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

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

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

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

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

Expedient

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

Expedient = what is advantageous, practical, beneficial, useful

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

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

What NOT to Ask For

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

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

So, what are those guidelines for asking?

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

James 1:5

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

What are we commanded to ask for? Wisdom.

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

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

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

James 1:6

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

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

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

Joseph Smith-History 1:18

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

Alma 22:18

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

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

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

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

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

Doctrine and Covenants 9:6-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pattern #1: You’ve got to work

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

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

Pattern #2: Expediency*

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

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

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

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

Pattern #3: Real Intent

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

Example of the Expedient Pattern:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions that are generally not expedient

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

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

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

Questions that are more expedient**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BT

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

The Holy Ghost is a Gift, not an Entitlement

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

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

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

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

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

So, how bad to you want it?

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

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prescription for Better Recognizing the Guidance of the Holy Ghost

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

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

I might add:

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

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

Different Ways of Feeling or Receiving Promptings and Guidance

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

Reading the Scriptures

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

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

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

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

Making Life Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being Inspired at Church

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

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

Preparing a Lesson

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

BT

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

End Notes

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

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

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

There is something for everyone in this blog. From short easy ways to study the scriptures to long and in-depth pondering. Sit tight, and look for what speaks to you.

When I was younger I was taught to read my scriptures daily. That includes the whole Standard Works: Bible (OT and NT), The Book of Mormon-Another Testament of Jesus Christ, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, along with modern General Conference Talks by Prophets, Apostles, and General Church Authorities.

So, I began reading and studying my scriptures at the age of 13 to 14, thanks to the example of my older sister, Kalley, who read her scriptures every night. Since I shared a room with her we couldn’t go to sleep until she was done. One night, feeling frustrated that I had to wait for her, I gave her a hard time. She said to me, “You should read your scriptures too.” After a few moments of feeling angry, upset, and resentful, my conscience spoke very clearly to me and it was emphasized by the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I should read my scriptures. I could have ignored it. But, I chose to listen to the still, small voice.

At that time, I assumed a front-to-back reading of the Standard Works. You know, start at page one and read, in order, to the end. And, as a young teenager, that worked for me. I was still at that age where during family scripture study, if my mom dared try and stop and have a cool doctrinal discussion, I would grunt, groan, and urge her to move on so we could “wrap it up.” (Sorry Mom!)

But, very soon, as a high school freshman, I started early morning Seminary. This is a 40-50 minute early morning scripture study course, which is free, and which is open to all (members and non-members alike) IF you are willing to get up before 6:00 a.m. and get there on time prepared to hasten off to high school immediately after.

In Seminary, I was led through the scriptures almost chapter by chapter. My mother happened to be my Seminary teacher for my first three years, and she taught me with her passion and her own deep study, how to look a lot deeper at what at the time had still been a lot of black-and-white pages. I began to see from Seminary how the scriptures fit into God’s plan. I saw how the stories taught me about how God works with His children. I saw covenants that I was making as a young member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being made by people from a time in the world I didn’t think I could relate to. Suddenly, I could relate.

Light bulbs began to go off in my mind and in my heart (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3). The Holy Ghost began to work with me. He began to teach me then how to study my scriptures. And, He’s still teaching me. I learn more about how to study God’s word every single day.

And, that’s the key. It’s the Holy Ghost that instructs each of us how best to study for our lives and our needs. You need Him to guide you in what’s most effective for you. My mom didn’t actually ever teach me how to study my scriptures. People at church didn’t teach me how. No mortal actually can. It takes your desire and your efforts PLUS the Holy Ghost to learn how to study the scriptures in a way that will change you into something better. That’s how you get the most out of it, by getting a personalized guidebook from a member of the godhead.

However, suggestions help. You can try them and then the Holy Ghost can help you tweak them just for you.

But, before you study the scriptures you have to have a strong motive. I mean, after all, what’s the point? Why read when you can watch videos or pick up a host of other much more easy to read and interesting books? You have to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” If you don’t know, then you need to figure it out, otherwise, there simply isn’t sufficient motivation.

Some people read because it’s a commandment from God (D&C 1:37-38). Some people read because they are list checkers. They feel better about themselves for being able to check off something good. Some people read because they see it as a way to earn blessings or grace, or to avoid consequences and condemnation.

While none of these are bad reasons, they aren’t going to keep you going for long, or they certainly won’t help you be consistent; and they certainly will not magically create effective study. If you want to get a lot out of reading God’s word, you’ve got to establish a sincere, heartfelt desire as your motivation.

For me, reading my scriptures is about three very important things:

  • Getting to know God so that I can have eternal life (John 17:3)
  • and by consequence coming to truly know myself
  • Understanding how He works, how His plan works, and where I am in that plan

These are my motivators. I can’t come to know God without learning how He speaks, directs His people, shows mercy, blesses, curses, guides, etc. Sure, I can pray and stuff, but He isn’t going to reproduce answers for me about Him and His plan that He’s already put at my fingertips.

The more I come to understand God, the more I recognize about myself. It’s amazing all the things you can discover about yourself as you come to know God. He reveals them to you as fast as you are willing and able to stomach them. It leads to deep peace. It leads to firm faith. It leads to joy.

God’s plan for His children is everywhere in the scriptures. If you don’t understand it, you will never understand life. That’s because “life is the plan.”

So, if you need a boost to get going, here are some ways you can practice, or try out, studying your scriptures. If you try them prayerfully, you will figure out which ways the Spirit is best able to communicate to you. Then, He will instruct you further on how to get the most out of reading your scriptures.

latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Suggestions for Studying Your Scriptures

  1. Try to read all of the Standard Works front-to-back at least once. If you’ve not read them all at least once, do it. Context is important.
  2. Don’t commit yourself to a certain number of pages per day. Instead, commit yourself to read until something stands out to you. Then stop, and ponder what stood out to you.
  3. Read the scriptures with a narrow focus and choose only one focus at a time:
    1. Look for only those verses that talk about covenants
    2. Look for only those verses that talk about God’s love for His children
    3. Look for only those verses that talk about grace (whether using the actual word grace or whether it’s there when you see between the lines)
    4. Look for only those verses that talk about women
    5. Look for only statements of truth/doctrine
    6. Look for how God deals/works with/instructs/ His children, etc.
      1. When you find these focused verses, STOP and ponder what they mean and apply them to your life
      2. Write down what you learn (or else you will forget)
  4. Memorize. Read each day until you find a verse you want to commit to memory (at least for that day/night).
    1. Keep a journal of them. Write down the verse.
    2. After you commit it to basic memory, write down how you feel about the verse and why you chose it.
  5. Are you a music person? Then start at the front of the hymnbook. Each and every hymn has scriptures at the bottom. Use both the words of the hymn and the accompany scriptures to learn more about the power and truth behind that hymn.
    1. Sing it to yourself
    2. Read it to yourself
    3. Write down what lines from the hymn stick out to you and why
    4. Teach yourself how to lead it, as if you were leading a choir.
      1. What words would you have them sing loud? Soft? Intense? Joyful?
      2. Record why you would have them sing certain lines certain ways.
  6. Study to assist you in your own life. Do you have an illness? Are you depressed? Are you without work? Do you struggle to find the money to buy food? Do you have temptations and desires you simply can’t seem to fight another day?
  7. Read the Standard Works looking for others who share your same struggles.
    1. Record who they are and what their issues are, how they dealt with it, how they were blessed or cursed based on their choices
    2. Record how you saw God work with them
    3. What was He trying to teach them?
    4. How was He trying to bless them? What help did He offer?
    5. Was His help accepted and recognized? Or rejected and resented?
  8. Study with a need for a blessing, trait, or power. STOP reading when you come upon verses that speak to you about this need. Write down the inspiration and guidance you receive for that need. Then, MAKE PLAN and PRAY FOR UNDERSTANDING on how to act on and implement this inspiration in your time of need.
    1. You want to have more faith
    2. You want to have more patience
    3. You want to be prepared and able to make and keep temple covenants
    4. You want to strengthen your marriage
    5. You want to understand how to better teach your children
  9. Read a chapter or story as if you have to teach it to others (see a video on this here)
  10. Read to find a daily quote. Then, STOP, and write that sentence or phrase down. Write it in your own words!
    1. Hang the quote on your fridge or front door
    2. Find a way to share it with at least a few other people during that day (or the next if you read at night)
    3. Share it on social media testifying why you know it’s true and how you plan to make it a part of your life that day (application is important)
  11. Read to serve. Immersing yourself in God’s word is a great way to open your mind up to personal revelation.
    1. Say a prayer to ask God to reveal to you who you need to serve to today and how
    2. Open your scriptures to anywhere, or where you’re currently reading
    3. Read until you understand how God wants you to serve that day
  12. Read to eat/feast. Read your scriptures until you find a quote that talks about eating (spiritually or temporally). Type the quote/verse up and put it by everyone’s plate in your family for dinner that night. Have a family discussion about it before eating dinner (or during dinner).
  13. Read to Read. I’m sure that sounds funny. But, if you’re a story person. Read until you come upon a really good story in the scriptures.
    1. Focus on the story
    2. Who are the characters?
    3. What problem are they struggling with?
    4. What do they do?
    5. How is God a part of the story? What role does He play?

I could go on and on. The scriptures are so rich and wonderful. Read to find psychological advice. Read to find what you like! Big on battles? The scriptures are full of them. Just take note of why they were fought, who the opposing parties were, what their political platforms are, and which side trusted in God.

See, you can do it with anything.

Finally, study in faith. The things of the Spirit can only be understood by those who are spiritual, or seeking to be so (1 Corinthians 2:10-11, 14).

I can say, with absolute certainty, that there is no greater power in my life than scripture study. Since I began (thanks to my sister, Kalley) all those years ago I have never been able to put them down. They are a daily companion. I tried to set them aside one night, at the age of 15, and the Spirit whispered, “If you set them aside, what does that say about your life right now? Why would you want to set them aside?” I knew the answers to those questions and though that night I didn’t feel spiritual, I read. Reading changed the actions I took the next day. Those actions made a very clear fork in the road my life took—one that I’m forever grateful for.

May each of you seek to get the most out of reading your scriptures. It will change you—forever.

BT

In a church where people talk about having “the truth,” and being so grateful to have “the truth,” I find that so many are fuzzy on what an actual truth, or doctrine, is. I know all of us understand that we have been blessed with truth. But, when I ask people (adults or youth) to state a truth, they often stare at me uncertain of what to say.

Now, I suspect that many factors may be the cause. Perhaps it’s because I’ve put them on the spot. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to choose from hundreds of truths that they know. Or, it might also be that while they understand the idea of truth generally, they have very little understanding of it specifically, or how to generate or identify specific truths from looking at a piece of content.

For example. If I say, “Read St. John 17:3 and tell me what truth(s) you find there,” many people look at me stumped. And, I look back, stumped as to what the issue is. It’s a fairly simple scripture: “And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.”

