Doctrine: Faith is the certainty of things hoped for, the body of facts and information witnessing of things not yet seen. Whether we feel atheistic or theistic, doubtful or faithful, it has to do entirely with our relationship with God—whether we doubt His existence or not. Thus, atheism is all about what we know and understand about God, or what we don’t know and understand about God.

What is atheism? Atheism isn’t a disbelief in or a denial of gods, it is a lack of belief in a god, or gods (atheists.org). I would venture to drag that out further to say that atheism is a strong doubt in the existence of a god, or gods. An agnostic is also a type of atheist because they have a lack of belief in, or they strongly doubt, our ability to know a god, or gods. So, to an agnostic, even if there is a god, they don’t believe we are capable of coming to know that god or interacting with that god.

However, whether you call it a lack of belief or a strong doubt, it is almost certain that all of us struggle with levels of atheism. This is because whenever we lack faith and belief in any aspect of God’s existence, character, or will, we are leaning toward atheism. The question then becomes, what about God do you doubt or lack faith in?

Now, before we can determine the level of atheism, or doubt, we have, we must first talk about its opposite: faith.

Google will define faith as a complete trust or strong confidence in someone or something. It also calls faith a belief based on spiritual apprehension (anxiety or fear). While these definitions allude to aspects of faith, faith itself is far more than the dictionary can teach us.

Atheists will use the dictionary to define faith. The God-fearing will use the scriptures. So, to be fair to the God-fearing (since I already used the online dictionary), let me put out there the spiritual definition of faith:

Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. JST Hebrews 11:1

Now assurance is a certainty or confidence. And, evidence implies an available body of facts or information. So, if we use synonyms and reword this scriptural definition of faith, we get:

Now, faith is the certainty of things hoped for, the body of facts and information witnessing of things not yet seen.

It is important to note that faith is not about believing in something random or that we have no evidence for. It is a confident belief in things we have not yet seen, but that we have sufficient evidence for, and that we are certain exist or will be/take place.

Silhouette of a man an atheist

Tossing “spiritual apprehension” out the window, true faith cannot be generated, satisfied, or maintained by a mere fear of some higher power. Faith generated by fear/anxiety, which is not true faith, will eventually be pushed to one side or the other: it will either result in either atheism or theism.

True faith can only be based in a certain amount of assurance and evidence. And, by evidence, I mean any information (or experience, or feeling) that leans in favor proving the belief that we have faith in. It doesn’t matter if others consider the information, etc. as evidence. If we do, then it is sufficient to engender more faith and more belief.

If we look at atheism and theism from a merely scientific perspective, it is possible that we can’t ever completely disprove the existence of a god, or gods. Nor, can we ever completely prove the existence of a god, or gods. Because the true scientific method cannot ignore any evidence for either side, no matter how small. This is because evidence is evidence. We can’t merely toss it aside because we don’t like it. And, the fact is that there is abundant evidence for both sides.

If we look at atheism and theism from a spiritual perspective, then we know that anything spiritual (or godly) can only be comprehended by the Spirit, or spiritual communication from God (1 Cor. 2:4-15). If that’s true, then to get spiritual evidence and confirmation, we must first try to live by God’s word and by worthy of spiritual communication, for God doesn’t give spiritual witnesses to those who do not desire to have faith in Him or come to know Him (Matt. 7:6; Doctrine and Covenants 88:33-34).

So, what constitutes evidence for God?

  • Myths, history
  • Testimony of people/others
  • Personal spiritual experiences, spiritual feelings
  • The unexplainable, miracles
  • The whole of creation

Whether or not we give credence to the evidence others use for their faith in a god, or gods; IF they give it credence, then we are left with a choice. Either, we can believe the feelings and testimony of others and try to gain our own, or we can decide they are out of their minds and disbelieve (or doubt) their feelings and testimony. Just because others believe in God (whether to a lesser or greater extent) does not mean we have to have faith in God. However, the very fact that they do puts out there a tiny shred of evidence that its possible for a god, or gods, to exist.

So, to what extent are we all atheists? Answer: to the extent we lack faith and assurance of God and in God. Which means, that at any particular time in our lives, we may be in a place along a wide spectrum of atheism and theism.

We may feel more atheistic if our lives are not going how we want them to or how we planned. We may feel more doubtful (atheistic) if world events lead us to believe that the God people talk about is not what they say He is. Any number of negative events can lead any person, even the most faithful, to toy with ideas of atheism. Why?

I would like to suggest that whether we feel atheistic or theistic, doubtful or faithful, that it has to do entirely with our relationship with God—whether we doubt His existence or not. And therefore, how we handle relationship doubts and struggles will correlate directly with how much faith we exercise in God—and how we treat Him when we have doubts and struggles.

Are we natural relationship stonewall-ers when misunderstandings arise? Do we naturally overreact to issues before we have all the information? Do we tend to trust the opinions of our other friends and family first when misunderstandings arise? Do we lose trust in our relationship quickly when rumors reach our ears? Are we natural retaliators and vengeance takers? Etc. OR, do we go to the person with whom we have the relationship and get the information we need and resolve the issues together?

Mother and daughter find out the relationship

John 17:3 teaches, “And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” In Matthew 25:12 Christ (the bridegroom) refuses admittance to the marriage feast to the five foolish virgins, not because they were literally foolish. He says, very clearly, “I know you not,” meaning, you don’t know me.

How can we resent the action (or inaction) of a god if we don’t have at least a minor relationship with him? Even a minor idea that He may exist. Is not our anger at injustice, human weakness, and suffering focused against the higher power that didn’t step in to stop it, or fix it? If we are angry at the unfairness of life and we don’t point that anger at a deity, then we must point that anger at mankind—meaning, we hate our own blood, including ourselves. And, if we were not created by a higher power then it would be counterproductive, even destructive, to hate our own kind (as far as evolution is concerned). Engendering such hatred would only lead to eventual extinction.

And, if we weren’t created by a higher power, where did we get our idea that life should be fair and just, at all? Animals, and nature, certainly don’t live by a system of fairness or justice. They live by instinct—and it is far from fair. Where then do our ideas of justice and fairness originate from? If not from a deity, and only from evolution, then we never should have arisen to the consciousness that anything about life was unfair or unjust. We should have only ever lived by instinct. We would never have coined the words “unfair” or “unjust.” And, we would never have exceeded such base and instinctual consciousness as we see in all animal life (aside from ourselves), UNLESS it was given to us.

So, if this logic is correct (And you are certainly not obligated to believe that it is), then if we lack a belief in god and doubt His existence or our ability to interact with Him, then this very feeling we have “against Him” is derived from our actual, tangible, real relationship with Him (whether we recognize it or not). How can we be angry at a being that doesn’t exist? We can’t, we can only be angry at a being that exists whom we do not understand. How can we fight against or actively ignore a being that doesn’t exist unless some part of us does know that He exists?

Thus, atheism is all about what we know and understand about God, or what we don’t know and understand about God. And, whether we claim to be atheist or agnostic or theistic and faithful, we can’t claim such without wanting to, in some way, identify our relationship with the Almighty. In fact, we claim these titles in order to make a public show of our relationship with God.

Those who claim to know God (to an extent) and understand His ways tend to label themselves as “believers,” “Christians,” “Jews,” etc. Those who claim to not know God (even though they do a little bit) and not understand his ways tend to label themselves as “unbelievers,” “atheists,” “agnostics,” etc. And, I suppose there are a rare few who actually believe in God but choose to openly fight against Him, and they label themselves “satanics.”

So, if you are more of an atheist than a theist, then the only way to move toward faith is to come to know God. Which, can only be done by emulating Him, keeping His commandments, visiting His home(s), and serving His family (fellow-men). If you are more a theist, or believer, then you will become more of an atheist as you sever your relationship and understanding of God. Which, can only be done by mocking Him, making light of and spurning His commandments, never visiting His home, and persecuting His family.

Now, whether you want to believe in a god, or gods, or not: mocking people, spurning good works, alienating people, and persecuting others, is generally accepted as stupid and unacceptable societal behavior. Psychologists and life-coaches, aplenty, will instruct you that hanging onto anger and doubt are poisonous and unhealthy to your psyche. Hate of any kind, anger of any kind, whether it is directed at your own kind or a deity whom you resent or want to pretend doesn’t exist, is always unproductive.

So, while there are many good people out there who claim to be atheist or agnostic (meaning they don’t recognize and often fight against their relationship with God, because they don’t want to understand Him, get to know Him, or figure out why He works the way He does), what I’d like to do is talk about how to do the opposite: to build your relationship with, and your faith in, God.

If you don’t understand why the world is the way it is; if you don’t like your own life; if you can’t make sense of injustices, etc. AND IF YOU TRULY WANT TO, then the only way to do so is to plant a seed of faith and try to get to know God.

Heart and love

True faith requires the following three things:

  1. An idea or belief that God actually exists
  2. A correct idea of His characteristics and attributes
  3. A knowledge that the life one is pursuing is in line with God’s will

I find that the majority of people in the scriptures who turned away from God, did so because they did not come to know Him (1 Ne 2:12). And, the majority who turn away usually continue to believe that there is a God, they simply are upset because they don’t have 2) “a correct idea of His characteristics and attributes.” As well, they were usually 3) unwilling to pursue a life that was in line with God’s will for them.

Firstly, many people believe that God is either all-loving or all-powerful based on their idea of what godly love is. To them, godly love lets no bad happen, prevents all suffering, and give us everything we want when we want it. Because they believe He is all-powerful then they also assume that such power should be brought to bear in a certain way, their way, in order to be “all-loving.” If they do not see sufficient evidence for this kind of love, then they assume that God is not all-loving and only all-powerful. However, their issue is their idea of God’s characteristics and attributes is “not correct.” And, until they come to understand what true, charitable, godly love is, they will always fall short of their ability to come closer to God and understand His ways/dealing because they are constantly in opposition and argument against the false god they have created.

A true study of the scriptures reveals quite clearly that God’s love is not comfortable love. It is the kind of love that does what’s best for us, even if we don’t like it. God’s love is the truest love. It loves and has long-suffering for both the sinning and the righteous soul. And, it will try to make a godly being out of both.

