Let’s first clarify what separation of Church and State means. It means that:

  • Those running for office do not have to be of a certain religion in order to qualify (nor should they be disqualified if they are of a certain religion)
  • The government cannot force its people to adhere to a certain religion (national or state religion) or prohibit the free exercise of religious beliefs
  • The government does not have the power to alter the beliefs of a religion

(Note: Obviously if a professed religion (we sometimes call them cults) interferes with inalienable rights and its practices go against reasonable law, the government is empowered to stop its illegal practices and ensure justice on the behalf of anyone wronged by its illegal practices.)

A lot of people think that separation of Church and State means that religions (whichever they may be) should not counsel their members on how to act politically, and should not openly take a stand on any political issue.

How anyone came to believe that this is what separation of Church and State means I don’t know. But, doctrinally, scripturally, and historically, God is very involved in both making law, commanding revolutions, aiding in the overthrow of wicked nations, setting up nations, and in commanding His prophets to tell the people when to take a stand on moral and political issues that will impact the spreading of His gospel.

The Old Testament alone (and it is not alone, as the other Standard Works support it) provides sufficient evidence that God is as interested in politics as He is in souls. Why? Because the governing of nations directly impacts souls. Wicked kings tend to create wicked, idolatrous nations. Wicked systems of judges tend to empower secret combinations. And so forth. God always has quite a strong opinion on who should be in power. Whether elected, born to power, or dictator, God always offers to any leader a covenant: follow Me and you’ll prosper, spurn Me and you and your line will be destroyed. Every book of scripture is replete with such spiritual ultimatums to rulers of nations.

In Amos 3:7 we learn that God won’t do anything without telling it to His prophets. In the Doctrine in Covenants 1:38 and 21:4-6 we learn that God speaks and gives counsel through His prophets and that their words are God’s words—literally. God upholds His prophets and their words are His words. Their counsel is godly counsel whether it is about morality, charity, or political issues. All worldly issues are issues of the soul with God. There is no issue that isn’t about your soul or my soul, everyone’s souls!

God is Our King

In Doctrine & Covenants 58:19-21 God says very specifically regarding the United States of America:

For verily I say unto you, my law shall be kept on this land. Let no man think he is ruler; but let God rule him that judgeth, according to the counsel of his own will, or, in other words, him that counseleth or sitteth upon the judgment seat.

He goes on to say that the only right to reign belongs to God (or Christ) and that we are subject unto the current governments only until Christ comes again. Therefore, all the laws that we can uphold that are God’s laws should be upheld for as long as possible. Only when the majority overrules God’s laws are we to “submit to the powers that be” until God commands otherwise, or comes to reign Himself.

If God is our true king, how could we imagine that in His perfect, just, merciful, and loving nature that He would not attempt to guide the politics of the nations in which we live? How could we imagine that He wouldn’t ask His prophets, His mouthpieces on the earth, to counsel us in the ways in which God would have us vote that He might bring about His great and eternal purposes?

What benefit is there to our prophets to counsel regarding political issues if the revelation to do so didn’t come from God? None. For the prophets nearly always counsel “against the grain” of society. They almost always counsel us to stand for issues that are not popular, which are ridiculed, and which bring persecution (to them and to us).

In Helaman 13:24-28 we read:

Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time.

And now, when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.

Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord…ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil…

But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no inquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet. Yea, ye will lift him up…because he speaketh flattering words unto you…

We need only to read the scriptures and educate ourselves to recognize that God always speaks through His prophets. He always asks them to preach things which aren’t popular. He always asks us to follow them. And rejecting prophets has always led to destruction.

We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet

The blessing and gift of a prophet of God on the earth is priceless. Yet, we take it daily, hourly, minute-by-minute for granted. For us they have always spoken. We have never known a world without a living prophet. We have never known a world without apostles and priesthood keys and authority. We have never known a world without saving ordinances.

In our comfort with having First Presidency messages in every monthly Ensign magazine; with having bi-annual General Conferences, we sometimes forget that they are not on our errand, or the nation’s errand, or on the mainstream of society’s errand, but on God’s errand. They will always speak what God tells them to speak.

In general, the Church often stays out of political issues as our doctrines and stated beliefs should be sufficient for members to work with. We are counseled to vote our conscience and to be swayed strongly by our Christian beliefs. Thus, when our prophet does speak out and asks us to vote a certain way or to stand against a certain issue in a specific way, we can be certain the direction came from God and that this issue is important not only for the judgment of our nation, but for us. Whether we will follow the prophet in faith, as God has commanded, is the bigger issue…not so much the issue the prophet has given counsel and instruction on. If we doubt that any political counsel is from the Lord we can do two things:

  1. We can pray to know if the current prophet is the prophet and if God upholds him. Or,
  2. We can pray to know if the counsel the prophet has given regarding a political issues is the stance the Lord would have us take.

If we receive a witness, or a reminder, from the Holy Spirit that the prophet is the prophet than that solves the issue. If he’s the prophet then his counsel comes from God. Or, whether we like the counsel or not, or believe the prophet is inspired or not, if we receive a witness that it is still God’s will, then that solves both issues (because we know God is in agreement with the prophet).

