Location, location, location; this is the slogan for real
estate. But, it is also a doctrine for life. Location can be something
emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical. Where are you?
If you had to evaluate your current emotional
state, or location, how would you say you feel? What emotion would you prefer
to be feeling? How can you facilitate that emotion?
If you had to evaluate your psychological
progression and your own personality, where are you on the spectrum of
cognitive development, self-evaluation, self-honesty, and maturity?
If you had to give an account to God, today, of
your life and your relationship with Him, what would you say? What part of your
spirituality do you know you need to progress in?
Look around you at your room, your home, your
neighborhood, your job, your community; is there anywhere else you would rather
be? Do you have goals that can’t be reached where you are? Have you asked
yourself lately, where do I want to be? Is where I am leading me to my goals?
Where does God want me to be?
What is Your Location?
Travel, moving, relocation, scattering, and gathering are
all types of travel that God uses to teach us, refine us, save us, and to help
us progress in our relationship with Him. Sometimes He leads us to make a
change in our friends. Sometimes He allows things to take place which lead to
us needing a new profession, or, minimally, a new job. Sometimes that job takes
us to a different physical location for our home. Sometimes God allows things
to happen in our lives that make it possible for us to progress spiritually,
emotionally, and even psychologically. Otherwise, we might not move. And
movement is key to progression.
In Abraham 1:1 we see Abraham say, “I saw that it was
needful for me to obtain another place of residence.” After years of living the
gospel in a community (and family) that was idolatrous and prone to violence
and persecution, Abraham was nearly sacrificed by his own father and Egyptian
priests. Jehovah saves him and then tells him to get out of the land. It would
be preferable that our own physical lives were not in danger before we took the
hint to move, but often our psychological, spiritual, or emotional life is in
danger, and if we go to the Lord with an open heart and mind He will tell us to
“obtain another place of residence.”
In the Book of Mormon, in the book of Mosiah we see many
people inspired to search out the lands of their ancestors. A few feel inspired
to move there. After being there for a while, the children of these travelers
find themselves in bondage and slavery. In two instances, those who turned to
God were “led away secretly” to safety and peace. Some choose to leave home and
serve missions and are gone from their regular home for long periods of time—and
their travel changes them and blesses others.
Sometimes we are inspired to search out new places; and,
after visiting we feel a desire to be there and to make it our home. Sometimes
a negative environment leads us to open up our mind to the idea of relocating,
or of returning to a place that we lived before. Sometimes, in order to escape
a type of bondage, God helps us to leave a place safely.
I think it is a profound thing to realize that our locations
in all aspects of our lives matter to God and that He uses movement to help us
progress, to heal, to find room to grow, and to grow closer to Him. Often, God
has us “move” so that we can find safety and security and peace.
As we evaluate our many locations (emotional, psychological,
spiritual, and physical) we can ask God if we need to “travel” or “move,” and
if so, where. Are you ready to move? To progress?
Scattering and Gathering is a Spiritual Pattern
God’s use of physical movement to achieve spiritual growth
is documented throughout scripture. Moses left Egypt to learn and grow
spiritually that he might be prepared to move an entire people out of Egypt.
The Israelites came to a point where they needed deliverance from bondage in
order to have the opportunity to worship God and follow Him. In bondage they
were unable to fulfill their covenants. They had to move to progress.
When Israel gets wicked, God scatters them about—creating separation—that
they might learn and have a desire to repent and “return” or “gather together”
toward Him again.
It is natural to find scattering of children from the home
to adulthood as a bittersweet thing. But our natural propensity to set off on
our own and create distance between ourselves and our parents is a natural part
of individual growth. Changing location, being on our own, being separate is
part of learning how to return and be unified with our family in healthy and
God, Himself, created this earth, this location away from
His presence, for us to be scattered to that we might learn and grow, with the
intent to eventually become like Him and “return to Him.” We have been
scattered from heaven that we might learn how to be one with God and to be “gathered”
back home again.
We can use travel and movement in our lives to grow in
amazing ways if we use it with deliberate intent. It’s a power that God uses
and that under His guidance and influence we can use to create life-changing
experiences and to bring about personal and family miracles. Where are you located?
Where might you need to travel?
I’m going to share something that is very hard for me to
share. But, it illustrates my experience with this truth better than any other.
