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).

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.

Doctrine: God’s equality is true equality–everything else is childishness. God creates us different on purpose. Because of our inherent differences we are affected differently and we will respond differently to life. God treats us the same inasmuch as He treats us all as individuals. Equality in power and characteristics does not translate to sameness in stewardships, roles, and responsibilities. Equality is established by sameness in godly characteristics and attributes. Equality is established by a focus on similarities not differences. Equality is the result of being unified in goals and purposes, not in roles and responsibilities. God acknowledges all of our individual differences and yet offers us all the same commandments and ultimate blessings for our obedience.

many hands symbolizing teamwork/power/unity/equalityThe Merriam-Webster Law Dictionary states that the definition of EQUALITY is as follows:

The quality or state of being equal: as A) sameness in equivalence or number, quantity, or measure; and B) likeness or sameness in quality, power, status, or degree

It seems that now, more than ever in our society there is a drive for EQUALITY. Everyone wants the same rights, roles, privileges, and opportunities. And yet, at the very same time there is an EQUAL drive for unique identities and the establishment of differences. Everyone wants to define who they are, in relation or comparison to everyone else, to show how they are different. In other words, they want to tout their unique differences.

I find this to be a societal conundrum. In the midst of fighting for unique identities, these very fighters also want to be treated “just like everyone else.” It’s like a bunch of young children fighting over how much milk is in their glass or who got more M&Ms where all of the sudden exactness and equality is paramount; and then ten minutes later not wanting to share their toy because it’s theirs establishing individual identity only when it suits their perspective and feelings.

Childishness is immaturity because it is selfish and situational. Childishness is egocentric and incapable of seeing the bigger picture. So, to the world today (in general), it would seem EQUALITY is far more about acting like a child, being childish and immature, than it is about TRUE EQUALITY.

So, I have been pondering what it means to be EQUAL ON GOD’S TERMS. I’ve been hashing around in my brain what TRUE EQUALITY is to GOD. Because, it stands to reason that God’s equality is the correct equality, and anything else is simply a bunch of childishness.

My pondering began at the beginning of religious world history: Adam and Eve. No matter what our feelings are about the creation, we know that God began with one man and one woman to establish His plan.

How were Adam and Eve THE SAME?

They were both created by God. They were both children of God. There was only one of each of them on the earth: one man, one woman (1:1 ratio). They both had human appearances that were nearly identical (with regard to basic anatomy and structure). They were both loved by God. They were both given the same instructions and commandments. They were both given the same warnings and were both promised the same blessings. They were both needed to fulfill God’s plan of salvation. Satan tried to tempt both Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit.

Adam and Eve were both changed from immortality to mortality after taking of the fruit. They both had to work by the sweat of their brow to live, day-by-day. They were both cast out of God’s presence for their transgression. They both taught God’s plan to their children (Moses 5:12).

How were Adam and Eve DIFFERENT?

Adam was a male. Eve was a female. As such, they had some basic anatomical differences and the accompanying results of that in their physical development. Adam was created first. Eve was created second. Satan tempted Adam and Eve differently based on the differences in their personalities and genders. Adam withstood the temptation of Satan. Eve succumbed to the temptation of Satan. Adam then later chose to partake of the fruit because of Eve’s pleas so that the two of them would not be separated and could still keep God’s other commandments together.

God’s response to Adam and Eve’s transgression was nearly identical, except in their stated roles. Because of their biological differences, being changed into mortal beings meant that mortality would affect them a bit differently. As well, Adam was given the responsibility/stewardship/role to preside, provide, and protect; while Eve was given the responsibility/stewardship/role to help Adam fulfill his responsibilities as well as to bear and nurture children. Yet, unlike Adam, Eve understood immediately that the opposition that would come because of their transgression was necessary and important. Adam was taught this truth by Eve (Moses 5:11).

So, if we look at EQUALITY on God’s terms based Adam and Eve we can see a few principles take place.

First, God didn’t create Adam and Eve as both male or both female. He specifically instituted a biological difference (and therefore a stewardship/responsibility/role difference) to enable them to “multiply and replenish the earth.” He didn’t make them exactly the same, on purpose.

Second, because of their biological natures as male and female, Adam and Eve were not affected identically by the consequences of their transgressions (though it was nearly so).

Third, because of the differences in their personalities (which God obviously allowed/intended) they made different decisions when tempted by transgression and had somewhat different responses to its consequences. By this, we can postulate that two people will naturally act and feel differently based on their differences, no matter how small.

Fourth, it is clear that God treats people the same inasmuch as He treats them as individuals. Everyone doesn’t get the same amount of milk in their glass or the same amount of M&Ms. God gives them what they need individually not in comparison to others. The equality is in the unique and individual treatment He offers.

teamwork

The Godhead

The next thing I pondered was the Godhead. Why? Because here are three powerful, glorified beings with nearly identical goals and attributes. How do they coexist since with equal powers they have equal capabilities?

The Godhead consists of God-the-Father, God-the-Son, and God-the-Holy-Spirit. Each of these Gods is EQUAL IN THEIR POWERS, CHARACTERISTICS, and KNOWLEDGE. However, despite the fact that they are identical in these ways, their physical attributes are a bit different, and thereby their roles are different. Thus, their actions and places in God-the-Father’s plan are different—on purpose.

The Holy Ghost has no physical body of flesh and bones so that He can communicate directly with our spirits and leave eternal impressions that mortal communications and impressions cannot successfully imitate nor erase.

Jesus Christ took upon himself mortal flesh and blood, condescending to be born of a mortal mother, that He might have the unique personal attributes necessary to suffer, bleed, and die and as well as raise Himself from the dead. Such suffering was certainly the “raw end of the deal” when it came to Godhead roles, don’t you think?

God-the-Father (who already had a glorified, resurrected body of flesh and bones when the plan was instituted) is the author of the plan. Though it is His plan, He is bound by eternal law and covenant to let it take its course. He may have provided for all injustice, inequality, misery, mistreatment, and suffering through the Atonement of Christ, but it does not remove the fact that He must watch us struggle, that He must suffer with us, that He must refrain from stretching forth His hand to correct every ill—those He knows are already taken care of—because He does not take joy in our suffering. It takes greater love than any of us can know or comprehend to do what God-the-Father does. He refrains from stretching forth His hand (with few exceptions) so that we can come to know ourselves, so that we can exercise our agency in learning to become like Him, and so that we can be truly accountable for who and what we become (meaning that His final judgments will be just). Talk about TRUE LOVE.

So, if we look at EQUALITY as it relates to the Godhead, there are a few more principles to glean.

First, EQUALITY IN POWER AND CHARACTERISTICS DOES NOT TRANSLATE TO SAMENESS IN STEWARDSHIPS, ROLES, AND RESPONSIBILITIES. Each member of the Godhead meekly and willingly carries out their individual roles despite the fact that they can do most of what the others can do. Christ didn’t complain that He had to do the Atonement. He didn’t try to usurp power from God while He was on earth. He directed all praise and glory to God-the-Father, “for there is none good but God” (Matthew 19:17). God doesn’t complain or get jealous that we approach Him through Christ, His son—who is the Mediator—because He knows that is 1) the only way we can approach Him since we are imperfect, and 2) It was His plan that we do so to begin with.

Second, it would appear that all stewardships, roles, and responsibilities gain EQUALITY WHEN THEY ARE FOCUSED ON AN EQUAL GOAL WITH THE SAME PURPOSE. All three members of the Godhead have one purpose: “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Thus they are EQUAL IN PURPOSE and EQUAL IN THE GLORY that will come from their different responsibilities and work.

Third, EQUALITY IS ESTABLISHED BY SAMENESS IN GODLY CHARACTERISTICS AND ATTRIBUTES. Equality is about unity of mind, characteristics, desire, and focus. It is not about sameness of daily actions and responsibilities.

Fourth, the Godhead spends all of its time talking about how THEY ARE ONE and then encourage us to become like Them. They rarely talk about their differences in scripture except when supporting each other’s roles (or getting out of the way so the others can fulfill their roles). God withdrew so that Christ could perform the atonement. Christ withdrew so that the Holy Ghost could come. The Holy Ghost spends all His time testifying of God and Christ and leading us to Them and teaching us how to become like Them. The Godhead is UNITED, THE SAME, UNIFIED, ONE IN PURPOSE, all the while giving glory to each other and not interfering with each other’s roles.

The Body of Christ–US

The next thing I pondered was references in the New Testament to the body of Christ—referring to God’s church. Let’s look at one scripture in particular: 1 Corinthians 12:12-27:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many.

If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

And if they were all one member, where were the body?

But now are they many members, yet but one body.

And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the ahead to the feet, I have no need of you.

Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

It seems to me that this scripture says it all. We are all unique. We have all been given different gifts, roles, responsibilities, and assignments. We have all been given (or not given) what we have by God. We are not all the same (even though biologically we have nearly all of the same possible capabilities). Thus, we are treated individually by God. While, at the same time being granted EQUAL BLESSINGS if we will keep His commandments and strive to be LIKE GOD.

Now, I’m not ignorant of the fact that throughout world history women, minorities, and even whole races have been treated as unequal (if we refer to the Merriam-Webster definition of equality). Meaning, that these categories of people have been treated as though they were not of the same worth or value as others. They have been treated as though they were lesser beings, of lesser intelligence, of lesser capability/power, of lesser status, and were not given the same options for degrees of happiness.

And yet, I might point out that how the world treats us has little to do with GOD’S EQUALITY. How God’s church is set up, how God has ordained the family to be set up, how God offers individual revelation, blessings, and salvation—these have to do with GOD’S EQUALITY which is TRUE EQUALITY.

  1. God is far more concerned with our godly development than He is with giving us equal circumstances.
  2. God is far more concerned with enticing and inviting us to repent of sin and become like Him than He is with giving us everything we think we want and need (because someone else has it).
  3. God is far more concerned with us learning to have compassion on others, to attain charity, and to understand things from an eternal (long-suffering) perspective than fixing everything the moment us or others struggle.
  4. God is more interested in us receiving all He has in eternity, including His powers and perfection, than giving us lesser blessings and glories temporally.

In God’s plan, ARE ALL FREE TO PURSUE GODLINESS including God’s glory, power, and attributes. And, all who keep God’s commandments by faith and covenant—despite their roles, stewardships, responsibilities, trials, problems, and natural circumstances—will receive an EQUAL endowment of what God has (which, I might point out is everything).

In God’s plan, ALL ARE FREE TO BECOME ONE WITH HIM OR REMAIN AS THEY ARE and focus on their differences to the exclusion of receiving His glory and ultimate blessings.

Symbol of scales

All are Alike unto God

Does not God say, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). And did He not say, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). And did He not say, “…all flesh is mine, and I am no respecter of persons” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:16) despite the fact that I created you with different circumstances. Did he not say, “…and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33).

In the very same verse where God acknowledges the differences in wealth, societal standing, religious beliefs, and gender, He also says, “all are alike.” How can that be so? Because what He means is that He knows that mortality is messed up. Agency (free will) reigns, nature is allowed to be indiscriminate, and justice, healing, and peace are not always contemporary blessings. But, despite the conditions of mortality, He offers us the SAME BLESSINGS AND GLORY, His glory, IF WE WILL BUT SERVE HIM DESPITE THOSE CONDITIONS AND DIFFERENCES.

Remember, Christ was a slave, a minority, a half-sibling, a step-son; he was abused, persecuted, hated, despised, treated as less than a common thief, and the fact that He suffered for OUR TRANSGRESSIONS AND SINS (and their consequences) was 100% unfair because He was perfect. Yet, He didn’t cry over spilled milk (forgive the use of cliché here). He embraced His life and His role. He lived God’s law and entered into His GLORY despite the real differences and injustices in His part of God’s plan. And, for so doing He entered into His glory on God’s right hand.

