I am often on my knees asking for those things that I feel I need and want. I am often praying for guidance. I am often looking for peace, or inspiration. Aren’t we all? I am often on my knees because that’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m more frequently on my knees (these days) because I know nowhere else to go to get the power, comfort, peace and reassurance I need. Indeed, there is nowhere else to go…in my experience.

Efficiency is something I like. I’m great at cleaning and organizing quickly because I’m efficient. I know how to see all that needs to be done and find ways to organize and clean in an order that saves time while also accomplishing a great deal at a high quality. I can be detail oriented when I need to be, but I never get lost in details.

Prayer is something I have worked long and hard to be efficient at. Not efficient as in praying as fast as I can, in as few words, with the most impact, like I’m running a business, or organizing files. No, efficient as in getting the power and guidance out of prayer that I need. Getting out of my own way, so to speak. Praying in a way that works. Not simply spouting words or expecting God to read my mind (which I know He can do). And, by focusing on how to make my prayers matter TO ME, I find that I offer them better and with more effect, granting me expediency…or the ability to get those things I so desperately seek.

I hope I’m saying this right. There are many ways to accomplish things in life. But, there are better ways, and best ways. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to, metaphorically speaking, eliminate the fluff, and get to a point where my prayers hopefully have maximum efficiency in helping me to increase my relationship with God and my ability to call down the powers of heaven to gain peace, guidance, inspiration, and assurance on my path through this life.

One of the ways I have found that I’ve been able to improve upon this (because I’m in no way perfect at prayer) is to understand and utilize the power of expediency.

Expedient

Several times in the Doctrine and Covenants, an entire book of revelation given based on expediency, we see the word expedient used to define what should be asked for in prayer and/or what things will be manifested unto us by the Holy Ghost (Doctrine and Covenants 18:18; 88:64-65).

Expedient = what is advantageous, practical, beneficial, useful

The scriptures are full of counsel regarding prayer. There are some important elements: addressing God—the Father, expressing gratitude, seeking forgiveness of sins, praying over anything in our lives that we need help with, asking for grace, praying for others, etc., and closing in the name of Jesus Christ—our Mediator.

However, when it comes to getting specific answers from God to our prayers, there are guidelines that are given. However, it hasn’t been until very recently that I have begun to understand, to a better extent, all the guidelines and examples of expedient prayers given in the scriptures and what they mean for me. And, more importantly, how to use them to receive the answers I seek.

What NOT to Ask For

In the scriptures, God has told us in many ways expedientthings we are not supposed to ask for. We are to not ask for things that are not expedient (Doctrine and Covenants 88:5). We are not to ask for signs for proof, or to create faith or testimony (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12). We are commanded not to ask for things to consume upon our lusts (James 4:3). We are not to seek for revenge upon our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We are not to pray for riches, except that we may use what riches we receive to build up the kingdom of God (Jacob 2:19), etc.

So, we can talk to God about everything. But, we must take into consideration some important guidelines when it comes to what blessings we seek at God’s hand. Asking God to do a back flip just to satisfy our curiosity about his mobility is hardly a proper thing to ask of the Almighty. We must be mindful of what we pray for, ask for, and seek for from our Father in Heaven.

So, what are those guidelines for asking?

While there are many scriptures that point to these guidelines, I’m going to boil it down to a few.

James 1:5

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.

What are we commanded to ask for? Wisdom.

Note that God uses the word “wisdom.” He doesn’t say information. He doesn’t say fun facts. He says wisdom. Wisdom is far different than information and fun facts.

Wisdom = experience, knowledge, good judgment, intelligence, common sense; as well as the ability to apply such to our lives. Wisdom also refers to general societal knowledge and principles.

So, when God says, “If you lack wisdom,” He means that you don’t have the wisdom/intelligence you need to act wisely.

James 1:6

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

Note that God says to, “ask in faith, nothing wavering.” We also often receive the counsel from God to ask, “with real intent,” or in “sincerity of heart” or with “full purpose of heart” (Moroni 7:9; 10:4, 2 Nephi 31:13). I believe these are all similar in meaning, in that God means us to pray with the intent to listen and to follow. If we seek answers or instruction or guidance, He wants us to know He won’t give us wisdom if we have no intent to act upon it (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33; Matthew 7:6). He only gives light and truth to those who will receive it, act on it, and seek for more (Alma 12:9-11).Man praying

How are we commanded to ask for wisdom? With the sincere intent to act upon the wisdom we hope to receive.

Joseph Smith-History 1:18

My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join.

Alma 22:18

O God Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.

In these two scriptures it’s important to pay attention to what the individuals are praying for. Joseph asks to know which church is true that he may know which to join. The King of the Lamanites wants to God to manifest unto him if He exists, that he may give away all his sins to know Him and live with Him.

Herein lies the answer to expediency. Both want simple answers that they may know how to act so that they may progress spiritually—for themselves.

We know that God’s work and glory is to bring about our immortality (living forever) and eternal life (life like God and with God) (Moses 1:39). If that is God’s most important and eternal work, then, it would seem that those things that are expedient for us are those endowments of knowledge and wisdom that will lead us (if we listen and follow it) to live with and become like God.

What wisdom are we supposed to seek? The wisdom that will lead us forward in God’s plan toward becoming like Him.

Doctrine and Covenants 9:6-10

Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right…

Now, if you have known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now.

This scripture was given for Oliver Cowdery who was told he could help translate the Book of Mormon. But, once he was told he could help he expected all the wisdom and guidance from the Spirit he needed would simply come. Poof. He took no thought for the effort required to receive the wisdom and guidance he needed.

A modern equivalent of the mistake Oliver Cowdery made is to get a calling to teach Sunday school at church. And then, simply because you were called and set apart you didn’t think it was necessary to prepare your lessons, pray for guidance before each lesson, and then to follow that guidance in preparing and delivering your lesson. The calling didn’t exempt you from the effort to do the calling the Lord called you to do.

It’s like getting the validation that God is okay with whom you choose to marry. But, simply because you got married in the temple you expect that everything will be celestial without actually living the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ in your daily married life–simply because God said, OK. Nothing in this life, or in eternity, is simply handed to us without accompanying effort and responsibility to care for the gift received. All godly guidance requires effort to receive and effort to follow.

Woman hands praying with a bible in a dark over wooden table

How are we to seek for the wisdom we lack? We are to do our part to get what wisdom we can before going to the Lord for either validation or further guidance. We are never “done” getting personal revelation until we have become godly.

Now, let’s set forth the specific pattern we’ve identified for getting answers to our prayers.

Pattern #1: You’ve got to work

Brigham young taught, “It is only where experience fails that revelation is needed” (BY, 416). I might alter that to say, “where wisdom fails.”

If the information is reasonably available to us through sincere efforts of searching, seeking, discussion with wise friends and family members, and pondering, God isn’t going to give a separate answer. God is loving but I suspect a perfect being is also perfectly efficient and not prone to ridiculous acts simply because we come to Him crying. As well, when we put ourselves into a climate of seeking, pondering, discussing, and searching, there is no limit to the answers God can give us about many things. So, to just dispense one sentence phrases or even short paragraphs anytime we have a question is not only inefficient and contrary to God’s nature, it deprives us of the further light and knowledge God has for us on many topics. A truly loving God will choose the more helpful, expedient, and valuable of the two ways to answering our prayers.

Pattern #2: Expediency*

As God’s 24/7 goal (if you want to put it in mortal time constraints) is to save and exalt us and help us become godly (Moses 1:39). It would stand therefore, that though all questions are good, the best questions are those that are derived from the deepest, simplest desires of our hearts.

*I want to make a brief comment about lines of revelation. God has set up His church to have accepted lines of revelation so that we know when something is from God, or not. God is a god of order, and not confusion (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8). Revelation for the entire church comes through the prophet. Revelation for the region comes through the designated Seventy. Revelation for our stake comes through the Stake President. Revelation for our ward comes through the Bishop. Revelation for the Relief Society comes through the Relief Society President, etc.

Revelation for our lives comes to us. As well, in personal lives there are also smaller, but distinct lines of communication. Parents can only get so much guidance for their children. The older children become the less revelation a parent can receive on behalf of a child. A parent may receive inspiration to caution a child about something. But, if child receives a spiritual witness that a parent has not also received it means that the child is capable of getting his/her own revelation and that God doesn’t need to cycle that revelation through the parent. Etc.

So, expediency may also relate to questions we ask that are not for ourselves. Even if the wisdom will comfort us, but it is ultimately wisdom intended for a line of authority which we are not in; then we are not likely to get such wisdom, especially if we cannot act on it for our own, personal salvation.

Pattern #3: Real Intent

Finally, we must have the true intent to act upon the wisdom we receive. If we want facts to satisfy fears and doubts, but we have no intent to do anything based on the counsel or guidance that comes, we are very unlikely to get much, if anything.

Example of the Expedient Pattern:

If we look at Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in Joseph Smith-History; we learn that prior to going to the sacred grove to ask which church to join, Joseph attended all the several meetings of the many churches in his area. All focused on different points of doctrine. All interpreted the Bible differently. We know Joseph got to know many of the pastors well. We know he conversed with them and asked them questions on their varied doctrines. We also know Joseph studied the scriptures looking for guidance as to what church to join. He searched and pondered and studied. He did all the seeking he could. HE WORKED

Then, when the wisdom of society, the scriptures, and his own failed, then he went to ask of God.

JOSEPH ASKED AN EXPEDIENT QUESTION. Which church should I join?

JOSEPH ASKED WITH REAL INTENT. Joseph asked with the intent to join whatever church God told him to join. He simply wanted to know which one was God’s.

Note, he didn’t ask God, “Is the Methodist church better than the Presbyterian?” He didn’t ask, “Why are there so many churches?” He didn’t ask, “The Bible says there’s one faith and one baptism. Why then do all the churches have so many different ways of baptizing?” None of these are bad questions. They simply don’t have the greatest expediency.

Joseph’s question was expedient because the answer would allow Joseph to progress toward godliness and salvation.

Questions that are generally not expedient

Based on these patterns, let’s look at questions that are generally not expedient. These are unlikely to get answered because the answer doesn’t necessary lead to personal action or progression.

  • What color was the Liahona?
  • When will the second coming of Christ be?
  • How come you let the prophet put this new policy in place that seems so unlike you?
  • Why can’t women also officiate in the Priesthood?
  • Why did you let me lose my job?
  • Why did you let that terrible catastrophe happen?
  • Was the earth really created in five earth days or is what science says correct?
  • Did you use evolution to create all life?

Now, let’s look take these un-expedient questions down to their core. Let’s look at the deeper, simpler questions that are behind them that are expedient. The answers to these questions require pre-work and also will lead to personal action and progression.