Conclusion

As the world veers further and further away from God and His covenants and commandments we will see the prophets become more and more involved in offering political counsel. Not so much, I would say, to change the overall outcome of where our country is headed, but much more so that God might know who is with Him, or who is against Him. For, when it all comes down to it, the issues of today were the issues of histories past. And the issues yet to come will only repeatedly test our faith in God. And that faith will be shown by the answer we give to this question: “Do I listen to and follow the prophet?

We thank thee oh God for a prophet

To guide us in these latter days

We thank thee for sending the gospel

To lighten our minds with its rays

We thank thee for every blessing

Bestowed by Thy bounteous hand

We feel it a pleasure to serve Thee

And love to obey Thy command

BT

I think every God fearing person has asked themselves this question multiple times throughout their lives. It’s one a dear friend and I discussed some months back. And, while pondering the #dailydoctrine for today in Joshua 6, the memory of this conversation came back to me. Now, it may seem at first that I’m not addressing the question, but stay with me and I’ll bring it around.

In Joshua 6 we see the Lord telling Joshua and the Israelites how to conquer Jericho. It’s an extremely unconventional battle tactic. Jericho, who is already shaking with fear from hearing about the miracle of the parting of the waters of the Jordan River, is cowering behind its walls. Big walls, if all the ideals are true. And what does God say? He says, march around it a bunch, don’t speak a word. Just blow trumpets. Then, on the seventh day, march around it seven times and on the last time blow the trumpets and everybody yell and shout.

If I had been an Israelite during that time, I might have said,

Seriously? With all the known ways of conquering a city, this is what God is asking me to do? I know He just parted the Jordan for us and all, but now I’m confused. Why aren’t we taking ladders to the walls, throwing ropes up, or breaking a hole through with some pick axes? I know all sorts of ways God could get us in. I don’t see how stomping around the city and shouting like crazy people is going to make a difference. Seems silly. I think I could come up with some political peace talks with the rulers… Maybe it’s not God, maybe it’s the prophet? How can I be sure that Joshua hasn’t just lost his marbles? He is getting older, you know.

It’s quite easy in retrospect to see the ridiculous nature of all these questions. We know stomping, and shouting, and marching, and blowing trumpets worked. But, these questions are similar to the ones we ask when considering choices in our lives.

God’s commands and answers are, as this example teaches us, often unconventional. But the question is, why? What do we gain, as His children, from receiving and acting in faith upon such unconventional commands?

  1. First, we gain a clear witness that God is behind us and behind our path in life. If we do it His way, the unconventional way, and it works, we know whose power hath guided and blessed our lives. It gives us a memorial, a firm hook in our memories that we can look back on when other trials of faith are before us. We can look back and say, “that was of God and I can trust Him to lead me again” (Proverbs 3:1-2,5-10).
  2. Second, others watching us gain a witness of the God we follow, and that though His ways seem unconventional, or “the long way around,” or other things, they work. God instructs all of us to follow Him, and for those who have yet to hear His call to come follow me, the seeds are planted as they watch us follow Him (1 Nephi 18:11-22).
  3. Third, it teaches us just how much God knows that we do not. When we draw a straight line between two points, it looks straight to us, but in reality it’s winding or the ending point we have drawn to is not actually leading us where our heart really wants to be (Isaiah 55:8-9).

It is clear from the Jericho example, that God knew that the walls were unstable. Sure, God can knock anything down anytime He wants, but He doesn’t ever extend His hand to such measures if less will do. God is powerful but He is also efficient. Whether it was a sink hole deep in the earth, or a weakness in the foundation of those walls, God knew about it. No one else did. And, marching around the walls, stomping on that ground, and then using a great deal of vibration was sufficient to bring those walls down.

And, who looking on would see any less than a miracle? Who looking on might not for a moment wonder if the God of Israel was The God? An unconventional battle tactic, that appeared a bit interesting and odd, suddenly turned into the best possible idea to destroy the walls of the city rather than other methods. Genius! God’s hand was plainly evident! It was the right path, though it didn’t make sense at the time. It was the best path. It was the most direct course between the two points that God had drawn and which Joshua and the Israelites were willing to submit to.

InstagramQuotes522

So, now we come back to is, “How do we know if a choice before us is one that God wants us to take?”

While discussing with my dear friend, we came up with the following points about the paths that God leads us in and how to know if we are making choices that follow that path.

  • God’s path is always a path of resistance, the aim of which is to develop or increase godly attributes within us and strengthen our relationship with Him. He never connects the dots the way we do, and He often chooses an end dot/point that hasn’t even entered our wildest dreams.
  • God’s path rarely coincides with worldly or conventional wisdom. While we may be encouraged by the Spirit to use worldly resources wisely in our search for information and services, what the Lord eventually has us do with that information and those service tools is never exactly what we would have chosen or come up to do with on our own.
  • God’s path is not about our arriving at some future stasis or comfort. It is about providing us the resources we need to learn about Him, become like Him, and help others to learn about Him and become like Him.
  • God speaks through His prophets. We may be tempted to think they are out of touch or misled, but if we follow their counsel we will be shown that it is God’s counsel and will for us (Amos 3:7, Doctrine and Covenants 1:37-38).

Ultimately peace is the one thing the world, and Satan, cannot duplicate
(John 14:27).