Same Testimony | Different Missions

The final scripture that came to mind as I was pondering God’s equality was St. John 20:21-23. In this scripture Peter is talking with Christ about what will happen to him and the other disciples when Christ leaves them. He directly asks Christ what John, the beloved, will do/get.

Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper…

Peter seeing him [John] saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?

Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple [John] should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?

John, for his testimony of Christ, went on to live for a very specific and special role (and lives still; 3 Nephi 28:6, Doctrine and Covenants 7) and Peter went on to be crucified for his testimony of Christ.

The main principle that I get from this passage is that our roles, stewardships, blessings, individual treatment, and all other stuff are decided by God. HIS LOVE FOR US IS THE SAME, but how He disperses His own stuff (which is all of creation) is up to Him. We can either accept this, or complain about it, but sadly complaining doesn’t change it.

Both John and Peter had the same testimony of Christ. They walked with Him, talked with Him, served by Him, and testified of Him. Yet, God gave them different missions to perform. He did the same with the Nephite apostles. In that case each was given exactly what they individually desired and asked for (3 Nephi 28).

Conclusion

It is because we will get exactly what we want (Alma 29:4), whether unto salvation or destruction, that we should be all the more careful about deciding exactly what it is that we want. So, do we really all want the same amount of milk and M&Ms even if it’s not in our best interests? Or, do we really want to focus on what’s ours so that we don’t have to share? Do we want to steal the other kids toys because we think we deserve it and it looks cool? Because that is FALSE EQUALITY.

Or, do we want to find out from God what we need and pursue it? Do we want to focus on our eternal identity and potential and become like God? Do we want to spend our time appreciating other’s roles and missions and getting out of the way so they can fulfill them? Do we want to help others recognize our role and mission so that they can get out of our way so we can fulfill them? Do we want to live like God, and in His presence? Then we must embrace TRUE EQUALITY.

BT

 

Doctrine: There are two things faith cannot do: it cannot violate another person’s agency, and it can’t force our will upon God. Agency is the preeminent doctrine of heaven and earth–it cannot be overthrown. Covenants can only secure/bind us individually to God when we keep them. Our kept covenants cannot bind others to God. Sealing covenants bind eternally only those family members who keep their covenants.

The Abrahamic Covenant. It’s something most Latter-day Saints have barely thought about, let alone studied. It’s something they’ve heard bits and pieces of and like to quote ideals from; but they have no idea of the context of what they are quoting. And, most often, this covenant is misunderstood in regard to wayward family members.

Next, Agency. It’s another thing Latter-day Saints claim to understand—better than most, even. And yet, they only understand it as far as they like it. The parts of agency they don’t like, they disdain, ignore, or push away and purposefully remain ignorant of. And, the one place people like to pretend they can remain ignorant is in regard to wayward family members.

The word “wayward” means: difficult to control or predict because of disobedient behavior, having turned, or turning away from what is right or proper, etc.

Now, when I say “wayward,” I mean the children, or grandchildren, or other descendant posterity (from a man and woman who have been sealed in the temple and who are bound by the Abrahamic Covenant i.e. the New and Everlasting Covenant) who have rejected the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, gone inactive from it, or who even actively fight against it.

So, what is the big misunderstanding? Many people who have been sealed in the temple falsely believe that if they (meaning the two of them) keep their sealing covenant and are faithful, that their wayward children will be forced by God to someday repent and “make it” to the celestial kingdom. And, they think that this will happen because of the Abrahamic Covenant by which they are bound. They mistakenly believe that their covenant with God will save their children despite the actions of their children. [See Elder Bednar quote and reference at the end of this blog post for the reason many people have strayed into this belief.]Bored Teenage Girl Being Told Off By Mother

It’s the hard truth, but this is simply not the case. It can’t be the case because it is contrary to all the foundational doctrine upon which the gospel is founded—upon which this life is founded. In Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 and 132:21 teach quite clearly that kept covenants are what bind us to God and give us access to His fullness. We cannot bind others to God by our kept covenants (Matthew 25:1-12). They must make and keep their own.

So, not only is this mistaken belief not part of the Abrahamic Covenant, but it totally goes against the whole plan of salvation which is designed to allow, encourage, and protect agency. God makes no covenant with any of His children which overrides the agency of any of His other children. If agency was that easily sidestepped then the Atonement of Jesus Christ would never have been necessary, or God’s plan, for that matter.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently taught in his October 2016 General Conference address, Fourth Floor Last Door:

Faith is powerful, and often it does result in miracles. But no matter how much faith we have, there are two things faith cannot do. For one, it cannot violate another person’s agency.

One woman prayed for years that her wayward daughter would return to the fold of Christ and felt discouraged that her prayers had seemingly gone unanswered. This was especially painful when she heard stories of other prodigal children who had repented of their ways.

The problem was not a lack of prayers or a shortage of faith. She needed only to understand that, as painful as it might be for our Father in Heaven, He will not force anyone to choose the path of righteousness. God did not force His own children to follow Him in the premortal world. How much less will He force us now as we journey through this mortal life?

God will invite, persuade. God will reach out tirelessly with love and inspiration and encouragement. But God will never compel—that would undermine His great plan for our eternal growth.

The second thing faith cannot do is force our will upon God. We cannot force God to comply with our desires—no matter how right we think we are or how sincerely we pray. Consider the experience of Paul, who pleaded with the Lord multiple times for relief from a personal trial—what he called “a thorn in the flesh.” But that was not God’s will. Eventually, Paul realized that his trial was a blessing, and he thanked God for not answering his prayers the way he had hoped.

Christ himself said to the Jews (the blood descendants of Abraham) who continued to reject Him (Matthew 3:8-9; JST Matthew 8:35-36):

Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Why is it that ye receive not the preaching of him whom God hath sent? If ye receive not this in your hearts, ye receive not me; and if ye receive not me, ye receive not him of whom I am sent to bear record; and for your sins ye have no cloak. Repent, therefore, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance; And think not to say within yourselves, We are the children of Abraham, and we only have power to bring seed unto our father Abraham; for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children into Abraham.

Christ declared that being of the literal blood of Abraham was not sufficient for salvation or Priesthood authority. The Jews had to also bring for fruits meet for repentance in order to fulfill their calling as God’s people.

So, what is the Abrahamic Covenant for if not to force people back to God?

The Abrahamic Covenant is THE COVENANT God made with Adam and Eve, and all the righteous who lived thereafter. It was renamed after Abraham because of his faithfulness. The Abrahamic Covenant contains many smaller covenants, promises, obligations, powers, and assignments; which, if undertaken will help us become like God. That is its sole purpose: TO BECOME LIKE GOD.Hipster girl with beanie hat showing attitude

The following covenants are all a part of the Abrahamic Covenant:

Baptismal covenant (Abraham 2:9-11)

In the baptismal covenant we agree to try to become like God by keeping His commandments, serving our fellow men, and sharing God’s plan with others. We accept the command to receive the Holy Ghost and live worthy of His companionship. By entering this covenant, we become the seed of Abraham (whether we are already blood descendants or not).

The Gift of the Holy Ghost covenant (Abraham 2:9-11)

When we enter the baptismal covenant we are commanded to receive the Holy Ghost. This power is the baptism of fire. Different from the power of the Holy Ghost, and the Light of Christ, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is what cleanses us and changes us—over time—into a godly being. As we exercise our agency to do good, the “fire” of the Holy Ghost is able to make permanent changes in our nature (like a blacksmith using a forge to heat metal and change it into something; the heat is necessary to create the malleability needed to make long-term change to the metal).

Priesthood Ordination covenant (Abraham 2:9, 11)

Both men and women act under the authority of the Priesthood of God. Therefore, the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (found in Doctrine and Covenants 84:5-44) applies to all; especially endowed members (who have gone to the temple to receive “the fullness of the Priesthood”. We are to live by every word which proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. We are to receive, embrace, and keep our baptismal covenants and temple covenants.

Part of having access to the Priesthood is using it to spread the gospel and offer its saving ordinances to all mankind. This is one of the chief responsibilities of the Abrahamic Covenant—of God’s people. It is not just to preach the gospel, but to make available its saving ordinances to all. This is a responsibility and a command. It is not just a nice thing to do.

Endowment covenant (Abraham 1:2-4; 2:8-9)

A primary part of the Abrahamic Covenant is taking upon us deeper covenants to live in such a way that we can become like God. The endowment is not just about “living with God.” It’s about “becoming like God.”

The covenants that accompany the endowment are critical to us binding ourselves more firmly to God (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10) and His plan for His children, and for us. As we receive greater knowledge and power to be righteous and godly, we become “like God.”

Sealing covenant (Abraham 1:2-4; 2:8-9)

God promised Abraham eternal seed (family). This is what God has. If we want it also, we must enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. It doesn’t guarantee that all our children will be exalted. It does, however, guarantee that those of our children who keep their covenants with God will be bound to us forever, as we are bound to God by keeping His covenants.

Contrary to the generalized belief that most Latter-day Saints have, getting married in the temple is not “about them.” The sealing covenant is an individual covenant made with God to live worthy of having eternal family. It is a covenant made in the pursuit of receiving godly privileges. Even if one member of the marriage fails to keep their covenant, the covenant is still in force for the person who remains faithful. Those who take upon them the New and Everlasting Covenant agree to join God in His work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. That’s what the sealing covenant is!

This is the covenant that so many people think means God will force their posterity to repent and live the gospel. This is not the case. The sealing covenant, however, does provide something that often gets mistaken for God forcing people to give the gospel. What is it? Well, let me tell you.

In Jacob 5 we read the olive tree allegory. This allegory is long. Most people skip over reading it. They are overwhelmed by its symbolism. But, this allegory is a strong visual of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Throughout the allegory we see God do everything He can to get his olive trees (the primary tree being the House of Israel) to produce good fruit (or to be righteous). He takes wild (wicked) branches and grafts them into good (righteous) trees. He takes good branches and grafts them into wild trees. He takes good branches and plants them in different places and soil trying to preserve the righteousness of the tree they came from. He slowly prunes away wild branches trying to give those that remain a chance to turn good.

Back and forth, and back and forth, the Lord goes trying to save The House of Israel, the Covenant People, the Children of Abraham so that they might “salt/save” the rest of the vineyard. The House of Israel carries the responsibility to preach the gospel and carry the ordinances to all the rest of God’s children! So, the Lord promises, because of the covenant, that He will work extra hard to provide conditions for those “children of the covenant” to choose to fulfill their covenant responsibilities. But, He will not force them to change. He will merely go back and forth, back and forth, pruning, grafting, dunging, planting, etc. trying to get “His people” to keep their covenants and bless the lives of each other and the rest of His children.

“For of whom much is given, much is required (Doctrine and Covenants 82:3)” which is why the Lord works extra hard to make sure that those of us who have entered into, or who have been born into, His covenants, don’t end up with “greater condemnation.” This is also why He tries to encourage us to make those covenants only when we are prepared to embrace them. God’s covenants are not just membership in a church, or saying we want to be affiliated with the church. They are a firm contract between we and Him about our responsibility to do His will and learn to become like Him.

Divorce in the family
Divorce in the family, the husband leave the family

Now, let’s talk about agency.

In order to have agency we must have:

  1. Law defining right and wrong
  2. Opposing choices
  3. Opposing enticements
  4. Power to choose (to act and not be acted upon)
  5. Environment that does not interfere with choice

If we take away wrong choice in order to make things nice and to keep people from feeling bad, then we also take away right choice. Law defines both. Remove law, neither exists. Remove wrong, the other disappears also. So, we can’t say, “But, I love my son/daughter. I cannot imagine heaven without them. Even if they are unwilling to keep such and such commandment, surely God will still let them in—for my sake.” Not going to happen, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:13).