Questions that are more expedient**

  • I have read the Book of Mormon and find much good in it. Is the Book of Mormon Woman Sitting Down in Prayer Silhouettetrue? Is it your word?
  • I’m trying to live a good life, but I know I’m not ready to see Christ. So, what is the most important thing I can be doing right now to prepare for the second coming of Christ?
  • I am trying to accept and follow the prophet’s counsel in all things. But I’m struggling with this most current policy. Can you please reassure me. Is <current prophet> a true prophet?
  • I’ve been studying the scriptures and have found several passages that indicate your love for all your children. But, I’m still struggling to feel peace about it in relation to how the church is set up. Can you reassure me? Can you help me to know that you love women as much as you do men?
  • I’ve lost my job. I’ve looked at several jobs and have applied to the ones I feel will best help me take care of my family. Is the course my life is taking according to Thy will? Will I be able to find the job you want me to have?
  • Science makes it seem like the earth coming into being was random and took eons (implies study). I don’t know how to reconcile that with what the Bible says (implies study). Perhaps there is much missing from both the scientific and the Bible accounts. So, can you please reassure me? Did you create the earth?
  • Am I really your literal spirit son or daughter? Or am I just a product of evolution? I need to know so that I can feel confident in the course of action I’m choosing for my life. If you’re real and I’m your child, then that will change the decision I make.

**Note that the answer to any of these questions requires previous personal action and study and that the answer will lead to continued personal action and eternal progression.

We can be upset or confused about many things in life. But, that which is of most value for us to do is to break down those frustrations we have to their core doctrine, their deepest simplest root, and then take that question to the Lord rather than the more complex and less expedient questions we often have.

It is important to note, however, that the Lord can answer any question we put to Him. There are occasions when He has answered what, according to the formula I have presented, are less expedient questions. When He has done so and why is beyond my ability to confer to you. But, from my own study and experience, I have felt that, in general, we are likely to get answers more quickly and more clearly if we seek to make our questions and requests expedient.

Why doesn’t God tell us everything? Why doesn’t He speak the answer to every issue and question we have in our minds and hearts? I don’t know. But, as I am confident in his “true love” for us, I believe that the problem is not His limitation in answering, but ours in desiring the best knowledge and understanding how to receive those expedient answers.

Our finite understanding, perspective, and capabilities make it impossible for us to converse with the Lord as we would likely wish. There is much the Lord can tell us if our hearts and minds are right and prepared. But, He has chosen to reveal only those things that are expedient for our eternal progression.

So, we can get upset that God doesn’t tell us everything. OR, we can follow the pattern He has set for getting answers to prayers.

BT

Doctrine: Expediency has everything to do with getting consistent answers to our prayers. The scriptures lay out a pattern for asking expedient questions and receiving answers. God is not limited in His ability to talk to us, but we are limited in our ability to hear His voice and understand His ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

When I was younger, my family visited relatives in Utah every summer. During those visits, I often found the wards (LDS congregations) we visited to be cold, unwelcoming, and stand offish. The whole ward may not have been that way, but the youth and youth leaders (in my experience) were. Now, this is no way affected my testimony of the gospel or of Christ, but it did instill in me a dislike for Mormon Culture (which is a different thing from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Because of that culture, I vowed, for many reasons, that I would never live in Utah.

Over the years it sort of became a joke to me that there were two types of “Mormons”: Utah Mormons, and all others. This joke, of course, referred to the (in my opinion) nature of having so many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in an area that much of the belief system became “every day life” and became taken for granted. I was certain that it must be impossible to develop a deep and true testimony in a culture where there was very little opposition to the truths I held so dear. I didn’t want to raise my kids there and I never wanted to live there.

Well, teenage vision is far from omniscient and is most nearly always distorted. My experiences formed in me an very narrow vision of what Utah was…most certainly an incorrect vision of “all” its people and its members. But, nevertheless, that vision was powerful and I adhered to my vow. I never lived in Utah, nor was I ever even tempted.

Fast forward to 2013. My life was in upheaval. I had gone through a heart-wrenching divorce in 2009. I’d been living and working from home, with my angelic parents. I’d sworn off mid-singles LDS dating (and all dating), quite content to be single, to work, and to travel with close friends. I was teaching early morning seminary. I had a host of “adopted kids” from seminary and a little writing group I led. I felt, as much as I could at the time, quite complete. My family was around me and I was loved and in a society of people I trusted.

It’s a long story, and someday I hope to write a book about it, but I was subtly introduced to my current husband via a missionary that served in both of our wards. After getting to know him, the very real object of him moving to Utah came up. While I was (against my will) developing an attachment to him, I was quite willing to let him go and continue on with my life, especially if dating him and becoming serious required a move to Utah.

Now, certainly, in the back of my mind, I realized how juvenile these feelings were. But, as I was afraid to ever get married again, it seemed very logical to rule this man out of my life for many reasons, not least of which was moving to Utah. We’d only been on a handful of dates, but this man decided to go visit his parents for Christmas. And with that visit came an invitation from his mother (my would-be-mother-in-law, though I wasn’t certain of that at the time) to visit them over the New Years holiday.

I admit, something in my gut knew more than my conscious mind did. I was afraid to go. But, I relented with very little persuasion (wanting to be kind and gracious as she was paying for my travel). The trip was fine. I had a good visit. But the real shocker came when “my man” gave me a ride back to the airport.

I’m a moderate-to-severe introvert. I get my energy from alone time. Thus, I’m a homebody (in many respects) and I like to limit my social events to one-on-one visits and usually only close family and friends. Home, or the feeling of “home,” has always been centered around one place, Moberly, MO. Home has always been with my parents. Even in my previous marriage, our apartments and houses felt like home, but being centered near central MO was always where “I felt home.”

So, as I was driving away from my future in-laws home and a powerful pull tugged at my gut and the desire to cry (as if being torn away from home) began to swirl in my heart, head, and stomach, I was shocked beyond reason. I held myself together (didn’t want to cry like a baby in front of what I now realized was probably my soon-to-be fiancé) the best I could until I got through security. But the feeling only increased when I sat in a chair near where I would board my plane.

I literally cried, in that suppressed leaking sort of way, ALL the way home. I managed to pull myself together enough to meet my parents (who were picking me up from the airport); but that three-hour plane ride the feeling that home had been “moved” never changed. And off all the places God had moved my home…he moved it to Utah.

My heart and head and gut had never been so overwhelmed in such an unexpected way. But, the feeling was certain. Even after getting “home,” a place that was still home, I felt strongly that it was home “in a different way.” God wanted me to take my life “to the mountains,” (Doctrine & Covenants 112:7) and my heart had been adjusted by the Spirit to feel it.InstagramQuotes452

As I was studying Numbers 12 today, the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh felt that home, for them, was on the east side of Jordan. This hit a chord with me. It made me think of Abraham. Abraham was often led from one place to another. Even though he was promised the land of Canaan for his inheritance, it was meant to be the inheritance for his blood line. He never got to enjoy that inheritance. His “home” was where God led him.

It made me think of my own family, that has for so long had its promised land in Missouri. Over the years, God has led our hearts to the homes where He would have us serve, learn, grow, and become. My whole life Missouri has been home. But, since 2013, God has made “home” Utah (despite my best efforts to avoid it). I didn’t know He would lead me to a land other than the one that had always been home. But, God does that. He most certainly works that way with us.

Now, I live in “the culture.” Where everywhere outside Utah is “the mission field” (their joking description for everywhere else that’s not saturated in LDS culture). I’m on “the other side!” And, guess what, there are wonderful people here. It’s something I suspected (and knew in my heart) but didn’t want to know. Now that I’m here I’m grateful that God has set me straight. He has taught me to see more clearly and to “go where I’m called.”

The reality is that people are the same everywhere. Some of us are still learning to be charitable. Some of us are still learning to see past the culture and live the gospel for the gospel’s sake. Some of us are great at welcoming people, but we have other things to work on. Some of us have pioneer ancestry. Some of us are the pioneers in our families and in our lives. It’s not Utah. It’s not Missouri. It’s individuals all trying to live the gospel and to come unto Christ in the best way they can.

What is certain is that God has led each of us where we need to be, if we are listening. I’m here because my heart is here. Where is your heart? Are you where God needs you to be? Have you come to a crossroads in your life where you feel are searching for your home (Ether 1)? Has someone invited you to visit and when you left you felt like you were leaving home (Mosiah 9)?

If you are sincerely looking, God will tell your heart where home is…where your current promised land is. It may be where you are. It may never change. But, it may change. Trust your gut. Go in faith.

BT

While all of us may have some experiences and memories of times when we have received clear impressions and instructions from the Holy Ghost, it is rarely an ability that we master without time and significant, consistent effort. In fact, sometimes it seems that God gives us Holy Ghost nibbles and snacks and then makes it difficult to get the rest of the banquet. And, in my opinion, this is exactly what He does and for good reason.

The Holy Ghost is a Gift, not an Entitlement

Unlike any other gift that God gives us, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is the one gift that is essential to our eternal salvation and exaltation. The Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire. He is the Master Teacher. He is the one who, because of the Atonement, can take our righteous desires plus our imperfect actions and effect real and permanent changes in our very souls. This makes the Holy Ghost the great Sanctifier. Even with the Atonement of Christ, without the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we cannot become like God nor even aspire to.

A gift like this God WILL protect. It is not for the passive Christian or the doubting Thomas’s. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is also not a gift with only one educational certificate that you can master by attending church a few times. There aren’t only a couple levels of personal revelation. Just as a person must participate in a basic course of education to become a doctor in any philosophy or profession (whether they are brilliant enough to skip grades and/or CLEP out of college courses), so also, recognizing the Gift of the Holy Ghost has nearly unlimited steps and degrees that must be pursued one at a time and with diligent, consistent faith and effort.

Christ was the most intelligent of us all. Yet, He humbled Himself to progress according to God’s will. He received grace by grace until He received a fullness (Doctrine and Covenants 93:13). He was perfect and yet He still was baptized, and so forth, to “fulfill all righteousness,” and to do His Father’s will (St. John 6:38), not His own. And, He didn’t make a fuss over having to do it. So, if we think we are too smart, or righteous enough at present, to submit to a path of hard work, humility, and diligence, then God will not force us to do so, nor will He lightly part with His guidance. We can demand that He give us proof and guidance in “our own way” and we will get exactly what we want (Alma 29:4)…to our own condemnation (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12).

The more Christlike we become, the greater our ability to recognize God’s promptings and guidance through the Gift of the Holy Ghost. And, though a doctor may spend up to 18 years or more reaching his/her desired level of understanding and education in a specific field, it would be very unwise to assume that the level and degree of promptings you can receive from the Holy Ghost ends as quickly time-wise and can be achieved with even a third of the effort.

So, if you’re looking for a quick answer, this blog cannot offer you a blanket set of ideals which will solve your struggles. At best, it will prescribe a course of “spiritual education and effort,” that, IF pursued will lead you along a path to your desired goal. It’s a prescription for years of hard work, study, hope, faith, and practice (St. John 7:17; 17:3). The prescription is simple and will follow below.

So, how bad to you want it?

Note: This blog post is directed specifically at recognizing promptings from “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” For a commentary on the difference between the Light of Christ, the Power of the Holy Ghost, and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, please click here to visit a previous blog.

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow

God Purposefully Requires Diligent and Consistent Effort in order to Access to Increasing Guidance from the Holy Ghost

Why does God make it so hard to recognize the guidance of the Holy Ghost? Is it some game to Him? Doesn’t He realize we are trying to do His will?

God doesn’t give guidance to those who don’t want it, don’t appreciate it, are skeptical of it, and don’t plan to follow it. He will invite you to seek His guidance, but He won’t give it lightly, “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33).

