So, you’re standing at the starting line for a half marathon. The shot is about to sound. Do you have faith that you can finish this race? Here are 4 possible answers to this question.

  1. If you’ve been training for years and have run a half marathon before, you will feel confident, assured, and certain that you will finish. The only question may be your timing. Will you improve upon the last race? Will you run a personal best? Doubt about finishing? Not at all. You only wonder how and when you will finish and what level of success you will attain.
  2. If you’ve been training for the half marathon for months (though you’ve never run one before), you will likely feel that you can finish. After all, you’ve run shorter races. You have an assurance that your efforts to train and prepare your body for this exertion will enable to you at least, minimally, finish. Even more, you may hope that beyond finishing that you finish in a respectable time. And beyond that you may even hope to succeed in running well enough to secure an achievement. Again, it is most the how and when that is unknown.
  3. If you haven’t been training for a long enough time and have not run many races in your life, you may feel a sense of doubt, fear, or dread. You may be apprehensive and lack confidence in your ability to make it three miles let alone 13.1. You may be nervous that injury or exhaustion will take you down before you can reach the end. Thus, your faith in your ability to finish lacks assurance and lacks confidence.
  4. If you haven’t trained at all, it’s almost certain you aren’t even trying to run the half marathon. You may merely be on the sidelines prepared to cheer the others on. Your faith in your own ability to run a half marathon is dormant, because you have no desire to run a half marathon and therefore no need to exercise your feelings toward such a feat. The race itself has little meaning except perhaps that you may wish you had the courage to try to do such a thing. But it is a feat that seems somewhat abstract. Or, you may simply admire the worth it has to others you care about who are participating and you are happy to cheer them on.

Faith in Christ

Similar to this metaphor of a half marathon, faith in Christ is a lot more than believing He exists. It’s more than being on the sidelines watching His life and admiring His teachings. It’s more than doing a few of the commandments that you like, but leaving many of the others un-attempted. It’s a lot more than simply confessing His name.

Our ability to approach God and take advantage of His grace is directly related to our efforts to serve Him and keep His commandments. Our desire to be like Him—completely—and to follow Him—completely—affects our actions and therefore our assurance in the blessings He offers and the things of the gospel that are unseen, but are true. Our belief and trust in what God offers, shown by our faithful actions, is what translates to assurance that blessings (things we can’t yet see perfectly and don’t know how and when God will fulfill them) will come. That we’ll make it!

When we approach God in prayer asking for guidance, help, miracles, blessings, and understanding; the assurance we have of His response is directly related to the amount of desire we have to obey Him and how we have exercised that desire in our daily thoughts, words, and deeds.

In Hebrews 11:1, Ether 12:6, and Alma 32:21 we learn that

Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge (meaning that we have seen the future and know it precisely and exactly without any need to hope for it). It is the substance of things hoped for, the assurance of things hoped for, it is the evidence of things not seen, which are true.

In Lectures on Faith (lecture first, paragraph 9) we learn that:

Faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen; and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.

What is meant by “principle of action”? We learn further (lecture third, paragraphs 2-5) that:

…three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which [he/she] is pursuing, is according to [God’s] will

Faith is a principle of action because our assurance of God’s blessings gives us the motivation we need to act as He has commanded us to act. We act out of an assurance (not a perfect knowledge) that God’s blessings and words will be fulfilled, though we may not know how or when.

So, if God has said that He will bless us if we keep His commandments. And, because we feel that this is true, and we determine to keep His commandments the best we can, then we have a feeling of assurance that blessings will come. This assurance is a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit testifies to our hearts and minds that our lives are “according to God’s will” and such a feeling gives us confidence when we approach Him in prayer and seek for things that we need. The very act of praying is an act of faith and hope because we have an assurance that we ask not amiss (2 Nephi 4:35) because we are trying to do His will.