Second, people believe that they can maintain a relationship with God while also making a mock of His will for them, His Only Begotten’s sacrifice for them, and His personality and characteristics. By living contrary to His will (and the true manner of happiness), and settling for counterfeit versions of joy and fulfillment, they still suppose that they and God can be best buddies. Unfortunately, this is an ignorant and illogical assumption.

We are flawed mortals, and yet we still naturally gravitate toward those people and places where we enjoy what is going on and where the people do what we do and where we feel comfortable. We don’t maintain true friendships with people who live entirely contrary to how we want to live. It doesn’t work because we are not “like” people. Over time, such friendships die down to past acquaintances. Sometimes, they become enemies or disappear from our hearts and minds altogether.

Now, while God will always love us, and do what’s best for us, it stands to reason that He doesn’t have to like us—or how we live. And, if we live the kind of life that is different from His, then it stands to reason that He will love us, He will still invite us over all the time. But truthfully, we wouldn’t accept His invitations anyway because if we live contrary to His will, then we won’t find His home (and the environment of it) enjoyable, or even comfortable (Alma 12:14); and will more likely avoid His calls, texts, and mailed invitations. We will find reasons to not answer when He calls. We will say we lost our invitations and apologize for not showing up to His get-together. In short, if we are not trying to live godly and become godly, then we aren’t going to be able to trust in and believe in God because His life will be incomprehensible to us. And, therefore, we won’t desire or maintain a relationship with Him. Which, consequently means we will never come to understand Him or His ways/dealings. And, you could say that this means we will always feel resentful toward His perceived inaction/action and live a life with veiled hurt and anger.

If we do not desire, seek out, search out, study, and pray for a relationship with God, and then act on the relationship in a positive way, then we will forever be toying with atheism.

BT

Doctrine: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is run by the doctrines of Presidencies and Councils, as established by God and patterned after the Presidency and Council of the Godhead.

A lot of people wonder how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints runs. These wonderings are not exclusive to non-members. Many members of the Church often struggle to receive callings, accept them, and even more, to tackle the responsibility of trying to master such callings. Yet another struggle, often faced, is the struggle to allow others to receive, accept, and act in their callings. However, this struggle can be lessened if we understand the doctrines/truths that provide the foundation for godly presidencies and councils. For, “mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8).

Many members and non-members alike often dislike policies or church organization; or want policies and organization to be changed because they are unhappy with how it all runs-either in timing or outcomes. However, the Lord has established how His Church is to be run-by council (Doctrine & Covenants 90:16). And, He has established it in such a perfect way. Not only is the pattern of God’s Church set up as it was in the days of Christ’s ministry; it is set-up to ensure the Church moves forward despite human weaknesses; the pattern is set-up to help individuals become godly. This pattern of training us to be godly applies to those God calls whether the call is to to be the prophet all the way down to young primary children giving talks and prayers.

A few years back, my mother (the 1st Doctrine Lady…and the one I try to emulate) wrote this essay about Church Presidencies and Councils and, basically, how the Church does function. It also addresses some things each of us need to know as we wish to become godly in our individual service to God.

Why Presidencies and Councils?

The entire Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “the Church”) is governed by presidencies at all levels.  From the smallest Young Women classes and Aaronic Priesthood quorums, all auxiliaries (Primary, Young Women, Young Men, and Relief Society), all Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and groups at ward and stake levels, to Branch Presidencies, Bishoprics, Stake and Area Presidencies, the Seven Presidents of the Seventy, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and First Presidency.  Though the Quorum of the Twelve is not titled as a “presidency”, by virtue of the fact that they govern as a council, and all presidencies are councils, they are included in this category.

Higher than all of these listed above is the First Presidency of Heaven which we commonly call the Godhead.  It is, and should be, the prime example of what every presidency should be.  Though there is much we don’t know about how the Godhead functions, we do know some things.  So to begin, listing those things we do know is of primary importance.

  • First, we know that the Godhead is perfectly united in purpose.  That purpose is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
  • Second, we know that though united in that purpose, the three members of the Godhead have different assignments.  In those assignments they complement one another.
  • Third, they counsel together, perfectly carry out their plans as they counseled, and then report back and determine their success (Abr. 5:1-5).
  • Along with these three main facts we also know much about their physical attributes and the perfectness of their characters.  But for our purposes here we will focus on how they function as a presidency.

UNITED IN PURPOSE

The Godhead being united in purpose is our first example of how any presidency should function.  The main objective of the Church is to bring souls to Jesus Christ.  It is the one and only purpose of all the auxiliaries, quorums, programs, and buildings.  Sometimes that fact is forgotten or overlooked as we work to keep our percentages up, activities fun, and people organized.  We must constantly remind ourselves of this one goal:  to bring the souls over whom we preside to Christ so the Godhead can provide for their immortality and eternal life.  We are working for the Savior, feeding His sheep, seeking out His wandering lambs, and maintaining His pasture.  As soon as we think we are more than servants, caretakers, or stewards, we lose proper focus and we are not united with the Godhead in Their “work and glory.”council1

It is important that members of a presidency are united as a presiding council like the Godhead is.  But it is essential that a mortal presidency be united with the Godhead itself.  If all members of a presidency are united in God’s work with the Godhead itself, as well as with each other, there should be few problems to overcome in the work of accepting and fulfilling assignments and through counseling because each member will be on the proverbial “same page.”

DIFFERENT ASSIGNMENTS

The Godhead is united in purpose but each member has a different assignment.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost each has His own work to do in relation to the divine purpose and destiny of the Father’s sons and daughters.

  • Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had direct access to God the Father—the author of the Plan.  They walked and talked with Him in the Garden of Eden.  God the Father is the god we worship.
  • Since the Fall, God the Son has been the mediator between the Father and His children.  The Son, Jesus Christ, mediates through the power of the Atonement (D&C 45:3-5), a redemption which transcends the Fall and makes it possible for each of us to return to the Father’s presence again.
  • The Holy Ghost, not yet a personage of flesh but of spirit, is therefore able to do His work of testifying, sanctifying, purifying, and so forth, as the children of God seek for the truth and apply it.

All three Gods work to make the plan of salvation function perfectly.

Members of the Godhead often speak for each other by what we call “divine investiture of authority,” but they do not appear to interfere with each other’s particular assignment in the plan.  Each is perfect in character, knowledge, and power.  To know one is to know them all.  But each has His function and assignment and there is complete mutual trust between them that each will do his part.

As members of a mortal presidency, it is important to allow each member fulfill his or her assignments as agreed upon in council meeting.  Complete mutual trust is of extreme importance.  Presidents should choose counselors with the idea in mind that they will be allowed to fulfill their assignments and responsibilities without interference and report back in presidency meeting.  This concept overlaps into the third imperative, that once assignments have been completed, each member reports back in presidency meeting.

REPORTING BACK

The idea of returning and reporting upon completion of an assignment is very important to the overall unity of the Godhead, and consequently a mortal presidency.  Often one of the others cannot complete his mission or assignment until another member has performed his duty or assignment.

Example:  Jesus had to ask His apostles the question, “But whom say ye that I am?” before the Holy Ghost could testify to Peter enabling him to answer, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16).

Example:  Jesus went to be baptized of John.  After the baptism both the Father and the Holy Ghost were able to do their parts; the Father voicing His acceptance of His Beloved Son, and the Holy Ghost lighting upon Jesus in the sign of the dove (Matt. 3:13-17).

The wording, reporting back, is not a scriptural phrase.  But there are other indicators that seem to suggest reporting back.  Two examples follow.

First, in John 20, Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ sepulcher and was both astonished and worried about the disappearance of Jesus’ body.  After reporting the loss to Peter, and after he and John ran to check out her report for themselves, she was finally alone at the tomb and saw the resurrected Jesus.  Immediately she reached out to touch or hold Him.  Jesus said, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father…” (John 20:17).  I would like to suggest that Jesus may be referring to his need to return and report to His Father, having accomplished His redemptive mission, and receive further commandments on how to proceed from there.

Another example is in 3 Nephi.  Jesus, after having spent the day with the people of Nephi teaching all that He was commanded of the Father to speak (3 N3 17:2), announced that His “time is at hand” (3 Ne 17:1).  The footnote for verse 1a reads, “IE to return to the Father. See v.4.”  I am suggesting that this is reference to Him having to report back.  He then perceived that they could not understand all that He had so far taught them, so He commanded the people to ponder and pray to the Father in Jesus’ name for understanding.  This will then consequently open the door for the Holy Ghost to fulfill His assignment of preparing the people for further enlightenment.

The fact that each member of the Godhead perfectly performs His duties and responsibilities may seem unattainable to a mortal member of a mortal presidency.  But it is not impossible to do one’s best at all times.  That is what the Godhead does and that is what they expect from us.  Though the Godhead’s best is perfection, ours can be as perfect as possible within our spheres and callings.  Therefore, to return and report on an assignment completed is vital to finishing a task to the best of our ability.council2

To summarize all the above, then, we can say that the First Presidency of Heaven, the Godhead, is the perfect example of how presidencies in the Church should function.  We have mentioned three basic things they do to maintain unity and insure success:

  1. They are perfectly united in purpose.
  2. They each have specific duties to perform, and they don’t interfere with the others’ duties.
  3. They counsel together and carry out those plans within their areas of responsibilities and then report back.

COUNCIL AND COUNSEL

The words council and counsel have been used a few times already.  Let’s look at the meanings of those words.

A council is an assembly or meeting for consultation, advice, or discussion, the sharing of information, and the accepting or reporting back on assignments.  All presidencies are councils.  Other Church councils are Ward and Stake councils or Priesthood Executive councils, consisting of the presidents of auxiliaries and quorums.

When the Lord was revealing the need and scope of the First Presidency of the newly restored Church, He gave this command:  “And this shall be your business and mission in all your lives, to preside in council, and set in order all the affairs of this Church and kingdom (D&C 90:16, italics added).

From this scripture we learn a few things.  First, a president presides in council.  He is not a dictator or one who simply sets out his plan and hands out assignments.  He calls this council together, and after making sure that all the council members are all centered on the main purpose of the work, as a council they all then discuss, consult, and advise one another on ways to accomplish the Lord’s purposes.