I started writing in the year 2000. I felt inspired to start
writing. It hit me like a ton of bricks. And so, I began. Primarily with
fiction. I started in 2000 what would eventually turn into a 4-book fantasy
series. Before finishing that and while writing many other fiction stories, I
attended writers conferences. I attended writing groups. I prayed for the gift
to write powerfully. I submitted my manuscripts to contests. I pitched before
agents. I fasted, I prayed, I researched, I looked for writing niches. I bought
every version of The Writers Market that came out for several years. I followed
all the advice. I honed and polished countless query letters—trying each time
for something new, unique, more honest, more catchy, more blunt, more of
whatever would get someone’s attention in the writing world. All, to no avail.
I loved writing. I still love it. But, one day, I came to
the conclusion that either it wasn’t God’s will for me to write, or that His
plan for me would take a different road than the one I was pursuing. I found
this so confusing. Because I felt so strongly the calling to write. And prior
to feeling that call to write, it’s important to note that it had never before
crossed my mind to try to be an author.
As a kid, I had loved the Scholastic Book Fairs. I loved
books that were fun to read. But high school reading and literature nearly
killed every ounce of that. I’ve since discovered class literature that isn’t
painful, but evidently my high school teachers didn’t know which ones those
were. What remained of my love of books and reading was reignited after
graduation after taking a job at Scholastic Books. I learned to love reading
again, while working there. But that was where it ended…except that from time
to time my love of escaping into those fiction worlds tugged at a little part
of me. I wanted to have the same impact, somehow. To impact the lives of others
the way those books impacted me. But to be an author myself?
So, I knew I had been called to write. But, after nearly 15
years when doors to publication were still being closed in my face no matter
what back flips I did or how much I fasted and prayed, I began to wonder where
mine and God’s signals had gotten crossed.
I loved writing. I had made it an integral part of my life
for over a decade and half. I had even branched into writing religious
commentary. But…nothing panned out.
I loved writing. But, one night on my knees, heartbroken
(for at least the 1000th time), I told the Lord that I loved Him
more. That I would quit writing for Him. That I would do anything else He
asked. That I would forget writing forever. Or that I would do it some other
way. But that I loved Him more than my writing and I loved His way more than my
I can’t explain how hard that was for me. But, in that
moment I knew my love for God was more than my love for writing would ever be.
My love for God changed my desires,
and the application of my desires. My desire to please Him and do His will was
far stronger than my desire to write and to be published, because even though I
loved writing, I loved Him more.
I’m still not published, officially. I have at least 16
books sitting on my hard drive and some of those sit on my shelf, my own
copies, you know. Sometimes I look at them with a little twinge in my heart and
some bittersweet feelings. But, most certainly not regret. I don’t regret that
I’m trying to do things His way, instead of mine. Because I love Him more and
my love of Him has changed my desires. I’d rather do things His way, than
mine…even if that means none of those words ever see the light of day.
In the spring of 2016 one of my sisters suggested that I
start a blog. My answer? No. To me blogs were journals or recipe-sharing. Some
of the blogs I had seen were controversial. I didn’t want any part of that, and
I didn’t see how what I could write about would have any place in that world. Then in October of 2016,
sitting in General Women’s Conference, I felt prompted to start a blog. My
answer to God? What?!
But, here I am…because I love Him and His way more than
myself, more than my writing, and more than my way.
What We Love Should Change Us and the Way We Live Our Lives
There is another person’s story that I wish to share to
communicate the power of change that love should bring into our lives. And that
man’s name is Abraham. Abraham descended from “the Fathers” meaning the patriarchal
line of Adam (through Shem). But his own immediate father and grandfather had
turned to idolatry. So, their gospel instruction was likely poor and their
priesthood authority totally inactive.
Somehow the records which had been handed down from Adam
came into Abraham’s hands, and he found out that “there was greater happiness
and peace and rest” available to him through God’s highest ordinances and
blessings (Abraham 1:1). Note: He was already awesome. But, he found out that
God had more for him. That God loved him and, let me say it again, had more in store for him! It is clear that
Abraham, through his study of these records developed a love for God that
changed his desires. He says:
And finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations (i.e. to enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant, Doctrine & Covenants 131), a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.
Note how Abraham was already righteous and knowledgeable. But, his love for God made him desire to be more righteous and more knowledgeable, to be even like unto Melchizedek and others of “the fathers” before him. His love for God changed him because that love changed his desires. And because of his love for God and an increase, or a change, in his desires, he became more. He entered into those covenants and made himself worthy and became ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and became a High Priest.
