually strong? How do we test our spiritual mettle so that when God comes calling—even if our knees our shaking and we’re biting our nails with fear and anxiety—we can willingly go where He sends us and do what He asks?
We have instruments today that reveal everything from our body fat (BMI), genetic pre-disposition for disease, food allergies and other allergies, blood anemias, infections, and more. We can test for antibodies that reveal sicknesses we’ve had in the past. We can have our bodies digitally imaged to reveal our physical stamina and health—our physical mettle.
Individuals who enter into psychologically taxing careers often have to undergo psychological exams to test their mental strength, or psychological mettle. Based on their psychological strength they may be especially suited for a mentally difficult career; or rejected for it despite their intelligence or schooling.
One of my favorite movies is The Martian. It is based off a book by Andy Weir which chronicles what happens to a man who gets stranded on Mars during a scientific mission. His psychological and emotional mettle are what enable him to persevere when it seems like he is doomed to die there. It’s just a story. But, at the end of the movie, the main character explains to new recruits for the space program that psychological mettle really all comes down to one small decision, and then another, and then another. He reveals that psychological strength is not a superpower, it’s as easy as taking one step at a time.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how to test our spiritual mettle? How can we know if we are spiritually strong or sliding ever so slowly down a spiritual descent that we hardly recognize until we crash at the bottom? How can we know that we’ll go and do when God asks like Abraham or Mary?
First, what is “mettle”? Mettle = vigor or strength of spirit or temperament, staying quality, or stamina. Spiritual mettle would then be our spiritual staying power, or spiritual stamina.
Spiritual mettle is not measured by how we feel
One of the primary struggles most of us have is that we aren’t as spiritually strong as we think we are. Or, that we are spiritually stronger than we may suppose. Really? How can that be? Because we measure our spirituality by what we feel. We walk out of an uplifting Sunday meeting and we feel spiritually strong. Our beliefs have been reinforced and validated. Or, we leave a particularly deep discussion with a friend, or family member, where we’ve had to share our witness of God or we’ve heard theirs and we leave feeling strong. In that moment, spiritual clarity came so easily to us—because we’re spiritually strong, right? Perhaps, but maybe not. Maybe we’ve attended a business conference or a motivational speech where powerful, motivating truths were taught. We walk out feeling like we’re a spiritual body builder—we are ready to move a mountain and we have no doubt that we can. We feel spiritually strong. Everything makes sense. So, we must be strong, right? Possibly.
Or, let’s look at the reverse. A particularly charismatic speaker with a negative view about God, angst against a particular religion, or some angry feelings about truths he/she disbelieves gets up and says things that make us feel doubtful, sympathetically angry too, and concerned that somehow, we’ve been duped. Or, the same speaker fans the flames of past offenses making us clay in their hands for planting fear and doubt. He/she mentions things we think sound really convincing and right. We feel spiritually weak. We feel like all that we thought we knew could be wrong, or flawed. We feel like our spiritual foundation has become sand. But has it really become sand? Or do we simply feel like it’s sand? We’re spiritually weak, right? Possibly.
There is a fundamental flaw in measuring our spiritual strength by how we feel. The scriptures teach us that feelings are one of the ways we hear and are prompted by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is a member of the godhead. Thus, it makes sense that when His influence is showering over us, we feel spiritually invincible. He is with us telling us something is true. And, understandably, we stand there—basking in that influence—and there is no doubt that that something is true. So blessed are we when under the Spirit’s testifying influence that all of those who doubt appear to be pitiful beings. If they could only know what we know!
There is also a fundamental flaw in assuming we’re spiritually weak simply because we feel weak. When a powerful speaker or influential friend douses us in a cold bucket of anger, fear, doubt, and vengeance, it makes sense that we feel like our spiritual light has gone out. And, understandably, we freeze spiritually in the cold that is present when the Holy Spirit has fled. In that cold we can hardly remember what being warm feels like, and suddenly, when people around us look warm and tell us how warm life is, we think they are full of nonsense.