We can do what seems to sound right to other people, what makes the most sense to us, what the world agrees with, and even with what we can imagine is possible. But, ultimately, though these ways may be exciting, or even fulfilling for a moment, they won’t grant us peace.

On the other hand, we can do what God’s prophets counsel us to do even though it doesn’t make sense with worldly wisdom, we can choose to trust the feelings or promptings we’ve had that sit well in our gut; though they take us down a path we can’t completely see the end of or even imagine how it ends. And despite the unknown in these paths, the trials, the struggles, and even the ups and downs, we will have peace that we are on the right track.

Everyone gets answers from God differently. But, I do believe that peace means that something sits well in your gut. It’s not a pillar of light or an earthquake. It’s a center of spiritual gravity that keeps all the rest of life’s turmoil and persuasions from pulling you off firm, godly ground…if you trust it. And, we each learn to identify that deep, small, part of our gut that simply says, “Trust me on this.” And, we don’t like to trust it. It’s scary to trust that feeling sometimes. But, trusting it leads to peace.

On our journey to learning to identify that gut feeling and to trust in that peace, this example from Joshua 6 can teach us so much about how to see how God works with us, what He’s like, and how to know if our path, our choice, is that which He would have us follow.

BT

The word mainstream means: the ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional; the dominant trend in opinion, fashion, or the arts.

Now, let’s put this sentence together and see how it makes you feel.

God conforms to the ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional, and He submits to the dominant trend in opinion, fashion, and the arts.

How did this sentence make you feel? If it didn’t feel right, why? If it felt uncomfortable to you, why?

I find it interesting that some Christians, even Latter-day Saints, are starting to entertain or adopt the idea that God’s gospel and church should, or eventually will, join the mainstream beliefs of the world. Simply because the knowledge of man has changed course and it seems to make sense to them, they automatically assume that somehow it hasn’t made sense to God and now suddenly God, Himself, will come around and make a change (Isaiah 55:8-9). “The Brethren will come around,” they say, “Policies will eventually catch up with reality,” they say.

Such Christians, I suggest, have not studied the scriptures, or if they have, they ignore the portions they don’t like and only adopt or preach the pieces they do like. As well, a study of the scriptures would also reveal that many societies have become as we are now, adopting and condoning all that we are currently adopting and condoning—in the name of enlightenment—and those societies eventually fell. Eventually God’s justice was served after such societies were unrepentant.

Such Christians, I suggest, are being “lulled carefully away” (2 Nephi 28:21). They have forgotten the doctrine, or never completely understood it, and thus, bereft of truth they are easily persuaded by others and led away—carefully—into other paths.

Come Follow Me—Literally

Many Christians misunderstand Christ’s invitation to “come follow me.” Though He invites all to come unto Him, and none are rejected (2 Nephi 26:33), He has specific conditions for following Him. To be a follower of Christ is to emulate Him in every way, not just in most ways, or in a few ways. To “come follow Him” means far more than saying we like Christ and giving His works in one section of scripture a thumbs up. It means far more than agreeing with much of what He taught. To “come follow Him” is to accept the call to “be like Him.” It is not a partial call, something that sounds nice or looks good on our wall. It’s not a piece of us that we give, it’s all of us.

Many Christians also misunderstand that God’s church is not a club. While all can join, they must join (or the act of joining is) based upon the God’s conditions; and only if they wish to embrace the process to become like God are they truly joining. Otherwise no matter what they may say, they are not God’s people (Matthew 7:21-22).

God’s church and kingdom is not for sale, it cannot be manipulated or altered to fit our few disagreeing points; it is not for everyone, even though all are invited. And simply because God has conditions that are hard for us to meet does not mean that He is excluding us. It means that He is teaching us that “His way” is available to us, but if it is not “our way,” then we can’t change it to be our way simply because we still want the label: Christian. If we want the label it comes only by meeting the conditions Christ has given. If we alter or ignore some or all of those conditions, we are something else than we profess to be. Our God is us or the person’s opinions to which we cling to as our personal mores.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is about faith, repentance, and baptism, which baptism signifies our intent, indeed our desire to follow Him, emulate Him, and become like Him. Baptism is about taking upon us the name of Christ, literally. To become part of His family is to seek His grace in the process of learning to emulate Him. Baptism is a gate that is as much a responsibility as it is a privilege. Baptism is not something we enter into just to be included, or to not feel excluded.

In fact, God’s church and kingdom are about sanctification and exaltation—to become as God is.

And, if we are to be frank, godhood is not for everyone. Not because they aren’t invited to pursue it, but because they don’t desire it. Other things are more important to them. Thus, to protect and preserve godhood (Doctrine and Covenants 88:34-39), God has established ordinances and covenants which separate out those who want to become godly and those who don’t.

The Path to Godhood is Not Exclusive, it’s Divisive

Many people get angry these days and condemn God’s church and leadership for being exclusionary. The policies, commandments and restrictions on ordinances, they say, are prejudiced, influenced by antiquated ideals, and hateful. Everyone, they say, if they really love each other, should be able to get a temple marriage. Everyone should be able to get baptized without restriction of any kind (lessening the sacred nature of Baptism, by the way, and making it a commodity to be purchased with ease). Everyone should be able to do all of the same things, etc.