The word counsel entails what happens during a council meeting.  Each member of the council counsels.  In other words, each member of the presidency (or other council) gives advice and helps deliberate on how to proceed in accomplishing the goal at hand.  It is the responsibility of each counselor to draw from his or her experience and knowledge and to frankly and honestly place these thoughts and ideas on the table for consideration.  It is imperative that the president does likewise, and allows, and even encourages, this free exchange.

Brigham Young taught, “It is only where experience fails that revelation is needed” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.416, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, UT, 1977). 

To discourage any complete and thorough dialogue over any objective under consideration is to cut off revelation.  President Young also taught, “Be willing to receive truth, let it come from whom it may…” (ibid. p.11).  A council is an aid to revelation.  I relate two examples below.

EXAMPLE:  My husband was serving in a stake presidency some years ago.  He was a counselor to a stake president who had lived in our stake for over 25 years.  This president knew everyone and had been involved in the stake presidency as a counselor to another stake president for a decade previous to his own call as president.  My husband and the other counselor were relatively new in the stake and were mostly acquainted with members in their respective wards.

One night at their weekly presidency meeting the stake president brought up the plight of a particular individual, one he thought his counselors were not familiar with.  He also said up front that he had already made up his mind on how to handle the situation, but he just wanted to hear if the counselors had anything they wanted to say in regard to the person and matter.  By the time each counselor had finished his counsel the president, stunned, said, “What you have said has completely changed how I am going to handle this situation!”  The frank and honest discourse that came from the experience and knowledge of the two counselors revealed information the president didn’t have, and the Holy Ghost was able to confirm that information in the heart and mind of the president and help him save a soul according to the Lord’s will instead of the president’s.

EXAMPLE:  Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt following numerous and constant revelations and instructions, a large part of which he received from face-to-face encounters with Jehovah.  From the burning bush to the plagues, through the sea and providing water from a rock for God’s people, Moses received constant revelation from the Lord.  It would seem that Moses never lacked for divine counsel on how to proceed.

At one point, however, as Israel camped in the wilderness, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law and the high priest of Midian, arrived at the camp bringing Moses’ wife and sons to join him.  It was a grand reunion, for Moses had lived with Jethro for 40 years and married his daughter Zipporah while living in Midian as a refugee from Egypt.  Jethro was the one who had ordained Moses to the Melchizedek priesthood (D&C 84:6) during that time before his call from God to be a prophet.

Jethro stayed on a few days before returning to his own land and watched as Moses presided over the children of Israel.  He was astonished at what he saw.  Moses was presiding all alone and dealing with every problem that arose within the entire camp.  Jethro approached Moses and told him that to try and manage all the Israelites alone was pure folly and would ultimately do him in.  Jethro then encouraged Moses to divide the Israelites into groups and set wise men to preside over them to take care of the lesser problems.  He encouraged Moses to only take on the problems and issues that couldn’t be solved by these others.  He testified to Moses that this was the way to govern such a large people, and encouraged him to seek validation from the Lord.  And that’s exactly what Moses did (Ex. 18:13-26).

Why didn’t the Lord, who had been conversing with Moses face-to-face on every other situation that came upon His people, tell Moses to set up judges and wise men over the people?  The answer appears to be as Brigham Young suggested, “Revelation is only needed where experience fails.”  The Lord knew that Jethro had the knowledge and experience Moses needed.  All Moses needed from the Lord was confirmation on Jethro’s counsel.  And that’s exactly what happened.

AVENUES OF REVELATION

For a president at any level of Church government to presuppose that all the revelation for business regarding his or her stewardship will only come through himself is pure folly.  It has never been so.  The council of a presidency is an aid to revelation.  The Lord regards it as such and operates through that council.  When a president chooses to ignore or neglect the counsel of his or her counselors, he is setting himself up as a light (see 2 Ne 26:31).  When serving the Lord and His purposes we must do it His way, which in this case is “to preside in council” (D&C 90:16).

Human beings come into this world with five senses with which to communicate: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell.  If we lose one of these five senses, or one doesn’t work that well, we are considered handicapped.  Each sense helps us give and receive information in this mortal world.  When a president purposely chooses to try to function without counsel, it is the same as purposely choosing to go without one of his or her senses.  No one would purposely choose to be blind, or deaf, or single out only one sense with which to communicate and cast the others away.  Yet, choosing to ignore or not even ask for the counsel of one’s counselors, who the Lord has provided to ensure proper lines of revelation, is as foolish as choosing to go without one or more senses.  To do so is to neglect the very purpose of the calling of a presidency.  Always remember, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses…” (D&C 6:28)

WHY A PRESIDENT?

So, if all presidencies are, at their core, a council, why have a president at all?  Why not a council of three counselors?

In the restored Church there is a president in every council.  Remember “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” (Matt. 6:9).  We are patterned after the Godhead.

The role of a president is to:

  1. Conduct council meetings,
  2. Receive assignments from higher councils,
  3. Report to higher councils, and
  4. Be responsible for the decisions of his or her own council.

A president presides over and conducts the meetings of his or her own presidency, or assigns another to do so in his absence.  He/She is always responsible for the decisions of the council and, in fact, is the final and authorized voice once the decision is made.  He or she is to preside with charity, meekness, and lowliness of heart just as the Savior does over the Church.  He/She encourages and listens to all ideas, thoughts, experiences and counsel that his counselors have to offer, knowing that revelation and inspiration from God come in this way.

A president assures that all decisions are supported in unity by his counselors.  When the president voices the final decision after receiving counsel, the counselors should then support it whole-heartedly.  No practices or program should go forth until the entire presidency is unified in purpose, each understands his duties and assignments pertaining thereto, and knows when to report back.

A president reports to higher councils from which he or she receives assignments and duties.  A president participates in larger councils (such as ward or stake councils) representing his or her presidency, auxiliary, quorum, or class.

A president upholds his or her counselors in their duties and assignments.  Once assignments are accepted he does not interfere.  If he is invited by a counselor to assist in his duty, then it would be appropriate to only do that which he is invited to do.  But never should a president reach over into his counselor’s predetermined task because he would do it differently, more quickly, or better.  There should be mutual trust, respect, love, and faith in working as servants of the Master.

Deborah Kent Updated June 1, 2015

Just a Few More Thoughts!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this. My mother is an amazing woman. She knows her stuff. Thanks, Mom!

But, I’d like to add that this viewpoint is also how the Church views the marriage relationship. God is the president of a marriage. In establishing marriage, God’s purpose was to provide a framework identical to His own (for He is an Eternal Father and Husband). Then, the husband and wife (like Christ and the Holy Spirit) have roles that support God’s purpose: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children. This viewpoint removes the competition between the sexes and instead places more importance on each’s unique, inherent capabilities, and talents. It re-establishes order in the home and in society.

If Husbands and wives everywhere saw their relationship, talents, gender strengths, and other unique individual gifts and powers as tools to use in exalting their children (who are also God’s spirit children), then it would be much easier for couples to find balance, support, and guidance. It would never be about one person dictating to the other, but all decisions and tasks would come down from the God of Heaven. It would never be about who was right, but about what was right from this eternal perspective. Each husband and wife would always report back to each other AND God for confirmation of success and guidance for continued unity, love, service, and success.

And, I might add, marriage wouldn’t be entered into except by those whose desire it was to become “like God.” But, that’s a topic that runs deep and is a doctrine for another day!

BT

Doctrine: Intelligence is the actual action taken and application made based on truths we know. God is God because He has learned to acquire truth, knowledge, and skills and to act on them perfectly—forever. Free will/agency is dependent on our ability to act on truth despite how we feel. Faith is acting on the truth we know even when we don’t feel like it. There is no weakness, or stupidity, that can’t be overcome—through grace—by intelligent action.

Training Neuroscience Development

I know a lot of good people. In fact, most of the people I know or am acquainted with are good people. I also find that people in general are good (if we take each person or communities as a whole). And yet, it seems that each of us is still prone to short, frequent, or long-term bouts of a total “lack of intelligence” (i.e. stupidity). I use these terms not in the sarcastic or demeaning sense, but in their literal denotation.

Intelligence: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Knowledge: facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; theoretical or practical understanding; awareness or familiarity with a fact, or information.

Stupidity: lack of intelligence; behavior that shows lack of good judgment.

David A. Bednar (2011) says in his book, Increase in Learning: “Intelligence is the righteous application of knowledge and understanding in action and judgment” (p. 70).

Note, intelligence isn’t knowledge. Intelligence isn’t skills. Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. The key difference between knowledge and intelligence is that knowledge is the acquired information and skills, but intelligence is the willingness or capability to act on and apply such knowledge/skills.

So, when I say that all people suffer from bouts of stupidity, what I mean is:

  1. They have certain knowledge and skills to act on truth but they do not act on them
  2. They have the ability to acquire knowledge and skills but they do not use that ability to get such knowledge or skills…keeping them from acting on things they know to be true.
  3. They have the knowledge and skills to act on truth but are unwilling to sacrifice what they want (or think they want) now in order to act on what they believe, suspect, or know to be ultimately true.

Now, as we discuss intelligence, we’re talking about more than common sense.

In Abraham 3:19 we read:

And the Lord said unto me (Abraham): These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.

This statement is not a statement of superiority. What God is saying to Abraham here is basically this: “I have more knowledge and skills than any other spirit being in the universe, and I perfectly apply that knowledge and those skills eternally.”

God is God because He has learned to acquire truth, knowledge, and skills and to act on them perfectly—forever.

intelligencepicSo, I know that losing my temper doesn’t ever solve the struggles I have. But, knowing that is not the same as applying it. It is difficult to not lose one’s temper, especially in certain situations.

In fact, each and every day, each of us submits to frequent, temporary bouts of stupidity (i.e. lack of intelligence). Or, we continue to nurture long-term stupidity.  Stupidity happens every time we know a truth and do not act on it or apply it. How recently we’ve acquired the truth determines if it is a short-term or long-term spell of stupidity.

For most of us the most common type of stupidity is long-term. We may know a truth but we are unwilling to work to acquire the skills needed to act on or apply the truth; or we are unwilling to sacrifice immediate, selfish wants for the unknown but believed future promised by a truth. Acquiring these skills, or sacrificing current wants, takes extra work and so we are lazy with the knowledge of truth we have. Anytime we know better and yet still choose to act against what we know to be true, we are exhibiting a clear lack of intelligence. The smarter we are and the more capable we are of gaining knowledge of truth, the more stark and inexcusable our stupidity becomes.