Thus, it’s not how we feel that is the sole measure of our spiritual mettle, but what we do despite how we feel. What do we do when the Spirit isn’t pricking us? What do we desire when the Spirit isn’t surrounding us with a testifying glow? What do we do when others are feeding our doubts and fears? What do we do when we’ve made some poor decisions and feel like God has left us? How do we know our own spiritual mettle? Will we answer when He calls?
Spiritual mettle is measured by “what we do because of what we desire”
My mother once said to me, “Faith is doing what’s right even when you don’t feel like it.” I have remembered that definition of faith nearly every day of my life since she said it. We often mistake spiritual strength for the power of the Holy Ghost shining on us. But spiritual strength is doing what the Spirit has already testified to us is right even when we don’t have that awesome spiritual feeling shining on us. It’s doing what’s right because we desire to become like God despite the ups and downs of our emotions.
To be clear, feelings are important—critical even. They are extremely powerful and necessary. They help us find and follow truth. I have always felt strongly that our feelings don’t lie to us. However, our feelings can be misled (if we don’t use them to seek truth), and they can be dredged up and ignited to our destruction. Here’s a little scripture that helps to help us sort out our feelings and revisit our desires before we “do” things, or make decisions (Moroni 7:5-19).
Now, the other day one of my IG followers asked me if I had blogged about tithing. I searched over my last several years of blogs and found only one with a large piece about tithing in it. So, this blog is actually in response to the pondering I did because of this request. But here’s the thing…tithing is so much more than simply paying 10% of our financial increase. And as I pondered it, I realized that what tithing really is, is a baseline action that helps us keep track of our spiritual standing and mettle. If we don’t pay, or stop paying tithing, it is a clear sign that we are losing our spiritual mettle; that we may not be able to come willingly when God calls. And tithing isn’t the only baseline. So, without further ado, here are the three fundamental tests of your spiritual mettle.
The Three Fundamental Tests of Your Spiritual Mettle
Test #1 – The Word of Wisdom
In Doctrine and Covenants 89:3 we learn that keeping the Word of Wisdom is a way to test our spiritual mettle. It has been “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”
If you are willing to mark yourself as a follower of Christ by being different in the way you eat and drink, then your spiritual mettle is meeting a minimum level. You will likely be willing to come when God asks, do what He asks you to do, and go where He wants you to go. Maybe you’ll get swallowed by a whale first. But eventually you’ll go and do.
Often, people boil down the Word of Wisdom to a law of health. But this can be a grave mistake. Can following the Word of Wisdom help us be healthy? Yes. Has it often had foresight that science has validated later? Yes. It is primarily a law of health? No. Health plays into its blessings, but if we think that’s its primary purpose, we will struggle to live it. Let me explain.
When the world comes out with something that it claims will make us healthy and it diverges or disagrees from the Word of Wisdom, we may be tempted to toss the Word of Wisdom out in favor of our health. We’ll doubt God because it will look like, perhaps, He got something wrong—which is never the case. Thus, I submit, that the Word of Wisdom’s greatest blessing is that it serves as a spiritual marker: “that the destroying angel shall pass by [you], as the children of Israel…” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:21). In the Old Testament, the Israelites were commanded to paint the blood of a firstborn male lamb (representing Christ) on the lintels of their doors. Thus, their doors were marked so that “the destroying angel” would pass them by. That “marking” blocked those homes from being subject to the curse of their firstborn son dying. That is the power of the Word of Wisdom. It marks you as a true follower of Christ. Hence, it marks you as having a minimum of spiritual mettle.
Test #2 – Tithing
Money talks. We all know it. We all try to save money. We all try to capitalize on coupons and sales and money deals for holidays. We want to get more for less. We want to have financial security. We want to spend our money on what we want to make us feel good. To pay taxes hurts…a lot. To pay bills is annoying. We’re all trying to figure out how to live, eat, move, and entertain ourselves in the most awesome ways by spending the least amount of money. Some of us save money well. Others less well. But often we hoard money, because we’re so afraid of not being taken care of.