Notice God said He cannot look upon sin with the least “degree” of allowance. That’s why they are several “degrees” of glory. The degree of sin any of us is determined to hold onto, and not repent of, will also determine the degree of our glory (Doctrine and Covenants 88:15, 18-24, 33-39).

But, here’s something else to consider: if we love our children more than we love God…or if we love our version of God’s plan more than God’s version; so much so that we would force our children to live in a kingdom of glory they would not be prepared for, would not like, nor appreciate (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33), then perhaps we don’t really understand what degree of glory we really desire.

If our children don’t succumb to the pruning, grafting, dunging, etc.; if they don’t succumb or submit to the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, then we cannot manipulate them into becoming godly. It’s terribly sad. It’s heartbreaking. But, that is simply not the plan. We cannot override their power of choice. God is the one who has given it to them, and who are we to try to fight against God?

If there is anyone out there who still struggles with this concept, please read, Faithful Parents and Wayward Children: Sustaining Hope While Overcoming Misunderstanding by Elder David A. Bednar.

But, here is one quote from it:

The statements by Joseph Smith and Orson F. Whitney are construed by some members of the Church to mean that wayward children unconditionally receive the blessings of salvation because of and through the faithfulness of parents. However, this interpretation is moderated by the fact that the most complete account of the Prophet’s sermon was not available to Church historians at the time they compiled an amalgamated version of his teachings from the notes of Willard Richards and William Clayton. In the more complete set of notes recorded by Howard and Martha Coray, Joseph Smith is shown to have qualified his statement to make the promised blessings conditional upon the obedience of the children:

“When a father and mother of a family have [been sealed], their children who have not transgressed are secured by the seal wherewith the Parents have been sealed. And this is the Oath of God unto our Father Abraham and this doctrine shall stand forever.”

So, I’m posting this blog, not to dash hopes. But, to hopefully influence the actions of those lovingly, but sadly, misdirected parents. Salvation is dependent upon our individual relationship with God (St. John 17:3; Matthew 25:12). We cannot make our children have a relationship with God. If they are to have His image in their countenances, then they must do their part to become like Him.

So, if you’re a parent and you’re trying desperately to be more righteous, in an unbalanced way, in order to save wayward posterity, then you are missing the point. You can’t be more righteous on their behalf. You can only be righteous on your own behalf.

So, what can you do?

You can focus your faith and your energy on what you can control. You can focus your faith and energy on helping them come to know God “through you” by showing charity, grace, and love to them where they are in their spiritual journey and no matter what degree of glory they choose. You can invite them to serve and love you and their family and friends. You can pray for opportunities to speak to them by the Spirit. You can focus on using your agency to invite (not manipulate or coerce) them to use theirs—to choose God.

You cannot visit the temple an extra ten times, or read your scriptures an extra fifteen minutes, or serve yourself into exhaustion in order to force the Lord to save your children despite their agency. What a useless burden to carry? How little trust in the Lord and His plan? How selfish to force our desires on others?

The beautiful thing about God’s plan is that we will all get exactly what we want. Sure, those of us with a testimony of what’s best will always mourn when others choose less than the sum that’s available to them. But, ultimately, we all end up exactly where we want. And that, alone, should give us peace.

Alma 29:4:

I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.

So many people have often said to me, “I wish I could do <fill in the blank> like you.” But, they don’t really want to. They think it would be nice to do <fill in the blank> without any practice, study, or effort. But, when it really comes down to it, they put the effort into the things they really want. And, if they wanted to do <fill in the blank> just like me, then they’d put the effort into it. It’s as simple as that. And that’s what God is asking of all of us, whether parents or children. We must bring forth our own fruit.

BT

Doctrine: When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed—to turn our life and will over to Him—we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way.

Consider the following scenarios:

A. Jill meets the missionaries, takes the discussions, enjoys marvelous spiritual experiences, and gets baptized (enters into a new/deeper covenant with God). Jill is excited to have found the truth. But, very soon after getting baptized, several family members shun her for her new religion. She has also newly committed not to work on Sunday and her current job is unwilling to support her new beliefs. She gets laid off. As well, a few members in her new ward seem to be openly judgmental about her Sunday attire. To Jill, it suddenly seems that she is getting punished, in multiple ways, for her choice to join the church. She now doubts whether she should have joined at all.

B. Joseph is a long-time member of the church. But, recently, he has been inspired to make some deeper commitments and promises to the Lord. After doing so, his current marriage begins to fall apart. The more he tries to keep his deeper commitments to the Lord, the worse his marriage relationship becomes. His wife seems to resent his increasing efforts to become more godly. Joseph knows he has been inspired by God to make these deeper commitments. But, now, it seems as if he is getting to a point where his wife may leave him. Does he have to choose between his wife and God? He is beginning to doubt whether or not the Lord would rather he keep these deeper commitments if it means his marriage will end.

These two scenarios have several things common:

  • The person makes a new covenant with God, renews their covenant with God, or deepens their commitment to their current covenants with God.
  • The person experiences a negative effect, or aftermath, directly related to their new/increased covenant/commitment with God.
  • Because of the directly related aftermath, the person doubts their promptings, actions, or past spiritual feelings/experience.

Often when we are guided, or inspired, to make deeper commitments to the Lord—and we follow those inspirations—things in our life begin to change. These changes do not always seem to be for the better—at least not initially. And, because these changes are often initially negative, we may incorrectly judge this negative aftermath as a sign that what we have done is either unwise, wrong, or perhaps not from the Lord after all.

When we judge such aftermath negatively, we do so because we are afraid and confused. As we ponder our impressions and feelings, we can remember feeling strongly that we were guided to act. But, now, with so much backlash, lack of support, and other confusing happenings, we second guess our spiritual experiences, testimony, and faith. It is hard for us to imagine that God would lead us in a direction that would seem to rob us of what we thought was already good in our lives.

In Moroni 7:16-17 we learn that anything that entices us to love God, serve God, and become more like Christ, is sent from God. Yet, we still have this juxtaposition of spiritual experience with negative aftermath.

Isn’t God bound to bless us when we do what He says (Doctrine and Covenants 82:10)? So, if we are inspired to make covenants and deeper commitments, by the Lord, why does everything appear to go south afterward?

I call it “The Reconstruction Process.” God is the supreme remodeler. Why a remodeler instead of a modeler? Well, because we have free will (agency). God will not force us to live our lives in the way that will bring us ultimate peace and joy. However, when we make covenants and commitments with God, we are, in effect, turning our lives over to Him. We are giving Him our free will and agreeing to do with it as He commands. We are handing Him the reigns to our life.Backyard Deck Reconstruction

It is in this moment when we turn our lives over to God that the remodeling and reconstruction process begins. Before God can put us on the path to our ultimate happiness, He has to remove the barriers we’ve put in the way. Before God can build us a mansion in the celestial kingdom, He has to tear down the two-bedroom ranch we’ve constructed in a lower level of glory. There are no spiritual vacation homes.

In fact, no matter what level of righteousness we are currently at, the moment we commit more deeply to God and strive to improve, the reconstruction process begins. This reconstruction process often includes removing or changing certain aspects of our lives that we are currently comfortable with. It may include removing something that we think is good, or even great. And, so we get discouraged and misunderstand what is happening.

Hydraulic crusher excavator backoe machinery working on site

I remember very clearly the day I had the courage to get on my knees and sincerely say—with a bit of fear—to the Lord, “What is it that you want for me? I’m willing to follow the path you’ve designed and I’m ready to let go of the one that I’ve been clinging to. My life is in your hands. Make of it what you will.”

What was the aftermath?  I lost the brand new home my spouse and I had only recently bought. I continued to fail to get pregnant and have a child. I had to give up my job to move across the country. I had to live without a home of my own for two years. Then, my marriage crumbled to the ground no matter what I did to save it. Then, I had to quit yet another job where I was earning more than I had ever earned. Then, I had to move back in with my parents for 5+ years. During this time, despite my many qualifications and connections, I couldn’t seem to get a decent job. The list went on and on…

It took the Lord 7 years to tear down the life that I had built up; before He could begin to rebuild it. He did it as slowly as He could—so that I was not overcome—but it was still incredibly confusing and painful. I spent many years doubting where my life was supposed to go and what I was supposed to be doing. I often doubted that the Lord had any plans for me at all. But, I decided to be as content as I could with where I was and the circumstances I was frozen in. I did my best to own my situation and count my blessings–and the Lord gave me many even though I felt a bit lost. I had given my life over to the Lord. So, part of me knew that even if I wasn’t settled and content with the current circumstances that I was where the Lord wanted me.

Level and pen on an architects planThen, 7 years after I said, “My life is in your hands,” the Lord began to start the actual new construction. I was finally back to the foundation of my life and God could work with it. I saw the plans begin to form and materialize before my very eyes. What He has done since has been beyond anything I could ever have imagined for myself—and I thought I could imagine a lot. Yet, the Lord has shown me that no matter what I can imagine, He can produce something beyond the reach of it.

Seven years is a long time. I started that 7 years of demolition at the age of 26. The new construction is now 4+ years in progress. What if I had waited until I was 30, or 40, or 50 to submit my will to God’s?

At the age of 26 I was trying do to my best to live God’s commandments and do His will. What if my life had been more deviant? What more might I have had to pass through in order to get to a clean slate where God could build anew?

When we follow promptings to covenant with God and to become more deeply committed, to turn our life and will over to Him, we must expect a time of demolition and change before the promised blessings and new construction. Sure, it’s frightening. We always wonder what will come along if we “let go.” But, though the path is unknown and the process stressful, faith-testing, and often time-consuming; when the actual reconstruction begins and we get glimpses of what the Lord is doing with our lives, we will rejoice in ways we never could have ever dreamed before.Time to rebuild

God is the master of eternal joy. He is the master of healing, and hope. He is the master contractor. He is the master gift-giver and the preeminent lover of our souls. And, after giving our life over to Him we must trust that we can endure the demolition required before the reconstruction begins. Without fail, the more we trust the Lord and the more we covenant with Him and the more we deepen our commitment to those covenants, the more initial struggles and growing pains we will experience as He alters our lives to put us on track for eternal joy—His joy.

So, when these initially negative hours, days, months, and years come in the aftermath of your new, renewed, or deepening covenants and commitments; retain your faith and trust the Lord. For, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; St. John 14:15).

BT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silhouette of a man an atheist

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

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

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

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

So, what constitutes evidence for God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother and daughter find out the relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart and love

True faith requires the following three things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BT

Doctrines: Spiritual interventions and ultimatums are godly, acceptable, and necessary to deliver before we can be justified in taking serious and drastic courses of action in close relationships. The whole point of an intervention or ultimatum is to invite a person to act on their agency. It is to invite them and provide conditions that encourage a person to decide what they truly want and to act on it. Interventions and ultimatums are about godly sanction for us to LET GO of the accountability we have tried to appropriate for others. Forgiving others for trespasses against us does not mean enabling them to continue trespassing against us and God’s commands.

A study of the standard works (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, as well as modern conference talks and lesson manuals) will reveal that God is a god of spiritual interventions and ultimatums. God is NOT an enabler of sin. These three terms are often used but loosely understood. So, let’s define them:

Intervention: come between so as to prevent or alter a result or course of events.

Ultimatum: a final demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which will result in retaliating action or a breakdown of relations.

Enable: give authority or means to do something.

Whether we believe it or not, whether we like it or not, this life is NOT about learning to become good. The majority of the people who come to this earth are good to varying degrees—naturally. Therefore, this life is about what level of goodness we want and our potential path to godhood. We are here to prove whether or not we want to become more than good. We are here to prove whether or not we want the power and accountability that come with the high and holy responsibility of godhood.