Feelings

Now, the premier argument against stupidity is that emotional, spiritual, and psychological factors get in the way. Environmental factors can also make good justifications. And, I would agree. However, we have been counseled by prophets, motivational speakers of all kinds, psychologists, and wise associates (including family, friends, and random people posting quotes all over social media) that we have the power to 1) use our agency to make changes to our environments, and to 2) use our agency to act in a certain way despite what we feel.

So, yes, mortal factors make acting intelligently difficult. Sometimes it even requires heroic efforts. But, the reality is that we have been created by God with the capability to act and not be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14, 25-26). Therefore, it’s possible to act intelligently even if it seems impossible. That changes everything.

Business Technology

My mother, a very wise woman, once said to me: “Faith is doing what’s right even when you don’t feel like it.” That phrase has had eternal impact upon me. It is exactly what this blog is about. If we have faith in God and in the truths (and promised blessings) He has established, then we act upon those truths even when we don’t feel like it.

We love our enemies (whom we obviously are not naturally inclined to love and serve) even if we don’t feel loved by them in return. We turn the other cheek even though our natural inclination is to retaliate or be vengeful. We forgive seventy-times-seven as long as someone continues to repent and try, though our natural inclination is to hold a grudge and maintain a sense of anger. We break up an unhealthy or ultimately unfruitful relationship if it isn’t leading us to honor the truths we know and the blessings we desire. We pay our tithes and offerings even though we don’t feel like we can afford it or that our tiny sum will make a difference.

Now, before anyone tries to convict me of saying that in order to act intelligently we aren’t allowed to feel at all, then I remind you of what I have said up to this point. I have said nothing about not being allowed to feel a certain way. I have only presented the fact that we are capable of acting differently than how we feel.

Feelings are always valid and necessary. They are evidence that everything we say and do matters, good or bad (which is necessary to the existence of free will/agency). If something hurts or angers us, then it hurts and angers us. If someone is nice to us and it makes us feel good, then we naturally feel good. However, whether our perception of a situation is what brings upon us certain feelings, or the actual intent of another person is to hurt or anger us, or make us feel nice, doesn’t matter. We are meant to feel, we are allowed to feel, and our feelings are understandable and expected. Yet, our feelings, no matter how real, never justify not acting on the truth we know. Wrongs don’t change into rights just because we “feel” one way or the other. This is something a lot of people have trouble understanding.

Brain Radiates

How often do you smile and converse when you are out in public even though inside you just want to get away and go home? You feel one way, you act another. The changing variable is your concern about other people’s feelings. In this case, it is their feelings that create your ability to act despite what you feel.

Obviously, this is a good thing; to be kind to others even when we don’t feel like it. But, more often we don’t act because we don’t feel anything at all. We don’t love because we don’t feel loved. We don’t serve because our mental, emotional, spiritual, and psychological reserves are low because others haven’t served us. We don’t communicate because others don’t communicate with us. We don’t forgive or apologize because others haven’t forgiven or apologized to us. Holding back our own intelligent action while we wait on the intelligent action of others is…stupid.

I could present a million different examples. The reality is that we don’t have to feel a certain way in order to act on truth. Does it make it easier to feel motivated? Certainly. When I’m feeling humble because of my own failings it makes it much easier for me to give others slack for theirs. When I’m feeling loved it is much easier for me to give love to others—even enemies. But, when I’m not “feeling” a certain way, it is a thousand times more difficult for me to act intelligently.

Why would God send us out of His presence and allow us to be born into mortality with not even a hint of a memory of our life with Him? Well, because those memories and feelings would make it difficult for us—likely impossible—to act with free will, especially not to the extent necessary to choose the path to and to train for godhood. We would be compelled to choose a certain way based on the feelings we had in relation to those memories. Consider, the small amount of God’s love we feel during this short, mortal existence is so powerful it changes us almost instantly. Communication from the Holy Ghost is so potent and powerful that we cannot truly deny it. How then, if we could see God, feel His presence, and remember our spiritual lives with Him, could our agency not be nearly overpowered by such influence? So, yes feelings are very powerful.

However, acting intelligently on our journey to godhood requires that we have the power to act of our own free will. We cannot become like God if we always have to be acted upon (or be made to feel a certain way) to do what’s right. We cannot always feel a certain way before we will do what is right. If God only acted perfect when He felt perfect, or if He only blessed us when we loved Him, where then would we and His plan of salvation be?

If I’m not feeling the same feeling that I felt during a particularly excellent church service, it makes it more difficult to act on the truths the Holy Spirit taught me during that service. The spiritual feeling has passed. The knowledge received remains. But, without the feeling I become stupid. I somehow think I have to feel charitable to act charitable. I somehow think I have to feel repentant to go and repent. I somehow think I have to feel forgiveness before I can begin to forgive.knowledgepic

But, consider this requirement we place upon ourselves to feel before acting in regard to our faith in Christ. Faith is acting on what we believe and know, not on what we feel in the moment. Faith, scripturally, is acting on things we know, or hope, to be true that are currently unseen to us (Alma 32:21).

If we always waited to “feel” a certain way (whether physically healthy, spiritually uplifted, or emotionally inclined) before we acted on the truth attached to those feelings, we would be of all beings the most weak. It is our ability to act despite our feelings that makes us inherently powerful—with the potential for godhood.

Military professionals, medical personnel, parents, etc. There are any number of groups of people who “train themselves” (or in other words, acquire skills and knowledge) so that when times of crises come, they know how to act despite how they feel. Doctors train some of their sensitivities so that they might be immune to medically traumatic scenes or individual physical appearance. Nurses and paramedics train to gain the skills necessary to handle situations that would send most people into psychological and emotional shock. In those moments, they let their training take control—not their feelings, or lack of feelings.

In Ether 12:27 we read:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

Again, I acknowledge the fact that the cliché “easier said than done,” applies here. It takes consistent and often heroic effort to act differently than we feel. And, depending on our differing and unique personal situations, often it seems as though we can justify not acting on what we know based on circumstantial variables. But again, when it comes to our weaknesses, an important truth remains…

The Holy Ghost is the Great Sanctifier. As we act—especially if it is against our feelings and natural man inclination—the Holy Ghost can take that willing action(s) and use it to make deep and permanent changes in us, over time. But, if we do not act, despite our feelings, then He cannot create changes is us against our will. If He could, agency would not exist.

Grace is not free, meaning we cannot be made into a godly creature against our will and daily actions. But, Grace is offered freely IF we act to make use of it. For example: what good is a blacksmith’s fire on a metal rod if he does strike the metal rod with a hammer, or bend it with a bending fork after it has been heated up? So, likewise, is the fire of grace useless to us if we take no action to change or bend under the heat it has given us.

Sometimes we congratulate ourselves that our intelligence is greater than others simply because we hide our stupidity better, or because we have longer durations between bouts. But the reality is that comparing ourselves to others is another act/bout of stupidity. We can always justify our stupidity in comparison to others. But, this will not help us become more intelligent. We have to own our bouts of stupidity. The only comparison we can truthfully make is between ourselves and God; against whom we all fall short. That is the only way to see our stupidity clearly and find the motivation to acquire the knowledge and skills we need to act intelligently—if we desire to be like Him.stupiditypic

Think of one truth, right now, that you know you don’t act on at all, or at least not consistently, frequently, or successfully. Now answer these questions:

  • What usually keeps you from acting intelligently? Is it laziness? It is a feeling? Is it a lack of skills?
    • If it is a feeling, or lack of feeling, take the time to write down the details of how that feeling (or lack of feeling) impacts your mental logic.
    • If it is a skill set, take the time to research and write down the steps necessary to get those skills.

There is no weakness, or stupidity, that can’t be overcome—through grace—by intelligent action. But, it takes humility to own your stupidity. It takes wisdom to not be afraid of your struggles, or the hammering and bending necessary to overcome them. It takes courage to work to get the skills you need to act on the knowledge of truth that you have—to make weaknesses become strengths; to turn knowledge into intelligence.

BT

I have been asked to respond to the issue regarding “where the line is” for acceptable media/entertainment. The concern was that because the Church has stopped saying “don’t watch rated R movies,” (an older “guideLINE”) people think it is now ok to watch some of them. So, I’m going to address this concern and tie it to something else that is very important.

Doctrine: There is no generic line to stand on, or to the side of, to be “like God” or “not like God. Commandments are not lines, they are steps to becoming godly. Guidelines given outside of commandments are for those who have not yet learned to listen, understand, and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost as they seek to become like God. We should not face “the metaphorical guidelines” given to us by prophets and see how close we can get to them, or how often we can hurdle them and still be “metaphorically righteous.” We should face God and see how close we can get to becoming like Him. We can’t label people are righteous or wicked based on our own self-imposed lines.

Too often good, god-fearing people, and very-good Christians, want an established line of what is wrong so that they can stay away from it. Most commandments are quite clear. Others require personal revelation from the Holy Ghost for individual application. It’s these commandments requiring individual application and personal revelation where people lean upon guidelines. This is because they mistakenly focus on “How far can I go before I’m wicked?” rather than seeking guidance from the Spirit on how to keep the commandment in their progression toward becoming godly.

While it is not an evil desire to want “lines,” it displays a lack of spiritual maturity. We all start spiritually immature and then spend our lives getting more and more spiritually mature as we learn to recognize and act upon the guidance of the Holy Ghost—whose job it is to help us become godly. The desire for “lines” should be considered carefully. Police Line Do not Cross - isolated on white

First, it’s important to understand that commandments are not guidelines. Commandments are steps to becoming like God. They are not negotiable (see Bible Dictionary for Covenant). Guidelines, then, are the counsel and advice we receive from prophets on issues where commandments are not as strictly defined or interpreted. So, the prophets offer “counsel” and “guidelines” to help us keep the commandments as we grow and become more spiritually mature in our understanding of the commandments and God’s will for us.