There are so many things in our lives that we love. But,
which of those loves are powerful enough to change our desires? Which of those
loves are powerful enough to motivate us to sacrifice so that we can maintain
and even strengthen that love, or pass it on to others?
People who are converted to Christ usually feel so much love
for God and for their new faith that they feel the desire, and find the power,
to give up education, career paths, fiancés, and more to serve missions or
fulfill other calls from God. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables is so affected by
the love shown to him by the priest that he desires to be more than he is.
Thus, he dedicates his life to showing the same love to others and to become more than he was.
If the love we have felt or the love we have for something
isn’t powerful enough to change us, then that means we still love something
else more. Real love (shown to us, or that we feel toward someone or something)
should change us for the better. If it doesn’t, then we have to ask ourselves, “What
do I love more?”
It is Possible to Love Something A Lot, but Not Enough to
Love is often developed in stages. So, even if we love something,
we may not yet love it enough that it has the power to change us. And that’s
okay. As long as we know what it is that we love more. If we are struggling to
accomplish something in our lives or to progress or to conquer something, and we
are continuing to fail at it; it may simply be that we need to keep practicing
and trying. But, it may also be that our motivation, our desires, aren’t
fulling supporting us. It may be that we love something else more; so much so
that loving that (whatever it is) prevents us from forward and upward
Maybe we love French fries more than we love the idea of
losing weight. Maybe we love maintaining the idea that we are always right more
than we love doing what is right, or best. Maybe we want to stop cussing but we
love the idea of looking cool around certain people more than we love being
right before God. I could make a very long list, but the principle is the same
no matter how it is applied.
Let me give you an example. I have often heard people say to
me, “I really wish I could quote scripture like you do.” And, I think that in
their minds the idea of being able to do that really appeals to them. But, they
haven’t yet begun assimilating scripture into their lives because there are
things they love more. I don’t know what those things are, and it’s not my
place to judge. But, if they really wanted to be able to quote scripture, then
they must first come to love the scriptures more than they love other things. Then
the desire to read and study their
scriptures (because of their love for them) would naturally result in the
scriptures and the words of God becoming part of their daily thought,
conversation, and vocabulary.
I certainly don’t claim to be able to quote scripture at
every turn. But, I do love the scriptures, the word of God. It is the greatest
treasure in my life. I LOVE to read and study the scriptures. I love to go to
them to find answers. I love the Spirit I feel teach me when I’m immersed in
them. If that results in me often using scriptures in my daily speech and
conversation, then that doesn’t make me special. It makes me a lover of God’s
Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son through his
first wife, Sariah. Isaac, you remember was a miracle baby, born to Sariah long
after she should have been able to bear children. To complicate the request
further, Abraham’s own father attempted to sacrifice Abraham to idols (Abraham
1). Certainly, Abraham had some emotional and psychological baggage tied to
this request from God. First, he was doing very nearly what his own idolatrous
father had done to him. Second, Isaac was his birthright son; the one God had
promised him, and which who had come through miraculous means. And here God was
asking him to basically start all over. Then, to even make the matter more
complex, Isaac himself agreed to be the sacrifice (once Abraham filled him in
on what God had asked).
The only explanation for any of this was for Abraham to
learn, to really learn, just how much he loved God (“Abraham needed to learn
about Abraham.” Hugh B. Brown). In the end, both he and Isaac proved that they
loved God more by their willingness to sacrifice and to be sacrificed.
Foreshadowing, of course, the eventual atonement of Jesus Christ, of whom Isaac
was a type, and God, the Father, allowing it, of whom Abraham was a type.
God and Jesus Christ loved all of us more than each other or
themselves. Thus, “God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son…” (John
3:16). And Christ (John 10:18) gave His life freely. He was not forced. He
loved us more than Himself. He loved God more than His own life. Their love for
us was witnessed in their actions.
Had either God, Jesus, Abraham, or Isaac chosen otherwise
than they did, it would have been because they loved something else more. If
God had loved only one of His children more than all the rest, He wouldn’t have
allowed Jesus to perform the atonement. If Jesus had loved Himself more, then
He would have saved Himself rather than to accept the bitter cup. What
implications His love had!