All of God’s plan is set up to ensure we have agency to pass through this process with complete honesty, validity, and personal accountability. His commandments are about becoming godly. His covenants are about becoming godly. So also, His use of spiritual intervention and spiritual ultimatums, and His unwillingness to enable us in sin, are about leading us to godhood.

God does not actually intervene in our lives without some act of agency on our part. But, He does do all He can to open us up to His counsel, which if accepted and followed, will alter the course of our lives toward godhood. His enticements are what open us up to the available intervention He offers. He does this by providing multiple opportunities—daily—for us to receive spiritual guidance and counsel. These include:

  • Prayer
  • Promptings and inspiration from the Holy Ghost
  • Callings and opportunities to serve
  • Commandments and instructions on how to become godly
  • Scriptures—His written words
  • Wise friends and family
  • Trials and struggles
  • Uplifting music
  • Church meetings where we are taught and instructed
  • Dedicated temples (His house) available for us to become worthy to enter and receive guidance

We accept God’s intervention in our lives by inviting Him to make it. We do this by making and keeping covenants. Once we are in this “covenant zone,” we have willingly given our lives over to God, meaning that He can, in some ways, act to intervene, and give us a chance to alter our course toward godhood. Note that He doesn’t force us to change course, but He does have the authority we’ve given Him to offer frequent interventions, which allow us to act, or choose, to get back on course for godhood.

Stop Domino Effect - Hand Prevents Failure

If we start to get off the straight and narrow path—which we covenanted with God to follow—God will frequently call us up and offer interventions. If we get completely off the path, God will eventually issue spiritual ultimatums. Basically, if we are not trying to keep the covenant which we promised Him we would keep (and invited Him to help us keep), He will not let us sit around and twiddle our thumbs or make light of our relationship and covenant with Him. He will issue a final demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which will result in the loss of blessings, power, and most certainly a breakdown and loss of our covenant relationship with Him.

It is very important to understand what happens when we abandon covenants with God and we fail to respond righteously to His ultimatums. God will release us from our covenant and in consequence withhold blessings. He is not an enabler. He will not give us the authority or the means to use His blessings and powers in our pursuit of sin.

However, this loss of privileges, powers, and our close relationship with Him does not mean we step outside of His love. He will take back from us those gifts and privileges from Him that we didn’t want, didn’t honor, and took for granted. But, He will continue to offer back to us as much as we will receive.

The scriptures are, backwards and forwards, a record of spiritual interventions and ultimatums. They are issued to families, individuals, children, regions, wards/branches, and even the entire church; when such exhibit outright rebellion and are on the path to ultimate physical and spiritual destruction.

Here are just a few (a very few) examples:

  • Laman and Lemuel received spiritual ultimatums from Nephi to repent or be cast off.
  • The Nephites repeatedly received spiritual ultimatums from their prophets/spiritual leaders to repent or be swept off the promised land by the wicked nations around them.
  • The Israelites constantly received spiritual ultimatums to repent or be destroyed by the heathen nations around them.
  • Chief Captain Moroni offers a spiritual intervention with the Title of Liberty, allowing those sitting about the opportunity to rise up and defend their religion and their freedoms.
  • Alma and Amulek issued spiritual ultimatums to the people of Ammonihah to repent or be wiped out by the Lamanites.
  • Jonah issued a spiritual ultimatum to Nineveh to repent or be destroyed.
  • An angel issued a spiritual ultimatum to Alma the Younger to stop trying to destroy the church or he would be cast off eternally.
  • Abinadi issued a spiritual ultimatum to King Noah that the people needed to repent or they would be driven to and fro and made slaves by their enemies.
  • Paul often offered spiritual interventions in his many letters to the churches.
  • Lehi frequently pled with Laman and Lemuel and offered spiritual interventions, and asked them to accept.
  • God sent an angel to Laman and Lemuel (who were beating their younger brothers nigh to death) to intervene on both their behalf and Nephi and Sam IF Laman and Lemuel would listen.

So, why talk about spiritual interventions and ultimatums and how to NOT enable?

Because, we all tend to offer interventions and to issue ultimatums of our own, and we do it without godly direction. As well, many of us who try to be forgiving and well-meaning end up enabling those who sin against us to continue to sin against us, and God. So, we all need to understand a little better how to offer interventions, issue ultimatums, and to NOT enable. As we do, we may find that our relationships improve and agency is still honored.

Now, each of us is part of some type of human relationship. Either we are a devoted friend, a caring brother or sister, a worried mother or father, a hurting and struggling spouse, a faithful visiting or home teacher, a bishop, or the head of a presidency serving in the auxiliaries of the church. Sometimes we are bosses in a work environment.

5 to 12 - TIME TO ACT

In all of these relationships, spiritual interventions and ultimatums are necessary and appropriate IF done correctly.

My first suggestion is for each of you, as you study your scriptures, either tonight or in the coming weeks, to pay attention and pray to notice the spiritual interventions/ultimatums. When you come upon them, take the time to stop and make note of:

  1. Who they are offered/issued to
  2. Why they are offered/issued
  3. How they are offered/issued
  4. When they are offered/issued
  5. What happened to the person(s) who offered/issued the intervention/ultimatum
  6. What happened to the person(s) who received the intervention/ultimatum

Over time, you will be taught by the Spirit the things you need to know to offer/issue spiritual interventions/ultimatums in the relationships in your life. You will also be taught by the Spirit the things you do currently—when you try to offer/issue—that are not helpful.

However, here are some basic principles/doctrines regarding the spiritual ultimatums God offers:

  • A godly ultimatum states clearly and concisely the sinful actions of the sinner and that they have broken a specific covenant.
  • A godly ultimatum is not apologetic, nor is it laden with “I’m sorry to say this…” “Please forgive me that I have to do this…”
  • A godly ultimatum is not full of resentment, vengeance, or overt hurt and emotion (other than righteous anger). These tender, and valid emotions must NOT be included. Stating feelings at this point will only lead to an argument about how you have also hurt them. Who has sinned and how and who hurt who when is not in question. The ultimatum is about a lack of repentance (purposeful rebellion) and their clear intent to NOT keep their covenants.
  • A godly ultimatum includes immediate consequences and removal of blessings that cannot be restored without repentance during a probation period.
  • A godly ultimatum includes a final, or ultimate, consequence for failure to repent within the probationary period.

Now, here is one (and only one) example of a Marriage Covenant Ultimatum. Please take the time to look for and identify each of the principles/doctrines of a godly, spiritual ultimatum in this example.

Example: Marriage Covenant Ultimatum

Mindy is an abused wife (of 2+ years). Her husband, Mark, doesn’t beat her physically, but he is addicted to pornography and in consequence sexually abusive and verbally abusive. He consistently sins against Mindy and his marriage covenant and makes insincere apologies that turn into guilt sessions where Mindy is left feeling that if she seeks divorce she is abandoning her own marriage covenant.

Mindy has tried to confront Mark with his lack of repentance and unwillingness to treat her with love and respect. She has even gotten Mark to meet with her and the bishop a few times. Yet, while the bishop has called on Mark to repent and become better, he also keeps telling Mindy to not withhold sex from Mark. Mindy is barely clinging on to hope.

While Mindy has urged Mark to repent and tried to express how he is hurting her feelings, her offered interventions (as well as the bishop’s) have been ultimately rejected. Mark is now a rebellious, knowing, sinner who is refusing to truly repent and embrace the covenants he has made with God and Mindy. Therefore, it is now time for Mindy to issue a spiritual ultimatum.

She must issue a final demand or statement of terms, the rejection of which, by Mark, will result in Mark losing his relationship with Mindy.

Such an ultimatum may sound like this: “Mark, you have repeatedly shown that you have no desire to quit using pornography, to quit sexually and verbally abusing me, and to keep your marriage covenants. As of tomorrow, (no matter what you say or do) I am moving in with my parents for 6 months. If you love God and me, you will use these 6 months to truly repent, seek counseling and addiction recovery help, and embrace our marriage covenants. After the 6 months is up, if you have not done these things and shown that you sincerely desire to repent and change, I will file for divorce.”

Interventions, Ultimatums, and Learning NOT to Enable are about Proper Use of Agency

Agency is the most important thing God has given us and it is the one thing we should all protect. This is what godly interventions and ultimatums do. They do not try to manipulate people into a course of action. They invite them to act. Then, the choice and accountability is left up to them—not to us. As well, interventions and ultimatums are as much about us letting go as they are inviting others to act.

The whole point of an intervention or ultimatum is to invite a person to act on their agency. It is to invite them and provide conditions (which includes immediate consequences) that encourage a person to decide what they truly want and to act on it. It is not our job to protect others from consequences, nor allow them to continue to receive blessings if they do not merit them. It is also not our job to enable them to continue in sin or by appropriating accountability through micromanaging their actions—which is akin to trying to change their innate desires and repent for them.

If you offer an intervention or an ultimatum without being prompted/guided by the Holy Ghost to do so, or validated by the Holy Ghost when you express your plan to God, then you will likely offer it unsuccessfully.

If you do not pray, study, plan, and prepare before offering your intervention or issuing your ultimatum, you will not have the confidence to back it up or the ability to react in a godly manner if it doesn’t go how you expected.

If you do not stick to your plans (the ones God has validated/prompted) when you issue your ultimatum, or offer your intervention, and avoid inappropriate emotional responses and micromanaging, then it is no longer an ultimatum or intervention. You must own what you can do and let them own what they can, or are willing to, do. Offering interventions and issuing ultimatums are not about making statements of who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about making a statement that will not change based on what happens after it is issued.

If you design your intervention or your ultimatum to guilt someone into choosing the right (or what you want them to do) by dramatic statements and exhibitions of emotion, then you are trying to get them to act in fear and pity rather than by the true desires of their hearts. This is a manipulation of agency. Whether they desire good or evil, you must allow them to choose what they want and then allow them to be accountable for what they choose.

In all things, we must learn to forgive others for their sins and trespasses against us (Doctrine and Covenants 64:9-11). But, in relationships, forgiving others does not mean enabling them to continue trespassing against us and God’s commands. It means letting go of our resentment and anger toward them and not seeking retaliation or vengeance. Interventions and ultimatums must not enable the sinner to continue sinning. There must be stated consequences and we must follow-through on those consequences.

God forgives us any time we sincerely and truly repent (Mosiah 26:30). God loves us always (Romans 8:39). But, He does not enable (give us authority or means) us to live against His will. This is why He continually offers interventions and issues ultimatums.

BT

Doctrine: Charity does not have to be an attribute shrouded in scriptural generalities. By breaking it into smaller qualities and attributes it becomes tangible—doable. If tackled and understood one-quality-at-a-time, it can be achieved. And, if possessed of it at the last day we will be what God sent us here to become—for God is charity (i.e. LOVE).

Continued from “True Love and How to Get It: PART ONE

Thinketh no evil

Charity “thinketh no evil.” However, the term evil is too generalized for us to correctly interpret what it means to think evil. We all have different ideas on what evil is. So, let’s define it.

Evil = profoundly immoral (or morally bad), wicked, malevolent, depraved (perverted), criminal, etc.

I don’t think a lot people dwell on morally bad, wicked, malevolent, depraved, or criminal thoughts. And, whether or not we have such thoughts briefly (or are tempted to think of them based on a response to our feelings and environment) is not, in my opinion what it means to “think evil.” So, what might it mean to think evil?

Just as our ability to take note of the fact that a woman or man is attractive is not evil; to be aware of evil, or to be able to notice it mentally, does not make us an “evil thinker.”

However, while it is ok to notice a woman or man is attractive, to continue to appraise them and purposefully entertain sexual thoughts about them is lust, and by the law of Christ: adultery in our heart. Lust and adultery in our hearts and minds is certainly evil thinking.

Thinking evil = to desire to and to purposefully hold onto and entertain morally bad, wicked, malevolent, depraved (i.e. perverted), or criminal thoughts.