For example, thou shalt not commit adultery is pretty black and white (though arguably people struggle with it more these days it seems). But, fornication some people struggle with the “lines.” “How far can I go before I’m on the wrong side of the line?” people ask. “How long can we make out?” “Is French-kissing okay?” “How close can I put my hands near <fill in the blank> before I’ve ‘crossed the line?’” Well, the prophets have given “guidelines” to avoid committing fornication for those not spiritually mature enough to seek guidance from the Holy Ghost and follow it.

Those looking for lines are usually (though not always) those with unrighteous intent. Their intent is to get as much of what they desire without doing anything that would cause them to have to submit to the repentance process. The repentance process is embarrassing and uncomfortable. But, they want to get as far as they can “just before” crossing over into the repentance territory. This is sadly because they assume that as long as they don’t have to formally repent that they are “ok.” This could not be farther from the truth.

Second, there is a danger when we focus on “lines.” When we teach lines instead of commandments, often people forget why we have the guidelines at all, and so they find little incentive to stay away from them, or to keep from crossing them. Or, on the other hand, people get so converted to the “lines” that they actually omit the personal growth and spiritual maturity that comes from understanding and keeping the actual commandment(s) behind the guidelines.

Third, when we establish lines, people often stop thinking about the decisions that the lines solve for them. They may follow a guideline blindly and miss individual promptings and personal revelation tied to the commandment behind the guideline. There is a danger in having lines because people stop thinking, pondering, and becoming godly. They focus only on avoiding the line, not becoming godly. It’s not a bad start, but it won’t ultimately get them where they want to be.

Finally, some people who do take the time to think about why a line is in place often devise perfectly rational and justifiable ways to stand on the line, or hop over and back. This is because the commandment(s) behind the placing of the line has been completely obscured. The line is merely a line. It can be altered or changed by the context of life at the whim of the best debater. But a commandment is an eternal truth. Unlike the line, it is unchangeable, even by God. This is why the lines cannot become our final focus.

View of feet of man in white socks and gumshoes standing near grunge white line on gray asphalted road, ready to pass

So, lines are often established but they were never meant to be focused upon or to dominate our righteous living perspective. We were never intended to face the guideline to see how close we can get to it or how often we can hurdle it “safely.” We are intended to face God and use the guideline as the first step in a path of righteousness that leads us closer to Him and away from the line.

What is the doctrine? We are here on earth to try to become like God. Period.

So, instead of always asking, “Where is the line?” Or, “How far can I go before I’m in the wrong?” What we should be asking is, “Is this <thing> helping me become like God?” Or, we could ask, “Is this <entertainment> leading me to follow and emulate Christ better than yesterday?”

Visit this link to see the “guidelines” for entertainment and media by modern prophets: https://www.lds.org/youth/for-the-strength-of-youth/entertainment-and-media?lang=eng

These guidelines once included the more specific line to not watch any rated R movies. But, that specific line has since been removed. Some people have often made the mistake of thinking that the removal of this more specific line justifies them watching rated R movies if they can ascertain that it doesn’t contain a list of overt negatives. This is because they are facing the line. However, it is quite obvious, in the wake of modern media that the intent of the prophets counsel was the exact opposite.

Many PG-13 movies are okay. Many are not. If the prophets left the guideline at “no rated R movies,” then people would assume that all PG-13 movies are okay. They are not. The guidelines for “no rated R movies,” has been removed because the prophets want us to become more spiritually mature. They want us to think, ponder, and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in ALL of our media choices. Very little media today is completely safe. Therefore, if we are more spiritually mature and can learn to evaluate any media, even with more acceptable ratings, by the power of the Holy Ghost, we will be so much the safer from Satan’s temptations and tactics—because Satan uses the media to great effect to bring down even the most elect of God’s children.

Satan is practiced enough to slip even the most inappropriate of humor and subtlety into even a children’s show. If we stop evaluating entertainment simply because someone else we don’t even know has given it a certain rating, then we are of all people, incredibly deceived.

So, let’s step beyond the guidelines and look at some commandments that apply to entertainment and media. These are the steps to godliness that should guide our entertainment and media choices.

  • Let virtue garnish they thoughts unceasingly (Doctrine and Covenants 121:45)
  • Do not even look upon a woman to lust after her (Matthew 5:28)
  • We believe in being honest, true, chaste…if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things (13th Article of Faith)
  • Charity is kind, envieth not, is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth in truth (Moroni 7:45)

I could recite more, but the scriptures are available to each of us. The fact is, when you evaluate entertainment, are you asking yourself:

  • Does this help me maintain virtuous thoughts unceasingly?
  • Does this subtly, or overtly, support lust?
  • Is this media/entertainment praiseworthy and of good report? (And I’m not talking about it getting two thumbs up)
  • Does this media lead me to be humble, to be non-contentious or non-violent, to be kind, to think righteous thoughts, and to rejoice in truth?

Now, here is a scripture that teaches us how to judge anything. It’s Moroni 7:13-17:

13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

Every thing that in combination: inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve Him, is inspired of God.

Every thing that in combination: persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny Him, and serve not God, then it is not inspired of God…which means its inspired of the devil.

Note, that I put emphasis on “in combination.” This is because people like to take things out of context to justify their actions. They will say, “Well, five minutes of the movie invites me to give to the poor,” or “The main character’s goal was basically good, if he/she used inappropriate means to attain it,” and so forth. They want to cite one aspect of the movie/media to justify them seeing it. But one piece of a movie is not sufficient to bring it into the realm of leading us to godliness and Christ. To purport that one lump of sugar counteracts ten lumps of salt is illogical.

Start Here Beginning Line Road Words 3d Illustration

The truth is, lots of movies have pieces that are quite good. But, taken together with the whole do NOT meet all the conditions mentioned for leading us to Christ. As well, lots of movies have pieces that are not good, but taken together with the whole meet the conditions mentioned for leading us to Christ.

If you want examples, I won’t give them. I have my own accountability and path to godliness to work out. Each of you have yours. It’s up to you to seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost and make application for yourself.

You Can’t Put People Behind Your Own Favorite Lines

Now, as I have pondered this topic, I have come to feel that the same people who want lines for themselves often judge others by their own self-imposed lines. Just as they categorize themselves as righteous for staying on the right side of such and such lines, they will categorize others as evil if they step over even one line. The people who do this are in great danger of calling evil good and good evil.

We cannot categorize people by our own dependence upon spiritual lines. This is the height of the downfall of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees in Jesus’ time. Each group, whether the scribes, the Pharisees, or the Sadducees, had their own set of lines. They unrighteously judged everyone around them as wicked if they breached even one of their so-called lines. Sure, the Pharisees kept some commandments (behind their lines) perfectly in an outward way. But, inside, they had failed to recognize the purpose of the commandments and had neglected actually becoming godly. In other words, they didn’t keep all the commandments though it looked like they did. They neglected mercy, grace, forgiveness, and humility—which are of far more weight than other commandments (Matthew 23:23).

Consider this…and it is a scary thought. But, many of those who struggled with more outward commandments and were frequently labeled as sinners by the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees actually recognized Christ as the Son of God and followed Him when He came. The Pharisees did not. What does that teach each of us about focusing on lines? How was this possible that people who were outwardly so righteous could completely miss recognizing Christ?!

I’m sure I can’t name all of the reasons why the Pharisees couldn’t recognize Christ for who He was, but I am certain one of them was their inability to see beyond their own “lines.” Christ healed on the Sabbath, because healing His fellowmen was a higher-law/weightier commandment than that of keeping the Sabbath Day Holy. This, according to the Pharisees, was a breach of religious law. So, they labeled Christ as a sinner. Can you believe that? They called Christ a sinner!

Whether it applies to entertainment and media or how we evaluate and treat our fellowmen, we must learn to understand the purpose of “lines.” They are in place for us to hurdle (in the right direction) in our journey toward God. Guidelines help us learn to keep a commandment as we increase in spiritual maturity until we can learn to live by the Spirit, instead.

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 sentences 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 MormonWoman 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 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).

Doctrine: There is only one way to access a fullness of grace and that is by seeking to BECOME GODLY. Becoming godly requires both WORKS and FAITH. These two spiritual items are welded firmly together and cannot be separated to serve our particular brand of righteousness.

Grace is not a topic that any one of us can claim to truly understand completely. Why? Well, because it’s God’s gift, not ours. God is the one who designed it. God is the one who has set its conditions on it. And God is the one who gives it.

However, when it comes to making sense of grace personally, most people tend to fall into two categories of understanding grace. You have the WORKS team and you have the FAITH team.

The WORKS team is under the impression that:

Good works = grace

In other words, keep the commandments, check everything off the righteous list and you get grace. It’s something you earn by being “good.”

The FAITH team is under the impression that:

Confessing Christ = grace

In other words, love Christ, believe in Him, and admit that you can’t get back to God without Him and you get grace. It’s something you get because of your “belief.”

Here is the sad reality. There aren’t two teams. There is only one team. It is the BECOMING GODLY team. If there is another team, it is the NOT BECOMING GODLY team. Which, would, in effect be the team that Satan presides over; not necessarily because he’s wanted as a coach, but because he’s the only coach available for those who don’t want to become like God. There are only two coaches: Christ and Satan. Stinks to not have a third choice, but there you have it.

The reason there is only one team for getting grace is that the purpose of grace is to become like god. It has no other purpose. So, if you’re only checking things off a list (WORKS) but your heart isn’t changing into something godly through faith in the process, then you are like a “whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

Or, if you are saying you love Christ, believe in Him, and can’t get back to God without Him (FAITH team), but you have no desire to, or intent to, change your life too much (especially where it’s uncomfortable and difficult to change) to be more like Him, then you are in the group the Lord was referring to when He said: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Faith that doesn’t lead to good works is not true faith.

Cooperate for successful work
Faith and Works are two pieces of the grace puzzle that can’t be separated.

I find it simply ridiculous that people study the scriptures, or Christian religion, until they find the sayings and scripture verses that support their beliefs and then leave off. It’s like they don’t want to know the whole truth, or they only want to know the truth they like, because it’s easy to keep doing what they are doing. Or, they are too lazy to make a study of the spectrum of God’s commands, covenants, and instructions regarding grace because it requires effort and change. They don’t really want to “know” God. Because you can’t throw yourself into becoming godly and getting to know Him without being prompted to start becoming so.