As well, God says (Alma 12:9-10):

It is given to many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they [the mysteries] are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of the word…according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (See also Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is just that—a gift. It is intended to be given to us in increasing amounts as we use it for its designed purpose: to grow, learn, become more Christlike, more humble, more faithful, more loving…more like God. So, if we get into a “I’m good like I am,” rut, then we may begin to struggle to receive continued guidance beyond the current level we have received to date. This is because the guidance is meant to lead us upward, not to keep us on the same plane we’ve camped on. We can’t be complacent or satisfied with a minimal, or even what we consider a high, level of righteousness.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost isn’t something we can use when it’s convenient. We can’t go crying to the Lord for help and then expect guidance to come if we haven’t been actively seeking His will to improve over time. Or, if we only seek guidance from the Holy Ghost for what we consider big decisions and ignore the little promptings about things He would have us improve on, change, forsake, or repent of, then we may find the Heavens silent, or at least a little slow in responding.

You may ask, “Well, even if I have been a little reluctant or complacent, when I go to God at last, you think He’d answer, right?” “He wants me back, right?” Well, while God loves us unconditionally, His love is true love—tough love. The kind none of us particularly like. But, the kind we actually need. Sure, He wants us back. But, it is also His work and glory to help us become as much like Him as possible (Moses 1:39). So, if withholding answers and guidance for a moment will lead us to re-evaluate our lives and become better; then God will likely withhold and give us a chance to desire, more deeply, such a priceless gift as the Holy Ghost. He will wait until we desire it so much that we are willing to come closer to Him and further away from our own will. He does this so that when He does answer we are humble and willing to follow His counsel. So that we have a greater chance of not taking it for granted.

Why doesn’t He let you make that decision? Why doesn’t He give without using tough love to help you improve? Because, “for he who sins against the greater light receives the greater condemnation” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3). If God gives miracles and guidance and blessings when we are not willing to accept them or follow them, then our condemnation for not accepting or following is greater. In other words, the more you receive the more eternal trouble you can get for deciding not to accept that which is given to you. It would be unfair for God to punish us for not accepting light and truth if we weren’t prepared to receive or follow it. By withholding He is showing mercy.

The Prescription for Better Recognizing the Guidance of the Holy Ghost

President Monson, who seems to have a particular gift for recognizing the promptings of the Holy Ghost, gave these simple steps in several recent conference addresses (see endnotes for sources):

  1. Communicate daily with Heavenly Father in sincere prayer. God has commanded, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).
  2. Be worthy to receive inspiration. God has said, “…seek me diligently…” (ibid)
  3. Trust inspiration when it comes. (Proverbs 3:5)
  4. Follow inspiration when it comes.

I might add:

  1. Pray less passively. Ask for ways to act, listen, feel, hear, and do; instead of praying with passive, generalized statements, like, “Please help me to…” or “Watch over me when…” An active statement in prayer might be, “Please show me how to ensure this journey is a safe one for our family,” or, “As I visit with my friend, please make bring things to my remembrance that I can share to help comfort him/her.” (Check out this address Ask In Faith by David Bednar as he teaches how to prayer with active prayer language, and this helps immensely in being led by the Holy Ghost)

So, that’s it. I might surmise that if you are having trouble getting the guidance you desire to receive, then you might try to: 1) pray more often and more sincerely and meaningfully (Ask In Faith), 2) become more worthy and seek God’s will more diligently, 3) be more trusting when inspiration comes, 4) follow more willingly and more quickly when inspiration does come.

Different Ways of Feeling or Receiving Promptings and Guidance

Now, if you’ve made it this far, then what I’d like to do is to talk a little bit about the different ways the Holy Ghost talks to and guides me. This won’t mean that He’ll talk to you the same way. But, by seeing how He talks to me in different situations, it might help you better ponder the possibilities for yourself. That’s all I can offer. The rest is up to you.

Reading the Scriptures

When I’m reading the scriptures and the Holy Ghost wants me to take note of something, I generally find that the verse subtly zooms out at me a bit and gives me pause making me want to reread it. Sometimes, that won’t happen, but I’ll read past the verse and then my mind will catch a certain word or phrase as a trigger and it takes me back to the verse. Then, on the second read it will often give me pause and I will see a direct correlation between a few words or a phrase in the verse and something in my life.

I don’t always feel a big weight or burning in my chest when this happens. But, often, when I reread the verse several times and ponder why it is giving me pause, thoughts will come to me or aspects of my life that seem to tie to these words or phrases. Then, there is another step, if I’m willing to take it. As I think about how I can apply these words or phrases to my life situation, when one of the things I think about and consider is right, then, I will often feel a strong mental weight on that action or idea. Often I’ll feel it is something I need to do now, or soon. Once the idea has been pressed upon me, it is not easily forgotten, and will continue to come to my mind as something that needs to be done—until I do it. If I ignore it long enough, it will go away, but I try not to do that.latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Other times, when reading my scriptures, I come across something that means something different to me than it did before. This is not a pillar-of-light kind of experience. But, it is enlightening. Usually, I review cross-references on the phrases that have a new meaning to me and find my mind carried away into aspects of a principle or truth I have never considered before. It’s a pleasant journey. It uplifts me. It’s exciting to learn something new. Then, if I continue to ponder how to apply it in my life (which is yet another step required), I will find ideas and inspiration coming to me. Not always in the moment. Sometimes it will come the next day, or days later. However, often, if I do not record these impressions, they are lost by the next day. Sometimes I can be reminded of them by revisiting the verses, but sometimes not. Then, I find that the more I record these types of minimal impressions, the more frequent they become and the new and deeper truths and doctrines I uncover.

These are two of the ways that the Spirit works with me when I’m studying my scriptures. It may be different for others. But, I can recognize when these moments come. And, they don’t come when I just read “to read.” They only come when I’m putting forth sincere effort.

Making Life Decisions

Learning to recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost in life decisions is not an easy task. I believe that the level of study and effort required to access this personal understanding says something about how sacred it is. Things given to us without effort and hard work are nearly always taken for granted, misused, exploited, wasted, etc. Not everyone who wins the lottery blows all the money and ends up in more debt than before winning, but the percentage who do is considerable.

I know some people who seem to get promptings for their life as easily as going to the faucet with a cup for water. However, I am NOT one of those people. I find generally, that the Lord lets me bump into walls and bounce about until I make my way down the path He intends for me. I often run spiritual marathons before finding a drop of water on a leaf that hasn’t dried up from a recent rain. So, I’m not about to tell anyone anything that will lead them to believe it’s easy to get promptings. However, I do know, after much bumping and running, how the Spirit speaks to me. And, at least for me, He always does.

When it comes to decisions, I am usually already trying consistently to keep the commandments, live worthy of the Spirit, and seek the Lord’s will. Because of this, I make my pros and cons lists. I study it out in my mind. I ask all the suggested questions, like: “Will this choice help me serve the Lord better? Will this move, or this job change, help me and my family come closer together and to the Lord? Etc.” Then, instead of asking the Lord to tell me which decision to make based on my research, I have learned, that for me, the Lord expects me to make a decision first and start moving toward it. Only then does the Holy Ghost exert influence upon me in the form of validation or an icky feeling that makes me feel uncomfortable with my choice.

Many people often overlook the “studying it out.” But, even more forget to “make a decision” before asking “if it be right”(Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9). And, for me, I have to actually exert effort and time into pursuing a decision before the feelings of “yes this is good,” or “no, don’t do this,” comes.

Many people take the words from Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 so literally, that if they don’t get an immediate “burning in the bosom,” while they are still on their knees in prayer, they get confused. Yet others take the words “stupor of thought” to mean that while they are on their knees in prayer they will completely forget what they were praying about. I don’t know if this actually happens to some people. If it does, then lucky they are. However, for me, the confirmation or stupor of thought happen a bit differently.

All of us are familiar with small magnets. If you put two of the same poles together they push away from each other. If they are small, you can exert sufficient force to hold them together, but the moment you stop exerting force, they push apart naturally. On the other hand, if you put two opposing poles near each other they pull together without any extra exertion from you.Red and Blue Horseshoe Magnet Isolated on White Background

This magnet example is how most (though not all) of my life decisions come to me. If it is a good thing or even the best choice, it just “sits right.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t ever any external barriers, but as far as my mind, logic and heart are concerned, the idea makes sense and attracts me to it. On the other hand, things that are not wise choices, or that are not the best choice God would have me make; while they might sound nice or seem logical, they simply don’t “sit well.” I have to sort of force the idea on myself since it sounds so nice. But, I’m never comfortable with it. And, if I stop trying to make myself consider this unwise or not best choice, I do sort of stop thinking about it. It falls to the side and becomes unimportant or pales in comparison to another option or idea that arises. This is my particular kind of “stupor of thought.”

Now, some life decisions I have felt a big “no” or “yes” on. But, they are not common for me and I can remember all of them. So, sometimes I have received a more significant “burning in the bosom” or a weight of impression that is unmistakable. But, I can also say, that the better I get at recognizing the magnet-promptings, the more clear and understandable all of my promptings are becoming. But, I’m nearly 40 and I’ve been working at this since I got a testimony of the gospel at age 14. So, 26 years of practice.

Being Inspired at Church

If I am making an earnest attempt to pay attention and participate at church, I find that it’s not really the lesson, or talk, itself that impacts me. But, often, a certain phrase spoken a certain way, or an experience someone shares, or some small piece of what they do or ask triggers an idea or memory in my mind and heart. The idea or memory that comes past that trigger is often unrelated to the general topic being taught or spoken on, though not always. This is often how I know it’s a prompting.

Now, when I say “unrelated” I mean that it is unlikely that I would ever have made the connection between this phrase from the talk/lesson and a certain idea or memory on my own. It’s not impossible. So, I suppose it could be justified away. But, it’s happened so many times in my life that either I’m stupendously brilliant in ways other people are not, OR, the Holy Ghost is bringing these ideas and memories to my remembrance (St. John 14:26).

Preparing a Lesson

As I have noted in my blog entry “Teaching BY the Spirit or Some Other Way,” the Holy Ghost works somewhat differently in the teaching environment. Teaching is a different situation than basic personal revelation. It’s different than just having the Holy Ghost with you. It’s even different than getting up to bear your testimony. Why? Because you are not doing it for yourself. You are acting as an instrument through which the Holy Ghost can work to accomplish His task as the Master Teacher to both you AND those whom you are called to teach.

If you want to understand how the Holy Ghost works in teaching, then I refer you to that blog entry.

Conclusion

Now, there are lots of different aspects of life and for each of us the Holy Ghost will work with us differently based on our personalities, emotional/psychological state, talents, and spiritual gifts. I don’t have the knowledge or the ability to tell each of you how to figure out how the Holy Ghost works for you. That’s your job and His job.

So, that’s it. If you really want to get better at recognizing the Spirit, then you’ve got to work at it using the steps given by President Monson. The gift of the Holy Ghost is the most valuable gift you will ever receive in this life. Thus, it’s the most difficult gift to make use of. It transcends all money, possessions, intellect, fame, glory, etc. The Holy Ghost is the second baptism, the baptism of fire. If you do not seek His guidance, if you do not allow Him to sanctify you through diligently seeking to follow His promptings, then what remains to you? There’s either “you + a member of the godhead,” or “just you.”