Thus, we can see that love, true love, should (and can)
change us. It can give us power to be something or to do something we might
otherwise not do. It has the power, through the grace of God, to change our
inherent desires and to aid us in becoming more. And, if we can’t find the power
to do something, it may be because we love something else more.
What can love do? What does love do? It changes us—for better
or for worse. Better, if that which we love leads us to change our desires and
our actions. Worse, if that which we love leads us to hold onto destructive
desires and actions, or if it doesn’t lead us to make any progress at all.
What do you love? Who loves you? What change is it creating
in you? If you want to create the power to change your desires and your ability
to progress, you simply have to change what it is you love.
Change. We always see others somehow figuring out how to do
it. Some person out there figures out how to change and lose a ton of weight. Some
other person out there learns how to conquer a health problem. Some married couple
out there figures out how to change and save their marriage, making it strong
than ever. Some people manage to change the entire course of their lives with
complete career and education changes. Some people manage to change their
finances, radically, and create wealth. Some people manage to find joy after
struggling with years of mental illness. Some people learn how to let go of
past offenses and renew their capacity for love. Some people manage to sincerely
repent of sins and make drastic strides toward becoming a more Christ-centered
To change is to become different. It is the act of becoming
But, the power, the actual miraculous fundamental change
that some people manage to take on…how does that happen? What is the secret?
How do we invite such change to happen to us?
From Water to Wine
This week while studying the Come
Follow Me for Individuals and Families my family and I discussed Jesus’s
first miracle of turning water into wine for His mother. Our discussion was
simply lovely. And, while there were many facet’s to this miracle of “change,”
the formula is not complex.
of change was preceded by a request from Mary, Jesus’s mother. She said
quite clearly, “We are out of wine. Help.”
Then, as my eldest sister pointed out in our
discussion, the water was changed to
wine only by the servants doing exactly what Christ said. It mattered
little that His instructions in this instance were simple. What mattered most
was that “whatever He saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5), and they did. Water
was changed to the best wine ever drunk.
Christ demonstrates in this first miracle (and teaches all
of us) that the power to change comes from and through Him. First, we must
desire to change and ask for His help. Then, we must do exactly what He asks us
to do in order for the miracle to come.
For Ourselves and For Others
Many years ago, while struggling to avoid divorce and save
my first marriage, I read a book called Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson
Eggerichs. It’s an excellent book, but what stuck out to me was his repeated caveat that his advice and
commentary were only effective on someone who was a good Christian man or woman
who reasonably wanted to be good. Over and over he pointed out that extreme
cases would not likely be effected by much of the suggestions in the book. Why?
Because if a person is not willing to follow Christ and invite His power into
their lives there is no power to change (at least not fundamentally). Cursory
change, temporary change, most of us can accomplish that. Fundamental change?
That requires godly power. It requires us to reasonably desire to be good.
Though this section is about changing ourselves, it should
be noted that if we desire to change others, such cannot be accomplished unless
we are first willing to change ourselves. We can’t say, “Well, I’ll be nice
when he/she learns to be nice. I wouldn’t have any trouble if he/she would
simply…” (Matthew 5:46-47). If our desire to change is fueled only by our wish
that others would change, then our change will never be permanent. Blame also
only stunts personal growth and puts accountability on others instead of
ourselves. If we think ourselves so powerless that our own personal change is
dependent upon the actions of others, then the minute the other person jumps
off the change bandwagon, we will too. And we will both remain—unchanged.
Our change is
entirely independent of the change we desire in others. We have to decide
who we want to be independent of others. That way, when we invite the power of
Christ and He helps us to change in a deep, lasting, and fundamental way; what
others do or don’t do won’t affect us so much. We can attain peace and joy
independent of them.
When we desire to change ourselves in any way, all we need
to do in order to gain the power we need is to invite Christ into our lives. We
come to Him with our metaphorical empty pitcher of X-characteristic/need and
ask Him to take what we have and help us change it into a full pitcher of
X-characteristic/need. Then we pray,
sincerely, and continually, “Whatever though sayest, I will do it.”
The scriptures are replete with God’s commandments to us. It
may seem too simple. But, the quickest and easiest way to gain the power to
change and become something different (in any way) is by acting to become
something different. Choose any Christlike characteristic and practice becoming
more Christlike. Practice temperance, patience, forgiveness, mercy, charity,
long-suffering, selflessness, service, kindness, etc.