As we seek Him, God will give us more and more light and knowledge until we become like Him (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24; Alma 12:9-11). That’s why so many people stop. It’s scary! To stare grace in the face—real grace—and realize what God is asking is terrifying. To try and boil it down to WORKS versus FAITH is laughable, selfish, and prideful. While God has created us to experience joy (2 Nephi 2:25), He didn’t send us to earth to clown around and simply have a good time. A lot of people don’t want to know that.

People who count themselves as good commandment keepers (WORKS team) will quote WORKS scriptures all day and take joy in finding others have fallen short of grace; or at the least they will congratulate themselves that they have earned it when others are still hopelessly unenlightened. On the other hand, people who count themselves as good confessors of Christ (FAITH team) do the same thing in the opposite manner. They quote only faith scriptures all day long and hold enmity in their hearts for the WORKS team who acts so high and mighty. Both are exhibiting selfishness and pride.

God has asked not only for our acts, or body, but for our heart, mind, might, and strength –which I think covers just about everything (Doctrine and Covenants 59:5).

If grace is about becoming godly, then we need to think about what God has that we are trying to get.

  1. God has eternal family
  2. God has a resurrected, perfected body that cannot die
  3. God is perfectly just
  4. God is perfectly merciful
  5. God is all-knowing and omniscient
  6. God is perfectly obedient and sinless
  7. God is all-powerful (to the extent that He remains 1-6)

As a free gift for stepping into this mortal life we will all get #2. Wicked or righteous, it’s ours.

However, the rest of the things we need come through grace.

To get #6 we have to develop a nature that repents immediately and loses all desire to sin. We exercise faith when we act to repent and work toward change. The Holy Ghost takes that faith and work and uses it to put our soul in the furnace of grace and bend our desires to God’s.

To get #1 we have to receive specific ordinances and covenants (several) that one by one lead us to this great privilege of being bound to our spouse and children forever.

To get #3-#5 we have to have faith that by acting in obedience to God’s commands that over time we will become these things. We have to take the time to learn, ponder, and figure out how God does these. We have to seek the Holy Ghost for the knowledge we can’t get on our own. This requires faith and lots of work.

To get #7 we have to receive all the ordinances and covenants of God’s gospel plan so that as we receive power in this life, and in the eternities, that this power is controlled by our covenants and natures of righteousness. We have to have faith that as we receive these ordinances and receive these covenants that God, through the furnace of grace and the power of the Holy Ghost, will slowly alter our souls to become like His, so that He can share all He has with us–that includes His power.

The NOT BECOMING GODLY team looks the exact opposite of all of this. I’ll let each of you read through the above again in the negative. It has an incredible impact. We often fail to do this and we miss out.

So, you’ve seen the “BECOMING GODLYL team’s” viewpoint, and, the case in point is this. Why did anyone ever create two limited teams for grace at all? Why aren’t we all on the same team? A team divided cannot stand!

Advocates for WORKS, who are themselves usually great commandment keepers, are so afraid that others will get the same glory without all the same effort. They are so afraid that by not preaching WORKS that others will take grace for granted and sit around in laziness expecting to be saved. What these WORKS advocates don’t realize is that they are just as lazy as those who advocate FAITH. They are lazy in the aspects of the law that are not visible to others. They have left some stuff undone!

Did not Christ say, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23).

Yet, if you look closely, this verse also instructs the FAITH team that though judgment, mercy, and faith are weightier, the other more “worksy” commandments are still not to be left undone. The FAITH team needs to stop being lazy in the more visible aspects of the law.

BOTH FAITH and WORKS are synonymous with BECOMING GODLY. You can’t become godly without both. So, it’s time to get rid of the delineation and animosity between the teams.

People connect letters to compose the team word. Teamwork concept
We’re all on the same BECOMING GODLY team.

Could you have faith in a God whose works you couldn’t trust, who didn’t adhere to law? Could you have faith in a God who only had good intentions but never carried them out? Imagine God saying to you, “Well, I meant to bless you, and I believe I should and that it’s a good thing, but I’ll get to it another day, unless something more important comes up.” I can’t. So also, we should not expect to become godly with only good intentions and invisible faith.

On the other hand, none of us can imagine a God who cared only about works and not about faith, hope, charity, and mercy. Indeed, if God were not merciful and didn’t love us despite our lack of good works, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.

The reality is that those who truly love God will attempt with every mortal breath to emulate Him (John 14:15) both in WORKS and FAITH. That requires faith and works.

Now, when it comes to others we have to stop judging who has access to grace and who doesn’t. We cannot judge others to be outside of grace only because they sin differently than we do (whether visible or invisible). We cannot treat them as if they are outside of grace. They are not. We can postulate and estimate and guess all day long what other people need to fix and do better, but it will still never give us a sum of grace for them that is accurate. And, if we do so, we are sitting in the same hot pot that the scribes and Pharisees sat in which wasn’t so great. So, if I were you, I’d get out.

All of us are eternally bound within Christ’s grace to the extent that we meet its many and varied conditions. Grace is how we live and breathe. We all have access to it in differing amounts based on the light and truth we are willing to receive and honor. But, when it comes to others, we should always treat them as God does-with grace. Accept all the good they can offer, and let them and God work out the other details we simply will never be good enough to see. It’s not your job to carry their burdens, to make them feel guilty, to forgive their sins, or to cast judgment upon them. Christ has taken all that. So, let it go.

As a final thought on the oneness of the terms FAITH and WORKS, Let’s look at one example. Prayer. We get on our knees to pray (WORKS) because we have FAITH that God is there and He is listening. Then, add our real intent to do as He asks (WORKS) believing that if we do it He will bless us (FAITH). How could anyone ever separate FAITH and WORKS of any kind, ever?

I could go on and on. The evidence is there in the scriptures (all of them) as clear as day. FAITH and WORKS have never been separate. They have always been welded firmly together. One validates the other. One leads to the other. One inspires the other. Only humanity has been unsuccessful in trying to separate them. And look at the damage it’s done.

WORKS without faith is useless in accessing grace. FAITH without works is useless in accessing grace. God demands both as the condition of receiving salvation and exaltation.

As well, conditions for grace that require WORKS and FAITH do not keep people from godliness (or a specific heaven, as some might say). Such conditions, requiring WORKS and FAITH are what protect godliness, or a specific heaven. Godliness isn’t for everyone. It is only for those that choose it. And, to get such great glory and power requires—through grace—FAITH and WORKS.

So, if you’re good at works. It’s time to buckle down and get better at charity and the weightier matters of the law, which requires prayer, faith, and hope—stuff that’s hard to measure. If you’re good at charity and forgiveness, it’s time to buckle down and get better at keeping laws, ordinances, and covenants. You can’t forever be of two opinions. “If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). Don’t sit around and “answer not a word.” There is no middle ground. There are only two coaches.

At some point you either have to choose the BECOMING GODLY team or the NOT BECOMING GODLY team. As for me and my house, we choose the BECOMING GODLY team (Joshua 24:15).

BT

Doctrine: Abraham is one scriptural example, among many, that proves that God DOES and will continue to ask, command, and request His people to do things that don’t make sense…initially. He does this, not for His own benefit, but to teach us about ourselves. We learn the extent of our trust, spiritual commitment, and power. If we will trust Him and do what He asks, even when it doesn’t make sense, we will be rewarded with meaning, purpose, answers, and unshakable faith.

People throughout the history of the earth have gotten frustrated when God has asked them to do things that didn’t make sense, or even seemed crazy, initially. Some people have pressed forward and done the apparently senseless things anyway. Some have thought that because the requests or commands appear senseless, even unfair, that God can’t be behind them; so they have jumped out of the church/God wagon. Human logic, human sense, they feel, dictates whether or not God will do something.

If you don’t believe in God or religion, then, this post isn’t for you. However, if you believe in any scripture (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, etc.) and you take the time to pay attention to the things God asks, does, or institutes in His church, you will find that He frequently DOES, ASKS, and INSTITUTES things that don’t make sense…initially.

Let’s talk about Abraham. Abraham and his father didn’t agree on their religious beliefs orabraham-39462-print practices. In fact, Abraham’s father set aside Jehovah and instead opted for Egyptian gods and Egyptian culture. Abraham’s father was so far off the  straight and narrow that he willingly allowed the priests of Pharoah to take Abraham and sacrifice him to Egyptian idols. Abraham was, of course, saved by Jehovah and led away to safety; but I’m guessing the psychology of such an experience was still plenty horrific and made a sufficient scar on Abraham’s soul.

Fast forward many, many years. You’re Abraham. God has repeatedly promised you posterity (seed) that will number more than the stars in the sky and the granules of sand on beach. But, you and your wife are barren. So, then, the Lord commands you to take a second wife—a concubine. Your first wife agrees because the Lord has commanded it, and because you both think, “Well, perhaps this is how the Lord’s promise will be fulfilled.”

So, the concubine conceives and gives Abraham Ishmael, who was undoubtedly righteous. But, because of the bickering between the concubine and the wife, the Lord tells Abraham to send Ishmael, his son, and concubine away. Then, God renews the promise of seed through another child. But, Abraham and Sara are still barren, and getting older, and still don’t conceive.

Then, by another miracle, some angels visit and renew the promise of a birthright child. Sarah at last conceives and brings forth a son. The miracle at last! This son grows up. He is a joy. He is righteous. He is good.abraham-isaac-sacrifice-2

Then, the Lord comes one day and asks Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, by his wife Sarah, and sacrifice him to the Lord. WHAT? THAT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE!

Let’s simply consider all the reasons this request was somewhat incredible, ridiculous, sort of twisted, and simply senseless.

  • First, how many times and over how many years had God promised Abraham seed by his wife Sarah?
  • For how long had Sarah been barren? We know she was in her 90s and Abraham about 100 or so. That’s a long time.
  • How much of an impossible miracle was it that Isaac had ever been born to begin with? It was amazing!
  • Second, let’s not forget Abraham was nearly sacrificed to Egyptian gods by his own father. We have to believe that that left a psychological scar.

So, any of us might, as Abraham certainly could have, be tempted to think that God was not who we thought He was. Any person might be completely justified in thinking that this was a sick joke and that all that they had once thought they believed in was somehow now completely off. Any person might be tempted to leave the faith of Jehovah over a request like this. This was not from God. God wouldn’t do this, right?