I don’t know about the rest of you. You are free to feel and think as you wish. But, for me, I have found this gift of guidance from the Holy Ghost to be worth all of my efforts—through times of doubt, times of trial, and times of peace. I know, for myself, that the Holy Ghost is real. And, I can confidently promise any who read this that if you follow the simple steps above, and exercise hope and faith, that in time you will come to recognize the promptings and guidance of the Holy Ghost well enough to live your life well, and with confidence in the Lord.

BT

Doctrine: The Holy Ghost is a gift, not an entitlement. God purposefully requires diligent and consistent effort in order to access increasing guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are 4 simple steps to coming to better recognize guidance from the Holy Ghost. There are lots of different possibilities and ways the Holy Ghost may try to communicate with you.

End Notes

Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 86-69.

Thomas S. Monson, “Stand in Holy Places,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 82-86.

Thomas S. Monson, “Tabernacle Memories,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 41-42.

In Matthew 19:3-8 we read:

The Pharisees also came unto [Christ], tempting him, and saying unto him, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”

And [Christ] answered and said unto them, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?’ Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

They say unto him, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?”

He saith unto them, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”

From the beginning it was not so

Lesser laws: they are what receive we when reject God’s highest ordinances and covenants. Lesser laws—the scriptures prove—always come with rough consequences, merciless micromanagement, and what appear to be unfair rules. But, if we will not accept God’s perfect laws which lead to peace and happiness, what then do we expect when we reject them? Lesser laws cannot give us the same peace and happiness that higher laws give. Wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10).

The original covenant God gave to Adam and Eve was that they were to be man and wife—one flesh. They were commanded to keep the covenant of eternal marriage which included: multiplying and replenishing the earth (having children and teaching them the gospel), and acting as stewards over the earth (Moses 2:26-30).

This was the covenant. There was no divorce given as a lesser law until God’s highest laws were rejected. It was fear and selfishness, on the part of mankind, that brought about something other than what God intended. It is us that choose to have less than what God wants to give us—it is us that choose laws and systems that cannot endure.

Marriage is a power and a responsibility

From the beginning, marriage has been about a covenant with God. It has been about having families and teaching them God’s plan. It has been about joining God in His work and glory (Moses 1:39). It has been about being wise stewards over the resources of the earth that we may have what we need to nurture, raise, and care for our families and lead them to God. His plan is for us to form family units that can last forever. His plan is for us to become like Him, and He has eternal family. His plan is for us to develop the attributes that He has that make true love and eternal love a reality, not merely a whim for the movie screen or a classic novel.

But, over time we have turned marriage into an institution. We have turned it into a “nice tradition.” We have turned it into a romantic gesture. We have turned it into a selfish attempt to force a commitment. We have made it into something to serve the individual instead of to serve God. Thus, under such selfish oppression marriage cannot endure as it was meant to do.

Now, I’m most heartily an advocate for romance and true love. But, what I have found (and what God is always trying to teach us) is that true love and romance—of the highest and best kind—are only available when we enter marriage as it was intended from the foundations of the earth: as a covenant.

Seeing marriage as a covenant changes all the rules for dating and romance

We all grow up waiting to run into our one true love. We date looking very little into the spiritual depth and personalities of the individuals courting us. We focus solely on physical appearance and putting our best foot forward. We focus on expectations instead of realities. We make assumptions based upon the feelings of love and infatuation that have no root in eventual reality. We try to pretend to be things we aren’t simply to get the attention of those whom we shallowly admire. We look forward to that all important first kiss.

We all formulate dreams of eternal bliss that begin with specific wedding colors, the perfect dress, the perfect bride/groom, and flower petals strewn across an aisle while family members weep tears of joy and happiness as they prepare to pose for wedding pictures in perfectly coordinated outfits.

Parents often are worse off than their offspring, building up materialistic ideals for wedding receptions, honeymoon locations, and other social events as they plan to “give their daughter or son away.” The fact that two people are about to embark on one of the most difficult, though potentially the most rewarding, covenants and ordinances the earth has ever known seems to garner no attention whatsoever. No time is devoted to its understanding and instruction.templemarriage

Very few—very few—ever stop to wonder if they are prepared for more than the whirlwind romance that has led them to an altar. They are spurred on by the anticipation of all that marriage holds little understanding what it will take to hold that dream together. And, despite how God intended it “from the beginning,” most people carry in the back of their minds the very  modern reality that divorce can be easily obtained and is a valid option if they ever get to feeling the least bit “out of love” or if their spouse makes any seriously wrong moves.

Seeing all dating and marriage as the build up to the keeping of God’s highest and holiest covenant and ordinance should change everything. Dating should become a true practice in getting to know the personality traits and spiritual depth of others. Making friends and learning to find those that share our testimonies of God and His plan should become a familiar practice. We should practice learning the difference between infatuation and physical attraction (which are of course important) and the ever critical spiritual and intellectual attraction.

Dating in this way should prepare us to find the person with whom we share all three: physical attraction, intellectual attraction, and most critically, spiritual attraction. If we are attracted to someone and share commonalities in thinking but we have no confidence in their desire (or ability) to keep God’s highest covenant (whether they hold a temple recommend or not), how could we ever have confidence in making such an attempt at marriage with them? To step into the covenant with such a poor foundation is a treachery on the part of ourselves. Do we think we can force a marriage to work by solely romantic ideals? It has never, once, in all of history worked that way.

Being equally yoked is far more about spiritual attraction and unity than anything else. The common goal of both persons entering marriage should be to enter into and keep the covenant. For spiritual commitment to God always precludes the capacity to create an environment for true love within a relationship. And yet, if the spiritual connection is there but there is no intellectual or physical attraction, that too would be an unwise match. The goal is to find someone who loves and adores us and who will, as God always intended, remain loyal to God, the marriage covenant, and to us. A person who understands the covenant, desires to accept the covenant, and who is willing to sacrifice all that may be necessary in their own lives, goals, and agenda to keep the covenant.

Marriage is about two individuals remaining individual but giving their will over to God. Their unity comes from understanding that marriage is about giving their will to God, and they both do it TOGETHER. Thus, they don’t lose their lives to another person, they lose their life to God (Mark 8:35).

The marriage covenant is all about agency

Another false belief that many romantics hold is that there is only one true love for them. Marriage as a covenant completely obliterates this nice, but ultimately ridiculous romantic belief. Covenants require agency (free will), faith, and grace. If there was only ever one true love for any of us, and that person existed separate from our ability to choose, exercise faith, and receive forgiveness, then agency, faith, and the atonement of Jesus Christ could not exist.

Any time we expect that something can happen to us without us actually choosing it and without us acting to make it real once it has happened to us, we are deceived. Choice is the power that makes a person right for us. Agency is that powerful. And if there were only ever one true love for us and we failed to choose them, or recognize them, or maintain our relationship with them, then a loss of it would ensure that we could never attain true happiness in this life or the life to come. Such a reality would render all of life unjust and eternity unsalvageable.

However, the atonement of Jesus Christ is real, meaning that we can repent when we mess up. Thus, ensuring, that if we screw up a relationship or abandon a covenant, we can sincerely repent and try again. The fact that the atonement of Jesus Christ exists demands that we can be fixed, healed, and restored. And that also means that we can find true love by choosing it and acting upon it to make it real, and valid for this life and the life to come.templemarriage2

Because marriage is a covenant it is something we have the power to keep, perfect, and retain for eternity. Because it is a covenant, if we mess up it can be worked on. If we make mistakes or sin, we can repent and through faith make it right. The covenant is the focus. Not the other person. We do all that we do to keep our covenant with God, not solely to hold on to or please the other person (who may very well never manage to please us as we would ultimately wish).

The marriage covenant is made together but the covenant is individual

God’s plan is that we become as He is. All of that cannot be accomplished in this mortal sphere. However, there are many godly powers and blessings that God can dispense to us in this life, and He does so through ordinances and covenants. Ordinances and covenants grant us portions of God’s powers and attributes in this life; powers and attributes that once attained can be maintained and perfected in the next.

In the beginning, divorce, abortion, infidelity, fornication, adultery, abuse, and murder were made possible in this life because of the gift of agency; just as marriage, children, fidelity, chastity, charity, and the creation of life were all made possible because of the gift of agency, as well. Thus, though many people usurp godly powers through the formerly mentioned sinful acts (tampering with life and death), there will come an end to their ability to do so. Those able to retain the powers to create and exist in family units (beyond this life) will be those who have entered into, and kept, God’s ordinances and covenants. Thus, marriage as a covenant, is what allows each of us (if we keep the covenant) the privilege of existing in family units beyond the grave.

The marriage covenant, unlike all other gospel ordinances and covenants, can only be entered into between a man and a woman, together. Because it is together that they create life, nurture the life created, and help those souls through God’s plan. However, the covenant and promises they make are not to each other. God gives them both a covenant, the same covenant, and each individually chooses whether or not to accept that covenant with God. They promise God to keep the covenant to God. The covenant then requires that each party accept the covenant with God, for it must be kept together, but the accountability for the keeping of the covenant with God is individual.

If we keep our individual covenant with God, the blessings promised to us cannot be forfeited by the rebellion of our spouse whose accountability is separate. If our spouse refuses to keep their individual covenant of marriage with God they cannot, by association, remove our blessings. Only we can do that. Agency is that powerful.

Say YES to the covenant

Romance is great. I’m a fan. Falling is love is great. I’m a fan. But, if we would ever truly change the trend of declining marriages and family relationships in this world, then, we must return to the doctrine that can save them.

We must teach our children to prepare not for marriage, but for the covenant. Marriage is not meant to be simply a contract between to people that encourages them to stay committed for this life for financial and merely psychological purposes. Marriage is a covenant that is about accepting God’s covenant to have families and guide them through the plan. It is not solely about finding an eternal partner. It is about finding a person that understands God’s covenant and who wishes to keep it by our side.

We must teach our children to dream of the covenant and not simply the person they will enter into it with. We must teach our children to date and to court for marriage by looking for the kind of individual who understands the covenant and wishes to keep it. We must ensure our children understand the covenant and have a desire to keep it.

We must remove our focus on the social events surrounding the wedding and instead make the covenant the star of the occasion. That we might be willing to subtract such events from our wedding visions and replace them with covenant preparation and instruction, would be ideal. Do we have the courage to stop trying to please others (and ourselves) and start trying to ensure we, and our children, make the covenant more important than anything else? We must return the sacred nature to marriage and family. We must get better (as married couples) at understanding and keeping our covenant with God and set better examples for our children.

I could wish that a trend would begin in all Christians, but especially Latter-day Saints; that instead of people saying, “Will you marry me?” that they would instead say, “Will you say YES to the covenant with me?” That might make a bigger change than anything else could. Because the other party would then truly consider just what it was they were saying yes to.