Faith begins with a desire. Such desire leads to a hope that we can receive, or accomplish, something good that God has asked us to do. That hope and faith leads us to act in ways that increase our hope and faith. Then, when we approach God (or our figurative half marathon) we have a response that resembles numbers 1 and 2 above. Our actions, made in faith and hope, give us assurance that we will finish. It is only the how and the when that is unknown.

Female eye with long eyelashes close-up

Eye of Faith

Living our lives with an eye of faith is living a life of trust and assurance in God. But, such assurance, such substance, such evidence of things unseen (which are true) comes from experimenting upon God’s word/commandments (John 7:17, Alma 32:27-43) and acting in hope and faith. As we do so, we will slowly, little by little, increase our power to do good—or in other words, our faith. The more times we test God’s plan for us and find it to be good, and to be right, and to give us what God promises, the greater our power to do more. Why? Because our assurance and confidence in God increases proportionate to the heed and diligence we give to His requests of us.

In Alma 12:9-11 we read:

…It is given unto many to now the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed an diligence which they give unto him.

And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser potion of the world; 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.

And they that will harden the hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction.

In other words, the more we spiritually train (heed God’s commands and keep the covenants we’ve made with Him, or press forward to make more covenants) the greater our capacity to receive, and do, more. Just as an athlete starts with small goals, 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons, marathons, triathlons, etc., spiritually, we start by desiring to do good and acting on that desire and on a hope for God’s promised blessings. When the blessings come, our belief and trust and assurance in God’s promises increases until there is nothing we can’t achieve—that is according to His will.

Which is True

You’ll note the caveat in the scripture, that our faith must be exercised toward something which is true. Truth is things as they really are and as they always will be (Jacob 4:13). There are many things we may choose to believe that are untrue. And, no amount of action in the pursuit of those false beliefs can produce a positive result—or a result that increases our faith, hope, and salvation. Thus, finding truth is critical to achieving the peace, assurance, evidence, and substance of things unseen.

Conclusion

Faith, and acting on our faith, has nothing to do with earning our salvation. We can’t earn it, and that’s not what God’s commandments and covenants are for. Faith, and living with an eye of faith, has everything to do with our intention to become truly Christian, like Christ. It’s a schooling process to keep commandments and receive and keep ordinances and covenants. His grace makes it possible for us to become just such people through such godly schooling. Repentance is His admonition to partake of His grace by accepting this process. Our righteous action—made in faith that we can become like God—is what we do to actively accept that grace.

Living with an eye of faith is hard. And, it gets ever more difficult in these modern days where our technology makes us believe that God doesn’t exist, that His plan is unfair, biased, prejudiced, or that we can find happiness without Him. But all who pursue such false truths will eventually come to learn that such things are not true. We all have our struggles and differences, but we can never fully separate ourselves from our eternal identity as children of God (Romans 8:35, 39).

The busier, faster, and more self-focused, and more distracted and occupied this world becomes with technology, communication, and self-invented progression, the more I feel compelled to slow down, focus more on home and family, trust in God’s simple truths, and to develop my talents to bless my family rather than to gain recognition from a lot of people I don’t know or to mold my life to make them approve. And, I feel strongly that those who live “with an eye of faith” will also feel inspired to do the same; to detach from the world and to follow the path that God presents for them; a path that is fuller, richer, and full of true progression.

BT

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

The Holy Ghost is a Gift, not an Entitlement

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

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

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

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

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

So, how bad to you want it?

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

Hands opening a red gift box with ribbon in shadow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prescription for Better Recognizing the Guidance of the Holy Ghost

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

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

I might add:

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

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

Different Ways of Feeling or Receiving Promptings and Guidance

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

Reading the Scriptures

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

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

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

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

Making Life Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being Inspired at Church

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

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

Preparing a Lesson

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

BT

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

End Notes

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

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

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

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The Lost Art of Pondering

We live in a world that is literally drowning in information and social communication. Our idea of what it means to think about something, to ponder something, consists of typing it in Google and reading about what other people think. Or, we bump into it while scrolling through our Facebook feed. Sadly, this is not thinking, and it most certainly is not pondering.