But, Abraham didn’t leave. Why? The answer: FAITH.

Now, we know the Lord did not, in the end, allow Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. We also know that Isaac was a willing sacrifice. He too exercised FAITH in Jehovah. There are many beautiful doctrines and parallels to be extracted from this account. However, let’s talk about Abraham.abraham-isaac-sacrifice

Genesis 22:11-12 reads:

And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

Now, scripture also teaches us that God knows everything (2 Nephi 9:20). And, if He knows everything, then He already knew what Abraham would do. So, what then was the purpose of this seemingly senseless request?

Hugh B. Brown said of this experience. “Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham” (Joseph Smith the Prophet [1989], 93).

Abraham had to trust what He knew about the Lord and have FAITH, despite the senseless request. By doing what the Lord asked (or complying with the Lord’s request) despite the fact that it didn’t make any sense, he was rewarded with a FAITH that could not be shaken and a knowledge of his own righteousness. Abraham now knew that the LORD would always provide, as he named the place Jehovah-jireh (Genesis 22:14). He also learned about himself! He learned that He really would do all the Lord God asked of him. He didn’t just hope he was faithful. He didn’t just assume he was faithful. He now knew.

There are numerous other scriptural examples of God asking His church, the Saints, and His children individually, to do things that don’t make sense…initially. Each one is different. And, it is for you to search them out for yourself. Abraham (as far as we know) was the only one asked to offer his only son as a sacrifice (symbolic of God offering Christ). Ultimately, Abraham didn’t have to sacrifice Isaac. But, others are asked to do other things and God doesn’t always provide a ram. God doesn’t always step in. Sometimes the hard, seemingly nonsensical things He implements or asks us to do we are expected to do (like Nephi being asked to kill Laban). We receive no witness, no added strength, no confirmation of our own standing and power, until after the trial of our faith (Ether 12:6)!

But, no matter the sense or senselessness of the commands of God, they have a clear purpose. They teach us about ourselves. They teach us the extent of our personal commitment to God and the covenants we’ve made. They can significantly grow our faith and increase our trust in God and make us unshakable.strong-shadow-converted

It seems in these current times, these last days, these modern moments, that people like to highlight that faith is waning. They like to make a big deal out of people leaving the LDS church. They cite the people dropping out of the church as evidence for its false nature and fallibility. They think the prophets and apostles are coming out with policies that don’t make sense, and are “not what God would do.” They think the church has always done things that don’t make sense. They find anything they can to prove we don’t know what we’re talking about, or that leaders and members past and present are flawed.

Now, I’m not about to say that people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are perfect. They’re not. They’re flawed, messed up, human, prone to regular struggles, prone to pride and over-zealousness, and sin. Even the church leadership, past and present, is not perfect. Yet, I can’t find anywhere in scripture where God cites that prophets have to be perfect. But, He does say that prophets receive direct revelation from Jehovah, the Savior, Jesus Christ; and that this is how God communicates with His people (Amos 3:7). And, when these prophets and apostles release a policy or maintain a policy that we feel doesn’t make sense, I know that the policy (or the maintenance of it) has been given by revelation from God.

These are the days to be tested! These are the days to be tried! These are the days to learn about ourselves. To find out the extent of our trust and faith in the God we believe in; in the organization of his latter-day church. We can’t sit lukewarm in the middle (Revelations 3:16). There isn’t a middle, not really. There never really has been. But these are the days to choose, once and for all! Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?

So, when things that don’t make sense to you come up. Will you fear and jump out of the wagon? Or, will you, like Abraham, trust in the Lord with FAITH that He will provide answers, meaning, resolution, guidance, and peace regarding the things you don’t understand—in time.

Now, everyone has a different experience. And I can’t speak for others. But, I’ve had my share of opportunities to jump out of the wagon. I’ve had my share of things I didn’t understand and that didn’t make sense. I’ve often been crushed under the weight of uncertainty. But, though it’s often only been by a sliver, I’ve held on. And, without fail, without any exception, God has given meaning, purpose, and perspective to everything that didn’t make sense…to every struggle that logically justified jumping out of the wagon.

How grateful I am that up to this point I have hung in there. My FAITH and diligence has been rewarded. It ALWAYS is. I know, that if you are struggling with things you don’t understand. You’re not alone. And, I know that in many ways it’s on purpose. God is teaching you about you. You will learn, as you press forward in faith, the extent of your own strength. You will come to know as Abraham did, that you fear God and will do what He says…no matter what.

BT

Doctrine: God’s plan is small, simple, and plain. It is based on small and simple doctrines and principles. Satan can’t frustrate God’s plan and so he focuses on frustrating us by distracting us with complexities that steal away peace and faith. Life is hard. It will always be hard. But, by embracing the small and simple principles, ordinances, and covenants God offers us (Christ’s yoke) it can be easier, more full of peace, and will ultimately lead us where we want to go.

Simple is a word frequently misinterpreted and under-defined.  We often use the terms simple and easy synonymously, but they do not have the same meaning; they are not the same.  The word easy means requiring no great labor or effort.  In other words, if something is easy then it comes to us without doing much of anything.  Many things start out difficult and then as we do them, they become easy.  But easy is not the same as simple.

The word simple means understandable; not complex or elaborate; not compound; free of deceit. Therefore simple does not necessarily mean easy to do because many simple things require great labor and effort.  As well, many things that are easy are not necessarily simple.  Therefore, when something is simple, it means that it is something that is within our ability to comprehend.  Things that are simple are not designed to be above us or to be evasive.  Things that are simple are also not designed to deceive; they are specifically designed to help, teach and support.

The word ‘small’ is often used synonymously with words defining size and importance, such as short, tiny, unimportant, irrelevant, trivial, or minor.  All of these synonyms, while often used interchangeably with the word small, are really very different in definition.  They indicate a lack of substance.  The word, small, however, while referring to a limited size, has greater meaning outside of that context.  It is actually a perfect partner for the word simple, because small means narrow, not great in amount, degree, extent or duration; small means humble, modest and unpretentious.

Small and simple principles are plain. Small and simple principles are within comprehension and are not too large hard for us to understand. Small and simple principles, then, are not principles that are limited in size. They are principles that have been made understandable while still maintaining importance and substance.

So, how does Satan combat the small and simple principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Well, his objective is to complicate the simplicity of the gospel and render us miserable in the obsession and distraction of complicated and confusing minutia. He spends all his time trying to get us to complicate what is quite clear and simple and plain.Complicated - Simple signpost with sky background

  • Simple doctrine: The purpose of life is to become like God.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us a perfect plan whereby we can accomplish this.
  • Simple doctrine: He has provided the Atonement by which we access grace to aid us in the godly learning process. We can make mistakes. We can sin. We can learn from these mistakes and sins. Then, we can be made clean again. We can then be sanctified as we meet the conditions for repentance and become godly.
  • Simple doctrine: We have been given agency which means we can hurt and we can be hurt by others. We can get sick. We can get injured. We can even die. But, then, God can give us back our lives, perfect our bodies from any loss or damage, and make us immortal.
  • Simple doctrine: God has given us His simple gospel plan, with proper priesthood authority, saving ordinances and covenants, and guidance, comfort and hope through the Gift of the Holy Ghost to aid us in achieving the purpose of the plan—to become like and to live with Him forever (i.e. eternal life).

This is the plan. It is simple. It is small. It is plain. God gives us, in addition to simple doctrines, simple principles with which apply these doctrines. They come in the form of commandments (do’s and do not’s). They are short and sweet. For example: Learn of me. Listen to my words. Walk in the meekness of my Spirit and you shall have peace in me (Doctrine and Covenants 19:23). Then, there’s the B-attitudes. There’s the ten, specified, commandments. There’s examples and witnesses in the scriptures for us to apply and learn from. All are given simply and clearly.

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord god doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.

Alma 37:6-7

So, how does Satan complicate this simple plan, it’s simple doctrines and principles?

Satan encourages us to ignore the Atonement and complain about the unfairness and inconsistencies in life. He tempts us to find happiness in more complex ways that require dishonesty, pride, selfishness, and entitlement. He encourages us to ignore the value and power of faith based on witnesses from the Holy Ghost (a member of the godhead) and instead place our trust in cold hard facts that we can see…though those facts are human-delivered and change from year-to-year, decade-to-decade, and century-to-century. He leads us to believe false, complicated doctrines with a hint of truth. He encourages dissent, contention, nit-picking at the flaws of others, and disbelief. “It can’t be that simple,” he will say. He ever and always leads us down more complex roads with arduous journeys and dead ends.

Satan’s tactics work simply by their ability to distract us from the simple straight and narrow path. They work because we do get tired. We do get offended. We do get discouraged. We desire answers. We want revenge or justice, etc. Satan’s uses our desires to fuel his tactics to distract and complicate our way.

  1. Are there imperfect people in the world and God’s church? Yes.
  2. Does God care? Yes.
  3. Will God force others to be how we want them to be? No. Agency is paramount that personal accountability and justice might be preserved, mercy met, and the plan upheld.
  4. Will God still sanction His gospel, His organized church, and the small and simple plan it preaches and teaches despite the imperfection of its people? Yes. His church is His church because it has the fullness of His plan not because it’s people are perfect. It’s a boat that leads us to a destination. It’s that simple.
  5. Does God expect us to apply simple doctrines and principles in the face of great offenses, deep hurts, unfair treatment, and the like? Yes. (see Doctrine and Covenants 122:8)

There is no path in life that is not hard. But, we can be tossed to and fro on the minutia and struggles of life and the imperfections of people if we focus on those to the loss of the straight and narrow path.

Live. Love. Forgive. Repent. Serve. Be better each day. Keep the commandments as poorly or as well as you can each day and let grace carry what you can’t give, but desire to give. Seek and find. Knock and receive blessings. Get your ordinances. Make your covenants. Pray always. Endure to the end.