Possible truths from this very short scripture (though there are likely many more) that I can identify:

  • God and Jesus Christ are separate beings (if we have to come to know them both)
  • Eternal life comes through knowing God and Jesus
  • God sent Jesus Christ to us
  • Eternal life is possible

However, if I ask someone to tell me what they believe, what their beliefs are, then, all of the sudden they are spouting truths…and doctrines—for the most part.

What is a Doctrine?

A doctrine is: a fundamental, eternal, unchanging truth. It is something that was, is, and always will be (D&C 93:24; Jacob 4:13). It doesn’t change. Principles are tied very closely to doctrines and so often it makes little sense to define them separately. But, most usually they are the framework built upon foundational doctrines. Thus, principles rarely, if ever, change. But, applications—which people teach more than anything else—are changeable, adaptable, and often individual and personal.

So, when we are seeking for doctrines, we are looking for fundamental, unchanging truths. Looking back up, notice that the truths/doctrines I pulled from St. John 17:3 are exactly that—fundamental. God and Christ will always be separate beings. We can’t get eternal life if we don’t know God and Jesus Christ and have a relationship with them. God sent Christ to us (St. John 3:16-17). Eternal life is possible or we wouldn’t be here. All unchanging, fundamental truths of our life here on earth and of the gospel.

All of these individual statements of truth are a whole blog on their own. But today my focus is helping others find and identify clear doctrines. It’s a spiritual skill many lack merely because they’ve never been presented with the idea that they should acquire it. I would like to suggest that from this point in history onward, the ability to identify both true and false doctrine is the most important spiritual skill we can acquire.

I was reading last night in 1 Nephi and I came upon some very beautiful scripture—scripture referring to our time, our day, and doctrine.

1 Nephi 15:14

And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.

Here are the truths/doctrines that I can pull from this scripture:

  • We are of the House of Israel
  • We are the covenant people of the Lord (with a sacred responsibility–not an elite title–to dispense the gospel and it’s ordinances to the world)
  • We need the knowledge of the Redeemer and the very points of His doctrine so that we may know how to come unto Him and be saved

Obviously, the truth that sticks out the most to me is that we need to know Christ (have a relationship with Him) and understand “the very points of His doctrine,” so that we can know how to come unto Him and be saved.

Do you know how to identify doctrine? Do you know how to identify false doctrine?

So many people fall away from the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ because they fail to understand true doctrine and how to identify false doctrine. Thus, they are led away by “every wind of [false] doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).

In 1 Nephi 15:11 it says:

Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.

Here is one of many scriptures in which God gives a formula for getting answers (i.e. doctrine), for receiving personal revelation.

  1. Harden not your hearts
  2. Ask in faith, believing ye shall receive
  3. While diligently keeping the commandments you do understand

What does it mean to “harden not your hearts?” Well, something hard is inflexible. It’s usually impenetrable. It’s sometimes easily broken or brittle. Other substances roll off, cannot penetrate, or bounce off of it.

So, if you have a hard heart you can surmise the figurative connections. You have a set way of thinking and you are not willing to consider other information or perspectives (inflexible), not even for comparison or to strengthen your current point of view. You do not let the Spirit get in. You stop Him from entering by justifying actions or emotions that do not have the Spirit/Him as their source (impenetrable). Your anger or emotions are so full within you that it takes very little to break you, or set you off (brittle). You deny, dismiss, devalue, or reject kindness, guidance, help, service, or especially the idea that you may be wrong or deceived.

If you want to be able to identify true doctrine and false doctrine, you must have a soft heart. If your heart is hard, you have to soften it. If you’re going through the motions, you have to stop and smell the spiritual roses. If you’re justifying unrighteous actions in the name of righteousness, you’ve got to stop. If you’re justifying emotions and actions that are not godly to prevent being confronted with other ideals, you’ve got to stop deceiving yourself. If you’re looking for pillars of light every time you seek for truth you’re going to have to open yourself up to other types of light: enlightenment, peace, love, joy, feelings of wanting to do good and to serve, etc.

Asking in faith, believing that ye shall receive. This is not overly complex. It has to at least refer to our attitude. If you ask God as a dare or challenge, that is not faith. That is a doubtful, vengeful attitude. Asking in faith doesn’t require vast amounts of energy. It merely translates to allowing yourself to hope and to believe. To ask help for your unbeliefs or doubts, and express your hope for confirmations and guidance.  It’s far more about eliminating the negative than pretending to be overly confident, or to not have doubts (Mark 9:24). We all have doubts. It’s humility. It’s hope and belief.

Continuing to be diligent… Often people want to put their obedience on hold until they have proof. That’s like asking your current employer to give you a raise and more responsibility while you quit working and chill in the work room. Promising then to go back to work and assume your new responsibilities once the raise has been issued. Yes, it’s that silly.

Asking in faith while diligently keeping the commandments is critical to being able to identify true and false doctrines. You can’t abandon the truth you thought you understood while hoping to figure out the truth you are still trying to figure out.

  • All doctrine—all fundamental, unchanging, eternal truths are interrelated and connected with other fundamental, unchanging truths. This is because it all comes from God.
  • If you are acting upon the truths you know, or are more confident in, then it makes you more susceptible to discovering the truths you seek.
  • If you are acting in truth, it makes it possible to identify false truths. The very quality of being involved in truth makes untruths more clear. It increases the contrast.
  • The less truth/light you espouse (while you wait for confirmation) decreases your ability to recognize and to identify false truths.

D&C 84:45:

For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

D&C 50:24-25

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you;

Truths/doctrines I identified from these scriptures (though there are likely more):

  • True doctrine is light
  • Truth/doctrine is inseparable from the Spirit
  • That which comes from God is light (and truth/doctrine)
  • The more light (truth/doctrine) we receive the more light (and truth/doctrine) we can perceive and receive
  • Understanding that truth is light allows us to perceive and remove the darkness

So, if you have a soft heart and you are wanting God to reveal truth to you, all you have to do is immerse yourself in the word of God (including the Bible—as far as it is translated correctly, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, Conference addresses, and Church lesson manuals).

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t truth outside the Standards Work of the church. I’m not. There is truth everywhere. But, I am suggesting that all truths—even more secular ones (like psychology, chemistry, geology, etc.) still tie back, fundamentally to the most deep and fundamental gospel truths. So, I would admonish caution. Just like spring water that bubbles up from the ground. The further you get from the pure source of God’s word, the more likely you’ll find the purity infused with interpolations, omissions, and speculation. And, the tinier the interpolations, omissions, and speculation the easier it is to be taught false doctrine. So, be cautious.

How to Identify Doctrines

One of the best ways to identify doctrine is to focus on small portions. Take one quote from a prophet, or one verse or two from the scriptures. Or, look at a whole storyline from a chapter (or chapters). After reading the quote, or verses, follow a series of questions or pondering similar to this:

  • Write what it means to you in your own words.
    • Try to start with the words, “I can_______” or “Because of ______ I can _______” or “My ______” so that your formulate your feelings and ideas into a statement of truth. Trying to come up with if/then statements is also a good way to tackle it. There are other ways to start statements, but this helps if you struggle to begin.
  • Break the quote, verses, or storyline down into several small phrases or ideas/teachings. Write what each of these phrases means to you in your own words (trying to formulate it as a statement of truth).
  • Answer the following questions (as applicable):
    • What action, trait, feeling, or habit does this quote teach me about that helps me become like God?
    • What principles of the gospel does this pertain to?
    • What ordinances and covenants does this help me to make/keep?
    • What part of the plan of salvation does this help me to accomplish?
    • What would my life be like without this belief, teaching, or truth?

Let’s practice.

Consider this quote by Dieter F. Uchtdorf from the most recent October 2017 Conference and run through the steps above. Try not to read past it (to my examples) before you’ve tried at least one on your own. Why? Because you may be prompted by the Spirit to see something I didn’t see. If you look only at my examples, you may miss personal revelation and direction.

There may be many things about life that are beyond your control. But in the end, you have the power to choose both your destination and many of your experiences along the way. It is not so much your abilities but your choices that make the difference in life.

No, go try the steps before reading on. Just try one or two to start. Not all questions apply to every quote, scripture, or storyline.

latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

Possible truths, put into my own words, from this quote:

  • I can control only certain things in my life
  • I can choose my destinations
  • I can choose many, but not all, of my experiences in life
  • My choices make more of a difference than my abilities

How these statements of truth help me to become like God:

God acts, He is not acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14). He is not a reactor, He is an actor. That’s how He remains God. By taking control of what I can control and letting go of what I can’t control, I become an active agent who does not allow my circumstances to dictate who I am or who I will become. I can choose.

What would my life be like without these truths?

Now, that’s a question that each of you can answer. Because, you know what your life is like currently. You know if you currently understand and act upon these truths. You know if you need to embrace and act upon these truths. Thus, you know what your life has been like without them, and you may likely guess how you need to change to integrate them into your life.

These statements of truths above are doctrines. They will not change.

Consider this scripture Ether 12:27:

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.

No, go try some of the steps…

Possible truths put into my own words from this quote:

  • I can be shown my weakness if I come unto Christ
  • I can choose to be humble (I may be humble) because of the weakness God has given unto me
  • My weakness can become a strength if I humble myself before God and have faith in Him

What trait this helps me to develop as I try to become like God:

Christ was humble before God despite His godly strengths. He was also humble before God because of His mortality (or weakness). His weakness made Him able to be our Savior, set an example for us, truly sympathize with our mortal struggles, and thus it became a strength to Him, to God, and to us. By using my weakness to serve the Lord I can also be a savior of others, set a specific example, truly sympathize with others’ mortal struggles, and thus turn it into a strength.

The part of the plan that this helps me to accomplish:

Weakness increases my opportunity to live by and exercise my faith in Christ. Faith is the first step in becoming like God and embracing the ordinances and covenants that will help me become like Him.

Note that every time I tried to make a statement I created a doctrine/truth. Every time I tried to answer one of the questions, I ended up making several statements of doctrine/truth. The applications…they were vague. What actions I need to control and not try to control. What ways I use my weakness to serve the Lord, set an example, etc. are all up to me. But, the doctrines discovered and noted were clear. The “why” behind the applications was clear, though I took no time to develop possible applications.

Don’t Focus on Seeking Applications or Teaching Applications

Too often we all judge others by our own individual applications of doctrine and thus judge unrighteously. We judge by the applications (which are variable) and not by the doctrine. We often then teach applications instead of doctrine…thus, polluting the doctrine with our own interpolations and omissions and speculations. We think if we tell others how to live they will live and be happy. Only to find that they don’t “get it,” because they don’t understand the gospel. This is because we have taught them behaviors and applications and not doctrine. We can’t do that anymore. Not for one more day or hour. We, and our children, need doctrine. They need to know how to recognize it, find it, and identify  it. They need God’s light! We need God’s light.