However, what these people (many Latter-day Saints included) fail to remember or learn is that God’s commandments and policies for His church are in no way exclusionary. They are divisive—something that divides and separates. Think wheat and tares. Those who truly desire to become like God choose to meet the conditions for membership and the reception of specific ordinances and covenants. Those who don’t truly desire to become like God don’t meet the conditions for membership and/or the reception of specific ordinances and covenants.

Who God is and what He is like is the great dividing factor. We join only if we wish to be as He is. And to be like Him we are asked to sacrifice not only a few things, but everything. We are asked to lose our life that we might gain it (Matthew 16:25). We are asked to even choose God over family, if it comes down to it (Matthew 10:34-39). Abraham was asked, and had to be willing, to give his only son by Sarah to God (Genesis 22:12). God had to come first, even to someone as righteous as Abraham. No one is excluded from this condition to “have no other gods before [God]” (Exodus 20:3).

God gave His Only Begotten Son for us (John 3:16) to give us this mortal opportunity to attend godhood school (as I like to call it). We attend class every day whether we realize it or not. Ultimately, to pass has little to do with the success of our efforts. It has everything to do with our inner self, our inner desires, our intent in our efforts, and our heart.

We are asked to give everything up for Him: our temper, our possessions, our entertainment, our weaknesses, our addictions, our monetary resources, our genetic struggles, our infirmities, our psychological issues and needs, our relationships, our anger, our need for revenge, our hurts, our love, our heart, our mind, our soul…everything. We are asked to give it all because only God can matter; only being like Him can matter to us—above all else—before we can conquer all.

Have a struggle, weakness, problem, sin, or issue that you want to conquer? The first step is making God and His plan for you more important; to desire Him and His will more than you want anything else. Learn to find that and you will begin to find power to transcend anything.

When God comes first, all else finds its proper place in our lives…naturally.

Christ’s Atonement Allows Us to Become, Not to Conform

A serious study of the scriptures (Bible, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price) reveals very clearly that God has always been a god of law, consequence, ordinances, commandments, covenants, justice, and mercy. He has never conformed to the practices of any society merely to be accepted or liked or even wanted. God doesn’t worry about everybody liking Him. What He does worry about is all of His children learning what He is like and how they can become like Him. Everything…everything He does is to that end. That He works with our cultures as He slowly helps us to rise above them is not the same as making cultural and mainstream norms acceptable.

All that God does, ALL, is to help us learn about Him, what He is like, and how to become as He is.

Against The Mainstream

The plan of salvation is not about making us merely good. With very few exceptions, every person ever to walk this earth was comprised of more good traits than evil, more weaknesses and struggles than a desire to be truly wicked or evil. The plan of salvation is in place primarily to help us achieve godhood. If we choose not to embrace this path, there are other paths and kingdoms of glory. But ultimately, grace (the atonement of Jesus Christ) is about granting us a spiritual scholarship and a temporary physical home in which to prove to ourselves if we ultimately want godhood or not.

That’s what this life is about. That’s what ultimately matters.

Could we truly suppose that Christ suffered in an infinite and eternal way simply to let us run around and have a good time down here on the earth; to enjoy a mortal vacation? Would God have given His only begotten Son (John 3:16) merely so we could succumb to our weaknesses, give in to temptations, give a half-hearted effort, even make a mock of the gifts of our physical bodies and lives, just so we could do things our way? I don’t believe so. The atonement of Jesus Christ is about God showing His love for us that we may believe in Him and embark upon the path to become like Him.

For me the atonement of Jesus Christ is so incredibly powerful, so immensely full of love and mercy, so priceless and eternal, that to offer such perfection for anything less than our potential to become like God would have been sacrilege, and indeed worthless. And so it is if we refuse to any extent the fullness of its capability to change, perfect, and sanctify us.

To say God should make us like Him with any mortal caveats or demands is ridiculous. Because what we are asking is for God not to be God. We are asking Him to alter His nature so that we might perpetuate ours.

To say that God should change His own nature that we might feel more comfortable in His presence is laughable. To ask God, indeed to expect God to give up His own celestial glory and become “mainstream” that we might not have to work so hard, or sacrifice so much, or endure so much, or have what we want now is pride and selfishness at its most satanic level. For that is what Lucifer demanded of God (Moses 4:1-4). Lucifer (i.e. Satan) wanted God would give him His power and glory without having to become godly himself. He wanted God to become “mainstream.”

Summing Up the Issue

  • Learning to love people where they’re at spiritually, despite their addictions and weaknesses and struggles and sins…that is Christlike.
  • Letting people believe how they wish and letting agency and consequences teach them…that is Christlike.
  • Supporting those we associate with and love to the best of our ability without altering our own testimonies and standards…that is Christlike.
  • Not manipulating or attempting to micromanage a person’s spirituality…that is Christlike.

However, assuming that all these spiritual advances in ourselves (and in the church) now means that God is suddenly going to change the conditions of godhood…that is foolish (2 Nephi 9:28).

We can’t make God or use God as a means to get what we want. We must learn to want God more than we want anything else.

C.S. Lewis states it best in his book, The Great Divorce, when the brother of Pam (who lost her son Michael to premature death when he was a boy), who has been sent to lead her God if she will but let go of an unrighteous and unhealthy love, says:

“Don’t you see you are not beginning at all as long as you are in that state of mind? You’re treating God only as a means to Michael. But the whole thickening treatment consists in learning to want God for His own sake.”