Conclusion

Whether we have made the covenant, are struggling currently with the covenant, or are pondering entering into the covenant, we should stop and study it. We should remind ourselves what the covenant of marriage is (especially the sealing, or New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage). We should decide if we merely want to get married (create a temporary commitment), or if we are actually ready for the covenant (which is about far more eternal and holy things than the marriage we all envision and plan for). We should remind ourselves of our promise to God, and what that promise entails. We should remind ourselves of the blessings and powers that come to us if we keep it. We should ponder (especially if we are struggling in our marriage) what we can do to keep our covenant with God instead of focusing on what our spouse could, or should, be doing to keep their covenant.

The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage was instituted by God. It is His power and privilege as God to keep this covenant, Himself, eternally. And He offers it to us IF we too will say YES to and keep the covenant.

[Note: Because of the wickedness of mankind, because of our selfishness, abuse, infidelity, and neglect, there are times when divorce is not only necessary, it is the best option. I know because I’ve been through a divorce myself. This choice to divorce, however, is between each individual and God. And, this article is intended to help us all improve, better understand the covenant, make better individual choices and use wisdom, so that we might prevent the necessity for such a thing, where possible.]

BT

When I was growing up, I saw commandments as something I was supposed to “do” not as something that helped me to actually “become” a certain type of being. It’s quite possible that such depth of gospel comprehension is hardly possible beneath the age of 16 without significant experience. I did believe that keeping the commandments would make me happy, but I didn’t think too deeply about why keeping commandments brought happiness. I simply had tested it a bit, and it seemed to be an accurate philosophy. I knew that fundamentally I wanted the Holy Spirit to guide me—it simply made sense. But, it never occurred to me that there was a larger purpose to having the Spirit with me beyond that it was something good.

I don’t think it was until I was in my late 20’s that it dawned on me that the whole gospel (grace, ordinances, commandments, covenants, etc.) was about “becoming godly” and not simply about “doing good.” It wasn’t about simply getting blessings, or avoiding pain and suffering—it was about those blessings transforming me despite the pain and suffering that would inevitably come.

The dissimilarity between doing good and becoming godly is vast. I think in general people define good far more broadly than they would ever define godliness. Which is probably why people like to stay away from the idea of becoming like God. They place it on a list of things that are ridiculous and simply not possible. Therefore, it never enters their mind that becoming godly the root of all spiritual growth and lasting change.

Law of Obedience

I remember the first time I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. At the time, I was already well read in the scriptures and even in some religious commentary. Yet, Lewis’s uncanny ability to take the spiritually complex and simplify it blew my mind. It was like drinking the purest water or eating the best food you’ve ever eaten. I simply couldn’t get enough. It was in my late 20s that I was coming to the realization of what the gospel was. And it was during that time I came upon this quote:

People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, “If you keep a lot of rules I’ll reward you and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.”  I do not think that is the best way of looking at it.  I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the other part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.  And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long, you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.  To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power.  To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness.  Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

This quote sums up God’s law of Obedience. It sums up grace. It sums up the absolute possibility and the process through which we embark upon spiritual growth and realize the reality of lasting change—in our very being. It’s the only way that becoming like God becomes truly possible. We have to be able to change fundamentally, in our very being, for godliness to be within reach.

Grace is About Lasting Spiritual Change

So often grace gets boiled down to this godly bleach that simply wipes away sin and makes us clean enough to endure God’s presence. But, what good would such bleach be if, once in God’s presence, we still had the tendency to sin? Grace would be worthless if it couldn’t also bring about lasting spiritual change. Grace would be meaningless if it didn’t have the power to make us eternally clean. It has to have the power to cleanse as well as to make that cleanliness a permanent condition.

One of my favorite scriptures right now is 2 Nephi 2:14:

…for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

God didn’t create everything to act. And, in reality there are things that will never move or change or undergo any changes because they don’t have the power to act. Thus, they also have no power to change. Their course, state, and purpose is fixed in mortality.

On the other hand, God has created us, His children, to act and not to be acted upon. That power to act, to choose for ourselves, is also the very power that enables us to become godly. If we could be acted upon (or forced) to do things we wouldn’t have the power to change, grow spiritually, or ultimately become anything. We would always be subject to external forces. However, we are not.

Throw in the atonement of Jesus Christ, and suddenly our righteous choices and desires gain the power—over time through God’s forge of grace—to change our very being into something better, something godly. This is how the Law of Obedience works when we understand it and live it fully. Obedience slowly changes us (through grace) into a godly being.

Grace is the godly fire that makes it possible for our desires and continual righteous action (obedience) to bend our spirits into something better. The Law of Obedience is part and parcel with the atonement of Jesus Christ. We don’t obey to earn grace. We can never earn grace, nor will we ever truly deserve it. Thus, we obey to invoke the power of grace so that our hammering and attempts to bend (obey) actually work. If we don’t hammer or try to change and bend, grace serves little purpose. If we don’t show by our efforts to change, that we want grace, God will not force change upon us. He will not force us to accept His grace.

Obey and Repent: Steps to Lasting Change

So, throwing the doctrines of grace and obedience out there makes changing sound easy. It makes spiritual growth sound easy. It makes lasting change sound easy. However, though the doctrine is simple. It is not easy to change. It is not easy to become a spiritual powerhouse. It is not easy to make change permanent, to make it last, and to not revert to past habits. Change, however, is why we are here.

Yet, it does become easier to change when we understand that change rarely happens overnight. When we recognize that ALL of our efforts effect our central being, each effort gains importance. One act of kindness is powerful. And, that act gains power as it is repeated over and over and over again. Every hammer fall makes a dent.

Just as one hammer fall dents, so also no hammer fall means no progress. Thus, simply because we falter sometimes doesn’t mean we should stop keeping the commandments. Sincere, genuine repentance (full of godly sorrow) is a powerful blow to the forge of grace and ratchets up the heat toward any spiritual change. And, when we’ve made a significant effort to repent because we desire to be godly, our hammer falls gain weight and fine tuning. We progress faster and faster, and our lives become more directed toward God. We are no longer merely hammering madly all over the place. We start hammering (commandment keeping) with deliberate understanding, with eyes open to a grander pattern for our lives.

The reason true repentance has so much power is because our intent is clear and our desires our pure and deep. Even if we’ve been hammering for years on the wrong pattern, or not hammering at all, sincere repentance (because of grace) can grant us a monumental blast of energy to remake and hammer over our past patterns. The fire of grace burns hotter on our behalf.

However, that crank up on the furnace of grace isn’t permanent. We must keep hammering to maintain our new, more dedicated rhythm. Grace makes our changes last as we put forth the effort to maintain that change. Grace makes it possible to change. Obedience is the hammering that creates a change.

All the “little commandments” that we cast aside as things of minimal impact and importance tend to be those with the most power to change us and grant us lasting spiritual growth (Alma 37:6-7). They are the strongest spiritual pattern in our lives. An innumerable number of tiny dents and turns in our lives create a base spiritual strength. The repetition has a power that can’t be properly explained by mathematics or statistics. That base spiritual strength makes all of our other spiritual experiences, actions, and moments exponentially more powerful.

Testimony meetings come and go. Aha moments come and go. Miracles come and go. But, daily obedience in even the smallest things create a spiritual noise that buffers us from the distractions that would inhibit our desires to improve.

Spiritual math is obviously its own eternal subject. And perhaps we’ll study it in the eternities. I don’t claim to understand it. I do, however, claim to know it works—perfectly.

Conclusion

In Doctrine and Covenants section 93:20, we learn that we grow grace-by-grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ as we are obedient to all of God’s commandments.

For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fullness, and be glorified in me and I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.

Constant spiritual growth is possible with the endurance of obedient commandment keeping. We don’t have to keep commandments perfectly. But, we have to have genuine intent—a true desire to love God and become like Him. Then, through grace and with time, lasting change takes place even as C.S. Lewis described. We become a heavenly creature. We don’t simply “do” commandments, they become a natural part of who we are. We no longer have to think about being heavenly, we are heavenly.

The only way to constant spiritual growth and lasting change is to embrace the path to becoming like God. Our goal is not simply to do good. Our goal is to become godly.

BT

Some of you may not be aware that on my FB page and Instagram Channel I’m running a series called #DailyDoctrines. I post short, quote-length doctrines daily. Whereas this blog is weekly.

I started #DailyDoctrines because it has become apparent to me that it is difficult for many people to identify and locate doctrine in the scriptures. Why does it matter? Why not just be satisfied to understand the basic story lines?

To just grasp the basic story lines of scripture stories (especially the Old Testament) defeats the purpose of scripture study. The whole point of scripture study is to come to know God, and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. Why is actually getting to know God important? “For this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent” (St. John 17:3).

Eternal life is nothing less than life like God. And, we can’t spend an eternity with someone whom we don’t know. And we certainly can’t live like Him if we don’t know Him.

In the parable of the ten virgins, it has always impressed me that when the five foolish virgins show up at the feast that the Savior denies them entrance based on the following: “I know you not” (Matthew 25:12). I think what He is also implying is that “you don’t know me.”

Why would any of us let someone into our home whom we don’t know? We wouldn’t. We wouldn’t trust them. We would be surprised that they showed up and even wanted to come in. And we might even be slightly offended if they showed up for a party we were throwing, where they could mooch off our generosity, and we hadn’t even known they were coming. When they knocked on our door, we would say, “Um…sorry, I don’t know you.” Meaning reflexively, “Um…why are you here, you don’t know me.”

We might say that “oil in our lamps” is our relationship with and knowledge of God.

Identifying Doctrine Helps us Come to Know God

The whole purpose of identifying doctrine in the scriptures is because doctrine teaches us as much about God as we can ever come to know in this life. It teaches us two very critical things: 1) What God is like, and 2) How He works with us, His children. And, I might add that in some cases we learn 3) why He works with us in certain ways.

I seem to have a knack for finding doctrines. And, the more I practice, the more and more fundamental it becomes to who and what I am and how I live. Doctrine answers the “why” behind everything in God’s plan for us. It answers the hard questions that we struggle with each day. I haven’t come upon a question yet, in my life, that I haven’t found the answer to through clear doctrines from the scriptures. Granted, I don’t always love the answer. It may not be as specific as I like. Sometimes, it’s too specific. Sometimes the answers test my fortitude. But, more than anything else, the answers—the doctrines—give me power to keep going, to endure. The doctrines give me confidence before God. The doctrines teach me what to expect from God and how not to freak out and worry when I see Him at work.

An Invitation

I’ve only been at this for just under two years. I’m not sure who follows me and why. But, I’m issuing you a direct invitation. If you feel any of the following things (see below) would help you in your life and in your desire to follow God, please like and follow my Facebook Page: TheDoctrineLadyBlog. And please visit and follow me on Instagram: @TheDoctrineLady. As well, once you join, start with me right where I am (currently Leviticus in the Old Testament). If you use the NIV Bible or the King James, you should be great. You don’t have much to do. Just read a chapter a day and look for 1) things you learn about God, and 2) things you learn about how God deals with us, His children. Then, check out my FB Page or my IG account each day and see what I’ve come up with. See if it sits well with you. See if you found a doctrine I missed. See (and record in a journal) what it allows the Holy Spirit to teach you about your life and your relationship with God.