Learning to recognize, find, and identify true doctrines is how the paragraph in 1 Nephi 15:14 can be accomplished in our time

As we learn to identify true doctrines we will be able to more clearly identify false doctrines. And thus, as a generation of the gospel, we will have the power to come unto Christ and be saved. We can be saved from the false doctrines of our day. We can be saved from much sorrow and pain and confusion as we actively seek doctrine. As we more deeply understand the “why” behind all of the commandments, principles, and applications of the gospel, we will have our testimonies built firmly upon the foundations of the doctrines of Christ (Helaman 5:12). We will be unshakeable. We will know God and Jesus Christ through our experiences with their very personal instruction to us through the power and Gift of the Holy Ghost.

We can come unto Christ and be saved as we learn to identify and understand “the very points of His doctrine.”

Boyd K. Packer taught:

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.

The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior [or application] quicker than a study of behavior [or applications] will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.

I love doctrine. I crave it. I look for it (true and false) in everything I watch, read, or hear. We all need to learn to love true doctrine and to crave it, not only so that we can come unto Christ. But so that we can help others come unto Him, and be saved.

Want More Holy Ghost? Seek More Doctrine!

Just remember, doctrines don’t change. Applications can. The Holy Ghost uses doctrine to teach us individual application. It’s not the other way around. Teaching applications is a dramatic spiritual power drain. Doctrine/truth and the Spirit are inseparable. So, without doctrine, the Holy Ghost is limited in His power to guide us. As we learn to pull doctrine from everything we are exposed to (or learn to identify false doctrine), our power to be taught by the Holy Ghost will increase exponentially. He will use those clear, unchanging truths to teach us specific applications for our own lives (not necessarily for others). We will recognize His voice in our lives more than ever before. His ways of communicating with us will become clear.

What is doctrine? It’s truth. It’s light. It’s the power to be taught and tutored by the Holy Spirit. It’s life eternal.

BT

Doctrine: Teaching BY the Spirit is not the same as teaching WITH the Spirit. The Holy Ghost is THE STAR of all spiritual productions and we can make Him so as we take on the role of Spiritual Stage Manager. Spiritual Stage Management Methods (or Teaching in the Savior’s Way) must be focused around CLEAR DOCTRINES or they will fail to hold sufficient power to impact our lives.

A few months back I was asked to teach the youth of our ward some basics on preparing lessons so they could Teach in the Savior’s Way. As someone who has been working (and still am) since the fall of 1998 to teach by the Spirit, I was both excited and daunted by the task. I was excited because I love teaching. I was daunted because I know you can’t teach someone “how to teach” in an hour and a half—or even a few months…and sometimes not even a few years.

Learning to teach BY the Spirit, and not just with Him in the room, is something that requires significant pondering, practice, and preparation on our part. It requires us being taught FROM the Holy Spirit, Himself, how to help Him fulfill His role as teacher. It requires us teaching not telling. It requires us to invite not force. It requires us to put our learners into action but not to selfishly entertain. It requires us to facilitate, not control. It requires us to prepare our lessons, but not script them. It requires us to teach BY the Spirit and filter out all the “some other ways” that we’ve adopted over the years (D&C 50:13-23). I could go on and on.

So, as a person who is fond of doctrines, I pondered for a couple weeks (because that was all I had) the following question:

“What one (and only one) truth/doctrine can I teach these youth about teaching that will help them learn to prepare and teach BY the Spirit more efficiently and quickly than I did?”

In other words, I knew that one evening wasn’t going to be enough. But, I figured there had to be at least one major truth that, if they could learn, and remember, would aid them in learning how to prepare lessons and to teach BY the Spirit a little more effectively now and hopefully far more effectively in the future.

What was the one truth I chose? THE HOLY GHOST IS THE STAR

That’s it. But, that one truth—if we ponder it—teaches us a multitude of other truths that will help us master Teaching in the Savior’s Way faster than any other teaching method, behavior, practice, manual, etc. If we evaluate every piece of our prepared lesson by asking, “Does this make the Holy Ghost the STAR?” there is a 9 out of 10 chance we’ll be Teaching in the Savior’s Way; because that is how the Savior taught.

The Holy Ghost is the STAR

If, THE HOLY GHOST IS THE STAR actor in our spiritual production (or lesson), then the class, or participants are also actors. That makes God the owner of the spiritual productions and it makes us a Spiritual Stage Manager.

Making presentation

As a Spiritual Stage Manager our role is to:

  • Know the spiritual production script backward, forward, and inside out (the plan of salvation that is, and detailed doctrines, principles, and applications regarding our lesson)
  • Know all the required spiritual props, costumes, backdrops, and when they are needed, by heart (classroom setup, object lessons, materials)
  • Draw all the attention to the STAR and the supporting actors
  • Cue the STAR and the supporting actors in their lines and actions
  • Facilitate communication between the STAR and the actors
  • Manage the spiritual productions script (lesson) and report back to the owner

Have you ever seen a stage manager in real life on the stage during a production? No. Have you ever seen a stage manager getting in the way of actors as they prepare to enter the production? No. Have you ever seen a Stage Manager walk out on stage and replace an actor and draw attention to himself/herself? No. Have you ever seen a stage manager do anything? Probably not. That’s because while their role is critical, they are to go unseen. The Spiritual Stage Manager is not, nor will he or she ever be, the focus of a spiritual production (lesson).

As Spiritual Stage Managers, we are the facilitators of a production. We make it easier for the STAR and the actors to fulfill their individual parts. But, we don’t do their parts for them and we certainly don’t take over the production. We aren’t the focus. But, without us, the production couldn’t go on. Our importance is vital.

Spiritual Stage Management Methods

As I’ve studied the Savior’s teaching in the scriptures over the years, I have noted that not only does He use certain methods and techniques (which you can find in any “how to teach manual” in the church); but those methods and techniques are always focused around a specific doctrine. Often the doctrine was one Christ knew the individuals He discoursed with needed to master. But, without fail, every method Christ used did not function without pointing to a specific doctrine.

Choose a Clear Gospel Doctrine

The biggest mistake most teachers make (I’ve noticed) is that they focus on a nice gospel topic or subject, even a scripture block, but NEVER tie it back to a clear, unchanging doctrine. They ask questions, they tell stories, they bear testimony, and they even come up with a few useful object lessons and parables. But the power of their methods and techniques die when they are never given a sturdy foundation. They talk in circles about the same applications, ideas, and topics, and can’t figure out why they are spinning and why the faces of their class are down, averted, bored, annoyed, or confused.

Teaching applications, behaviors, and even principles is nice, but it’s fluffy. It’s like eating a marshmallow. It’s sort of sweet, but it’s mostly air. It’s not the nice steak and mashed potatoes with a side of freshly steamed vegetables (followed by a sumptuous dessert) that we were hoping for. We walk away, certainly not unnourished, but with a nourishment that is fleeting, temporary, unmemorable and which often leads to a deeper spiritual hunger.

The doctrine of Christ is the meat. We’ve (you’ve) got to dig those doctrines out of the fluff.

A clear gospel doctrine is a fundamental, eternal, unchanging truth. So, if it can change in any way, then it’s not a doctrine. A principle can be a doctrine, but it’s much more often the guideline developed from the doctrine. The application is usually the most variable and changeable because it is defined (with few exceptions) personally, and individually. Applications are ways we act or live based upon the understanding we have of a doctrine.

For example, The Word of Wisdom is not a doctrine. It’s a guideline based off a doctrine. God has always marked His chosen people so that they are separate from the world. What good is that? Well, being marked, the destroying angel always passes them by (D&C 89:21). As well, it makes it easier for the rest of God’s children to seek them out to receive the blessings of the Gospel, and most importantly the fundamental saving covenants and ordinances (Abraham 2:8-11). There are obvious principle benefits of the Word of Wisdom, but health (which everyone focuses on) is not actually the primary, most important, or most dependable part of the blessing. Personal revelation and spiritual vigor (D&C 89:18-20) are key and yet even then, I’m not certain they don’t fall second to “being marked.”

Food storage isn’t a doctrine. It’s a guideline based off a doctrine. God is the ultimate master of the universe, managing worlds without end of resources. His house is a house of order. The celestial kingdom is a place of order. God fed the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness. He can feed us if He wants. He clearly doesn’t care so much about food itself. What He cares about is our ability to manage mortal resources. He also cares about our ability to organize, and prepare every needful thing (D&C 109:8,15), that we may have the self-reliance to bless others (John 21:16-17) and the attribute of order critical to becoming like Him.

So, it’s critical when preparing lessons and reviewing the suggested sources, not to read them and simply be awed by their uplifting content. Anyone can reread, regurgitate, or summarize a past conference talk. And you are not a mother bird feeding chicks. Your role, as a Spiritual Stage Manager, is to read those scriptures and suggested sources looking to identify clear gospel doctrines that you feel inspired are important for your class.

STEP ONE as a Spiritual Stage Manager: IDENTIFY AT LEAST 2 CLEAR, GOSPEL DOCTRINES from the suggested sources in the lesson, including scriptures and conference talks.

Open new opportunities

Choose, and Prepare, Several Stage Management Methods Tied to the Doctrine

We all know the methods Christ used: parables, questions, discussions, stories, and object lessons. However, once again, remember, Christ always tied these methods to a clear gospel doctrine.

stagemanagerwheel

Christ used these methods, focused around clear gospel doctrines, because these methods/doctrines allowed Him to facilitate the promptings of the Holy Ghost reaching His followers. He never made himself the star. Christ used the methods that invited and encouraged His followers to ponder, self-evaluate, and receive spirit-to-spirit communication and testimony from the Holy Ghost. He facilitated the spiritual production.

Gone are the days when lesson manuals gave you step-by-step ask, tell, and do instructions on how to give your lessons. Those days are gone because they are not conducive to teaching BY the Spirit. What is teaching BY the Spirit? It’s using those methods that allow the Holy Ghost to do the teaching. It’s preparing your lesson in a way that allows you to respond to direction from the Holy Ghost “in the moment” (D&C 100:6). It’s being prepared with more material than you’ll ever need and yet still flexible “in the moment” and able to pull out only those pieces you need.

How can you build in such intense preparation with momentary flexibility?

  • Treat your lesson as a reference manual that can be opened at any spot and closed at any spot.
  • Do not treat your lesson like a novel where unless you read it from beginning to end it will be incomprehensible or confusing.
  • Do not save your “big reveal,” or “punch line,” for the end. If you give yourself a finish line you will run for the line instead of being led by the Spirit.
  • Prepare several, independent (yet compounding or related) Spiritual Stage Management Methods, you can reference at any moment in your lesson. Prepare them so that they can be used in order, or rearranged.

STEP TWO as a Spiritual Stage Manager: CHOOSE 2-4 METHODS AND PREPARE THEM BASED ON YOUR 2 DOCTRINES.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions regarding each Spiritual Stage Manager Method

Parables

We can all make up a parable. Some better than others. It doesn’t matter how finessed it is. Most parables if taken too literally fall apart. So, don’t be too literal. The most important things to consider when developing a parable are it’s characteristics. Ask yourself:

  1. Does it help others to self-evaluate?
  2. Does it clarify the doctrine you’re trying to teach?
  3. Does it increase understanding of (and thereby an individual’s ability to apply) the doctrine?