“You wouldn’t talk like that if you were a Mother,” says Pam.

“You mean, if I were only a mother. But there is no such thing as being only a mother. You exist as Michael’s mother only because you first exist as God’s creature. That relation is older and closer. No, listen, Pam! He also loves. He also has suffered. He also has waited a long time.”

“If He loved me He’d let me see my boy. If He loved me why did He take away Michael from me? I wasn’t going to say anything about that. But it’s pretty hard to forgive, you know.”

“But He had to take Michael away. Partly for Michael’s sake. . . .”

“I’m sure I did my best to make Michael happy. I gave up my whole life….” says Pam.

“Human beings can’t make one another really happy for long. And secondly, for your sake. He wanted your merely instinctive love for your child (tigresses share that, you know!) to turn into something better. He wanted you to love Michael as He understands love. You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God. Sometimes this conversion can be done while the instinctive love is still gratified. But there was, it seems, no chance of that in your case. The instinct was uncontrolled and fierce and monomaniac. (Ask your daughter, or your husband. Ask your own mother. You haven’t once thought of her.) The only remedy was to take away its object. It was a case for surgery. When that first kind of love was thwarted, then there was just a chance that in the loneliness, in the silence, something else might begin to grow.”

What C.S. Lewis is teaching in this fictional account is that all that we are, all that we love, is in place to lead us to a love for God. Every challenge, every weakness, every trial, every bane, every struggle, every blessings, every talent, every gift… That love for God will lead to obedience and covenant-keeping, and that covenant-keeping meets the conditions for a fullness of grace—the kind of grace that doesn’t simply cleanse sin or resurrect our body, but the kind of grace that goes beyond that and makes us into a godly creature (mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually). The atonement of Jesus Christ can overcome any weakness, any tendency, any deformity, any psychology or feeling that is not godly.

Thus, God is never mainstream, because He’s not asking us for conformity to our mortal issues and short-sighted ideas. He’s asking us to transcend them, to see beyond them, through His gospel and His grace.

If we want to be mainstream…we can. Our agency is paramount to God. But, we can never expect God to become mainstream, or assume that His gospel will eventually become mainstream; nor should we demand it of Him or those that follow Him. We should only measure our own desires and decide if we would become like God, if we would invite others to do so, or if we would prefer to be mainstream.

God doesn’t change. It is only us who change…for the better, or the worse. God has never been mainstream and He never will be.

BT

When I was younger I was pretty good at basketball. When I was in seventh grade I started on the eighth grade team. When I was a freshman I played varsity.

For some reason, this talent led many of the girls on my team to dislike me. Because of this dislike, I was often left to myself on bus rides, picked on once in a while at practice, and sometimes other subtle forms of dislike were exercised against me. I nearly always felt awkward, embarrassed, and  alone even though basketball was one of my favorite things. Sometimes this dislike even affected game play.

One night on a late bus ride home, I was sitting by myself in the back of the bus feeling miserable. I was tired. It was after the game and was the end of a long day that began with early morning seminary. I felt so alone and I fought back tears.

In my mind, the words of a hymn suddenly appeared:

Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee

E’en though it be a cross, that raiseth me

…angels to beckon me, Nearer my God to Thee

Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee

Random words from the hymn answered what my heart was really feeling. I was wishing that I was away from that bus, somewhere closer to God. I knew in that moment that God was my friend. He cared about me. I wanted so much to be “near to Him.”

This moment to me was what I like to call a “golden moment.” I felt God’s love and I knew even if no one else cared about me, He did.

All of us have golden spiritual moments in our lives. Moments where our testimony is sure. Moments of immense gratitude. Moments of peace and comfort. Moments where we feel the Lord’s love and know He is aware of us. Moments when we have received an answer to prayer. Moments where we are granted the power to forgive, or to heal from a past wrong.

In Alma 5:26 we read:

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

Alma is asking us, in this verse, to look back on these golden spiritual moments. And he asks us, “Do we feel the same right now? Do we feel the impact and the power of those golden moments? Have we have a golden moment lately that we can think on?”

A Spiritual Maillard Reaction

One of my favorite things to eat in the world is golden-brown toast. And I like to toast bread that browns, or gets golden. It’s sort of disappointing to me if I put toast in and it comes up hot and dry but without that beautiful browning. Why is that so disappointing? Because all the flavor is in the browning. It’s the browning that makes eating the toast so wonderful.

This browning is actually caused by a chemical reaction called a Maillard (my-yard) Reaction. This is the same reaction that causes the browning on a marshmallow, in caramel, on a pie crust, and many other roasted, toasted, or baked foods. The Maillard Reaction is what makes them golden. And tasty.

This browning reaction is more likely to take place on non-acidic surfaces. Acidic foods, with a pH of 1-6 don’t brown, or at least not without a catalyst. Alkaline foods, with a pH of 7 or more brown. And in fact, we use alkaline substances as catalysts to help food get brown. We put egg washes on pie crusts and milk washes on breads before baking. If you want to caramelize onions quickly, you can sprinkle them with a little bit of baking soda.