Do you want any of the following:

1.       Closer relationship with God

2.       Increase your belief in the existence of God

3.       Understand some of what God does better

4.       Reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament

5.       Understand better temple worship and ordinances

6.       Recognize how God is working with you in your own life

7.       Understand and recognize steps God wants you to take in your life right now

8.       Strengthen your witness and testimony of Christ

9.       Increase your capacity to live a godly life

10.   Increase your capacity to understand and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ

If you decide to join me in this journey, and feel that someone else you know would benefit, invite them! Don’t be afraid. Our role as Christians is to invite others to come to Christ. Our role is to “feed His sheep.” You aren’t responsible if people choose to come to Christ. But, you are responsible for extending the invitation. I’m extending my invitation to you. I hope you will extend the same to others.

I’m going to keep doing my #DailyDoctrines whether I have 10 followers or 10,000. When the Old Testament is through I’ll push right on to the New Testament and so forth. This is a lengthy journey. But, isn’t the effort worth it if it will help each of us to secure our eternal life with the God, and Father, of us all? Did not God, Himself, teach us that a relationship with Him, a deep knowledge and love of Him, is what will make life with Him in eternity possible? I’m doing #DailyDoctrines to help myself, and anyone who wants to join me, to increase their capacity to come to know God.

Challenge and invitation issued. I hope you will join me.

BT

There is a massive political, social, and psychological trend going on these days with regard to accountability. It sounds like this, “I’m not responsible for the choices others make, or what happens to them, because of what I do.” It also sounds a bit like this, “I do this for myself. If others suffer, or if others can’t control their reactions, that’s not my fault.” The variations of this statement are endless. I can’t list them all. But, the general underlying doctrine is, “I’m not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and decisions others make.”

Is this true? Yes, in a manner of speaking. But it also contains an unwritten, implied lie. It omits saying who we are responsible for…and that’s us.

The Hidden Lie

God has been very clear about accountability. If we are basically rational and sane, we are responsible for our own thoughts, words, and deeds (Moroni 8:10; Helaman 14:30). We are responsible for our own desires, and the actions we take that our desires inspire (Doctrine and Covenants 137:9).

So, “I’m not responsible for what other people do,” is a nicely crafted phrase that carefully hides a sneaky lie. It is, as near as I can tell, a half-truth. Sure, we cannot control others. We can threaten and try to bribe or torture people to do what we want them to do. But, ultimately, the choice is theirs. They can choose to comply with our desires or hold to their own with dignity and self-sacrifice. It is their choice. If they didn’t have a choice, we wouldn’t try to manipulate them.

However, the lie in this statement is that it gives the impression that we are not responsible for anything. Or that our choices only matter inasmuch as we can control others. That if someone can prove that our actions made someone else sin, then that is the measure of whether or not it matters at all. This (which you can see by simply reading it) is irrefutably not the case.

So, what are we responsible for? Ourselves.

I would like to reword the full measure of what the initial phrase actually should say in order to be completely true and accurate. Because it is in what is omitted that the false doctrine breeds from. It should say, “I’m not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and decisions others make, but I am responsible for the purposeful, deliberate action I take to ignore their thoughts, feelings, and potential decisions.”

Sure, we can’t control the thoughts of others. We can’t make a person have sinful thoughts. But, we can purposefully and knowingly influence them. We can talk about certain things, dress in certain ways, and act in certain ways as a selfish, prideful challenge, “I dare you not to have sinful thoughts or desires based upon what I’m doing.” “I dare you to blame me for your bad thoughts and actions.” “I want you to think a certain way about me, let’s see how long you can withstand me.” “I dare you to blame me for your poor financial circumstances…” and on and on.

What kind of person does that make us if it is our goal to say what we want to say, do what we want to do, and wear what we want to wear determined not to care in the slightest bit how it impacts others? What kind of Christian does that make us?

Sure, we can’t make people overeat. But, what kind of person would we be if we stood outside a diet, or weight loss clinic, with a trolley tray full of donuts, sweets, and fried foods and we held it up tantalizingly as people, trying very hard to lose weight, walked by? What kind of person are we if our mindset is, “I dare the management to come out and shoo me away. This is my livelihood and if I choose to take advantage of these people’s struggle with food to support my family…how can they blame me for wanting to take care of my family?”

What kind of business are we if we purvey products and services meant to make money off the potential, or actual, addict? We may not be responsible if they choose to buy, or consume our services. But we are responsible for being weak individuals with insufficient integrity that we use their weaknesses to raise ourselves up. What we are saying is, “I know this is bad for you but I need to make money to live and support my family and I can only doing it by working for a business (or owning a business) that extorts your weaknesses.”

Yet another lie? Yes, it’s the word “only.” There is never only one way for us to do something. Satan has done a very good job of making many people believe that integrity is idealistic and non-rewarding; and that extorting others for our own benefits is noble, or minimally necessary at times and thus acceptable. Which, as hard as it is to swallow, is untrue.

God has promised peace and blessings based upon keeping His commandments with integrity. To bypass the Christlike traits of selflessness, of faith, of self-sacrifice, and of integrity with the excuse that, “The only way I can survive—or get what I need emotionally, psychologically, physically, or materially—is to abandon these traits and extort others,” is a sad, wicked, thing.

If we will embrace these Christlike traits above our own selfish needs and designs God will bless us. He is bound to do so (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10). And, I challenge anyone who believes otherwise to commit to living these Christlike traits—sincerely and genuinely—and thereafter testify that God didn’t bless them for so doing. God will bless them. They will know it. And they will know that God knows it, and that to say otherwise would be extremely unwise (Joseph Smith History 1:25).

What kind of Christian are we if we put our own image before Christ’s image in our lives? What kind of Christian are we if we say or do things to satisfy our own weaknesses and issues at the expense of others? Have we taken the name of Christ upon us, or haven’t we? Have we covenanted to bring others to Christ, to “feed His sheep,” or haven’t we?

We are Responsible for Us

We cannot control others. But we can put stumbling blocks in their path—on purpose. And, that, my dear friends, is what we are responsible for. We are responsible for us.

Balaam was a very famous prophet, of sorts, in the Old Testament. He was hired by the King of Moab to curse the Israelites (who were going through the promised land—on God’s orders—conquering and destroying everyone). Balaam was offered so much money and honor from the King of Moab, that though in the end he refused to curse them publically. He covertly, on the side, told the King of Moab that if he would get the Israelites to sin, they would eventually be undone. Balaam, despite all his goodness, was eventually “bought.” And, the Israelites did indeed have a few struggles because of Balaam’s expertly placed stumbling block. But, they did repent and conquered Moab, and Balaam died in the struggle. So, in the end, Balaam didn’t succeed in doing anything to Israel, nor was he accountable that they chose to sin. He certainly slowed them down a bit. However, he did succeed in losing his own integrity and his own salvation (Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14). And, his good works (a lifetime of them) were all overshadowed by his final choice to purposefully place a stumbling block in front of Israel in exchange for worldly honor and compensation. That final, selfish decision undid all his others and defined his long-lived negative reputation. He attempted to get what he wanted by hurting others and ended up only hurting (long-term and eternally) himself.

Throwing Others Under the Bus

We all run around these days yelling in so many ways and in so many different versions, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) And you know who said that common phrase? Cain. A person (sadly the first of many) who was able to slay his own brother for personal gain. He killed his brother to get his possessions and to prove that he didn’t have to do things God’s way. And, what, we want to be like Cain? We want to offer up our version of what God asks because Satan asks us to do it that way?

This sounds quite harsh. But there is no gray area here. Either we serve God or we serve Satan. When we become selfish and entitled and believe we are serving ourselves, we are actually serving Satan. Satan was the master of selfish action. Satan threw us all “under the bus” by pitching the idea that we didn’t need free will (Moses 4:1-4). Taking way our free will would take away our ability to choose to become godly. Taking away our free will would ensure that he, Satan, could rule and have all the power. If none of us could choose to become like God, then no one but Satan could have that power. Or, at least that was his plan and idea. A plan which God, who desires to share His power with all of us, would never condone.

For his selfishness, Satan lost any chance he ever had to have the power he wanted. And, likewise, as we extort others for selfish reasons, as we place stumbling blocks in exchange for perceived attention, glory, power, money, self-satisfaction, image, independence, etc., we too will find that we end up with far less of what we want. We will find that others, who act in consideration of their fellow men, always end up with the confidence, power, peace, and joy that seems to forever escape us no matter what worldly heights we reach. Wickedness never was [permanent or lasting] happiness (Alma 41:10).

The Cain Effect

It’s all over social media, the news, TV shows, etc. People emotionally, psychologically, and materially “slaying” their fellow man for their own gain (of whatever sort it may be). They bribe, extort, manipulate, abuse, threaten, and secretly act in ways that they feel establish their identity, make them feel good about who they are, get them the attention or popularity they want, etc. all at the expense of others. Little do they know the philosophy they have adopted is the “gospel of Cain,” or the “gospel of Balaam.” Neither of which are examples that, if they read the story and understood it, they’d want to follow.

I like to call it the “Cain Effect.” Cain thought he was a great mastermind. He thought it some great secret to extort (even to murder) another in order to “get gain.” But, it never was and it never has been a great secret. Gangs, secret combinations (i.e. groups that bribe, extort, threaten, and manipulate to gain or maintain power of many sorts), political factions, false religions, and conspiring men use the same secret. It is all based on the idea of turning others into a means to end—to “get gain.” And it is done so slyly that it often is made to look noble and acceptable, or indeed even an “only way” to get what we want.

I Would Be My Brother’s Keeper

There is an LDS hymn that talks a little bit about the true doctrine of accountability for our fellow men. It’s not about being responsible for others choices. It’s about being responsible for us. It’s about following Christ. It’s about loving God and in consequence of that love, loving our fellow men. It’s about selflessly considering others the way Christ selflessly gave His life for us. It’s about denying ourselves some of the things we think we want and need that we might love God, and follow His example in loving our fellow men.

Lord, I Would Follow Thee

Savior, may I learn to love Thee, walk the path that Thou hast shown

Pause to help and lift another, finding strength beyond my own

Savior, may I learn to love Thee. Lord, I would follow Thee.

 

Who am I to judge another, when I walk imperfectly?

In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see.

Who am I to judge another? Lord, I would follow Thee.

 

I would be my brother’s keeper; I would learn the healer’s art

To the wounded and the weary I would show a gentle heart.

I would be my brother’s keeper. Lord, I would follow Thee.

Savior, may I love my brother, as I know Thou lovest me

Find in Thee my strength, my beacon, for Thy servant I would be

Savior, may I love my brother. Lord, I would follow Thee.

Conclusion

My challenge to anyone who reads this blog post is to examine your lives. Is the Cain Effect present anywhere in your life? Has the false doctrine of Balaam seeped in somewhere? Is there anywhere in your actions where you selfishly “throw others under the bus” so that you can get what you want with some perceived noble intention? Do you engender selfishness and entitlement in areas that cause you to extort, manipulate, or objectify your fellow man? Are you feeding God’s lambs as He has asked, or are you maiming them so that there’s no competition for your personal ambitions?

We are our brother’s keeper. We do not ever hold accountability, ultimately, for what others choose. But we are responsible for us. For what we do and why we do it. And God has commanded us to “keep” and “care for” our fellow men, and to “love one another as He has loved us.” Our heart, our intent, our actions…we are responsible for those things, and for who we become as a result of them.