I have had my share of trials. I have had my share of offenses. I know more trial and problems will come. Life is guaranteed with nearly constant opposition. These things are not fun. I have struggled to get through most of them. Some, I managed to pass through with a bit more gracefulness. Some, I have eked through by the skin of my teeth. When such issues are present they seem to absorb all of our mental functioning. They make the small and simple truths of the gospel plan seem ineffective and uncomforting, at times. But, when endured, I have looked back and realized that nothing more than the simple instruction I received would have been helpful in enduring and coming out better on the other side. There was never a complicated solution to what was only a need of simple time, faith, and endurance.

I have read my share of excellent arguments against God, His people, His church, and religion in general. Some were quite compelling. Some were ridiculous. Some were well-researched. Some were full of well-hidden fallacies. Some attempted to be unbiased and simply ask questions. Others were horrifically biased. But, they all left my mind spinning with distracting minutia that when placed against the small and simple plan of God were shown to be nothing more than that—a distraction.

And, when I looked at those who were succumbing to such trials and being caught by those excellent arguments I saw them get obsessed with busy, overwhelming, depressing minutia. They focused on some detail or argument to the exclusion of everything small and simple, and true (which is always in greater amounts). And, I have not yet seen these obsessions with minutia bring peace or joy to any who so struggled. Some are doing better than others. But none of them are “settled.” None of them are truly at peace.

Simplicity concept.
Illustration depicting a green roadsign with a simplicity concept. White background.

Life is hard. People can be really messed up sometimes. But there is no substitute for the small, simple, and plain plan God has provided for His children. It makes up for all the weakness, struggle, opposition, unfairness, sickness, loss, and death. It’s all covered.

So, we can choose to get caught up in minutia. We can panic, fear, or resent. We can obsess over things we don’t understand or the imperfections of even the supposed elect of God. But, none of that is going to make us happy. None of that is going to get us to our goal of eternal joy. And that’s exactly what Satan wants. It has ever been his design to frustrate the plan of God. But, he can’t frustrate God’s plan which is really frustrating to him. So, at this point, he can only frustrate us.

The UN-MAN

I highly recommend reading C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy. It’s not science fiction at all…not really. It’s religious philosophy beautifully couched within a fantasy/science fiction story. In the second book, Perelandra, there is a character called the “un-man.” If you’re brave enough to read this series, you will come to an understanding of how Satan tries to complicate simple, plain truths better than ever before. You will see how he works by studying the “un-man.” I could also recommend the Screwtape Letters.

[note: C.S. Lewis was a truly inspired man. He was raised Catholic. Became an atheist. Then, through pondering, some philosophizing, and other experiences found his way right back to God. He was a man who understood the tactics of Satan.]

Satan will use intellect, education, current scientific facts for as long as we will listen to them. He will use flattery and persuasion as long as we will listen to them. He will mix truths with half-truths for as long as we will entertain them. He will incite selfishness over a slow course of time and convince you that you are always acting for the benefit of others for as long as you will fall for it. And, when at last intellect and reason fail, he will resort to ridiculous, childish tactics that distract and wear us down.

On the other hand, God “doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness…” (2 Nephi 26:33). God wants us back. He wants to give us all we have. That’s why He keeps it small and simple. We can choose to get distracted…but that choice is ours.

Now, this doesn’t mean that questions or struggles or concerns are bad. But, as we’ve been counseled by God’s servants. We are to doubt our doubts and hold on to the faith and testimony we have (Jeffrey R. Holland, Lord I Believe, April 2013). We are to seek, study, ask, knock, and keep the gospel simple, not getting caught up in unnecessary and ridiculous complexity (Uchtdorf, It Works Wonderfully!, October 2015). We are to endure until the answers come, line upon line, precept upon precept (Doctrine and Covenant 50:24). These are simple doctrines and principles that require patience and endurance. Two more simple principles.

Yes, it’s hard to be patient; but seeking out complexities doesn’t ease our anxiety. It only complicates and increases it. So, if we are finding something complicated, distracting, and troublesome and it causes us to fear and doubt, then it doesn’t come from God. That is NOT how He works.

Yet, God certainly doesn’t make everything in life clear. For example, He doesn’t tell you why you get one trial or struggle and someone else doesn’t. He won’t tell you why your child was allowed to die and He decided to save another. He doesn’t step in and explain all of His ways. And, even if He did, we do not have the capacity to understand them all because He is an all-knowing, omniscient being who can see past, present, and future before Him at all times (Isaiah 55:8-9). He knows what is best for each of us whether we understand it or not. We are mortal, finite beings. It is arrogant to think we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge when we can’t handle it all. And, what knowledge He does dispense He gives line upon line, precept upon precept as we are willing to accept it, act on it, and honor it (Alma 12:9-11). His knowledge isn’t for those who doubt, unless they are willing to press forward in faith.

Jacob 4:8 teaches: Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him…

Then, building upon that thought; in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, Aslan (a type of Christ) constantly tells Shasta and Aravis (when they ask questions about the paths and journeys of others; the whys and why nots) that he tells each person their own story and no one else’s. We can easily become distracted by the whys and why nots and minutia of other people’s paths and problems. We can take offense for what we do not understand and what God will not reveal to us since it is not our revelation to get. If we are excited by such troubles of others to serve and strengthen them, this is good. But if we become obsessed with the minutia of other people’s lives, it is a waste. God is not going to tell us about anyone’s path but our own.Keep It Simple

Keep it Simple

So, it’s a hard thing to ask, but I hope all of you will accept the small and simple plan God has given us. I encourage you to focus on the small and simple doctrines it has which explain the majority of the whys and why nots (which I find are “because it helps us become like God,” or “because it doesn’t help us become like God”). Then, use the small and simple gospel commandments and principles to press forward and receive the immortality and eternal life God is spending all His eternity trying to give you (Moses 1:39).

So, I said small and simple. I never said any of this was easy. But God did! (see Matthew 11:30).

How is God’s small and simple plan clear and easy? Life is hard. But, it’s harder without God and without the fullness of Christ’s grace and Atonement. So, God has said His plan, and our life, is easier as we embrace the Atonement and grace Christ offers through His ordinances and covenants (His yoke). His ordinances and covenants are how God dispenses His power and blessings (see previous blog “God’s Power is NOT Absolute”). Under His simple yoke, our burdens will indeed become easier and lighter (Matthew 11:30) because we are avoiding distractions and Satan’s tempting complexities and a path of Satan’s that will wind and twist and take us further and further away from what we truly want.

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.

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.

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?

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow
hands opening a red gift box with gold ribbon in shadow. Horizontal composition. Top view.

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.

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, 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

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.

Doctrine: #5) We have to understand and know God from personal study and faith in order to be able to withstand and reason through struggles, issues, and doubts.

This is continued from PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

Not the last reason I don’t leave the church, but the final one I will share, and that reason is “I know the God whom I worship” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:19). I don’t mean to laugh, because I do care, but sometimes I shake my head or laugh when people I know and people I don’t know get caught up in church policy and the actions (past and present) of church leaders, local leadership, or indeed even of church organization and many other things they don’t take the time to understand.

Why do I laugh? Because these people get all in an uproar about how “God wouldn’t do this,” or “God wouldn’t do that,” and I’m incredulous because I know, for a fact, they haven’t studied the scriptures. Not really. They haven’t gone to the Bible or other Standard Works to research what God would really do! Because He would do exactly what they’re saying He wouldn’t… He has done it before in many different ways and for very specific reasons.

Who God is and how He deals with His people is wide open for all to see in every page of scripture available—for those who study them. A knowledge of God and a close relationship with Him is the most important things each of us can ever gain from a study of the scriptures. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God who led Moses and the Israelites, the God who came down to earth and gave His life as a ransom for ours; the God who organized His church with Peter, James, and John; the God who appeared to Joseph Smith and restored His gospel and church back to the earth, is a god who:

  • Upholds justice and law

  • Allows all His children to learn and seek for answers whether they are in leadership positions, politics, the middle class, living on the streets, or not. He gives out freebie revelations in rare instances.

  • Offers mercy and salvation in exchange for repentance and a change in who we are becoming

  • Asks His people to do things that do not always make sense, but that do make sense in principle for those who seek to understand it (Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened…)

  • Wants His people to be different from the rest of the world

  • Requires sacrifice of personal possessions, beliefs, traditions, time, goals, professions, and even family and friends (in some circumstances), and seeks to help us accomplish this with commandments we do not always like or want

  • Blesses us all in many ways even though we don’t deserve it but is bound to bless us when we keep His commandments and He takes joy in being free to do so

  • Reveals much to us concerning His will but only line upon line as we are able to accept it or live it by faith

  • Is capable of doing what is best for all mankind and for each individual at the same time

  • Will command us to do things that previously He has forbidden if it serves His current perfectly-intentioned purposes

  • Is long-suffering and will continue to offer blessings and repentance to us until our last mortal breath no matter who we are or what we’ve done

  • Can heal any injury or suffering whether spiritual, psychological, emotional, or physical in this life or in the resurrection

  • Will give us exactly what we want if we are determined to have it whether to our glory or condemnation

I could go on. But, put simply, I don’t leave the church because I have worked long and hard to know who God is (and I continue to do so) and I trust Him. I know how He works and so many of the things that throw other people off their groove I find I can easily take in stride because I have seen the precedence of it in the scriptures, in my life, in the lives of others, and I recognize it in its modern version. I know that He truly is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

In the Book of Mormon, Laman and Lemuel murmured, “because they knew NOT the dealings of that God who created them” (1 Nephi 2:12). As well, in the Joseph Smith Translation of Mathew 24 found in The Pearl of Great Price we read, “And whoso treasureth up my word shall not be deceived…” (JST-Matthew 1:37). In the parable of the ten virgins Christ doesn’t keep them out of the feast because they’re bad people. They were obviously fairly decent. They knew about Him and they believed in Him or they wouldn’t have tried to attend the wedding feast. But, what He clearly says is, “I know you not,” meaning, in other words, you don’t know me. (John 17:3) Ouch!

So for those whose path to joy takes them away from the church, I know it is a path they must take. I hope they will find their joy. And, I know that ultimately they will find where they are meant to go, who they are meant to be, and will be able to accomplish what they need to accomplish. This is one of the blessings of the grace of Christ. However, for myself, the reasons I have shared in these blogs are why I stay. And, if others are uncertain about whether to stay or go, or even to come back, I hope this blog is helpful.

BT

Return to PART ONE