Proverbs 23:7 teaches us that “as a man thinketh so is he.” But again, we’ve all had plenty of evil thoughts cross our minds momentarily and we still seem to be basically okay. So, what I believe Solomon is trying to say is: the thoughts we purposefully choose to engender and entertain are those that direct our ultimate desires and actions, and by consequence those that slowly mold us into who we are.

So, how do we avoid thinking evil?

Well, I could offer a lot of suggestions here, but ultimately, first we must not desire evil. But not desiring evil is not a good enough solution. We must also replace evil desires with the desire to be selfless. For all evil thinking is centered in selfishness. We must want to remove selfishness and replace it with selflessness (See section on Selflessness in the previous blog post True Love and How to Get It: PART ONE).

Those who engender evil thoughts do so because they are afraid that they will miss out on gratification, justice, love, peace, and other forms of fulfillment. They selfishly entertain evil thoughts in their minds (and often ultimately act on them) to “get the feelings” they desire, and feel destitute or robbed of.

For example:

We entertain thoughts about immorality with pornographic pictures or with the last attractive man or woman we saw in an effort to satiate our selfish desire for the euphoria for sexual fulfillment. We may justify our fantasizing or eventual physical fornication or adultery as a way to selfishly compensate for emotional, psychological, or spiritual issues/fulfillment that we have not correctly dealt with.

For example:

We entertain thoughts about physical abuse, winning arguments, seeing people suffer for their actions, sexual abuse, and other forms of dominance, revenge, and control. We justify these thoughts (and often eventual actions) by the selfish needs we have to conquer pain, to be right, to avoid perceived embarrassments, to enact our version of justice, to feel loved, etc.

Now, though our pains and struggles may be real and valid, their validity does not justify selfishly exploiting others (even if only in our minds) to satiate our needs.

So, the goal is to identify and eliminate “evil thinking?”

We can identify evil thoughts easily enough if we catch ourselves turning other people into “objects to alleviate OUR issues.” This is the root of selfishness: using others as objects to attain our own ends. Selfishness is the true antithesis of charity.

Those who murder, plunder, abuse,  violate, and exercise unrighteous dominion, etc., do so to alleviate their own issues and fulfill their personal passions, hungers, or wants. This objectification is necessary to selfishness because it is the only way to justify their actions. If they allow themselves to see others as sons and daughters of God, as potential deities, as people with families, talents, hurts, and emotions; then they cannot in good conscience assault them. It’s much easier to wrong an object, or non-entity, for our own selfish needs than a real, living, breathing Child of God.

Now, even if we aren’t prone to objectifying others very often, let me also suggest that we can objectify ourselves. Many people turn themselves into objects (or lesser beings, or animals, etc.) in order to justify selfish actions and sins against their own bodies and spirits. Sometimes psychological issues (undealt with) cause these self-objectifications. Sometimes abuse by others causes self-objectification. But, the sooner we recognize that we are “thinking evil” (whether intentionally or unintentionally), the sooner we can repent and change.

All of us have, at one time or another, justified sinful actions and thoughts against our own bodies and spirits by ignoring who we truly are. We have starved ourselves, dressed and acted immodestly, eaten unhealthy, attempted suicide, used habit-forming substances, committed unchaste acts, beaten ourselves up verbally or mentally, etc. by first turning ourselves into an object whose worth and purpose can be easily debated.

So, it’s important to note that objectification takes place anytime we remove our primary identity and worth as a child of God (or other’s primary identity and worth)—for whom Christ, the Lord, gave His immortal life willingly—which renders us priceless and grants us nearly unlimited potential. If we do not truly believe and value ourselves, or others, by our true identity (children of God), then all other forms of identification and self-value systems can easily turn us (or them) into objects of evil thinking.

So, two possible ways to overcome and avoid evil thinking:

  1. Desire to be selfless, which requires…(see True Love and How to Get It: PART ONE)
  2. Do not allow yourself to objectify yourselves and others, i.e. always see yourself and others primarily as children of God.passeggiata sulla spiaggia

Rejoicing in goodness and not enticed by iniquity

To rejoice is to feel great joy and delight. Note: We’re not talking about excitement and temporary euphoria here. Rejoicing is deep, pure, and consistent even during sorrow and difficulty. Rejoicing is not a cursory feeling, but a condition of the heart.

Therefore, to rejoice in goodness is to feel great joy and delight when we experience and witness goodness. Also, it is important to understand that this type of innate rejoicing in goodness is a critical precursor to get to a point where iniquity is no longer enticing.

Addiction recovery programs often call doing good but not desiring good White Knuckling. This means people go through the motions of good, but they still desire the evil addiction/action in their hearts. Scripturally, White Knuckling is preceded by “worldly sorrow” (2 Cor. 710). Therefore, it is only a matter of time before White Knucklers return to the addiction/action because they still deeply desire it. Therefore, because they still desire the addiction, and mourn its absence in their lives, and have only quit because they’ve been—in a sense—caught, they will eventually lose their White Knuckle grip on their attempt at righteousness, fall into a strain of “evil thinking” and then soon find themselves again deeply submerged in their addiction.

We have all been White Knucklers at times because we have not yet learned to rejoice in goodness.

But, let’s face reality. Deep down, we all have a love hate relationship with sin. It’s universal. And, we each exhibit this love-hate relationship differently.

Many sins seem not so bad and so we like to hold on to them. We rejoice in our relationship with these lesser sins. We enjoy them. Sins that seem to be worse sins we don’t particularly rejoice in, but sometimes neither do we hate them. We try to avoid these worse sins because of the warnings of others, but when the temptation to engage in them comes knocking at our door, we find that they are not nearly as abhorrent to us as they should be. Finally, there are a few sins we all love to hate. They are not enticing. They are loathsome. But, they are…too few.

We all hate murder. We all hate rape. We all hate extortion and blackmail. We hate physical, verbal, and sexual child abuse. But, the question is, why do we hate these sins so easily? The answer: because these horrific sins create an immediate host of victims. Their consequences are immediate, widespread, ugly, impossible to bypass, and they injure free will in the most horrific ways. They are, in effect, sins that it is almost impossible for anyone to make palatable to even the basest human. We can’t dress these sins up and make them look enticing. Atheists and the God-fearing alike can agree that the actions that fall in this group are wrong.

So, why don’t we hate all sin the way we hate these gross crimes against humanity? Why don’t we hate even the little sins and the worse sins with the same vehemence?

We don’t hate lesser sins as much because of the very reasons we find it easy hate the horrible sins. The consequences of smaller and less worse sins are rarely immediate and often delayed in visibility and scope. In lesser sins the consequences don’t seem to extend as far in their negative reach. Lesser sins, and even worse sins, can be made to look okay. We sometimes stupidly think there are no consequences, and that free will is somehow still preserved in ourselves and others for lesser sins. The lesser and worse sins can be made to look palatable to even the most righteous/good people.

In order to rejoice in goodness in the way Christ did, we must learn to find all iniquity unpalatable—even disgusting. And, the only way to do that is to take the time to see all sin, even the itty-bitty ones, in their horrible, ugly reality. We must force ourselves to stop and take the time to ponder the full scope of the sins we like, love, sort of dislike, and even those we hate to love—but we do. We must refuse to be distracted by their pretty costumes and lying faces.

Facts about ALL sin

  • All sin has impact not only on ourselves but others. We cannot do anything sinful that will not injure or hurt those around us. This is because all sin affects the very core of who we are and how we act—even in small ways—and so even if others don’t know about them, they suffer by association with us.
  • All sin is addictive to some extent—meaning that because it is the wrong way to get the good we desire, it can never permanently satisfy us. If we do not repent and seek the right way to get the good we desire, we will become powerless to the sins we embrace. We know we are addicted to a sin if we can’t imagine living without it and if it easily trumps better and best things we know we should be doing.
  • All sin is offensive to God; from a tiny off-color joke to the heinous crimes we all can agree to hate together. No sin, no matter how small, is acceptable in His presence. If you find yourself justifying that one of your sins can remain a part of you and you get still become like God, then you have deceived yourself.
  • We can’t take joy in any sin if we desire to have charity—the pure, true love of Christ. If you take joy in a sin, and you are aware of it, then if you seek charity you must be willing to desire charity more than you desire your guilty sins. Otherwise, you are damned (stopped in progress) in becoming godly until you can part with your sin.
  • We can’t balance our righteousness against our sins and come out ahead. Grace is not earnable.
  • We can’t barter with God about what’s right and wrong. We can’t make our sins okay by changing or altering commandments simply because we don’t understand them. His righteousness is the only true righteousness that exists.

Now, I could keep going here…but I think you get the point. So, we all need to stop dressing up and justifying our lesser and worse sins for ourselves. God can see through the costumes and disguises. It’s time we got up the bravery to see past them too.

It’s time we asked our sins to take off their costumes and masks. It’s time we asked ourselves how even the little sins are hurting ourselves and others. It’s time we asked ourselves what sins we have that could be truly satisfied (not only temporarily or partially) by seeking them in the proper way. It’s time we stopped judging offensiveness by our own standard and place our lives in front of God’s light so that He can reveal what in our lives offends Him. It’s time to find out why we still take joy in and desire certain sins. It’s time to find out if we are subconsciously balancing our good deeds with our bad ones. It’s time to find out if we are trying to get God to submit to our idea of good, instead of us submitting to His standard of good.

If we ask the Lord to do these things for us (as mentioned in the previous paragraph), to reveal to us the ugliness and consequences of our sins that we keep pretending don’t exist, ALL SIN will become clear to us. We will see the horrible troll behind the enchantment making it look like a prince or princess. We will become disgusted by it. We will no longer be enticed by iniquity.

Then, as we embrace the right way to pursue all the good we desire and we experience real fulfillment, peace, joy, and happiness, we will be able to then rejoice in goodness! We will see good not just as a list of unfair rules that we have to abide by. We will see good as glorious fulfilling light that leaves all of our past ideas about joy in the dust.

Green transporation sign with true love wording and direction on

Willing to bear all things/Endures all things

Bear = carry, support, endure

Christ was willing to carry all our sins. Christ was willing to support the plan of His Father selflessly. Christ was willing to endure the pains, suffering, ridicule, and misery that was part of His role in God’s plan for all of us. He was willing to bear all things that we too could bear all things.

Though we don’t like it, and often fail to preach it, life is meant to be hard. Life is a proving process. Through time and a host of mortal conditions, we prove to ourselves what we love, what we want, and who we really are. This is the process of being tested. We are not tested so that God knows what we are made of. He already does. We are proved so that we know what we are made of.

Charity is willing to bear all things because charity understands that to become like God we must be willing to do as He did. Now, we will not ever have to perform the atonement as Christ did for us. But, each of us, according to our own capacity will be tried as Abraham (Doctrine and Covenants 101:4).

To be tried as Abraham doesn’t mean we will be asked to offer up one of our children as a sacrifice. Yet, God, the Father, had to do such that we might all have the opportunity for immortality and eternal life (Moses 1:39; John 3:16; Doctrine and Covenants 34:3). Christ was not only His Only Begotten in the flesh, He was the firstborn of God’s spirit children, as well. To become godly we must submit to godly conditioning.

While the righteous are promised blessings because of their faithfulness, it doesn’t mean they are promised no problems, no sorrows, and no suffering. What problems and suffering they are spared is that which is consequential to their own righteous and wise actions. However, the conditions and weaknesses inherent in mortality are still part and parcel of the whole “becoming like God” gig. The righteous will still get sick, suffer persecution, lose jobs, struggle with personal issues and weaknesses, lose children, die, be injured by others actions, etc.

To be tried as Abraham means to be willing to submit to whatever God allows in our lives. It means to submit with patience. It means to submit with faith and hope. It means to submit without resentment and loss of trust in God. It means to take what comes and maintain trust and faith in the glorious future that awaits when this life passes.