Here’s an example:

Here’s one scripture reference from the Come Follow Me, October, How Can I Invite Others to Become Like the Savior?

Moroni 10:32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

CLEAR DOCTRINE: It is because of the atonement of Jesus Christ that we become perfect through grace as we do our part.

Now, my goal is to get my class thinking about how they can invite others to become more like the Savior. I might begin by asking them, “Why do you think people get discouraged when they’re asked to become perfect?” Almost always, people are daunted by the idea of perfection. It doesn’t seem quite possible. This is where the CLEAR DOCTRINE comes in. I hope they, and those they help, will grasp the fact that perfection comes through grace, not merely by our efforts. So, to help illustrate how grace works, I might share the following parable that I came up with. My goal in sharing it is to make the doctrine of grace more understandable. If my class can understand it, then they have more power to help others understand it, and they can invite them to become more like the Savior.

My Parable:

Once upon a time there were two blacksmiths. Both blacksmiths were skilled in their trade, but one, after a while, refused to use his forge. He had become confident in his own strength and power to create and thought it silly to use a forge. So, he would hammer and hammer and pound and pound, and yet, without the heat of the forge, he was unable to bend or shape any metal to a desired shape. He could make dents. He could scratch the surface. But he couldn’t make the metal become what he wanted it to become. He became frustrated and wanted to give up, despite the fact that the use of a forge was still open to him. But he’d lost faith in the forge. He didn’t believe it would help him.

The other blacksmith, however, though he was quite strong and skilled, always used his forge. And, because of the heat that came from it, as he pounded and pounded and hammered and hammered, he was able to turn any piece of metal into whatever he wished. The forge allowed him to redo and remove imperfections in his hammering and pounding. In fact, because he was willing to use the forge, he expended far less effort in the long run and he was able to take on more projects and orders. The forge made all the difference.

Now, I’m not sure this is a great parable. The first blacksmith does seem rather stupid. But, often, after we “enter in by the way,” (2 Nephi 32:1,5) we lose sight of how easy it is to use our forge of grace. We expect to hammer and hammer and pound and pound on our lives, all on our own, and bring a perfect construction to the forge, perhaps to be finalized? But, it doesn’t work that way. We have to use the forge to create the perfection we desire, over time. Our imperfect hammering and pounding becomes perfect as we use the forge to try and try and try again.

  • Did this parable help you to self-evaluate?
  • Did it clarify the doctrine of grace I was trying to teach for you?
  • Did it increase your understanding and ability to apply the doctrine of grace?

Questions/Discussions

Questions are the easiest tool we have to use in the Spiritual Stage Management, i.e. teaching, environment. However, because they are common, they are also commonly terrible. We ask them without taking any time to ponder what kind of response they will elicit.

When designing a question to point to your CLEAR DOCTRINE, vet it with the following questions:

  1. Does it invite others to ponder meaning and use logic?
  2. Does it invite others to feel?
  3. Does it invite others to remember or recall a past experience or feeling?
  4. Does it invite others to self-evaluate?
  5. How would I answer this question?
  6. When I read it aloud, is the answer too obvious?
  7. Is the obvious answer YES or NO?

Here are some examples of fairly decent questions using the same CLEAR DOCTRINE from the Parables section.

CLEAR DOCTRINE: It is because of the atonement of Jesus Christ that we become perfect through grace as we do our part.

  • Can you remember a time when you felt like you were “on track,” or “right with the Lord?”
  • What were you doing during that time of your life that contributed to feeling “on track,” or “right with the Lord?”
  • How can you adapt your actions during that time of your life to now to find that same peace of being “on track,” or “right with the Lord?”
  • If you had to pick one thing in your life to change right now to help you be more like Christ, what would it be?
  • How would you describe grace to a five-year-old?
  • What keeps you from making changes in your life to become more Christlike?
  • How would you counsel another person to help them overcome the same issues you are struggling with?

So, now, take a look at the questions I’ve shown you as examples for the doctrine perfection through grace, and run them through my vetting questions. Did one of them invite you to ponder meaning and use logic? Did one of them invite you to feel? Did one of them invite you to remember or recall a past experience or feeling? Did one of them invite you to self-evaluate? Did you have trouble answering any of the questions? When you read them aloud, is the answer to any of them too obvious? Is the obvious answer to any of them YES or NO?

If you ever ask a yes or no question (because there are times when they can be effective) ALWAYS follow it up with a well-designed question to extract more information. Raise your hand if questions are akin to Yes or No questions—most of the time.

For example:

Should we read our scriptures? (duh, yes!)

Follow up: OK, but why? What difference does it make if we don’t? What experiences have you had that have confirmed to you the importance of scripture reading?

This obvious yes question was a plant to get the kids to answer. Then if they answer, it gives unspoken permission to ask them to validate their simple response.

OR

Raise your hand if you’ve never had the chance to do baptisms for the dead.

Follow up: OK. For those of you that have never done baptisms for the dead, take a minute and come up with a question you have about baptisms for the dead. Now, those of you who have done baptisms for the dead, take a minute and write down one thing you know about baptisms for the dead. Then, when the others ask their questions, raise your hand and share if you have an answer.

In this example are any of the kids invited to ponder meaning or logic? I hope you’ll agree that by asking the few who haven’t done baptisms to come up with questions, that they have to ponder.

Are any of them asked to recall a past experience or feeling? I hope you’ll agree that the follow-up Qs and activity invite those who have done baptisms to recall their past experiences, and by default their feelings.

Are any asked to self-evaluate (indirectly)? I hope you noticed that by asking who has done baptisms and who has not, that indirectly, the youth are likely to evaluate if they are worthy right now to do such ordinances.

Would you have felt comfortable participating in this exercise? I hope that as a teacher in practice you’ll note how the kids were given time to come up with questions and answers without the pressure of an immediate or public response (which also helps you to avoid uncomfortable silence and non-response). Plus, the kids are going to be taught, ultimately, by their peers. This usually creates a sense of safety and comfort in participation.

Were any questions asking for answers that were too obvious? Since we don’t know what questions the kids would have developed, we don’t know that the answers were obvious. But, since their peers are prepared to respond, none of the questions coined will be viewed as ridiculous because peers usually want to help.

It will seem impossible to develop good questions if you do not FIRST IDENTIFY A CLEAR DOCTRINE. You must have a clear truth singled out in order to be able to develop good questions pointing back to it. Without that foundation you will feel stumped and create weird questions.

Stories & Testimonies

The problem with stories is that people ramble, include extraneous detail, lose their point, and feel the urgency to tell “the whole story,” especially parts they think will sound novel or exciting (even if only to themselves). They let other factors in the story-telling overwhelm the CLEAR DOCTRINE. If you ever take a look at any of the parables or stories shared by Christ they are power-packed and CONCISE. How? Because He focused the parables and stories on a CLEAR DOCTRINE. Having a doctrine to point back to keeps most people focused. If you don’t have a clear doctrine, you are going to lose focus and begin spinning. You may enjoy the ride, but no one else really does.

If you have a story or testimony you want to share to illustrate a CLEAR DOCTRINE then write it out. You don’t have to actually read it word for word when the time comes, but if you take the time to write it out, you will be able to avoid the pitfalls. Use the following guidelines (i.e. principles) to vet your story:

  • When I read it aloud, at a reasonable pace, it takes less than 5 minutes. (Do not read it in your head, it’s not the same)
  • My story doesn’t include unnecessary apologies, jokes, or side-points.
  • My story doesn’t include extraneous details like how many turns I took to drive somewhere, descriptions of scenery along the way, long descriptions about people I met in the experience that my class will not remember two minutes after it’s over, etc.
  • My story helps others feel how I felt about the CLEAR DOCTRINE.
  • My story helps others remember their own feelings about this CLEAR DOCTRINE.
  • My story encourages and invites others to trust in God about this CLEAR DOCTRINE.
  • My story very clearly points back to a CLEAR DOCTRINE.
  • Nothing in my story outshines or overshadows the CLEAR DOCTRINE.

Now, it’s important to keep your personality (as long as your personality doesn’t upstage the Holy Ghost), but try to do so with stories and testimonies as concisely and focused as possible. After you’ve written your experience and testimony out, you will see what you need to leave out, and when the time comes to share, you will be prepared to do so in an appropriate and non-upstaging way.

Object Lessons

The main trouble with object lessons is people try to make them too literal or too entertaining. The object lesson should never upstage the CLEAR DOCTRINE or the Holy Ghost. If you keep that in mind, you should be fine.

Vet your object lessons with the following questions:

  1. Does my object lesson help others make personal application of the CLEAR DOCTRINE?
  2. Does my object lesson help others ponder or better understand the CLEAR DOCTRINE?
  3. Does my object lesson help others to self-evaluate their life in regard to the CLEAR DOCTRINE?

One of the best object lessons I’ve ever seen was when a lady-teacher brought a cardboard paper-towel tube to class. She had each of us write down on a scrap of paper towel something that we felt “kept us from hearing the promptings of the Holy Ghost,” and then one by one she stuffed them into the tube. Then, she tried to tell us something by speaking through the tube. We could not, of course, understand one word she said. Then, she pulled each scrap out and read them one by one. So, we heard, very clearly, each thing that would impede our ability to receive promptings. Then, when the tube was empty, she spoke her saying through the tube. Not only could we hear it, but it was amplified by the tube. The doctrine? The Gift of the Holy Ghost is a gift. The principle? We need to act to receive the gift and to be worthy to hear His voice. The application? Get rid of anything stuffing up your tube. I’ve never forgotten it.

If you have to spend a lot of money on an object lesson, I can promise 9 times out 10 it’s a poor object lesson. Either it’s too literal, over-developed, or so entertaining your doctrine will be overshadowed. I’ve never spent any money on an object lesson (except once, I bought a bottle of water). It’s always been developed from things around my house.

Humor

I have a pet peeve with church humor. 99.9% of people who start their lesson or talk with a ridiculous joke fail miserably. Yes, people laugh out of pity and in an attempt to comfort the poor individual, but in general I’ve never heard anyone repeat the joke or talk about how that joke reinforced the doctrine or made the talk better. OR, the joke was all they remembered…which is sad.

If you are going to use humor, you MUST vet it with the following:

  1. This humor reinforces my class/congregation feeling loved, understood, and supported.
  2. This humor was inspired while I was preparing my lesson and I feel certain it was inspired by the Spirit.
  3. I did not come up with this joke to entertain or appear witty and draw attention to myself (since I’m the Spiritual Stage Manager).
  4. I did not come up with this joke because I don’t know how else to diffuse my embarrassment and awkwardness at being up in front of people.
  5. When I prayed about my talk/lesson, I felt prompted to use this joke.

Here is an example of something I have used and have found to fall in the realm of fairly appropriate humor. It is also, in a way, a parable, but far more on the humor side:

Doctrine and Covenants 18:10, 15

Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

CLEAR DOCTRINE: The worth of one soul is great in the sight of God.