Tithing is perhaps one of the best things we can do to maintain and keep tabs on our spiritual mettle. Knowing how important and helpful and powerful money can be, if we are willing to pay 10% of that income to God before we take care of anything else in our lives…even our needs…that’s a powerful indicator of our spiritual strength. If we can pay tithing, we are extremely likely to be able to go and do whatever God may ask of us. We will be extremely likely to have the spiritual capacity and strength to be like Abraham, Moses, Rebekah, Mary, and so many others.
Test #3 – Scripture Study and Prayer
We’ve all heard it a million times. Read and pray. But it just seems so unlikely to make us spiritually heroic. It seems so simple, too simple (Alma 37:6-7). In fact, sometimes we take meal planning, vitamins, supplements, exercise, and self-help books more seriously than we do reading the scriptures. There are so many excuses: “I hardly understand anything I read in the scriptures.” Or, “The scriptures are so tough to understand, or boring.” We seem to have less excuses for prayer, except for perhaps being too busy or being too tired. However, once again, like tithing and food, if we are willing to give God at least a few minutes a day in prayer and a few minutes in scripture study, we will never stray far from God. It will be nearly impossible. We may waver at times. We may have some doubts and ups and downs. But if we continue to read and pray despite those doubts and ups and downs, we will not stray. We will come when He calls.
So, what if we don’t ever understand much in the scriptures? What if we never have more than a few minutes to give God in prayer? That’s okay. If we can simply do these small things, we will never stray far from God.
Many years ago, I saw a few people I love crash and burn spiritually. I told God I never wanted that to happen to me. I worried about it for a while. Then, one day, while riding in the car I was pondering how to “know” if I could stay spiritually strong. In that moment, God told me, “If you always read your scriptures and say your prayers daily you will never stray far from Me.” He gave me that test, that surety. So, I have never missed a day because I don’t want to stray. That promise is also yours.
Being as spiritually strong as Abraham, Mary, Rebekah, Moses, Nephi, Moroni, and many, many others is not only possible, it’s well within your reach. All you have to do is all the small things consistently. It’s that simple, though maybe not always easy. You don’t have to be a scriptorian like Sister Smith or Brother Soandso. You don’t have to be able to quote general authorities off the top of your head. You just have to stick to the basics. If you can do the basics, you will have the strength do it all.
When you’re tired, you simply have to take a minute to offer a quick heartfelt prayer, “Father, I’m tired, but I love thee…”. When you’re about to tune into your favorite podcast, you simply pull up the Gospel Library ap and take 5-10 mins to read or listen to a few scriptures, or listen or watch a conference address. Then, get back to that podcast. When you’re low on funds and you don’t know how you’ll pay your bills, let alone get groceries, you pay tithing—in effect saying, “God, I’m broke. But I can pay my tithing. I can do what you asked. The rest is up to you.” Like the widow who was asked to make her last loaf of bread for the prophet Elijah, rather than for her child and herself, you trust the Lord. Then, your cruse of oil will never fail and your grain will never run out.
That’s all it takes. So, when your spiritual strength is feeling weak, ask yourself:
- Am I paying my tithing?
- Am I keeping the word of wisdom?
- Am I praying and reading my scriptures?
Then, if you can answer yes to all. Simply keep doing them even if you feel weak.
When your spiritual strength is feeling strong, double check. Ask yourself:
- Am I paying my tithing?
- Am I keeping the word of wisdom?
- Am I praying and reading my scriptures?
If you can answer yes to those three questions, then simply keep doing them even though you feel strong enough to let them slide. Don’t let them slide. These three things are the minimum. Only if you let them become unimportant will your spiritual mettle be in danger.
Questions will always arise. Doubts will always edge their way in. Trials and troubles are guaranteed. Sins happen. Repentance is always available. You will feel spiritually invincible some days. You will feel spiritual weak many days. But ask yourself, “Am I doing these three, core things?” If so, you will never stray far from your Father and God, and His son, Jesus Christ. You will come when they call. You will go where they ask. You will do what they ask you to do. Because you have spiritual mettle.
This post is dedicated to James. Thanks for asking about tithing.