BT

A few weeks back I wrote I blog called: The Stages of Prayer. This blog is about The Next Step.

Meaningful prayer, I have found, seems to be far more difficult for orthodox religions. This is because prayers of worship and the words of ordinances must be exact to be correct, and thus the idea of wrote prayer and checking off lists and removing personality and feeling often comes as an unintended result of tradition. And generations of such tradition often blur meaning and we forget to explain and teach critical doctrine. We turn God into a God of meaningless perfection and checklists instead of a personal God, who is our Heavenly Father (not a casual God, however…personal and casual are not the same thing).

The dilemma today is to return God to His personal (not casual) nature in our minds so that we might actually communicate and receive comfort, peace, guidance, and direction from Him. In a way, we’ve sort of turned our prayers into graven images (our versions of God’s command to pray) that are creating a barrier to us actually communing with Him in a meaningful way.

Why We Pray

Conveying information. That’s one of the reasons we talk. But, in reality, there is very little we can tell those who know us well and who love us that they can’t already see written on our faces or in our actions. They know when we’re angry, sad, mad, upset, stressed, happy, elated, excited, and peaceful. So, conversation with them serves what purpose? For what reason do we talk with close friends and family members if not to convey information?

We talk to those we trust to strengthen our bond with them. To gain validation for our feelings. To feel understood. We talk to them to puzzle out and define our feelings. We talk through problems with them out of a need to “let it out.” Sometimes, it’s talking things out that makes meaning and reason more clear to us. Sometimes, it’s while talking and reasoning with a close friend or family member that we have “ah-ha” moments and we, by talking and thinking, figure out our feelings and solutions to our problems.

God wants us to pray to Him. Not because He needs information. But because there is no one we can trust more. Because there is no one who can help us reason through our struggles better. Because there is no one who can validate us better. Because there is no one who can give us as much peace and understanding. God loves us. Thus, He wants us to pray to Him—to talk with Him. He knows everything we are thinking and feeling and want and hate. But, He wants us to work through those feelings with Him. He is the perfect confidant and the best source of guidance and advice.

Prayer is About What We Feel

When do you send a thank you card? When do you call up your friend, parent, sibling, or trusted associate to convey gratitude? When you feel it.

When do you express sorrow and regret for someone’s loss? When do you say sorry for things you’ve done in error? When do you get on your knees and beg for forgiveness? When you feel it.

When do you ask for help from others? When do you humble yourself and seek advice external to your own brain and personal resources? When do you plead for help with work, school, relationships, and trials? When you feel it.

How would it be if every time we talked to our best friend we had a compulsory list we said, by wrote, before we could talk to them about what we really wanted to talk to them about.

Hi Jane! Thanks for being my friend. Thanks for helping me last week. Thanks for getting me through that tough time two months ago. Wait, we can talk in a minute, just let me finish

Do we do that with God? I know I have for many years and He’s been patient with me. But the more I ponder prayer, the more I realize that such a thing is talking at God and not with Him. It’s not bad, it’s good. It’s some days even a very good list of things I have been grateful for in the past (sincerely)…however, they aren’t actually the things I feel as deeply grateful for that day. So, do I have to include them? If I don’t, will God somehow curse me in those areas? I think not.

Christ gave us a formula for prayer. But, I don’t believe He ever meant us to follow that formula as rigidly as we do, and with as little feeling as we do. I believe Christ wanted us to address God reverently and then express gratitude for what we feel most grateful for. Not to rattle off the same list every day. Not to say thank you for something just so that we can be assured He won’t allow something bad to happen in that category. God wants sincere gratitude. Not a compulsive list.

I believe Christ wanted us to ask forgiveness for those things that we genuinely we feel badly for. But, I don’t believe He wants us to go on and on and on, berating ourselves, self-deprecating, and groveling. I believe He wants us to repent when we feel we have something to repent of, not to rehash sins we are already deeply working on that we were successful on that day. Feelings…

I believe God would rather hear about what is really on our mind than a very good, even better, or best list we have of things in cue for Him to take care of. Things we’ve prayed for sincerely in the past weeks and months that we throw in “for good measure.” God wants to know what is closest to our heart today, this morning, right now. We aren’t conveying information, we are counseling with our Dearest Father, Truest Friend, Most Trustworthy Confidant. We are counseling with Him to come to better understand ourselves.

Using Meaningful Wording

There are some words, phrases, emoticons, and even abbreviations that we use every day that lose meaning in the overuse of them. We use the word “love” for everything from a color, an outfit, to food, and then turn around and use it in our deepest, most heartfelt expressions of devotion to our loved ones and God. Do we use it so much that when we use it, it no longer means what it should?

Bless the missionaries. Help us take this lesson into our hearts. Help us get home safely. Bless the food. Help me to have the Spirit…

When we talk with others, do we have phrases that we know what it means with those people, but outside of that context it loses meaning?

Meaningful: significant, valid, worthwhile, sincere, serious, and telling (i.e. revealing).

Do we throw phrases into our prayers without thinking because they are common, used by others, and have a general meaning? Look at those words: common, used by others, general meaning. Is that how we address God, our Father in Heaven?

God does not want flowery, pretentious wording in our prayers. But He does want the words we use to have significance, validity, sincerity, and to reveal to us our true feelings about the things we are counseling with Him about.

Whether we’re at home, praying over meals, engaging in family prayer, or praying in Sunday School or other class on a Sunday, it’s important to consider our true objective in praying and use meaningful words and phrases to express our desire to receive and to act.

Our Prayers Directly Reflect our Relationship with God

If our prayers are meaningful, then I find that our relationship with God is real, raw, genuine, and sincere. It has been my personal experience, and my observation, that the more real, genuine, telling, and meaningful our prayers, the more real, genuine, telling and sincere our relationship with God is. If we have tried and tested God through the years, our prayers reveal (tell of) our faith in Him. If we have received comfort, testimony, peace, and validation from God through the years, our prayers reveal (tell of) our confidence in receiving more of such peace. If we have received miracles, our prayers reveal our confidence in God’s ability to grant yet another one. If we have received critical answers and witnesses, our prayers reveal our belief that more will come and can be had at God’s hand.

A casual prayer reveals a casual relationship with the Almighty. And that relationship can change from prayer to prayer, day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. Relationships (as the wise know) require constant care. We may be casual one day and on our knees, pleading the next. But, it would be much more ideal if day-to-day we strove to have meaningful prayer and to maintain a meaningful relationship with God.

The status and understanding of our relationship to God is often the biggest disconnect we have in prayer. If we see Him incorrectly, or if we do not know Him as we ought, our prayers will reflect that.

Simply Saying Prayers is Different from Engaging in Meaningful Prayer

If we look to scripture for examples of meaningful prayer, we find a pattern for exactly what meaningful prayer entails.

I suggest each of you review the following: Joseph Smith-History 1:8-10; Enos 1:2-5, 19; Alma 22:3, 5-6; 3 Nephi chapters 17-19; Luke 22:41-42

In these passages there is a clear and consistent pattern of what meaningful prayer looks like:

  1. Serious reflection prior to the prayer
  2. An object in praying or a specific desire/feeling generated the prayer
  3. Prayer was offered meaningfully directly focusing on the desire/object
  4. Object/desire was sought with intent to act on knowledge/blessing received
  5. Individual acts on knowledge received and testifies of the testimony gained

In in April 2008 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (bi-annual world conference of church), Elder David. A Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave an address titled “Ask in Faith.” In this address he defined meaningful prayer in several ways:

Ask in Faith = express + do

Ask in Faith = plead + perform

Ask in Faith = communicate + act

Ask in Faith = inquire + do

Meaningful Prayer = holy communication + consecrated work

He counseled: “Pray with the expectation to act and not just to express.” For example, we often ask God to bless the missionaries or to help the sick or to comfort the weary. We express our desire for Him to care for these individuals. Yet, we do not ask for the guidance to be a part of the action. Elder Bednar then counseled:

If we would truly pray and ask in faith…our prayer of faith might include some of the following elements

Asking for courage and boldness to open our mouths and share the gospel with our family and friends.

  • Entreating Heavenly Father to help us identify individuals and families who will be receptive to our invitations to be taught by the missionaries in our homes.
  • Pledging to do our part this day and this week for help to overcome anxiety, fear, and hesitation.
  • Seeking for the gift of discernment—for eyes to see and ears to hear missionary opportunities as they occur.
  • Praying fervently for the strength to act as we know we should.

The Purpose of Prayer is to Become Like God

Aside from all that’s been discussed, I return again to the purpose of life. Our entire reason for being on the planet earth is so that God (through the use of our agency) can help us become like Him. Thus, when we go to Him in prayer, that which He desires to lead us to is His plan. Yes, He cares about our worries, our problems, our jobs, our education, and our relationships. But, if we remember that when we go to Him, to counsel with Him, that His end goal is to help us become like Him, that will broaden our scope of understanding and increase our ability to understand His will and guidance in our lives.

We are not on our knees to convey information. We are not on our knees to get that sports car we want. We are not even on our knees to get that job we want. We are on our knees to find out how God can take us from where we are, presently, to becoming like Him. That, in and of itself, means that the job we want may not be the one God wants us to have. It may mean going back to school. It may mean undoing a lot of the things we’ve been working for. It may mean doing more than we thought we had to, to go in a direction we had not previously imagined.

To make prayer meaningful, we have to be there to counsel with Him, and to ultimately seek His will of how we might act to progress in His designs to help us become like Him.

In the Bible Dictionary (scriptures.lds.org) we read:

Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with one another. Humble, earnest, and persistent prayer enables us to recognize and align ourselves with the will of the Father.

Additionally we learn:

The object of our prayers should not be to present a series of requests, but to secure for ourselves and for others the blessings that God is eager to bestow, according to His will and timing.

Conclusion:

Honest prayer. Once we arrive at true honesty in our prayers, meaningful prayer (prayer with the intent to act) is the next step. Prayer just might be the most important commandment of all. For with no connection to God, what good is all the rest? I challenge each of you to ponder meaningful prayer and to make the attempt to integrate it into your life.

BT

This past week I was pondering the difference between an idol and a graven image. They are far too often treated as one and the same. I felt strongly that they were different. But, above and beyond understanding the difference, I wanted a modern application. I wanted to know how we might make a graven image in our lives–unwittingly. As I continued to study Exodus (and not for the first time, mind you), ideas came to mind. But, it wasn’t until I sat down and had a discussion with my eldest son (as he was pondering a very similar question), that we both began to understand the fundamental differences better. This is obvious only one possible interpretation. But, I found it exceedingly reasonable, and relevant.

I often like to write several pages showing my thought process. But, today, I hope that sharing the brief vlog I posted on my YouTube channel the other day will be a nice change for you all. Enjoy!

When I was younger, I remember getting the idea (whether or not it was actually verbally taught to me that way) that if I kept God’s commandments, life would go fairly smoothly, according to plan, and that I’d have little trouble. I’m quite certain that in some way, some church leader or other said to me, “If you get married in the temple, everything will work out great,” and other such generalizations, when what they likely meant was, “If you keep the commandments, you’ll have the comfort and peace you need to get through all of life’s struggles.” But that’s not how I interpreted whatever it was they did say. I do not fault them. But twenty+ years ago, gospel generalizations were exceedingly common, and they are still more common than they should be today.