The humor

Once upon a time there was a preacher. He worked very hard in preparation for Sunday and prepared one of the most powerful sermons he could ever remember preparing. He couldn’t wait to get to church and preach. However, when he arrived only one man sat in the congregation. After waiting a good while, the preacher came down from the pulpit and approached the man. “So, what should I do?” he asked the man. “Well,” the man said. “I’m just a farmer, but if there’s only one cow in the pasture I still feed it.” The preacher nodded and returned to the podium. He then delivered his powerful sermon from top to bottom with all the vigor he could. When he was done, he went back down to the lone man in the pew. “Well,” he asked the preacher. “How was that?” “Well,” the man said. “I’m just a farmer, but if there’s only one cow in the pasture, I don’t dump the whole truck load of hay on his head.”

This humor clearly illustrated the doctrine I chose. But did you catch a second truth or lesson?

Examples of inappropriate humor (DO NOT USE THESE):

Example 1

So, I was driving to the store last week when my phone rang. Now, I know I shouldn’t pick up my phone while driving, and when I saw it was Brother X, I didn’t. What I did do was slam on my brakes…(ha ha). Once I got to a place I could pull over I tried to ignore the feeling in my gut and called him back. And, sure enough, he asked me to give a talk… (ha ha). So, here I am. And, if you don’t love my talk then blame it on Brother X. (ha ha).

  • Who does this humor draw attention to? Is it THE STAR?
  • Does it reinforce a CLEAR DOCTRINE? Why not?
  • Does it teach any false doctrine or any improper behavior?
  • How do you feel when people begin a talk or a lesson this way? What kind of talk or lesson do you expect?

Example 2

What’s the difference between Adam and Eve and everyone else? (pause for effect). Parents! (ha ha ha)

If Eve sacrificed the human race for an apple, (singing the jingle) “what would she do for a Klondike bar?” (ha ha ha)

So, you can probably tell my talk/lesson is on the Fall…

  • Who does this humor draw attention to? Is it THE STAR?
  • Does it reinforce a CLEAR DOCTRINE? Why not?
  • Does it each any false doctrine or any improper behavior?
  • How do you feel when people begin a talk or a lesson this way? What kind of talk or lesson do you expect?

I have to at least comment on the second joke. Eve did not sacrifice the human race for an apple. The human race would have never come to be if she had not eaten the apple (2 Nephi 2). So, this joke is not only terrible, it teaches false doctrine.

Hand open stage red curtain on black background

Summary

Here are the steps I would offer for you as you prepare lessons that will help you make the Holy Ghost THE STAR, and to ensure your methods have power by tying them to CLEAR DOCTRINE.

  1. Pray for help to prepare a lesson that makes the Holy Ghost THE STAR.
  2. Pray for help to identify CLEAR DOCTRINES that your class needs.
  3. Read the title and/or objectives for the lesson and identify any (if there are any) CLEAR DOCTRINES (unchanging eternal truths). Jot them down.
  4. Read the scriptures and suggested sources for the lesson and identify at least 2 CLEAR DOCTRINES. Jot them down.
  5. Write down on a sheet of paper (landscape) up to 3 clear doctrines (don’t do more than 3) and make a column underneath each one.
  6. Reread each CLEAR DOCTRINE and choose, based on your feelings and inspiration, at least 2 Spiritual Stage Management Methods for this doctrine. Write those two methods under each CLEAR DOCTRINE.
  7. Notate any quotes or scriptures (from the suggested lesson sources) that you feel state, reinforce, or illustrate the CLEAR DOCTRINES. Limit yourself to 2 scriptures and 2 quotes for each doctrine. More is just more. Write them in the column under the doctrine.
  8. Prepare your methods (create concise parables, develop good Q’s, plan a discussion, write out your stories or experiences, create your object lessons, and add any appropriate humor).
  9. Ponder how your class will respond/act, answer, feel, how much time they’ll take to think, will they need paper to jot down ideas, read your questions and stories aloud to get a feel of how they sound, etc. Jot down in the columns any notes you think you need to remember to be prepared for these responses.
  10. Review the suggested activities and ideas in the proffered lesson manuals (online or manual). Prepare any that will compliment what you’ve already developed, or substitute them for ones of your own that are very similar.
  11. Practice your lesson out loud
  12. Pray at the conclusion to know if you should change, alter, remove, or add anything else. Save this till the end and until you’ve practiced out loud. There is something about saying things out loud that changes how they may feel to you. You will recognize better that which you need to alter.

Conclusion

Now, this is pretty much how I prepare lessons. However, each person develops their own ways as the Holy Ghost works with them using their unique experiences, talents, and personality. However, I have found that if you begin with a framework it’s far easier to adapt it to your own strengths than to create one from non-existence. This framework that I use has come from nearly 20 years of pondering and thought. And, it may yet change as I continue to learn.

The key to any methods or lesson is to teach BY the Spirit, or in other words, in ways that He is the STAR and you are not. In a way that your class are the actors and they are interacting within the spiritual production with the Holy Ghost. In a way that you do not upstage either the Holy Ghost or your actors/class. Be a Spiritual Stage Manager.

I hope this is helpful! Good luck.

BT

I’m going out of my normal format on this post. It’s a poem…and a painting.

I have to be honest. I did not come up with this idea on my own. A lady, named Naomi, in a the ward I grew up in, through various circumstances, provided the title and the impetus. It was such a brilliant idea! The moment it was presented to me I felt immediately impressed to write the poem below after studying Lehi’s dream for an entire day. The inspiration and work for the painting followed last night and today. So, here’s a brief thought to preface it.

Lehi recounted a dream/vision he had to his children: Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, etc. We get Nephi’s summary of the dream in 1 Nephi 8, and the interpretation thereafter. I’m quite sure there was more to it. But, because Nephi was the mouthpiece, we are resigned to be happy with his particular perspective. Which, is an effective perspective.

However, did Lehi’s dream, in detail, include more information on what it looks like when we begin to feel the pull to come back? Does the original (which we don’t have) talk more about repentance and those who come back from the great and spacious building, or who manage to find their way back after wandering off and being lost?

When those of us who do falter for a while begin to feel the pull to come back, it can be a daunting view when we turn again to find that sweet white fruit. We are living “Lehi’s dream,” and it’s not the part of the dream that’s fun. That tree, which contains the fullness of God’s love (as available through His ordinances and covenants), seems awfully far away. It’s not a matter of simply grabbing back onto the iron rod after having taken a few steps away. It’s a matter of starting a journey full of peril and struggle simply to get back to the iron rod. Then, once we find the rod it’s another journey to get back to the tree.

I wrote this poem for my kids…all of them. My past seminary kids. My present YW. My step kids. My daughter (who is still a toddler).  I also wrote it for my family–all of them. I dedicate this to “those whom I love,” that they may know that when they decide to turn back to that sweet, white fruit, that they can make it. The Man-in-white will be there. Christ’s grace is sufficient.

Below, find the picture I painted and the poem I wrote, both titled, “Back to the Tree.” Any time you see a (…) it indicates a “pause for effect.”

BackToTheTree

Back to the Tree

By the Doctrine Lady

I’m standing on a balcony that’s way up in the sky

I sometimes can’t remember how I got up here so high

I look across a wilderness with shadows long and tall

Then chance a glance down toward the ground, it makes me feel so small

The balcony it trembles underneath my tired feet

Then suddenly I am pelted with dark rains and bitter sleet

I take a step back from the ledge to get out of the rain

And find that even inside there is emptiness and pain

I cast my eyes out to the field as backward I retreat

And see a small light flickering with continual repeat

It wakes a mem’ry in my mind, I know that tiny flare

It’s small white fruit that’s on a tree in the darkness way out there

 

My soul begins to rumble like the building that I’m in

I’m hungry for that fruit, but my head is in a spin

The cement beneath my feet begins to crack a little bit

I turn and run to find some stairs, then fall into a pit

The people all around me, I guess they’ve been there all along,

Take notice of my wretched fall but still won’t heed my song

“We cannot get you out—if we do you’ll run away.”

“You’re better off here, trust us—it has to be this way.”

I cast my eyes up to the sky, but the building blocks my view

I feel no hope, I’m in despair, I don’t know what to do

I bow my head, hand on my heart, yet not sure how to begin

Then the building shakes, the ceiling cracks, and a little light gets in

 

My courage grows, I open my mouth and call out to the Lord

Then the building falls into an abyss, and I’m left hanging by a single cord

I get cradled by a warm south wind and it carries me to the ground

My feet touch down onto the earth, I don’t even hear a sound

My hungering soul leads me forward—into a deep dark night

But my feet trudge through some dreary waste and I lose the small white light

I walk and walk for hours and collapse upon the dirt

And when I wake I find myself in red mud up to my shirt

Determined to press forward now that day at last has dawned

I cast my eyes fast forward where a dirty fountain spawns

I scarce can see a trace, of the white fruit through mist and trees

Unworthiness, it crushes me, and I sink back to my knees

 

And then, before I cast myself back on the filthy ground

I hear a glorious being say, “At last you have been found.”

“I have left the flock to seek you. Please rise and take my hand.”

“For I am here to lead you past the river and the sand.”

Before I can look up, I feel sore tears upon my face

Then the Man-in-white He wipes them with His robes and with His grace

He bids me take His hand, then pulls me up off of the sod

Then strangely now He places my hand on a rusty iron rod

I take the metal in my hand, but I don’t want to cling real tight

And after walking just a bit, the Man-in-white soon leaves my sight

I panic now and stop and look to see where He has gone

And I only see the iron rod, it’s extensive, it is long

 

Yet, it’s dark enough to see among the mists and all the fog

That seem to appear from nowhere, so I break into a jog

But in my haste, my hand breaks free from the solid metal rail

My feet twist up, I trip and fall, and muddy water hides my wail

I’m drowning now in a murky bog, it’s bottom binds my feet

And suddenly, the rain is back, as is the cold, dark sleet

My limbs go numb and I curse myself, for letting go the rod

Why couldn’t I have just slowed down and been satisfied to trod

Impatience was my downfall, and some carelessness, and fight

I was angry that I had been left by the Man I saw in white

Not ready yet to freeze to death I start paddling with my hands

I call for help, … and there He is, … to remove my selfish bands

 

“Hold to the rod, I promise you, it’s strong and bright and true.”

“Look past the rust and hold on tight, it’ll safely guide you through.”

I’m shivering now with cold, and I still feel a bit uptight

But I trembling stomp up to the rod while mumbling about my plight

Yet, casting my eyes forward I see through the mists a hole

And through that hole I see the fruit, it’s flickering warms my soul

Clinging a little tighter, I walk forward next to the rod

It’s sturdy, and it’s iron, and I trod and trod and trod

I’m tempted very often to keep my eyes cast down and back

But as I trip and stumble I notice my hand begins to slack

Remembering the filthy bog, I grab tight to the cold rail

I raise my eyes and find the fruit, I’m determined not to fail

 

The mists are cold, the darts are sharp, it would be so easy to let go

And the building in the air is back, it’s in the sun and all aglow

I see its people laughing, clinking glasses, and poking fun

They are pointing at me and my sodden clothes, and I suddenly want to be done

One hand pulls free from the iron rod, and for a moment I feel the warm

From the sun, and the building up in the sky, seep into that one arm

I start to cast off, to join the group, they beckon with hands to me …

Then I see the building shake a bit and my temptation is wrestled free

I remember how it crumbled and the treatment of its crowd

I remember how the Man-in-white heard my voice when I called out loud

I quickly grab back hold again of the rusty iron rod

But it looks a little more shiny to me, which I find a little bit odd

 

Hand-over-hand, I pull myself, with my eyes fixed upon the tree

The mists, they clear, and at last I see my fam’ly beckoning to me

A fire kindles in my soul and renewed hunger in my heart

I reach for their hands, and the offered fruit, and pull out a final dart

They pull me in, I feel ashamed, how had I forgotten they were here?