I have a phrase that I like to use for the lack of pondering, it is IL-pondering. The prefix IL stands for not or no. So, IL-pondering is no pondering or not pondering.

To ponder means: to think about something carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion. To ponder is to contemplate, consider, review, mull over, and meditate on something. The origin of ponder comes from the Latin pondus (weight), to the Latin ponderate (weigh, reflect on), to the old French ponderer (consider), to the current Middle English ponder (appraise, judge the worth of).

Pondering is so much more than thinking. It’s reasoning. It’s comparison. It’s logic. It’s feelings and emotions. But, most importantly, pondering is done by us. And secondly, pondering takes time. Finally, pondering culminates in personal witness. Pondering does not end in a non-peaceful resolution.

You might ask, “Why is pondering so important?”

My answer, “If you don’t ponder, you are not in control of your life, someone else is. If you don’t ponder, then you will end up in places, situations, health issues, conversations, and even relationships you don’t want to be in. All because you didn’t ponder.”

Now, if you don’t value being in control of your own life, then not understanding pondering may not frighten you. But, if you ultimately want to be in control of who you are and where your life goes, then you must learn to ponder. Without pondering you are actively choosing to let others think for you, choose for you, and determine who you will be and where your life will go. And, if you are unhappy, then you have only yourself to blame for letting others determine what makes you happy.

There is no vicarious road to replace the individual effort required to ponder, study, reason, and receive individual answers and witnesses from God through the Holy Ghost. If we let others ponder for us we are likely to end up converted to, and preaching, their version of the gospel (or their version our life!), instead of God’s version… And their version cannot and never will spiritually sustain us or bring us true happiness.

My second answer to, “Why is pondering so important?” is this. “You can’t ever be truly converted to God (or satisfied with your life) if you haven’t received your own personal witnesses from God, through the Holy Ghost, from pondering.”

Pondering is not about a quick fix. It’s not about what we normally think of as happiness. Pondering leads to deep, inner peace and ultimate joy. And, it can’t be substituted by quick fixes, emotional highs, food binges, and short cuts.

Not pondering leads to only one end—and end you didn’t want, a place you don’t want to be, a life you can never be a peace with.

Here is a blurb from a middle grade fiction book I love, called The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Milo, the main character has entered an imaginary world in a toy car. He ends up stuck in a place called the Doldrums where his car has stopped moving completely and he can’t figure out why. He can’t seem to get it moving again and he is in a place he doesn’t want to be. He doesn’t even know where he is or how he got there to begin with. He’s stuck. Then, an interesting character, the Watch Dog shows up.

“Help you! You must help yourself,” the Watch Dog replied, carefully winding himself with his left leg. “I suppose you know why you got stuck.”

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

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

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

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

So, how does a person ponder? I suspect that the art of thinking is a lost one, these days. There are many ways to ponder. But, I think it’s fairly easy to do. The biggest problem is people don’t take time to do it. They get far too happy with only partially pondering or jumping off the thinking-bandwagon when it appears they’ve made some progress. They are to apt to jump to conclusions rather than to wait for the witness and certainty that comes from the Holy Ghost.

Here is another blurb from The Phantom Tollbooth, when Milo has again found himself somewhere he doesn’t want to be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pondering is only hard if you want everything to happen right now, everything to be solved right now, and everything to make sense right now. Pondering is not a right now thing. Sometimes certainty, witnesses and answers do come fairly quickly, but most often that’s because you’re seeking for knowledge, inspiration, and answers in the correct places with an open mind, a humble heart, and a willingness to submit to truth.

If you get used to not pondering, then just like Milo’s trip to the island of conclusions, you will find that getting back to the art of pondering is a very long and a very hard way. But it gets easier and easier the more you do it. And trust me, it’s worth learning to do. It gives you power over your own happiness!