Now, realistically, if I’d taken the time to listen to my parents (who I’m fairly certain never taught me any such generalizations), paid closer attention to the examples all around me, measured what I’d heard to my experiences in reading the stories in the scriptures, I would never have allowed such a ridiculous notion to take root in my brain. Does not the story of Job clearly illustrate that the most righteous often suffer the most trial and struggles? To say nothing of Christ. Yet, somehow I failed to grasp the incongruous nature of something I was beginning to believe (and expect) versus what I was actually being exposed to. I was creating a belief framework that wasn’t accurate.

Despite the evidence all around me, I think my youth and youthful blindness allowed me to create an expectation for life and religion based on very cursory, and certainly not realistic, sentiments.

Common Faulty Religious Beliefs and Expectations

Many other such false expectations/beliefs plague many a religious soul. Though we are taught the scriptures and read them, in part, we somehow also fail to miss the fact that everyone the Lord calls to help Him is flawed, often has to repent, and often makes mistakes. We get the idea that God’s people, or at least minimally the leadership, are flawless and know and understand everything. We may also get the idea that since God has all the answers He will give them to us (and to church leadership) without any effort or seeking on our part (or their part). We believe, incorrectly, that we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge simply because He has it.

We may get the idea that the people that go to church and sit so neatly dressed in the pews never have problems. We may assume that those who seem to be most spiritually and doctrinally in tune have never made grave mistakes. We may form the incorrect notion that at a certain age doctrinal wisdom and ease of keeping the commandments will simply happen to us. We may form the silly idea that after a certain amount of time or trials that we will arrive spiritually and not have to work at it anymore. We may assume that studying the scriptures is something we have done (past tense) and that moving forward we will retain all the power and doctrine it once imparted to us. We may think that serving a mission will ensure we never fall away from the truth. We may assume that getting married in the temple will ensure we never divorce. We may think…and expect…many incorrect and false things that never have been true and never will be. But, for a time, we feel they are.

Coping Frameworks

When we have an expectation we then often naturally form a psychological coping framework. This framework is a system of relating to our environment that we lean upon. We use it to make sense of our world. It defines how we relate to our family, friends, acquaintances, members, non-members, kids, co-workers, etc. It defines how we approach, plan, and execute our lives. We expect things to happen a certain way or to exist in a specific way. And thus we define our lives around these expectations (whether false or true).

The foundation of our coping framework is the expectation or belief. This foundation may or may not be solid (or true). If our expectation or belief is untrue, and ultimately weak or unstable, then it will eventually crumble. It cannot stand because it is not true.

For example, when we get married we make the assumption that our spouse has committed to us and therefore will remain faithful to us. We may expect some troubles, but that covenant and commitment creates a safety net around our fears. We stop worrying that we may lose someone. We begin to form even more specified frameworks around the larger one. We begin to develop natural ways of communicating with our committed spouse. We learn how to compromise and live with this other individual. We develop a framework for juggling work, hobbies, and other pursuits in relation to this larger marriage framework. And, we base our framework on a fixed picture of our life. It does not usually have a lot of room for change. When changes happen, we have to break down pieces of our coping frameworks and replace them with new ones.

Imagine now that your spouse cheats on you and/or asks for an unexpected divorce when you thought everything was reasonably okay, or at least workable. This causes a complete demolition of your main coping framework. Your belief that marriage would ensure a commitment, that you wouldn’t lose this person from your life, has been completely demolished (from the foundation). Nothing in your life is left standing (or at least that’s how it feels), because you developed all of your other coping frameworks on top of and around this main one. It changes how you relate to your friends and family. It changes how you relate to romantic relationships. It changes (or has the potential to change) every other framework, because it is such a fundamental one.

When a framework is demolished, we lose the ability to trust ourselves, our environment, and others. Everything we thought we once knew (about ourselves, love, relationships, marriage, and this other person) is thrown into question. “Did he/she ever love me?” “Am I lovable?” “What did I do to make them stop loving me?” “Where did I go wrong?” “Is love a real thing?” “Is what I thought was love actually something else?”

The list of questions is endless. The reality is that very little has actually changed, but because our foundational expectations have been thrown out the window…expectations built upon false ideas…we begin to think everything is false. We begin to doubt everything because something we thought was true, or expected to be true, has ended up to not be true. This, is how a crisis of faith begins. Our false expectations and beliefs are NOT sufficient to withstand the drastic change because they were never correct to begin with.

When our foundational expectations and beliefs are true, drastic changes will certainly impact us deeply, and we’ll have struggles; but rarely does it result in a crisis of faith because our entire framework has not crumbled. Only some pieces of it waver, but not the solid, strong, bottom foundation.

Asian man and woman playing wood jenga game.

Crisis of Faith

A crisis of faith happens when something we thought was true appears to not be true for a time, or fails to be true, thus throwing into question our coping frameworks. And religious frameworks are incredibly foundational to personal identity, morality, goals, etc. When they seem to falter, we lose trust in past true experiences. We lose trust in our ability to tell what is true and what is false. We lose trust in others who may have influenced our beliefs, and so forth. We may often get angry at, denounce, or lose trust in God.

Religion, which is such a powerful, fundamental feeling and belief system, is particularly prone to what we call crises of faith. But, it usually has little to do with the actual religion itself and its doctrines, and far more with our incorrect perceptions, beliefs, and expectations formed in previous years or passed onto us incorrectly by other church-goers whom we have trusted. The doctrine itself is usually not the actual culprit. Sadly, it’s us. We have formed an incorrect expectation or belief in our minds and when it proves incorrect, and our coping framework crumbles, we no longer know what to do. We no longer know how to cope or relate to our world.

Crises of faith can also be caused by our own actions, or by mortality and mortal weakness itself. We stray morally and end up in a situation we never saw ourselves in. Our framework hadn’t planned for it. A natural disaster wipes out our home or brings death into our family. Another person(s) who we have had absolute trust and vulnerability with betrays us. We may begin to struggle with desires and inclinations that we never planned on having that have crumbled our spiritual/life “plans.” Suddenly, life is turned on its head and we, in spiritual vertigo, can’t seem to find right-side-up.

How to Get Through a Crisis of Faith

I wouldn’t have said this twenty years ago. But, now, I can. A crisis of faith is a good thing. Yes, a good thing. Why? Because it gives us a chance to correct our fundamental beliefs and expectations. It helps us to fix what is actually preventing us from spiritual progression. If we never come to a crisis, then we will never have the impetus to learn what we need to get straightened out so that we can become more like God and to understand His plan better. If we never came to a crisis, then we could never create a solid foundation upon which to endure all that life throws at us. We would simply continue to struggle, suffer, and drop into despair. We need such a crisis to fix our foundation.

We need not feel sheepish, ashamed, or even guilty at having a crisis of faith. We should own our crisis. “Hey, I’m in a crisis of faith right now!” We need to tell God about it. Not because He doesn’t already know, but because when we approach Him with it, He can comfort us, give us peace, and help us to feel loved even as we are still trying to put ourselves back together.

Once we own our crisis, we need to figure out what fundamental expectations/beliefs we have that have been turned on their head. What did we believe about God that has proven temporarily, or most certainly, to be untrue—or minimally that we have failed to understand correctly? What did we believe about members of the church that has proven temporarily, or certainly, to be untrue—or that we have failed to understand correctly? Church leadership? A certain prophet? The scriptures? Our family? A particular person in our lives? Temple covenants? Our weakness? Etc. ( I certainly cannot list them all.)

Remember, the crisis of faith serves a purpose. Its purpose is for you to correct, ultimately change, and strengthen your coping framework. Its purpose is to help you find the truth that you’re missing that’s ultimately preventing you from becoming like God, from spiritually progressing. It is a necessary piece of your spiritual journey. It is a spiritual mountain you have to climb before you can press onward.

After you identify the expectation/beliefs that have contributed to this crumbling of your critical coping framework, you can at last begin the healing process—the process of putting yourself back together—and creating a solid, firm, foundation. Seeking God, and using His process of finding truth, you can begin to re-evaluate your expectations and beliefs. You can heal what has previously alluded you and weakened your coping frameworks. You can assess the truth you’ve always known that’s still true and replace what you falsely believed with the correct knowledge. Truth is light and light chases away darkness (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23-25). I know it’s cliché, but the truth will set you free.

Don’t Abandon Anything Until You Know What to Abandon

Now, when we’re afraid and our life appears to be in complete disarray, there is a tendency to want to abandon everything and rebuild from scratch. With few exceptions, this is an incredibly unwise thing to do. If it’s only the plumbing infrastructure on your house that needs revamping, it makes little sense to take a wrecking ball to the entire edifice. The mental, emotional, spiritual, and mental cost does not heal the crisis damage, and will likely only make it worse. If it’s only one relationship that needs salvation or pruning, it makes little sense to burn the bridges all around you to everyone else. If it’s only one truth that you twisted, it makes little sense to discard all truth, simply because you’re afraid an in panic. Rash actions nearly always create more pain than peace.

Spiritual suicide is hardly more practical than physical suicide. To metaphorically slit your wrists and spiritually die in a dramatic display will no more help you than actual death. And trust me, I know how it feels to wish you could die—literally. But, the reality is, that feeling passes. You feel like you want to die only because you’ve put your trust and faith in false doctrines and you feel stupid, foolish. None of us like to feel the fool. But remember, your life is in shambles not because you’ve failed, but because at last you’ve come to a crossroads and a loving God wants you to build with a solid foundation.

You don’t need to divorce everything in your life in order to rebuild anew. You need to visit each piece of your life and belief systems, one at a time, and carefully educate yourself on where the incorrect expectations and beliefs are. Many of our false religious beliefs/expectations are interconnected with other very true ones. We must carefully extract the “spiritual tumors” from the very good spiritual tissue.

The reality is that most of what we feel to be true and have focused our life on is true. We need to realize that. If a few misunderstandings and false beliefs led us to places and problems we now feel ridiculous about or concerned about, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up. We should be grateful that this crossroads has finally come. We finally get to set ourselves straight and have a greater capacity to have joy, happiness, and peace in the future ahead of us.

So, here are the steps to getting through your crisis of faith:

  1. Own your crisis of faith
  2. Take your crisis of faith to God
  3. Remember the purpose of a crisis of faith is to replace false beliefs/expectations with true ones
  4. Identify the false beliefs/expectations that led to your crisis of faith
  5. Don’t abandon anything until you have carefully found the “spiritual tumors” and know what to let go
  6. Use God’s process for truth seeking to replace your false beliefs/expectations with true ones

Conclusion

God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Mormon 9:9). His truths never change. His doctrines never change. The only change is in us, or in the way we hear, learn, or interpret His truths. Others may unwittingly lead us astray. We may fail to give heed and to truly listen or observe truth. In the end, it matters very little where the inconsistencies, misbeliefs, and incorrect expectations originated. What truly matters, in the end, is if we use our crisis of faith to build a coping framework whose foundations are unshakeable. We do that by building upon true doctrine, true beliefs, and accurate expectations.

A crisis of faith is a good thing. It’s the beginning of a new day, a stronger foundation, and a life full of peace and joy.