As we invite Christ’s
power into our lives in any way He will reciprocate with gifts of power. As
we become more forgiving and patient our minds will be open to revelation on
how to achieve the change we desire in another area of our lives. It doesn’t
matter whether it’s losing weight, saving your marriage, or pursuing a new
career path. The more Christlike
attributes we practice and assimilate into our fundamental nature, the more
power, light, and truth we can receive. All three of these things give us not
only the motivation, but that actual capacity to become better, different—to change.
We can’t. Period.
We should never attempt to manipulate, guilt, persecute, abuse,
or coerce other people into changing. Change brought about by fear is damaging
and unChristlike. It may create temporary change, but eventually the victim
will rebel or retaliate. Such change is not lasting. And, those who attempt to
bring about such change are sinning against others and against God. Thus, their
power to change and become better decreases because of their unrighteous
dominion (Doctrine & Covenants 121:37).
But, we can influence others powerfully. As we change
ourselves (see above), the power of Christ that enters our lives and homes will
naturally impact and influence others…if they have a reasonable desire to be
good, they will over time (maybe a very, very long time, who knows) be
influenced by our example.
How much power is there in love? If you know the answer to
that, then you know the only answer to influencing others to change is Christlike
love. Ask God, “How can I show love to <name> as You would?” Then, go and
Now, remember, those who don’t reasonably desire to be good
may not respond to all the loving and Christlike influence in the world. It is
not okay or reasonable for us to submit to the unrighteous dominion of others.
In such cases, the best way to show love and to influence another to change is
by understanding and properly issuing spiritual ultimatums. God uses them. We
can too, if we seek His guidance.
Change is always within our grasp. Whatever the change is
that we desire, we can have it, if we are sincere. If we take our request to
God and submit to the conditions He sets for us to succeed in that change we
seek, He will guide us and teach us what to do. All we need to do then is to go
and do it. The power to change will
If Christ can change water to wine, He can change us if we
seek it sincerely. We can begin to invite the power to change ourselves and
others into our lives immediately as we keep the commandments God gives us, and
seek to practice Christlike characteristics and become Christlike ourselves.
Christ is the only one with power that can change us permanently,
fundamentally, and eternally. No other supposed power, no other motivation will
last sufficiently long to change us. Only Christ can change us.
Invite Him into your
lives and change becomes possible.
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.
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.
Doctrine: When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed—to turn our life and will over to Him—we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way.
Consider the following scenarios:
A. Jill meets the missionaries, takes the discussions, enjoys marvelous spiritual experiences, and gets baptized (enters into a new/deeper covenant with God). Jill is excited to have found the truth. But, very soon after getting baptized, several family members shun her for her new religion. She has also newly committed not to work on Sunday and her current job is unwilling to support her new beliefs. She gets laid off. As well, a few members in her new ward seem to be openly judgmental about her Sunday attire. To Jill, it suddenly seems that she is getting punished, in multiple ways, for her choice to join the church. She now doubts whether she should have joined at all.
B. Joseph is a long-time member of the church. But, recently, he has been inspired to make some deeper commitments and promises to the Lord. After doing so, his current marriage begins to fall apart. The more he tries to keep his deeper commitments to the Lord, the worse his marriage relationship becomes. His wife seems to resent his increasing efforts to become more godly. Joseph knows he has been inspired by God to make these deeper commitments. But, now, it seems as if he is getting to a point where his wife may leave him. Does he have to choose between his wife and God? He is beginning to doubt whether or not the Lord would rather he keep these deeper commitments if it means his marriage will end.
These two scenarios have several things common:
The person makes a new covenant with God, renews their covenant with God, or deepens their commitment to their current covenants with God.
The person experiences a negative effect, or aftermath, directly related to their new/increased covenant/commitment with God.
Because of the directly related aftermath, the person doubts their promptings, actions, or past spiritual feelings/experience.
Often when we are guided, or inspired, to make deeper commitments to the Lord—and we follow those inspirations—things in our life begin to change. These changes do not always seem to be for the better—at least not initially. And, because these changes are often initially negative, we may incorrectly judge this negative aftermath as a sign that what we have done is either unwise, wrong, or perhaps not from the Lord after all.
When we judge such aftermath negatively, we do so because we are afraid and confused. As we ponder our impressions and feelings, we can remember feeling strongly that we were guided to act. But, now, with so much backlash, lack of support, and other confusing happenings, we second guess our spiritual experiences, testimony, and faith. It is hard for us to imagine that God would lead us in a direction that would seem to rob us of what we thought was already good in our lives.