Non-acidic, or alkaline/basic, substances act as catalysts. They increase the speed of the browning reaction. They can also cause a browning reaction where there wasn’t one before.

Sacred music, especially the hymns of the church, are the spiritual equivalent of a Maillard, or browning, reaction catalyst. Sacred music increases the speed at which a golden moment comes to us, or creates the possibility of a golden moment where there wasn’t one before. Sacred music is a spiritual catalyst for golden, testimony building moments.

In his 1994 conference address, Worship Through Music, Elder Oaks shared the following:

Last spring, some of our children and fourteen grandchildren had a family outing in the mountains. One of our activities was a meeting to share experiences. We gathered at the appointed time, but the little people were only gathered in body. The large spirits in those little bodies were clamoring for more of the exciting outdoor activities they had been enjoying.

The cabin where we met was too small to contain them, and it seemed as if a dozen restless children and their cries were ricocheting off the walls in every direction. I felt apprehension in trying to sponsor something serious in that setting. Suddenly, the instinctive wisdom of young mothers rescued our efforts. Two mothers began to sing a song familiar to the children. Others joined in, and within a few minutes the mood had changed and all spirits were subdued and receptive to spiritual things.

In this experience, we see that sacred music hastened the spiritual receptiveness of the children, and all in the cabin. It was a spiritual catalyst, increasing the speed with which a golden, spiritual moment became possible.

Catalysts, however, also have an opposite. They are called inhibitors. An inhibitor slows down or prevents a chemical reaction or process. It can reduce the activity of a catalyst, or even suppress it completely.

In food browning, the inhibitor is acid. Acidic foods don’t brown. And, when we attempt to brown them they often go from not brown at all to burnt, or minimally they become exceedingly dry, especially meat. The acid inhibits the browning, or golden reaction.

Though sacred music is all around on us a Sunday, and is available to us 24/7 in these modern days of ipods, mp3’s, online radio, etc., there are spiritually acidic behaviors, attitudes, and actions that can prevent the golden spiritual moments we all seek. Elder Oaks, in his address, suggests the following are spiritually acidic:

  • If a hymn is sung too slow at church it can inhibit the golden reaction
  • If a hymn is sung too fast at church it can inhibit the golden reaction
  • A lack of participation in hymn-singing, a lack of listening to a hymn, or not even mouthing the words, can suppress the possibility of a spiritually golden reaction
  • As a performer, if we become too caught up in entertaining or projecting our own talent rather than facilitating the Holy Spirit, we can inhibit a golden reaction
  • If the words of a song are doctrinally incorrect it can inhibit a golden reaction

It goes without saying that a great deal of the music we listen to outside of church, even if it has no purposefully evil intent, can and does inhibit our ability to have spiritually golden moments. Even a tiny bit of acidity (6.5 pH) can stop the golden, browning reaction.

Golden Spiritual Moments at Church

At church, our lack of participation in singing (or at least reading along or mouthing the words of the hymns) is perhaps the greatest inhibitor to our ability to have spiritually golden moments. In America (with some exceptions) we seem to lack heart and gusto in our singing. We often sing as if the hymns are a side-thought, like a plate of mediocre food that we have to swallow down. Or perhaps the hymns have become a tradition to us rather than a sacred privilege.

Elder Oaks related:

I stopped at a convenient ward meeting house and slipped unnoticed into the overflow area just as the congregation was beginning to sing these sacred words of the sacrament song:

Tis sweet to sing the matchless love

Of Him who left his home above,

And came to earth—oh wondrous plan—

To suffer bleed and die for man

My heart swelled as we sang this worshipful hymn and contemplated renewing our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. Our voices raised the concluding strains:

For Jesus died on Calvary

That all thru Him might ransomed be

Then sing hosannas to His name

Let heav’n and earth his love proclaim

As we sang these words I glanced around at members of the congregation and was stunned to observe that about a third were not singing. How could this be? Were those who did not even mouth the words suggesting that for them it was not “sweet to sing the matchless love” or to “sing hosannas to His name?” What are we saying, what are we thinking, when we fail to join in singing in our worship services?

When I have asked people why they don’t sing in choir, even when I have heard them sing and they can clearly carry a tune, I nearly always hear the response, “because I can’t sing.” And I always sorrow for the loss. Little do they realize the golden moments missed because they are focused on their performance, or their own talents. And the same applies to congregational singing. If our attitude is that we can’t worship because we don’t sound as good as someone else, we are placing the focus of our worship on ourselves, instead of on God.

Golden Spiritual Moments During the Week

In our day-to-day lives, during the week, there are many times when sacred music would much better bless our lives than even the best songs on the radio with good words. If we are seeking comfort, peace, answers to prayers, help to forgive, an uplift before dealing with a tough day at work or school; there is nothing more powerful than inviting the Holy Ghost into our mind and hearts through the catalyst of sacred music. Our whole day can be transformed as we are transformed (made golden) by sacred music. Our power to resist temptation and choose the right will be increased exponentially.

The Holy Spirit is powerful, but it’s presence in our lives is delicate. The “sweet spot” for the Holy Ghost falls in the golden area. We have to create an environment where He can comfortably dwell. We can upset the spiritual pH, or entirely suppress it without actively being evil. The Spirit is a personage of spirit, an actual being. His presence is conditional on us inviting Him to be with us by our thoughts and actions. We have to invite Him in. We do that quickly, and powerfully, with sacred music.