All we are asked to pass through in this life is not insignificant or unimportant. In fact, it is quite the opposite. All that we suffer is significant and important inasmuch as it proves us. But, though “bearing and enduring all things” is extremely difficult and sometimes feels impossible to overcome,  it will one day seem but a “small moment;” and then if “we endure/bear it well” God shall exalt us on high (Doctrine and Covenants 121:8).

Now, this is hard doctrine. It’s not the fluffy stuff we all would prefer to hear.

When I have struggled through life’s curve balls, debilitating mazes, unfair sufferings, and horrible experiences, I have often heard the older and wiser people around me say things like: this too shall pass, or time heals all wounds, etc. When they have said these things I have often felt angry and resentful. “Don’t they realize how NOT comforting that is!” I have thought.

But, then, despite the fact that I didn’t like their “hard doctrine,” time did pass, my troubles passed, time did help with healing, and in time all things turned out exactly as they said with their little sayings. So, I grumbled about their lack of sensitivity. But, what I was really grumbling about was that they told me the truth. I wanted fluffy promises even if they wouldn’t really come true. But, what they gave me was tough love, true love—the only kind that really helps.

It was after some of these struggles had passed that I realized that bearing, enduring, and submitting to all that comes our way in life is the only way to overcome. It is the only way to find peace. It’s to stand in front of the mountain wave and say, “Here I am. Let’s get this over with.” That’s what Christ did in Gethsemane.

Christ has already overcome all the problems we are presently in, facing, have faced, or will face. Because He has already “won” for us, our only job is to endure the problems and to do so with as much grace as we can. Whether our sufferings are caused by our own sins or the sins of others, we can still learn from the suffering. It can still add to our understanding and spiritual resources. There is nothing that we experience that isn’t for our profit and learning. That’s why our mission in gaining charity is to simply learn to bear with and endure ALL things.

Believing and Hopeful

Now, if you’re an optimist, you may expect this section to be about having a super-positive attitude. I’m sorry to disappoint. I do believe optimism—in general—is a good thing. But, charitable belief and hope is much deeper (in my opinion) and has to carry much more power than a simple sunny perspective on life.

First, belief and hope are precursors to faith. Faith is a principle of action and power. People often use faith and belief interchangeably, but in the true gospel sense, they are NOT the same.

Belief and hope are so intertwined it is hard to define them separately. In fact, most dictionary definitions of belief include the word hope. Hope is an expectation and so belief is often the extension of hope or the precursor to it. So, as you can see, I don’t think it’s possible to believe and not have hope except in very rare circumstances, none of which I can postulate.

So, when we believe in something and hope for it, it is then that we tend to exercise faith—meaning that we act with the expectation that what we believe and hope for will be the result of our action. Those that believe and hope but do not exercise faith are much more likely to fall into the category of disappointed hope. Belief and hope not accompanied by action/faith rarely produce results. So, charity must believe and hope all things in order to produce perfect faith.

However, most important in this concept of charitable belief and hope is that it has to be exercised toward something within our limited personal reach of agency. This is because belief and hope must be followed by faith/action. We can believe in others and have hope for them to varying degrees, but rarely are we capable of bringing something to pass on their behalf. This life, for the most part, rarely accepts vicarious offerings. We can rarely exert vicarious righteousness on another’s behalf. And, even if we are allowed to do some vicarious work (like saving ordinances, fasting, praying), the people for whom we offer the vicarious actions still must exercise their own agency to believe, hope, have faith, and to accept what we offer.

Our belief, hope, and faith is never wasted. But it’s reach is limited by the agency of others and God’s will. So, be optimistic—yes. But, it is important to note that charitable belief and hope are based in correct knowledge accompanied by eternal (not merely mortal) expectations. Charitable belief and hope know (and do not resent) that God’s will reigns, and that all His promises will be fulfilled in His own way, and in His own time. This kind of belief and hope leads to faith in what WILL come to pass—as it’s only a matter of how and when.

Closing remarks on Charity

This is PART TWO of my charity musings. In reality, I feel like a Kindergartener toying with Ph.D. level material. This blog is likely only the ABC’s and I’ve still got to get to the level of writing a thesis.

However, I do feel that what I’ve learned for myself is a big deal. I’ve never seen charity in this way; not easy, of course, but finally tangible, understandable, and possible. For the first time in my life I feel like I have the capability to actually try to get charity, or parts of it. It’s no longer an attribute shrouded in beautiful scriptural language.

Hopefully, I have made charity seem the same for each of you—that it’s something you can grab onto and try to get for yourselves.

BT

Doctrine: True Love (i.e. Charity) is not one attribute; it is a combination of attributes that must be conquered one at a time to turn us into a being that has and shows true love. The common thread in each of the attributes housed within Charity is the ability to transcend selfishness, self-focus, fear, and doubt.

The definition of Charity is available in both the New Testament and The Book of Mormon. It is the pure love of Christ. It is unselfishness, it has no guile (or personal agenda in its actions), it is not prideful or vain (over pre-occupied with self) or materialistic, it is not easily angered, it is patient and full of love, it has no fear, and perhaps most importantly, if we do not have it we are nothing. Charity is also preceded by and complemented by faith and hope.

For me, the hardest part about all of these attributes which reflect pure and true love is that it never explains how to arrive at them all at once—to attain charity. We know Christ embodied all these traits. In fact, it was charity that enabled Him to live a perfect life and ultimately give up that life willingly that each of us might be given grace and the opportunity to be made perfect and return to live with and like God. This is the love, housed in a multitude of attributes, which we are commanded to have. This is true love.

This is the love that when sought and being attained by a man and woman can produce the true love we imagine, see represented to varying extents in songs and movies, and believe exists for us. This is the love that is not natural to us but is the kind that when sought produces the results we expect from the lesser forms of love we are continually failed by. This is the love that has the power to save souls, change hearts, effect reformations and revolutions, and enact change in society.

Loving couple in the park. Vintage retro style with light leaks

Charity is not one, but a multitude of Christ-like attributes

We always talk about charity as one attribute. However, to look at it this way is to try to become everything Christ was all at once. Perhaps looking at it as one feeling or attribute is what makes it so impossible to comprehend and daunting to try to achieve. By seeing it as once characteristic we have basically rendered charity as some idealistic floating bubble of perfection far beyond anyone’s reach.

Yet, if we look at the definition of charity in the scriptures, it is clearly broken down into several pieces, or attributes. They are: patience, kindness, contentment, humility, selflessness, not being easily offended or angered, virtuous in thought, rejoicing in goodness, not enticed by iniquity, willing to bear all things, believing, hopefulness, and enduring all things.

If we are truly to attain charity, I think it is necessary to look at each attribute of charity separately. It is not one big thing we can pray for and attain. It is something we must tackle a small piece at a time.

Patience

What is patience? Patience is a natural suppression of restlessness, annoyance, temper, and emotion in the face of irritation, delay, provocation, misfortune, and complaint. Someone who is patient doesn’t overreact in the face of what may appear to be something painful, unfair, terrible, unkind, or frustrating.

If this is truly the definition, then it would seem that to be inherently patient a person may need to be emotionless. How else could a person naturally and easily be patient in terrific trials, injustices, sudden distresses, and life-changing problems? In other words, how can we naturally suppress our inherent reactions to life’s oppositions? Is it even possible?

When life’s troubles and struggles come in waves, especially to the righteous or innocent, some people will ask, “How can God not intervene? How can He let this happen? Why hasn’t He helped us, or them?” How is God, who is supposed to love us unconditionally, able to allow us to suffer in the ways we do here in mortality? How can He be so patient?

Since God is love and full of emotion, then there must be another reason God is patient, because it seems as if it is love and emotion which leads us to not be patient. Remember Christ who was petitioned to come when Lazarus was dying. He could have arrived before Lazarus died. Yet, He didn’t. He was patient. He took His time doing the things He knew needed to be done as He made His way to Bethany. How could He be so unemotionally driven? Why did He delay?

As far as I can tell through Christ’s example, the answer to patience is eternal perspective. With God all things are present, even our past and our future. He can see what was, what is, and what will be. He can see our state of existence beyond our current trials, sins, and weaknesses. He knows where every choice and trial will lead us. He also knows what effects all kinds of opposition will have on our faith and spiritual and mental growth.

So, why doesn’t God act impatiently? Because with Him we are presently forgiven, presently saved, presently changed, presently healed, resurrected, and so forth. We are in one moment. But while He suffers with us in our present moments He is able to simultaneously see our healing and salvation in the future. Therefore, He can patiently lead us through our trials and through this life.

Eternal perspective is a frustrating principle for those of us currently in this very temporary and emotional mortal state. Clearly, without divine intervention and/or revelation, we mortals are incapable of remembering clearly too far into the past. We are also easily overwhelmed by the emotions of a moment. Additionally, we cannot see into the future, and what hopes we have for the limited future we can imagine, are easily dashed by opposition.

How then can we become patient if we are not omniscient? As far as I have been able to tell, the key to patience is an unshakeable and immovable testimony of God’s eternal plan of salvation and incredible faith in the atonement. This kind of testimony, or faith, is not built upon a cursory understanding of the plan, nor is it built upon casual and convenient obedience. An unshakeable and immovable testimony of Gods plan must be built by obedience, study, prayer, faith, and perseverance.

The plan of redemption is situated perfectly upon the atonement of Christ, which atonement overcame both physical and temporal death. The atonement overcame weakness, it overcame sin, and it overcame all suffering and opposition. It has saved, past tense, all who will repent both now and in the future. It has healed and resurrected all who have and who will die or suffer physical pain or deformity. Because of this infinite atonement, God’s plan was meant to have opposition, suffering, trials, and temptation. We were meant to learn patience by strengthening our knowledge, understanding, and testimony of His plan.

Some people are afraid to pray for patience because they are afraid of what God will allow to come into their lives to answer this prayer. They are afraid to seek this attribute of charity. However, fear is not necessary. Patience is not about being put through trial after trial in some morbid way until we submit to despair and resignation—which is the mortal idea of patience. Patience leads to peace and joy, not misery. Patience is about using whatever experiences God allows in our lives to strengthen our faith in the atonement and His plan. The stronger our testimony of the plan of salvation the greater our capacity to wait upon blessings, to wait upon wayward loved ones to return to God’s covenants, and to wait upon psychological, emotional, and physical healing.

Those with patience understand not only in their minds, but in their hearts, that they do not have to worry about if or when blessings will come. This is because that they have sure faith; they know and feel with a surety that all things are part of God’s plan and that all will be completely fixed, explained, made clear, or restored in God’s timing. As well, the knowledge of God’s timing doesn’t bring them anger, resentment, despair, or bitterness. It brings them hope, reserve, and peace. They don’t worry about if. They only wait patiently for when.

If you have a difficult spouse, do you wonder when he/she will repent and change? Or do you exercise patience while you wait for when they will? If you have a child who is ungrateful, unkind, or wayward, do you wonder how you can make them grateful, kind, or repent? Or do you exercise patience while you wait for when they will learn it on their own? If you have lost a job or your health, do you agonize over when these cups of opposition will be removed? Or, do you exercise patience while you peacefully wait for your promised blessings—whenever they are ordained to come?

Anything in your life that causes you a feeling of unrest and impatience can be turned into a question like those above. Faith, hope, and charity are interconnected. To attain the patience that is a deep part of charity, we must first have faith in the atonement and firm hope in the plan of salvation, and also that God has an individual plan for each of us. For faith and hope in these things will make patience possible.

Chain with heart

Kindness

What is kindness? Kindness is the quality of being innately generous, considerate, and friendly.