But they hold me tight and tend my wounds, and it’s suddenly all so clear

When finally fed and rightly healed, I feel a pounding in my head

It’s a mix of awe and gratitude and just a little dread

I turn my face toward the beautiful tree and see the Man-in-white

With arms outstretched, He calls to me, and I remember again my plight

I bow my head, in a mess of shame, as I think back on my past

Back then I didn’t quite understand what it meant to get off the path

 

Then feeling the pull of His powerful gaze, I slowly raise my eyes

He beckons to me, I swallow hard, wishing I’d prepared my weak replies

“I lost my way but I’ve come back. I never forgot the light.”

“I simply looked away too long, and doubt bedimmed my sight.”

“When mists of darkness hid the way I sought the building in the sky.”

“And then once there, I couldn’t recall, how I’d gotten up so high.”

“It wasn’t until I found the courage to look back the way I’d come.”

“Then, I saw the little light flickering, and I knew it was time to go home.”

… With measured steps, I close the space between His feet and mine

When barely there, … I fall to my knees, … and say, “My will is thine.”

The Man-in-white, He lifts me up, His hand beneath my chin

“Your will was all that I required so that I could cleanse your sin.”

 

BT

 

Doctrine: Perfectionism is prideful, self-focused,  and judgmental; it amplifies fear, creates failure, feeds despair, and ultimately discourages righteous intent and action. Sanctification is humble, Christ-focused,  and judges righteously;  it increases peace, creates hope, and faith, and ultimately encourages righteous intent and increases the power and frequency of righteous action.

I spent a good portion of my life suffering from aspects of perfectionism. This perfectionism was a manifestation of my belief in doing good, keeping God’s commandments, and trying to become like Him. Only, it took me a long time to realize that my mindset was flawed about how to go about achieving all that goodness.

How did I know my mindset was flawed? Because I kept mentally beating myself up when I fell short using self-deprecation to make myself suffer extra-sufficiently for my wrongs. Because I lived in fear of messing up thinking that I would lose out on hopes, dreams, and blessings if I forgot even one prayer. Because I kept thinking that I was going to be tricked by Satan in some sneaky way despite my best efforts—that he would take me down with one little mistake.

I remember the day I finally realized that I was so afraid of messing up or being taken in by Satan, that I HAD BEEN TAKEN IN. If you are living in fear, you have been “taken in” by Lucifer.

Now, when I use the word fear, I’m not referring to godly awe and respect. I’m also not referring to the love I have for God that makes me not want to offend Him. I’m talking about crippling fear; the kind that inhibits progress. And, many, many Christians (and most certainly a large portion of Latter-day Saints) live by this kind of fear, and it manifests itself in perfectionism.

It is important to note that perfectionism is a chronic mindset. It is preoccupied with self and comparison to others. Perfectionism is prideful in the worst sense because it is blind to its own pride.  Perfectionism is not healthy, nor is it ultimately, eternally productive. Perfectionism is an aspect of self-imposed environmental, and personal control that has exceeded rational limits. It is NEVER okay to devalue yourself, mentally berate and abuse yourself, and the like imitations. It is okay to feel guilt and remorse, but those feelings alone are sufficient. When we have those feelings, they are not license for us to begin hacking away mentally at our self-worth and eternal potential.

“But, doesn’t God command us to be perfect?” you ask?

Well, let’s take a look at some scriptures and study this whole perfection thing a little closer.

Matthew 5:48 says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

From this scripture we receive the command to be perfect even as God, the Father. We could replace the words “even as” with the word “like.” But, either way, this command requires several readings and a lot of pondering. Does God really expect us to attain His level of godly perfection in this life? Why would He command such an impossible thing?

We could also consider the fact that God became who He is, perfect, by first going through the Plan of Salvation as we are. Lorenzo Snow taught this in his famous couplet: As man now is God once was, as God now is man may be. So, we could interpret Matthew 5:48 as becoming perfect in the “same way” God became perfect (which is certainly not immediate or possible in mortality).

But, let’s assume for a moment that the scripture is literal, and God is commanding us to become as He is, perfect, now, while we are mortal. Then, why do we also read the following (from God) in Moroni 10:32-33 which says:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

This scripture in the Book of Mormon about perfection is directly related to the atonement of Jesus Christ and the grace of God which it facilitates. In fact, it asks us to become perfected through grace, and perfected in Christ and to deny not the power of that grace and of God. And, when we’ve attained this kind of earthly perfection, then we are sanctified; or in other words we have been made holy—like God.

If you take the time to study all the scriptures about perfection, I think you will find, as I have, that God is not as concerned about perfection in action (during mortality) as He is about perfection in our desires and the intent/sincerity behind our actions—even, and especially, the flawed actions. Note that in Doctrine and Covenants 137:9 it says, “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” We tend to understand this scripture as a dual thing: according to our works AND the desires of our hearts. But, that is NOT what it says. It says, “…according to [our] works, according to the desire of [our] hearts.”

Do you see what this is saying? God is clearly letting us know that it is not the perfection of our works, or actions, that we are judged by. In fact, He is stating quite clearly that it is the intent and true desires behind our works (whether offered perfectly or flawed) that we are ultimately judged by. This is huge!

Can you do a work perfectly and still have desires and intent that are contrary to the action/work performed? Absolutely. Can you do a work imperfectly and still have desires and intent that are pure, sincere, and true? Absolutely. Why do we always assume that if a work is performed sub-par that the intent or desire is sub-par? Why do we always assume that if a work is performed perfectly that the intent or desire is perfect? This is simply not the case.

black and white pencils

This brings us back to the idea of sanctification over perfectionism. Both are states of being. However, a sanctified person is focused more on perfecting their intent and purifying their desires rather than simply performing an externally perfect work. A sanctified person recognizes that it is perfection in intent that will perfect their outward works, and not the other way around. A sanctified person is trying to become like God and accepts that as they work toward learning and becoming that the works themselves will fall short, but takes confidence in the fact that grace accepts the perfect intent behind such imperfect works.

This, may still be confusing, so let me clarify.

I was sitting in the Gospel Doctrine class in my ward a few weeks past, and a pretty wise man and well-respected in the ward said something akin to the following: “There are two types of perfection. There is ultimate perfection—God’s perfection. And, then there is sanctification, which is the only type of perfection we can attain to on this earth. Sanctification is a state of being which while we are not yet perfect as God is perfect, we are in a state of sanctification, or earthly perfection—which is as much as we are able to attain to in this life.”

Sanctification is, again, a state of being. You don’t ever exit it by being imperfect in action/works. You can only exit sanctification (once you are in it) by being in open rebellion against God, which pertains to your desires and intent (and by extension to your works). And, I would like to point out that I have not found many perfectionists that would ever consider openly rebelling against God UNLESS they allow their perfectionism to destroy their understanding of His nature and their faith in Him.

Sanctification is a state of grace. It doesn’t mean that we actually do everything perfectly. It means that as long as we are sincerely trying to become godly, we are in a constant state of grace—or mortal perfection.

Intent is like a validating watermark on a check or the security features of paper money. Anyone can print a check or money that “looks good”, but it is not real unless it has a validating feature recognized by the institutions its presented to. Actions without sincere, genuine, pure, godly intent are just actions—no matter how good they look on the outside.

Romans 8:3-4 says, “For what the law [i.e. works] could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

What Paul seems to be talking about here is the fact that commandments and covenants and ordinances, which are all part of the law (and necessary in helping us learn to become godly), are weak by themselves. In other words, they are great things, but without the grace of Christ provided through His atonement, those aspects of the law can’t bend us into what we need to become. Just spitting out perfectly performed actions and works (checking commandments off a list) CANNOT and WILL NOT make us like God. Works alone are insufficiently powerful to sanctify us. But, actions and works performed (whether perfectly or imperfectly) with righteous desires and sincere intent DO HAVE POWER because it is our intent which validates our efforts and triggers the power of God’s grace.

When we embrace the life and atonement and grace God offers us, we are presently saved in a graceful, sanctified state. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus (or who are sanctified), who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made [them] free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

On the other hand, if we rebel against and refuse to enter into God’s laws (receive covenants, receive ordinances, and try to keep commandments), then we cannot receive His grace (or sanctification). This is because we are not fulfilling the conditions for sanctification. Nor are we even perfectionists. We are in a state of rebellion, which is yet another state of being.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law [or grace] of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:5-8).

Perfectionists are obsessed with self. They judge themselves and others by the quality of their commandment keeping. If they keep a commandment poorly, they are less likely to judge others who struggle with it. Yet, if they keep a commandment perfectly (in their own eyes), then they are more likely to judge others who struggle with it. Indeed, perfectionists cannot see anyone as perfect, sanctified, or even saved unless they have not yet been witness to these individuals weaknesses.

Have you ever entered the home or hung out with someone you religiously idolized, only to find that they keep a commandment different than you? What was your reaction? Were you shocked? Did your faith waiver in their ability to be deified? Did you suddenly feel a sense of your own righteousness in contrast to them, and perhaps a sense of disappointment and pity for this “lost soul?” Then, you are a perfectionist.

Perfectionists are selfish (though they don’t recognize it). Perfectionists judge themselves and others by their own standards of outward righteousness. They have a terrible incapability to see beyond the outward actions of themselves and others, and to consider a person’s heart. This is NOT how God judges. God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7); the intent and the desires behind all that we do.

“Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we [or they] Christ’s” (2 Corinthians 10:7).

People who have entered into God’s covenants and who are trying ARE CHRIST’S and are perfected in Christ. This means, that if their intent and desires are godly, they are in a state of sanctification, or mortal perfection despite imperfect action. Wow!

And, that means that since we can’t see into everyone’s hearts that we must see and judge others always as if they are in a sanctified state, unless they are clearly in a state of open rebellion. The only deviations from this rare those given the keys to sit as judges in Israel (bishops, stake presidents, presiding authorities, high council, apostles, prophets). They alone are given the inspiration to make other judgment calls. We, however, must see others who are trying as currently sanctified and treat them as such.

“And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you… For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons [and daughters] of God… For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (excerpts from Romans 8:10-17, brackets added)

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).