I see a lot of people who jam to iTunes while working out. And, there is nothing wrong with this. But, I can’t tell you how many revelations I have received while I have been working out, walking, and running. Some of the most powerful revelations and guidance I have received for my life in the last ten years have come during a long run or a long walk.

I tend to exercise in silence and ponder. My biggest hurts have been softened or silenced during these times. Sure, “rocking out” gives me a rhythm and sidetracks my mind from the annoyance and sometimes pain of trying to get healthy or stay in shape. But, I suggest that it’s something worth sacrificing since it can be replaced with something infinitely better—a golden spiritual moment.

Most recently in my life, sacred music has again saved me on some very desperately down spiritual, emotional, and mental days. It was counter to my feelings at the time to turn the sacred music on. I didn’t believe it would help. But, within moments it quieted my brain and set my thoughts down avenues where the Spirit could reach me. Sacred music is incredibly, and wonderfully, powerful.

Seek Out Golden Moments

The purpose of the hymns, music with a clear Christian focus, and all sacred music is to provide a spiritual catalyst that we might tune into the Holy Ghost and receive answers to prayers, comfort, a renewed shine on our deep testimonies, peace, messages of love from our Father in Heaven, and a number of other things we pray for daily. It’s not about us, it’s about God granting us those golden moments we seek. But first, we have to remove the acid of our attitude, thoughts, environment, or actions.

Elder Oaks also said:

Many have difficulty expressing worshipful feelings in words… Sacred music has a unique capacity to communicate our feelings of love for the Lord.

In Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 we read:

For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart, yea the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.

When we refuse to participate in the singing of hymns, we create an acid barrier inhibiting our ability to worship the Lord, our God. We refuse to offer Him one of His favorite avenues of prayer, praise, and worship. We refuse to make use of one of the most powerful ways to express our gratitude and love to God.

Sacred music is not only a powerful catalyst to the golden spiritual moments we crave, it has the power to draw us closer to God. Perhaps that is why when it works the moments feel so golden, because in that moment we are close, both mind and heart, to our Father in Heaven.

Elder Oaks concluded with this. He said:

We who have felt to sing the song of redeeming love need to keep singing that we may draw ever closer to Him who has inspired sacred music and commanded [not requested] that it be used to worship Him.

I don’t know about each of you, but I crave golden spiritual moments far more than I crave a good piece of buttered, golden toast. If you are hungry for such golden spiritual moments, as I am, then I hope you will renew your interest in participating in singing at church. I hope you will make more use of sacred music in your homes and in your cars and in your lives. I hope you will remove the acidic inhibitors and desire to worship and come closer to the Lord far more than you worry about the quality or talent in your singing voice.

I hope that if you have felt to sing the song of redeeming love in your hearts at any time in your lives, that you will remember those times and renew that feeling often.

Sacred music has saved my soul on countless occasions. It has kept me from sinking too deep into despair. It has reminded me of God’s love. The words have come to me when I needed comfort or needed a prayer but didn’t know exactly what words to offer. Sacred music has helped in the process of trying to make me more golden, more Christ-like. It can do the same for you.

BT

If you’re still puzzled by the concept of ministering, then I offer some things to consider which will drastically alter the perspective you have about this higher law. At least for me, these inspirational discoveries have changed how I feel because I finally feel like I have the power to act. Haven’t many of us, despite lesson after lesson and discussion after discussion, still pondered, “But, HOW DO I DO IT? How do I know I’m doing it? How do I do it better or differently than visiting and home teaching?”

So, what has helped me? My perspective of what ministering is supposed to look like has changed, and that has changed everything else and given me the ability to act with understanding and power.

What we perceive, believe, and think has an incredible amount of power to expand or limit our ability to receive personal revelation and guidance from the Holy Spirit. If we are wearing sunglasses, or an eye patch, our field of vision will be changed. Colors will be different. Peripheral vision will be challenged. So, what we think ministering is, how we picture it in our minds, has the power to keep us from ministering. So, our perspective has to change if we are grasp the “how-to”.

What Ministering Does NOT Look Like

In the past, visiting and home teaching was primarily focused around assigning two people as a “companionship” to watch over and care for a list of families/individuals of varying numbers. So, visiting and home teaching looked like this:

ministeringperspectiveNOT

The problem with this perspective is that time, culture, and tradition turned it into a one-way flow of service from the companionship to the assigned individuals/families. The question was always, “How can we serve you?” or “What can we do for you?” This question was delivered with differing levels of sincerity. Some, surely, truly wanted to serve. Others were secretly hoping the response included an easy form of service, or a “we’re good for now” response, because such responses absolved them of having to invest further time and thought…until next month. And these are not necessarily unrighteous or unloving people. We’ve all felt that way from time to time.

The problem with this perspective is also that somehow “watching over and caring for” got boiled down to only “how can we serve you,” and most other forms of love and ministering were never even considered (Yes, there are many more!). At times, the truly diligent were able to bust this system and actually love and minister. They did so because they thought outside-the-box and sought the guidance of the Holy Ghost, or at least were sufficiently open to its promptings. But these instances were rare as a whole.