While many of us can go through the motions (or appearance) of kindness, it is not necessarily something that comes naturally or easily. Nor are the motions of kindness evidence of an innate charitable-kindness. I have often wondered why this is. Why isn’t it easy to be kind? Why do I have to force myself to serve? Why do I often feel annoyed when I know I need to show kindness? Why is the natural man (or woman) usually the opposite of kind?

I have seen many examples of people who find it easier to be kind to animals than to humans. I have seen people who find it easy to be generous with children but not with their adult peers. I have myself often struggled to be considerate to those whose personalities tend to annoy me. I don’t wish them ill, but neither do I naturally want to go out of my way to bless their lives. If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?

Kindness is so simple a trait that it is overlooked more often than not. But, in my experience, it is not the simplicity of the trait that leaves kindness so underperformed. It is that kindness is not solely an action but a condition of the heart. A heart condition of kindness is much more difficult to create. It requires us to become kind, not to simply act kind.

Christ was kind. He embodied kindness. It was who He was. He was kind to all, without regard to their actions toward him. As He was being crucified, did He not say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?

If kindness is not an action only but a condition of the heart in the doer, the level of complexity jumps up to Godly standards: standards from which I have often shrunk. I have often felt so frustrated. How could I get my heart saturated with kindness that I didn’t have to force there?

There are likely many reasons for an unkind heart. However, for myself, I found that kindness came much easier when my motivation for giving kindness changed. Because kindness requires emotional, spiritual, and almost always physical effort, the motivation for kindness is important.

Often, we are kind because it’s a commandment. We think in the form of an equation: be kind = blessings. We do to receive. This isn’t evil. It is good. It’s the natural course of growth and is usually the first step toward becoming kind at heart, but it isn’t charity.

When I was younger, still a teen and young adult, I keenly remember my mother giving a talk in sacrament meeting on charity. Like me, she had always struggled to ‘like people.’ She certainly loved people as children of God, but because she didn’t always like them as friends and as such, she struggled to be actively kind. In her talk she talked about a spiritual epiphany she’d had about charity. “For me,” she said, “charity is helping people through the plan,” meaning the plan of salvation. This was also a revelation to me.

If I think about going out and serving someone, just to be kind for the sake of keeping a commandment, I’m not likely to be excited about it, or to feel a genuine ease of doing so in my heart. There are all sorts of excuses I can make, such as: this person doesn’t care about or need my kindness, or, someone else will do it, or, they don’t like me anyway, so going over there to help probably won’t make them happy, and so forth. It’s a commandment, but why keep it with slothfulness? Isn’t that worse than not going? Or, wouldn’t I feel more prompted to go if it was important?

Being kind to just to keep a commandment cannot always produce the heart-changing motivation I need. This is because the motivation is self-focused. It’s me doing something to keep my own report card looking good. It’s about me keeping a commandment so I can get the blessing.

However, if I think about going and serving someone in the hopes that my kindness will open their heart to the Spirit, to truth, to a step forward in God’s plan for them; that is something I can get excited about. The reason why this motivation is different is because it’s not focused on me. It’s focused on the possible outcomes I can help create in helping another through the plan of salvation. I’m thinking about them, not my own checklist or desired blessings. The minor change in my motivation makes a huge difference in the condition of my heart.

Kindness is a commandment. But it not something we do simply to get blessings, to check it off a list, or to feel better about ourselves. We do it because our acts of kindness toward others are a key part of helping them to get through God’s plan. Whether we help them move, take them meals, bear with their idle chatter, weed their garden, forgive their lack of tact, visit or home teach them, donate money or resources, etc.; we do it not because they are our favorite people or because we have a specific friendly emotion in our heart, but because we want them to have the help and resources they need to get through the plan of salvation. We want them to have access to God’s covenants and to have what they need to make it home. Certainly, we don’t want to be the reason their journey through the plan is delayed. Kindness…it’s about God’s work and His merciful plan.

Christ said in 3 Nephi 27:7 (as well as in many NT scriptures):

Behold, I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

Like Christ, we to have come into the world to do the will of our Father, because our Father has sent us. Once we embrace the gospel ourselves, God has commanded us to take upon us His work and glory for our own. Like Christ’s life, no matter our powers, talents, or graces, all was meant to be consecrated wholly to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of our fellow man.

Now, there are those who have a genuine spiritual gift to like people in general, to envelop them in their social circle, and to show kindness and befriend them with little effort. These individuals have an incredible gift and are critical examples to those of us who struggle a bit more. However, even for those who find kindness is already a part of them, they still have to act to use this God-given trait in a purposeful, powerful, and God-focused way: to help people through the plan. A talent is of little worth unless it is invested and multiplied in God’s service. That’s why the talent was bestowed to begin with.

Christ was kind to all because He saw clearly His role in their lives. He was there to help them recognize their Father in Heaven. He was there to help them have the knowledge, physical strength, spiritual boost, or necessary Christlike reprimand to get them on the path to eternal life. Kindness was as much in His heart as it was in His stewardship. So it should be also in ours.

Contentment: charity envieth not

To be envious is to have a feeling of discontentment or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. It can also be the idea of possessions, qualities, or luck. Simply by our preoccupation with the blessings of others we become discontent with our own life whether to a great or miniscule extent. We may even feel denied a particular blessing by some secret divine decree; one we are certain we should be given. After all, we have fasted, prayed, acted, done our part, and yet the desired blessing hasn’t come, and we feel entitled to it.

The day I realized I was full of envy was the day I read the definition. Two words popped out at me: resentful longing. Now, I would never venture to say that longing by itself is wrong. But resentful longing certainly is. For me, resentful longing was a deep, very well hidden ache that plagued me about several blessings which I desired. For all intents and purposes, I knew I was living as God wanted me to. I often felt peace regarding my standing before Him; and yet, deep within was a resentful longing for things I felt I had been denied.

There are many righteous, faithful saints who have as yet not received blessings they may feel they have earned by obedience and hard work. How many sisters are childless despite years of desire and efforts? How much money and stress have they invested in medical assistance and still nothing? How many men have never achieved a desired profession or level of education, or expertise or rank in their chosen career path and its accompanying paycheck? How much money and effort have they expended in additional education and work experience to arrive and yet no one seems to recognize them from among job candidates? How many righteous, willing, single saints date and date and date and yet never feel a confirmation of the Spirit that those they are in company with are a satisfactory eternal companion? After all, they are following prophetic counsel. They have even been willing to settle or compromise.

So, how do we beat down these feelings of disappointment, discouragement, and resentful longing? How can we change our propensity to compare our current circumstances, bodies, incomes, clothes, educations, talents, and smarts to others? How can we become inherently content? Instinctually, we might answer this question with the commandment to be grateful, to have gratitude. But, like kindness, gratitude is not a forced mindset, nor will unenthusiastically vocalizing thanks create in us a content and grateful heart, though it certainly helps and is a good habit to get into.

I have often struggled with a sense of envy throughout my life. I didn’t see it as envy for a long time, because in general I felt quite grateful for all that I had. I could easily count my blessings. I could easily recognize where I had been protected and blessed. I could easily see and verbalize my gratitude for things I had been given that others had not. But, my ability to count or recognize my blessings didn’t actually create in me a content heart. It didn’t remove the deeply hidden resentful longing.

When I think of Christ, I try to imagine what He may have longed for that others had. When we compare Christ to anyone else, He always comes out ahead. So, does that mean He was not tempted to be envious of anything? Was His ability to be content a piece-of-cake?

As a member of the church, I was raised keeping the word of wisdom. However, in my youth, when most people are tempted, there was never a desire in me—to any extent—to experiment with drugs, alcohol, tea, or even coffee. I had opportunities, but the opportunities held no power or enticement over me. I simply had no interest. I didn’t see the draw.

However, in my adult years I experienced a few heartbreaking trials. These trials were accompanied by very real and crippling emotional and psychological wounds. Like any physical wounds, they needed time to heal. The healing did not happen quickly, and it couldn’t be rushed. It’s progress was to a great extent, beyond my ability to control—though I did all I could to try and speed it up.

Now, when I go to the dentist, I happily accept all forms of pain killers. I get the shots that keep me from feeling pain when work needs to be done. And, I certainly accept with gratitude any prescribed pain medication that will hide the pain of my dental work while my body heals. The same goes for other medical issues and visits to a physician. When pain is anticipated or caused, I happily fill my approved prescriptions to kill the pain.

On the other hand, during the trials of my life, when I have been under very real intense emotional and psychological distress and pain, it has occurred to me that there were no prescribed pain killers for this stuff. Not only did the trial come and enact upon me a very real injury without any anesthetic, but when the unfair procedure was done, I was given nothing to kill the pain while I healed. It has been in these times that I have joked with those closest to me that being a Latter-day Saint I can’t go out and kill the pain. Because I know what’s right, I can’t go get drunk or take drugs or sleep around to hide my emotional and psychological pain while I heal. Because I know what’s right, I must grin and bear my struggles and find righteous ways to apply healing salve to a wounded soul.

It was during these healing years that for the first time I understood the draw for alcohol and illegal drugs. I didn’t desire to break any commandments, but there were days when my psychological and emotional pain was severe enough that I resented those that could drown their sorrows without guilt. If I were to go out and try to drown my sorrows in the same ways I would be left with guilt. I couldn’t do what they could do because of what I knew and what I had been taught. I had resentful longing to kill my own pain.

Now, I’m not advocating that Christ looked longingly upon pigs and wished that He could have some bacon. But, I am suggesting that His burden was so heavy, His calling so elevated and taxing, and His love so great, that it might have been tempting to long for, or envy, a lesser cup. If it be thy will “let this cup pass from me”, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done (Matthew 26:39).

Christ was ridiculed throughout His life. He was treated unkindly, inhumanely, and He was the subject of abject hatred. I can’t presume to know what He felt, but since like His Father, Christ was the embodiment of love, it is possible that His righteous longing would have been for a return of that love. To look upon His brothers and sisters who were preparing to betray and kill Him and long for them to recognize Him, to realize what He had done for them, to love Him in return so that He might save them.

Did Christ have longing? Certainly. But fortunately for us it was never resentful. He understood His role and while He longed for many things, He never resented His role nor the stations or possessions of others.

The truth is, though Christ was likely tempted, He didn’t waste any time resenting His role, His mission, or even His sacrifice. Though He may have been tempted, He didn’t dwell on the fact that His path was the hardest any would ever be called to take. He didn’t resent the fact that despite all the service He rendered, He still had very few friends in comparison to others. He genuinely rejoiced in those who did call Him Lord, Savior, and Friend. He embraced His role in God’s plan and therein He found His joy and fulfillment.

As I have struggled with envy, I have found it most easy to diminish and overcome when I stop comparing my life to others. I have had to stop wondering why God has given others the blessings I clearly want more (or so I think) and have worked for. I have had to gain a testimony that God has a specific mission and plan for my life and that if it doesn’t entail what I desire or feel entitled to then there is a good reason. Not a reason I should resent, but a reason I should embrace. God has a plan for me! He has a mission for me! No matter my perceived gifts or abilities, no matter my efforts or focus, no matter my powers or capabilities, God has a plan for them and it’s His plan I should seek out, embrace, and do with all my heart. That is what Christ did.

This is one way I have found out how to be content and to envy not.

Love Stories

Humility

To be humble is to have or show a modest or low estimation of our own importance. It is to inherently be able to see our own role and mission, talents or gifts, as the property of God and not of ourselves. It is to get to a point where we stop comparing ourselves to anyone but Christ.

The problem with the idea of humility is that it often gets confused with self-deprecation. People misunderstand the idea of “modesty” or “low estimation” as the need to devalue and degrade themselves. In an attempt to not be overly self-focused or prideful they merely change their act of pride, comparison, and self-focus. Instead of finding themselves better by comparison, they use comparison to focus on their faults in an effort to be humble. Thus, they are still prideful and self-focused in a manner which is nearly, and sometimes more, destructive as the first.