So, in preparation to ponder, you need to understand the following.

  1. Pondering is very rarely, a right now thing. It takes as long as it needs to take: days, weeks, months, years.
  2. You have to make time to ponder. You have to get out your smart phone and carve out 15 minutes to an hour each day, either all at once or in pieces. Turn off everything! And turn on your brain!
  3. You need to make a list of things to ponder, or seek sources that will initiate pondering. God asks us to read the scriptures daily for a reason. Not to memorize the stories. To take the time to stop and ponder His will, our will, His plan, and our progress in it. If you read your scriptures without these thoughts in mind, you’re almost (not quite) wasting your time.
  4. You have to want personal peace and true joy more than you want anything else. You can’t be happy to settle for good, or better, when best is your goal. If you’re willing to settle, then you aren’t ready to ponder.
  5. You have to look in the correct places for knowledge. You can’t go to the easiest places (the web, your dysfunctional and opinionated friend). You’ve got to identify and go to the right places. (D&C 88:118; 109:7)
  6. You have to seek with a humble heart, and open mind, and a willingness to submit to the truth and witness from God that you seek. If you want to know but you have no intention of acting on what you learn, you won’t find what you’re looking for.
  7. Pondering ends in peace, certainty, and a feeling of assurance. It doesn’t end in extreme emotions that drive irrational or weakly thought out actions. It doesn’t end in emotions that drive revenge, anger, confusion, retaliation, jealousy, hatred, or irrational fear. It may inspire actions that scare you, or excite you, but it will inspire patience and preparation in whatever action it leads you to. It will lead you to act and not to be acted upon.

So, 1-7. If you’re good to go on those, then here are what I would suggest as steps on HOW TO PONDER. The following steps have been compiled from a combination of three scripture references: Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3, 9:7-9; Joseph Smith-History 1:8-13, as well as my own experience.

Once you have something to ponder (that has to come first, of course), then here are the steps.

HOW TO PONDER

  1. Set aside your self-imposed, limited expectations for what God’s answer and guidance will be and open yourself up to consider not what you expect to learn, but what God has for you to learn and understand. Don’t put God in a box.
  2. Establish a firm, doctrinally-based question upon which you intend to act (For help with this concept see blog post Getting Answers to Prayers: EXPEDIENCY). God can tell you anything, but He’s much more likely to reveal those things to you which pertain to “you” and which will help “you” become more like Him. That includes even the mundane, such as health, fitness, education, work, entertainment, music as well as the deep spiritual topics you have questions about.
  3. Pray for guidance and then while you are waiting for it, continue to act on the truth you have, study, research correct sources, and reason about your question or topic from every angle you can think of.
  4. Pray again for understanding and to sort through the knowledge you’ve gleaned. Ponder what you’ve already got and toss out anything that isn’t helping and study deeper anything that sticks out to you. (repeat as often as necessary)
  5. Do not allow yourself to be overly awed or swayed by educational credentials, claimed associations, quotes and blurbs taken out of context, etc. If something sounds good, but sits wrong in your gut or incites feelings of anger, confusion, jealously or revenge, chances are it is wrong, false, only partially true—or at the minimum biased and incomplete. Also be careful about sources that tell you exactly what you think you want to hear. That’s always a red flag. Click here for more info on what this means and how to tell truth from falsehoods (in any text, blog, quote, interview, etc.)
  6. Live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and invite Him to testify and guide you by being an active learner. You can do this by accessing those resources God has commanded us to use to get His answers: prophetic guidance, scripture study, prayer, and other appropriate and positive influences within our lives.
  7. When you receive advice from others, get the counsel confirmed by the Holy Ghost who will tell you in BOTH your mind and your hearts, if the advice is God’s will for you.
  8. Wait for that personal witness of peace, certainty, assurance, calmness, and patient determination. When the resolve comes to you, you will recognize it. It’s different from everything the world offers. (St. John 14:27)

Now that you know what pondering should basically look like, let’s also review what IL-pondering looks like. Sometimes looking at the reverse helps us identify where we are getting in our own way.