What Ministering Does Look Like

Ministering is still begun by assigning a companionship people/families to minister to. This companionship with assigned people is to maintain order and to ensure that everyone is being ministered to. But, that is the end of any other similarity to visiting and home teaching. This is what ministering looks like:

ministeringperspective

Ministering power and authority comes from more than a companionship serving an individual or family. It is not a one-way flow of service. It is a circular flow, a radial flow of love between the component people and families.

That means ministering includes service with those to whom we are assigned. It includes those to whom we are assigned serving us. It includes inviting all within our circle to aid us, aid each other, or even to aid those with whom we may associate with outside of our “assigned” circle. It includes seeking the direction of God, through the Holy Ghost, as to which of these radial flows will best help us to increase the love and unity in our circle. We are not, and should never be, limited to service only in one direction.

Ministering also means that spiritual thoughts are not boxed or scripted. It means being in tune with the Holy Ghost through prayer, experience, and understanding so that spiritual thoughts shared are directly related to the spiritually perceived needs of our ministering circle; and/or are prompted by real discussions we’ve had with them.

Ministering also means that we ponder specific Christlike love tactics (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42) that we may be inspired to use either alone or in combination with the other radial flows of love.

If you study Christ’s ministry, you’ll will find that He ministered in five (5) clear ways. In fact, His service was rarely ever given unless someone had served Him first, or served by His side first, or He had invited them to talk with Him, or walk with Him, or to feed Him, or to follow Him, etc. It was then after these things that they came to Him with questions or needs. He served others during/while/after He had created opportunities for others to serve Him or with Him.

This is how the Savior ministered. He used all five of these flows (back and forth between Himself and all those whom He reached out to). He used His needs to invite others to serve with Him and to directly serve Him. Indeed, He used none of His powers to build Himself a home or to get an occupation to earn money to eliminate His needs. He felt no shame in receiving charity or help because it was never “about Him.” It was always about how He could use every aspect of His life to minister to others.

Christ never gave packaged or boxed sermons. He walked with, talked with, served with, and was served by all. In these interactions He followed the promptings of the Holy Ghost to share parables, ask questions, and give sermons that were applicable and needed. Christ’s service was always in direct relation to the needs others had—which He learned about through the other forms of ministering.

In all these ways/flows, Christ was able to use godly love tactics to discern gospel questions, bless others, and give kindness and service in return. And that means that if we want to minister as He ministered, we must use all five. We must learn to:

  1. Actively find ways (seek revelation) to gracefully receive from others, and use our needs to empower and learn the needs of those in our ministering circle.
  2. Actively find ways (seek revelation) to invite those in our ministering circle (not just our companion) to serve with us as we complete service to others (whether in our circle or without).
  3. Actively find ways (seek revelation) to have discussions with and understand what spiritual thoughts/testimonies we need to share with those in our ministering circle.
  4. Actively find ways (seek revelation) to be inspired—through all our other interactions with our ministering circle—as to what forms of service we can offer them.

Notice, clearly, that giving service is only ONE of the ways we minister. Service flowing from the companionship to the other members in the circle is only ONE of the directions that love and ministering can flow. True power in ministering comes from the unity we create by all of the other flows back and forth between each other. We create this back and forth unity by NOT focusing only on one direction for the love to flow or only on one type of ministering.

How To Know You Are Ministering

  • If you are learning to own up to your needs and to use them to let others serve you, you are ministering.
  • If you are learning to find opportunities to invite people to serve with you as you serve others, you are ministering.
  • If you are gaining experience and learning about others needs as they serve you or serve by you, you are ministering.
  • If you are receiving inspiration on ways you can help others during your interactions with them, and you follow that inspiration, you are ministering.
  • If you are receiving inspiration on thoughts you can share, testimonies you can bear, as you serve with and discuss with others, you are ministering.
  • If you are beginning to see ministering more clearly in the scriptures as you study them, you are ministering in your own life (or minimally, understanding it better).
  • If you find the structured visits/meetings you do make and the service you give are more inspired and more sincere, you are ministering.
  • If you are becoming more humble and better at gracefully admitting your needs and gracefully receiving help, you are ministering.
  • If you are beginning to see how much more unifying and genuine ministering is than visiting and home teaching, you are learning how to minister.

If you feel you still do not yet grasp the spirit of ministering, then I make three suggestions:

  1. Study the New Testament, praying both before and after to be able to understand better how to minister. Record any impressions you have during and after studying.
  2. Evaluate your life and eliminate anything that may be hindering you from the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. This may be anything from what you eat, how you seek entertainment, grudges you’re holding, and so forth. Pray for and work to remove these hindrances to the Spirit.
  3. Make lists of needs you have and ways that you can involve others in helping you eliminate those needs. Make lists of needs of others you wish to meet and ways you can involve others in helping you meet those needs. Make a list of needs that you can contrive that will allow you to invite others to help you. Make a list of things you know others might like and invite others to help you fulfill those wants/likes. Then, start acting on these lists.

I hope this is of help to some. It may be simply the way I think that it has taken me so long to wrap my head around ministering. But, I was determined not to let it become “the same” as before. And the only way to do that was to see it differently, to pay closer attention to what Christ did in His ministry, and then find a way to package it for my own life.

Best of luck to all of you as you rise up to minister with power.

BT

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