I have discovered that the key to humility is to remember that “it’s not about me.” Now, the world would turn this phrase upside down and inside out and accuse me of telling people they don’t matter, that their lives don’t matter, that their efforts don’t matter, and that they should take up some sort of religious obsession in place of normal every day life. The world would argue that by preaching the idea of “losing self” I’m convincing people to neglect their self-esteem and self-worth and in effect destroying them as they get run over by other people and by life. Therefore, before anyone begin to think I’m encouraging self-deprecation or unhealthy religious obsession, let me explain what I mean.

Christ was the most powerful being to ever walk this earth. He was more intelligent than us all. He was capable of being an infinite and eternal sacrifice. It would have been easy for Him to be prideful. For, certainly He had all power. Yet, though His mission was central to the Father’s plan—indeed, without His atonement there would have been no plan—He didn’t focus on Himself and how wonderful He was being. He knew His mission, His power, was not about Him. It was about ‘the Father’s plan.’ It was about us. He didn’t place Himself as a God to be worshipped. He gave the glory to God, the Father, and pointed us to Him. He didn’t claim a greater reward because of His greatness. He used His greatness to bring us the chance of the same reward, in Heaven. As great as Christ was, He was still the son of God. His mission was still ultimately about God and His plan.

On the other hand, though Christ gave all the glory to God, the Father, He also never put Himself down. He never made a big deal about being lesser than the almighty. Rather, He rejoiced in His station. He also never diminished His own role in God’s plan. He owned it, did it with confidence and surety, and yet never tried to exceed it. He didn’t back away when people wept on His feet and then wiped them with their own hair. He never turned away gratitude and gifts. He accepted all “charity” with grace and yet never made people feel awkward for giving by a show of arrogance or self-deprecation.

Each of us has specific talents, abilities, smarts, intelligence, knowledge, and spiritual gifts. Some of us are gifted in many ways. Some of us are gifted in fewer ways. But ultimately, no matter how many gifts or talents we’ve been given; no matter how intelligent or knowledgeable we are, our gifts are not about us, and they were never meant to be. All that we have is about God and His plan for His children. As small or as great as we may often feel, none of what we have matters in comparison to others because what we have is not about us. It’s about God and His plan.

It doesn’t matter that we can’t play the piano or sing like someone else. It doesn’t matter that we can’t teach or speak like someone else. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t Ph.D’s like someone else. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have a knack for gardening, canning, and food storage like someone else. It doesn’t matter if we have 20 million dollars or 20 dollars. It all belongs to God and He expects us to use it in His service. Whether they had one talent or ten, the servants of the Lord were expected to own their gift, invest their money, and return it to their Lord with usury.

It’s tempting to think we keep a commandment better than others. It’s tempting to think we are better teachers, speakers, leaders, piano players, church administrators, parents, or missionaries than others. It’s also equally tempting to think others are better, by comparison, and that we have been given so little that we are nothing. It’s tempting to beat ourselves up emotionally and psychologically in order to make sense of our lack of testimony or of our value to God.

It’s tempting to think that motherhood is unfair in comparison to fatherhood. It’s tempting to think that being born in an affluent home or country is better than being born elsewhere. It’s tempting to resent not being born in an affluent home or country. It’s tempting to resent others who appear, by comparison, to have been born to privilege or money when we’ve been born to abuse and poverty. It’s tempting to compare our efforts for a job or career versus someone who already has what we want and seems to have achieved it at so much less of a personal cost.

Comparison looking down or up can consume our lives. It will do so, to some extent, until we are able to see that our lives are swallowed up in God’s plan. Our individual lives, whatever their content, are about God and His plan. Whether it’s God’s plan for our individual salvation and exaltation, or whether it’s God’s plan for how we are to use what He’s given us to lead others to salvation or exaltation, it’s never about us. It’s always about God and His plan.

Selflessness

To be selfless is to be more concerned with the needs and wishes of others than our own. At first glance selflessness appears to be similar to humility. But, while humility is an absence of incorrect comparison and an inherent understanding of our place in God’s plan, selflessness is a condition of the heart that leads us to forget ourselves within that plan. In other words, we stop worrying about missing out on something. We stop worrying about what we want, what we may be denied, and what we may or may not get.

In the New Testament (Mark 8:35) we learn: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

I find that the key to this scripture is “lose his life for [God’s] sake”. We aren’t asked to lose everything simply to make a show of loss. We aren’t asked to sacrifice and to take stripes in order to have evidence for our righteousness. We are expected to be willing to put others first because we recognize that nothing offered, given, sacrificed, or missed out on ‘to help others through the plan’ is actually lost. It is lost/given for God’s sake; for His plan’s sake. In fact, anything we sacrifice is multiplied each time we give it up. The more we give for the sake of God’s plan the more we shall receive.

A good friend and sister I knew in my home ward growing up said something to the effect of: you can’t give God a slice of break and not get a loaf in return. God knows how to give good gifts to His children. Christ said in Matthew 19:29:

And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

So, how do we overcome our natural preoccupation with getting and receiving? How do we eliminate the worry of losing out on some blessing or opportunity that we are certain is the best path or opportunity for us? We’ve even given God a list of how many amazing things we could do in His name, if He would only grant us this thing! How do we put off the natural man and lose our life for God’s sake?

Each of us has in our mind’s eye and life plan of some sort. We have dreams and desires. We imagine the joy of arriving at some future rest. This may take the form of a dream job, a dream house, a dream educational degree, a dream family, or a dream situation of some kind. We have this dream and we naturally design our lives around arriving at this future rest.

As we dream, we come up with ideas of how to get what we want. We focus on these paths to our dreams in attempt to have what we want in the way that we think is best to achieve that desire. This is a natural process, and certainly not inherently evil. In many ways, it is a good mental effort and helps us to be anxiously engaged in a good causes and to bring to pass much righteousness.

Then, life happens. Trials, the agency of others, health issues, mistakes, oversights, and other unforeseen issues begin to barricade the path to the rest we have dreamed of. What is our reaction? Panic. Whether we express it moderately or to extreme, we begin to panic. We begin to problem solve. How can we find the shortest route around this barricade, this issue? We become preoccupied with our destination. We work to get it back at almost any cost to the people around us. We are solely preoccupied with getting our way back on track to our rest.

Or, on the other hand, life is great. We are headed forward toward our dream with relatively minor setbacks and we are on a roll. During our leisure time we begin to add detours and side trips to our future rest. Things are going so well we see no need to look around at what we can do for others. Instead we create bigger and bigger dreams for ourselves.

Whether we are in panic mode or in excessive dream mode, we are selfish. Our own perceived needs make the needs of others appear far less important. We plan to help others, or to serve God better, once we have gotten what we believe we need and want first. We are far from selfless.

God has a plan for each of us. This plan is tailored to make us like Him and includes receiving all that He has, worlds without end. Yet, sometimes we get comfortable with our own dreams and plans, which in general are far beneath what God has imagined for us. We think we know what will bring us true joy and current happiness. Or, sometimes our path to our future rest takes seemingly unfair and devastating detours and we get sidetracked troubleshooting to get back to something that God already has a plan for restoring.

It’s like a child wanting a tiny, cheap sucker from a road-side candy stand, when the Willy-Wonka candy paradise is a 20-mile walk down the road. Yet, that child sees the sucker and is so worried about not receiving anything sweet that it throws a fit, gets mad, yells unkind things at its parents, picks a fight with a more patient sibling, and so forth. In the moment, this child is so preoccupied with self and what he wants that what’s available or how everyone is being affected never crosses his mind. He is blinded by his own selfishness and lack of trust.

The parents may say, you have to walk 20 miles and be nice to your sister, but at the end you can have 1 billion suckers if you want. But, the longer you delay, you keep not only yourself from Willy Wonka land, you are slowing down our progress and your sister’s progress to receiving it also.

We become selfless when we lose our fear of missing out or being overlooked. We become selfless when we come to know for ourselves that every blessing and joy we could ever imagine and more can never be denied us if we follow God’s plan and example for us. Giving a generous fast offering will not cripple us financially nor will it enable the lazy. Giving our used car to a needy family member or friend rather than selling it for a profit is not going to cripple us. Will we miss the money we might have made on the purchase? No. For we have enough and having more won’t make us happier if we leave another in need.Romantic Love

Not easily provoked

To provoke someone is to try to anger them, exasperate them, stimulate a rise or response, or to purposely vex them. To be easily provoked is to be like a dry pile of hay. One spark and you become a raging inferno. To be easily provoked is to be easily offended. It is to perceive offense even when none is intended. It is to look for reasons to get offended. To be easily provoked is to have a negative mindset that merely waits for a possible provocation and to act on it with the inherent belief that the actions of others is what has caused you, and given you right, to be vexed.

Charity is not easily provoked. This means that it is nearly impossible to provoke someone with charity. Instead of a dry pile of hay, a person is a wet log with no dry kindling nearby. Instead of perceiving offense, charity assumes none or sees instead that others are hurting which is why they are lashing—charity doesn’t take it personally. Instead of looking for justification to be vexed and to lash out, charity sees no purpose or value in taking things personally or in an outward show of anger.

So, how do we do this? Does this mean that feeling angry or hurt or offended is wrong? Again, do we have to cease having emotions at all to avoid getting provoked? Especially when a person does it on purpose? Certainly it is much harder to not get vexed when purposeful offense is given.

It is important to note that because of the gift of agency, the actions and words of others have real impact on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is because of this real and valid impact that the atonement was necessary. Our actions and words have to matter or we could not sin, nor could we do good (which people often forget…the power to do good is part and parcel with the power to sin). Agency is what makes the plan possible. Purposeful action is what makes God’s plan work.

Therefore, when people give purposeful, or even perceived, offense, it is a natural reaction for us to feel hurt, slighted, and offended. It is natural to feel a sense of anger. However, those who are easily provoked respond to these valid feelings in a self-focused manner. They feel the impact and choose to take it personally. They want to lash back. They want to judge, or punish. They want a sense of revenge or restitution. Or, they are looking for justification to act on some other sin or negative action and because they are focused on self, they use the offenses of others to provide their justification.

Sin is not compulsory (or in other words, we can’t be made to sin).

Christ certainly felt hurt, anger, frustration, and offense. How then did He keep from getting provoked?

Though we are allowed to have our natural feelings and responses, we are expected to learn to respond to them unselfishly. We are expected to view our response in how it will help others through the plan. If I am angry and I choose to yell and scream, belittle and demean, and cause fear in those around me, how does my reaction bring those around me a chance to participate and embrace God’s plan for them? It doesn’t. But, if I am angry and yet I choose to openly forgive, to have courage and be kind (borrowing from the current Cinderella), or to righteously rebuke, then while my anger was appropriate, my response was Christ-like.

When Christ entered the temple and found moneychangers and unrighteous financial dealings, He was certainly angry. I venture He felt hurt and betrayal for the sacredness of His Father’s House. He certainly dealt out a righteous rebuke. But even in His reprimand He did not purposefully belittle, injure, or act with tyranny. He taught firmly, “Ye have made it a den of thieves.” The Jews knew better, for they had “been given much” and therefore received “the greater condemnation.”

BT

To be continued soon with:

  • Thinketh no evil
  • Rejoicing in goodness
  • Not enticed by iniquity
  • Willing to bear all things
  • Believing
  • Hopeful
  • Endures all things

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

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

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

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

Why Presidencies and Councils?

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

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

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

UNITED IN PURPOSE

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

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

DIFFERENT ASSIGNMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

REPORTING BACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COUNCIL AND COUNSEL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AVENUES OF REVELATION

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

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

WHY A PRESIDENT?

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

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

The role of a president is to:

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

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

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

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

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

Deborah Kent Updated June 1, 2015

Just a Few More Thoughts!

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

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

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

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

BT