In Moroni 7:16-17 we learn that anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Yet, we still have this juxtaposition of spiritual experience with negative aftermath.
Isn’t God bound to bless us when we do what He says (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10)? So, if we are inspired to make covenants and deeper commitments, by the Lord, why does everything appear to go south afterward?
I call it “The Reconstruction Process.” God is the supreme remodeler. Why a remodeler instead of a modeler? Well, because we have free will (agency). God will not force us to live our lives in the way that will bring us ultimate peace and joy. However, when we make covenants and commitments with God, we are, in effect, turning our lives over to Him. We are giving Him our free will and agreeing to do with it as He commands. We are handing Him the reigns to our life.
It is in this moment when we turn our lives over to God that the remodeling and reconstruction process begins. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way. Before God can build us a mansion in the celestial kingdom, He has to tear down the two-bedroom ranch we’ve constructed in a lower level of glory. There are no spiritual vacation homes.
In fact, no matter what level of righteousness we are currently at, the moment we commit more deeply to God and strive to improve, the reconstruction process begins. This reconstruction process often includes removing or changing certain aspects of our lives that we are currently comfortable with. It may include removing something that we think is good, or even great. And, so we get discouraged and misunderstand what is happening.
I remember very clearly the day I had the courage to get on my knees and sincerely say—with a bit of fear—to the Lord, “What is it that you want for me? I’m willing to follow the path you’ve designed and I’m ready to let go of the one that I’ve been clinging to. My life is in your hands. Make of it what you will.”
What was the aftermath?I lost the brand new home my spouse and I had only recently bought. I continued to fail to get pregnant and have a child. I had to give up my job to move across the country. I had to live without a home of my own for two years. Then, my marriage crumbled to the ground no matter what I did to save it. Then, I had to quit yet another job where I was earning more than I had ever earned. Then, I had to move back in with my parents for 5+ years. During this time, despite my many qualifications and connections, I couldn’t seem to get a decent job. The list went on and on…
It took the Lord 7 years to tear down the life that I had built up; before He could begin to rebuild it. He did it as slowly as He could—so that I was not overcome—but it was still incredibly confusing and painful. I spent many years doubting where my life was supposed to go and what I was supposed to be doing. I often doubted that the Lord had any plans for me at all. But, I decided to be as content as I could with where I was and the circumstances I was frozen in. I did my best to own my situation and count my blessings–and the Lord gave me many even though I felt a bit lost. I had given my life over to the Lord. So, part of me knew that even if I wasn’t settled and content with the current circumstances that I was where the Lord wanted me.
Then, 7 years after I said, “My life is in your hands,” the Lord began to start the actual new construction. I was finally back to the foundation of my life and God could work with it. I saw the plans begin to form and materialize before my very eyes. What He has done since has been beyond anything I could ever have imagined for myself—and I thought I could imagine a lot. Yet, the Lord has shown me that no matter what I can imagine, He can produce something beyond the reach of it.
Seven years is a long time. I started that 7 years of demolition at the age of 26. The new construction is now 4+ years in progress. What if I had waited until I was 30, or 40, or 50 to submit my will to God’s?
At the age of 26 I was trying do to my best to live God’s commandments and do His will. What if my life had been more deviant? What more might I have had to pass through in order to get to a clean slate where God could build anew?
When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed, to turn our life and will over to Him, we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Sure, it’s frightening. We always wonder what will come along if we “let go.” But, though the path is unknown and the process stressful, faith-testing, and often time-consuming; when the actual reconstruction begins and we get glimpses of what the Lord is doing with our lives, we will rejoice in ways we never could have ever dreamed before.
God is the master of eternal joy. He is the master of healing, and hope. He is the master contractor. He is the master gift-giver and the preeminent lover of our souls. And, after giving our life over to Him we must trust that we can endure the demolition required before the reconstruction begins. Without fail, the more we trust the Lord and the more we covenant with Him and the more we deepen our commitment to those covenants, the more initial struggles and growing pains we will experience as He alters our lives to put us on track for eternal joy—His joy.
So, when these initially negative hours, days, months, and years come in the aftermath of your new, renewed, or deepening covenants and commitments; retain your faith and trust the Lord. For, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; St. John 14:15).