One of the things that I love about this chapter in the New Testament, is that it is one of the few places that acknowledges the Holy Spirit’s role in grace and sanctification. I would venture that most Latter-day Saints when asked what the difference between “the light of Christ” and “the Gift of the Holy Ghost” would struggle to come up with an answer. But, this chapter makes it clear. The light of Christ is the basic conscience of right and wrong that we all receive upon entering this world. The “power of the Holy Ghost” refers to validations and witnesses of truth, and are given to those both inside and outside the covenant of baptism. The “Gift of the Holy Ghost,” however, is a gift of sanctification given to, and retained, only by those who receive the law and act upon it with sincere, righteous, and pure intent—NOT perfection actions.

Luke 11:34: “The light of the body is the eye; wherefore when thine eye be single, thy whole body is also full of light…”

In this verse, which we also see in Matthew, where the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) adds, “single to the glory of god,” it is possible that a correct interpretation may be that the eye represents intent. Which, if the intent of a person is godly, then their whole body becomes godly. Just food for thought. This makes the possibility of many “perfected” individuals walking the earth extremely likely. This is also where the confidence of prophets in the scriptures comes from; how they know that they are saved and will meet us at the judgment bar of Christ (2 Nephi 33:11). They understood sanctification. They had transcended the weak understanding and satanic bonds of perfectionism.

Those who are in a state of sanctification are humble in their judgments of others. They do not take themselves too seriously. They are not quick to judge others, and are, in fact, charitable, hopeful, and faithful in every way. Because they can see themselves as presently perfected and saved, they can see others presently perfected and saved. This perspective changes the way they treat themselves and others at a deeply mental level. Fear and panic are replaced with peace and long-suffering (with self and others). Arrogance and excessive, rigid self-control is replaced with empathy, sympathy, and compassion which doesn’t beget laziness; it begets a hope that increases the energy one has to keep trying to do right.

Perfectionists are always afraid of the doctrine of grace and sanctification. They always fear that if people believe it too deeply they will stop doing and keeping commandments. But their fear lies deeper. They are afraid others will get exaltation and salvation by doing less while they themselves have worked so hard and beat themselves up to achieve it. They throw in God’s face all that they’ve done and resent when others get blessed who have visibly done less. What a terrible way to live!

The truth is that true, righteous intent (despite imperfect action) breeds more hope and confidence in God and His plan, which translates to better, more sincere efforts, and in time, better overall execution of His commandments.  This is because those who are in a state of sanctification recognize all effort as positive because any effort, with the right intent, is a perfect effort—in God’s eyes—and leads them further along in His plan.

Perfectionism does the exact opposite. Perfectionism breeds despair and uncertainty in one’s own standing before God and one’s own place in God’s plan; which translates to worse overall execution of God’s commandments. Perfectionists tend to be all or nothing—if they can’t do it perfectly they don’t do it at all. Perfectionists can also be lazy—if they can’t do it perfectly they procrastinate. A perfectionist cannot see value in any effort but a perfect effort. What a sad and depressing way to live.

If you’re afraid that if you don’t live in crippling, perfectionist fear that you will fall away from God and become evil, then you are openly admitting that you are not confident in the true desires and intent of your heart. So, it’s time to figure out what those are and take confidence in what you love, who you love, what you want eternally, and the intent behind your righteous actions.

So, if you are, as I once was, living in a state of perfectionism. Stop. Pray to have your eyes opened to the godly, and correct, path of sanctification. It will take time. You will have lapses. But, all the efforts you make—with pure intent—to live in a state of sanctification will, to your utter surprise, bring you closer to mortal perfection than you ever had the chance of attaining before in your perfectionist state. Most importantly, you will be able to cast off the bonds Satan has wound about you. You will feel relief. You will feel peace. You will feel a hope you have never before understood or comprehended. Your faith will become increasingly powerful and unshakeable. And, you will receive personal revelation and power never before comprehended. Your eyes will be opened to God and His mysteries in a way they never have been before.

You will gain confidence before God and your fellow men with an accompanying and equal charity and humility that will fill your soul with joy. So, LET GO.

BT

Doctrine: The Gift of the Holy Ghost is about being in constant communication with the Almighty God. The baptism of fire, or the Holy Ghost, is prerequisite to entering God’s celestial kingdom. God’s commandments are how we gain spiritual reception and receive His messages, guidance, correction, and inspiration. When we place ourselves in places and circumstances that allow us to get the spiritual reception we need, the Holy Ghost can deliver His heavenly correspondence. By communicating with God, and especially by receiving His messages, we come to know Him!

If you are Christian, then what you are trying to become is more “like Jesus.” This results in a desire to emulate and to invite others to also emulate Him. However, if you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you aspire not only to emulate Christ and invite others to do so, but to actually become like Him, which includes inheriting and sharing in His glory (Romans 8:16-17).

When we are baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we covenant to:

  • Take upon us the name of Jesus Christ
  • To keep God’s commandments and progress toward higher covenants
  • To help, serve, bear with, and bless our fellow men
  • To live worthy of the companionship of the Gift of the Holy Ghost

We promise to do all these things in exchange for one major promised blessing: that His Spirit may always be with us (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79; Mosiah 18:8-10).

It may seem like a lot of effort for one primary accompanying gift. But, OH what a gift it is.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire (Matthew 3:11), which Christ, Himself, said was prerequisite to entering His kingdom (John 3:5). The Gift of the Holy Ghost is the gift of eventual sanctification, perfection, and holiness akin to that of Christ. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is about being in constant communication with the Almighty as He tells us what we need to do to become like Him and inherit and share all that He has and His glory.

QUESTION: So, how do we get this constant 24/7 communication and instruction from the Holy Spirit that will help us in our goal to become godly?

ANSWER: We place ourselves in places and circumstances that allow us to get the spiritual reception we need so that the Holy Ghost can deliver His heavenly correspondence.

That’s it, huh? Yep. Think about. How hard is it to make/get a phone call or a send/receive a text message with only one bar? How difficult is it to upload or download files with a spotty Wi-fi connection? And these are just worldly metaphors. When it comes to divine communication, the strength of our connection and service provider makes all the difference.human hand using smartphone on white background

If you want to know why it makes a difference whether you go to church or not, you need only ask yourself the following type of questions:

What happens when I go to church that enables me to get messages from the Holy Ghost that I may not be able to get while sitting at home?

What happens when I accept a calling at church and fulfill it that doesn’t happen when I’m merely a spectator?

Church is one of the places we can increase our number of spiritual service bars or strengthen our spiritual Wi-fi connection.

If you want to know why it makes a difference to read your scriptures, you need only ask yourself the following type of questions:

What happens when I read God’s word that enables me to get messages from the Holy Ghost that I may not be able to get by reading other things?

What happens when I study the scriptures looking for answers to a problem that doesn’t happen when I merely sit on my couch and complain that I have a problem?

The shear act of exerting mental and physical effort toward something increases the strength of our spiritual connection.

If you want to know why it makes a difference to pray even though God already knows your thoughts, feelings, and future, you need only ask yourself the following:

What happens in my mind when I get on my knees and talk to God?

What happens to my logic and reasoning as I try to seek God’s help or explain my troubles to Him?

What happens when I confess my sins to God and ask for Him to forgive me that doesn’t happen when I don’t consciously approach Him?

Now, it’s possible to pray with vain repetitions and not do much to change our spiritual reception. That is akin to uploading your files but not downloading the response. It’s also quite possible to pray and ask God what decision to make and yet be unwilling to accept His answer. In these cases, we may be trying to get a message, but we keep failing to receive it based on our lack of humility and submission to His actual answer. God doesn’t send messages we are not prepared for. Hence, the need for us to do the things He requires so that we are willing and prepared.

Every commandment we have, no matter how small or simple it seems, has the ability (as we keep it) to open our minds and hearts up to communication from the Holy Ghost. When we open up our hearts and minds, the Holy Ghost can tell us the next step we need to take to inherit eternal life. He can tell us what we’re doing right, where we’re close but need to refocus, and what we need to improve upon, change, or forsake. He can help us to forgive. He can grant us peace while we persevere through a trial. He can open our eyes to the struggles of others so that we can help them. Every message we get from Him we get by placing ourselves in circumstances where our thoughts and actions will best open us up to God’s guidance.

By communicating with God, and especially by receiving His messages, we come to know Him! It is the only way to do so. Yet, many Christians (and that includes those who claim to be Mormons) today are happy to settle for a one-sided relationship with God, and only when it suits their needs. Indeed, modern views of God and His commandments are preached by those who are the worst kind of follower—fair weather friends—who abandon God anytime loyalty requires sacrifice, struggle, patience, long-suffering, charity, or effort.

In Alma 37:6 we read:

Mobile Phone Signal Search

And 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.

God’s simple requests and commands to get spiritual reception baffle even the most devout when they fail to understand their incredible and necessary purpose—to create opportunities for us to receive heavenly communication and develop a relationship with God.

A person can’t truly claim to have a relationship with God if they don’t try to communicate with Him (especially receiving communication from Him) in even small ways. Showing up for twice a year holidays is not a relationship. As well, if they keep a selective list of commandments and agree with only some beliefs then they are not the religion they call themselves by, they are their own religion and have created their own god (Doctrine and Covenants 1:16). We can claim to be Christian, but if we don’t attempt to at least emulate Christ and “keep His commandments,” than we aren’t truly His (John 14:15). If we claim to be Mormon and yet make no attempt to become godly and enter into the strait and narrow path that allows us to inherit His glory (Doctrine and Covenants 132:21-25), then we are not keeping our baptismal covenants (priesthood covenants, or temple covenants). We are of those who say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name done many wonderful works” (Matthew 7:22)? God’s answer to this minimal or partial conversion to His plan was this (Matthew 7:2123):

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… And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

This is also reminiscent of the parable of the ten virgins. Remember the ten virgins were likened unto the Kingdom of God, which is His church (or those who claim to be of His church). The five foolish virgins were rejected because Christ knew them not, meaning also that those foolish virgins didn’t know Him, either (Matthew 25:1-12).

If we don’t live our lives so that we can receive correspondence from the Almighty, how can we say we love Him? We don’t even know Him! It’s like having a thousand celestial text messages sitting out in the limbo of cell phone towers waiting for us to put ourselves in places where we get service. And then, we can still only get one message at a time and respond to it before the next one will come. Meaning, that occasional moments of reception a few times a week simply isn’t going to cut it.

In Mosiah 5:13 it says:

For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?

For this is life eternal that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent (John 17:3).

To know God is to know His voice, which we can’t know if we purposefully choose to avoid receiving messages from that voice. If we truly love Him we will keep His commandments and follow Him (John 10:14-16). For, the things that He has done we are commanded also to do (3 Nephi 27:21-22).

So, maybe you pray, but you don’t attend church and you knowingly break commandments. Failed connection. You’re missing tons of messages. So, maybe you attend church, but you don’t read or study your scriptures. Failed connection. You’re still missing many messages. So, maybe you attend church but you refuse to accept a calling. Failed connection. I could go on and on with temple attendance and many other things God has asked us to do; and most of them are small and simple things. If you are ignoring one or many of these things, you’re still missing messages. In fact, you are spurning them because of your pride. And, the longer you go without good spiritual reception (on a consistent, constant basis) the longer it will take you to truly come to know God and to understand the path He wishes you to take in order to inherit His glory and to become like Him.

God is the one who established the spiritual reception guidelines (i.e.commands). They include daily prayers with real intent, daily scripture study, daily service to our fellow men, keeping the Sabbath Day holy, attending the temple, and NOT doing many things. He gave us those commandments so that we could get to know Him, correspond with Him, and become like Him. And He gave us those commandments, which if we keep, we will have constant, 24/7 guidance and help from Him. That’s what we covenant to do when we are baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Most of us rarely miss a text message or social media post from mere acquaintances. Indeed, we can hardly set down our electronic devices for fear of missing one of those cursory messages. How sad, then, that we do not treat messages from God with at least the same urgency because we don’t want to do what it takes to “get spiritual reception.”

BT

Doctrines: There is no vicarious road to replace the individual effort required to ponder, study, reason, and receive individual answers and witnesses from God through the Holy Ghost. If we let others ponder for us we are likely to end up converted to, and preaching, their version of the gospel, instead of God’s version… And their version cannot spiritually sustain us nor lead us to Christ.

I’d like to start this blog with some quotes from one of my favorite books, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. By themselves these quotes contain true doctrines with many possible applications to this discussion.

“Expectations is the place you go to before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not.”

___

“Help you! You must help yourself,” [Tock the watch dog] replied, carefully winding himself with his left leg. “I suppose you know why you got stuck.”

“I guess I wasn’t thinking,” said Milo.

“PRECISELY,” shouted the dog as his alarm went off again. “Now you know what you must do.”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” admitted Milo, feeling quite stupid.

“Well,” continued the watchdog impatiently, “since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect, that in order to get out, you must start thinking,” And with that he hopped into the car.

___

“Now will you tell me where we are?” asked Tock as he looked around the desolate island.

“To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.”

“But how did we get here?” asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all.

“You jumped, of course,” explained Canby. “That’s the way most everyone gets here. It’s really quite simple: every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It’s such an easy trip to make that I’ve been here hundreds of times.”

“But this is such an unpleasant-looking place,” Milo remarked.

“Yes, that’s true,” admitted Canby; “it does look much better from a distance.”

“Well, I’m going to jump right back,” announced the Humbug, who took two or three practice bends, leaped as far as he could, and landed in a heap two feet away.

“That won’t do at all,” scolded Canby, helping him to his feet. “You can never jump away from Conclusions. Getting back is not so easy. That’s why we’re so terribly crowded here…. The only way back is to swim, and that’s a very long and a very hard way.”

I suppose the first question is, “What is IL-PONDERING?” Well, turns out the word ponder doesn’t have any very good antonyms, or at least not that I liked. They all are basically “not thinking,” but I think il-pondering is far more about thinking you are pondering, when really you are not.

The prefix IL means: not, opposite of, without

So the perils of il-pondering are that you are actually not pondering (though you may think you are), or that you are doing the opposite of pondering which is letting others think for you; or perhaps you ponder but invalidate the process for many various reasons.

Question

So, before we can discuss how il-pondering happens, let’s talk about how to ponder.

The following steps have been compiled from a combination of four scripture references: Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3, 9:7-9; Joseph Smith-History 1:8-13; 2 Nephi 32:1-7.

HOW TO PONDER

  1. Set aside your self-imposed, limited expectations for what God’s answer and guidance will be and open yourself up to consider not what you expect to learn, but what God has for you to learn and understand.
  2. Establish a firm, doctrinally-based question upon which you intend to act (For help with this concept see blog post Getting Answers to Prayers: EXPEDIENCY). God can tell you anything, but He’s much more likely to reveal those things to you which pertain to “you” and which will help “you” become more like Him.
  3. Pray for guidance and then while you are waiting for it, study, research, and reason. Then, pray again for understanding and to sort through the knowledge you’ve gleaned.
  4. Live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and invite Him to testify and guide you by being an active learner. You can do this by accessing those resources God has commanded us to use to get His answers: prophetic guidance, scripture study, prayer, and other appropriate and positive influences within our lives.
  5. When you receive advice from others, get the advice confirmed by the Holy Ghost who will tell you in BOTH your mind and your hearts, if the advice is God’s will for you.

So, how do we il-ponder? Il-pondering is skipping, reversing, ignoring, skewing, or slothfully completing any of the above steps. But, here are some statements that may help.

Il-pondering will happen when we limit our perspective for learning and receiving answers from God to our own limited and finite expectations. We think we can imagine what God will say, but we can’t (Isaiah 55:8-9). So, if we try to put God in our box (which can’t be done), then we will sit inside that tiny box, all alone—or with others who have climbed in—and never get the knowledge we need.

Many times we il-ponder when we focus on superficial questions to which God has an answer, but because of the lack of eternal importance of the answer, or our inability to comprehend the infinite expanse of the answer, we cannot receive it. For example: it’s not that understanding how the dinosaurs and Cro-Magnon man play into the creation of Adam and Eve aren’t interesting, but the reality is that the answer won’t affect our ability to keep God’s commandments and become like Him. We can do that without knowing those things. Plus, the answer would probably be beyond our ability to grasp.

We also il-ponder when our intense or excessive emotions of disappointment, anger, resentment, vengeance, passion, and even dumfounded-confusion drive our search. This is because what we are looking for is an immediate fix for our emotional discomfort and not the ultimate truth—which is often not immediately comfortable.

Il-pondering can happen, and frequently does, when we allow others to do our pondering for us. This happens when we set out to research an issue, problem, question, or even a doubt. In our impatience and haste, we find that other people (frequently on the Internet) have already done some. Then, we sit down comfortably and listen to their pondering, eat their narrative meal, accept their biased viewpoint (which certainly sounds as if they are trying to be unbiased and fair), and completely ingest their answers. This meal is especially appetizing if it agrees with our emotional feelings or uneducated conclusions. We jump to their conclusions, never having fully pondered our own. When this happens, I know of few who actually take the time to take the easily ingested pondering (done by others) and vet it through an inquiry to the Lord. They simply think they’ve found the answer and then stop. They put up an umbrella over their heads, blocking the further light and knowledge raining down that they would have found.

We il-ponder when we jump to our own conclusions before having all the information (and since when did anyone have all the information, except God?). We are so prideful and selfishly convinced of our own intelligent conclusion based on minimal evidence that we harden our hearts and become incapable of receiving any other information. Messages from the Holy Ghost bounce off of our armor because we’ve decided to only soften for certain kinds of information.

We il-ponder when we study minimally, research at a glance, reason only our limited viewpoint, and fail to pray before and after for inspiration, help, and guidance.

We il-ponder when we ask God for an answer and then turn to sources He has not instituted for His answer. We turn to men for guidance instead of God’s words and ordained mouthpieces (Doctrine and Covenants 1:37-38).

We il-ponder when we accept the counsel and guidance of others, in our lives, without vetting their guidance with our Father in Heaven. No matter how wise and wonderful advice may seem; no matter how educated or experienced another is; none is more wise and educated and experienced than God. If we get good advice and He wants us to follow it, He will tell us IF we seek His opinion.

Relaxe

In the scriptures we see many people deceived by il-pondering.

Laman and Lemuel often sought explanations from Nephi. Nephi always preached true doctrine to them. So, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that Laman and Lemuel never went to the Lord to get it verified. They never got their own witness.

The Zoramites were notorious for not pondering for themselves. They turned to others (Alma and his sons) for information. Alma 32 is an entire chapter in The Book of Mormon of Alma counseling the Zoramites to ponder! Try it out, plant the seed and see what happens! Alma taught.

Alma’s son, Corianton, succumbed to temptation because he struggled with a few critical gospel doctrines. His emotions got in his way of taking the time to ponder and get the truth. His father finally set him straight, but Corianton still had to gain his own witness.

Alma the Younger was an il-ponderer until his soul was at stake. Then, as he was “racked with torment” and “harrowed up by the memory of [his] sins” he remembered his father taught about “one, Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17). In his internal pondering he sifted through all that he had ever heard and found hope and a testimony in Jesus Christ.

An angry, glory-seeking, money-seeking Zeezrom tormented Alma and Amulek with his cursory knowledge of the gospel. He tried to cross them in their words. When they were inspired by the Holy Ghost to put Zeezrom in his place, he too was tormented until he pondered what they had actually taught about Jesus Christ (Alma 11 & 15).

The Pharisees were the blind guides upon whom so many were so often deceived. They spent years establishing the Oral Law and making it more important than The Law. Then, with their education and wealth, they set themselves up as examples to follow. When Christ came, these Pharisees were unable to let go of their expectations of the Christ they had failed to truly study about and prepare for. They did not know Him, or His gospel, they only knew their version of Christ and His gospel…so they could not recognize Him! The Pharisees were also accused by Jesus Christ of being blind guides and making converts to “their version of Christ’s religion” twofold more the children of hell than they, themselves, were (Matthew 23:15).

If we continually submit to others’ versions of truth, to others’ pondering, and not doing our own, we are allowing ourselves to be led by “blind guides” and we have no personal promptings or spiritual witnesses to fall back on. And, if we are not careful, we will become their converts and not Christ’s, we will preach their gospel and not Christ’s, and we will become twofold more the children of hell, than those whom we originally followed.

We cannot receive personal revelation and guidance from God if we let others do the asking, studying, and pondering for us. If we think God is not answering us, that His promises are not being fulfilled, it may be because we are not anxiously engaged in getting our own answers from Him (Doctrine & Covenants -58:26-33).

2 Nephi 32:1-7 says:

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?

Do ye not remember that I said unto that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ

And now, I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.

I am one of those people that is inherently untrusting of others’ opinions, and even more so of their facts. If someone cites a reference in their essay, research paper, blog, or other post, I usually look it up. And, I’m never shocked (no, never shocked) to find out that they’ve skewed the idea, misunderstood the point, misquoted the facts, failed to read the whole reference themselves, and “jumped to conclusions” about its interpretation. Often they steal ideas because they don’t have their own!

Some of those who preach the most vehemently about negative or accusational religious topics are often il-ponderers themselves. Yet, people eat it up for the il-pondering reasons above. And, the only way for you and I to know the difference is to research their words, check their references, compare it with teachings in the scriptures, compare it with the words and teachings of living prophets and apostles, and vet their negative and accusational declarations through prayer and a witness from the Holy Spirit.

When I cite references in this blog, I fully expect (and hope) that you (my readers) will look them up. Why? Because if you read them, for yourself, the Spirit will be able to teach you far more than my little blog could ever do. If you read the references yourselves and ponder the right questions, the Holy Ghost will do wonderful things with your minds, hearts, and your lives.

So, hopefully, if you’re reading this and you’ve been an il-ponderer, you will get moving again by thinking on your own and seeking your own witness. Or, perhaps you will swim back from the Island of Conclusions—even though it’s a long swim. Or, hopefully, you will finally get past Expectations and to the destination that God intends for you.

BT