THE PERILS OF IL-PONDERING

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

  • Il-pondering will happen IF we limit our perspective for learning and receiving answers from God to our own limited and finite expectations. We think we can imagine what God will say, but we can’t (Isaiah 55:8-9). So, if we try to put God in our box (which can’t be done), then we will sit inside that tiny box, all alone—or with others who have climbed in—and never get the knowledge and peace we need.
  • Many times we il-ponder when we focus on superficial questions to which God has an answer, but because of the lack of eternal importance of the answer, or our inability to comprehend the infinite expanse of the answer, we cannot receive it. For example: it’s not that understanding how the dinosaurs and Cro-Magnon man play into the creation of Adam and Eve aren’t interesting, but the reality is that the answer won’t affect our ability to keep God’s commandments and become like Him. We can do that without knowing those things. Plus, the answer would probably be beyond our ability to grasp.
  • We also il-ponder when our excessive emotions of disappointment, anger, resentment, vengeance, passion, and even dumfounded-confusion drive our search. This is because what we are looking for is an immediate fix for our emotional discomfort and not the ultimate truth—which is often not immediately comfortable.

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

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

We il-ponder when we study minimally, research at a glance, reason only our limited viewpoint, and fail to pray before and after for inspiration, help, and guidance. And I’m talking about day-to-day life just as much as I am what we often consider the deeper spiritual questions. We’ve got to pray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pharisees were the blind guides upon whom so many were so often deceived. The Pharisees were accused by Jesus Christ of being blind guides and making converts to “their version” of His religion twofold more the children of hell than they, themselves, were (Matthew 23:15).

If we continually submit to others’ versions of truth, to others’ pondering, and not doing our own, we are allowing ourselves to be led by “blind guides” and we have no personal promptings or spiritual witnesses to fall back on. And, if we are not careful, we will become their converts and not Christ’s, we will preach their gospel and not Christ’s, and we will become twofold more the children of hell, than those whom we originally followed. We will end up in places in life we don’t want to be! We will be on diets that work or others not us. We will be in jobs that others love but we don’t. Etc.

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

2 Nephi 32:1-7 says:

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

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

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

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

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

Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ

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

I am one of those people that is inherently untrusting of others’ opinions, and even more so of their facts. If someone cites a reference in their research paper, blog, or other post, I look it up. And, I’m never shocked to find out that they’ve skewed the ideal, misunderstood the point, misquoted the facts, failed to read the whole reference themselves, and “jumped to conclusions” about its interpretation. Often they steal ideas because they don’t have their own! Talk about unreliable information.

I’m not shocked because those who preach (especially the rigid, eccentric, angry, or overtly biased) the most vehemently are often il-ponderers themselves.

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

So, hopefully, if you’re reading this and you’ve been an il-ponderer, you will get moving again (out of the Doldrums) by thinking on your own and seeking your own witness. Or, perhaps you will swim back from the Island of Conclusions—even though it’s a long swim. Or, hopefully, you will finally get past Expectations and to the destinations that God intends for you. I hope you will use pondering to take control of your life and find your way to where you actually want to be.

BT

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a Doctrine?

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

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

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

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

1 Nephi 15:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1 Nephi 15:11 it says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D&C 84:45:

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

D&C 50:24-25

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Identify Doctrines

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

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

Let’s practice.

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

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

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

latter-day_saint_scripture_quadruple_combination

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

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

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

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

What would my life be like without these truths?

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

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

Consider this scripture Ether 12:27:

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

No, go try some of the steps…

Possible truths put into my own words from this quote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Focus on Seeking Applications or Teaching Applications

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

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

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

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

Boyd K. Packer taught:

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.

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

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

Want More Holy Ghost? Seek More Doctrine!

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

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

BT

Doctrine: There is a difference between doing good and becoming good. We cannot truly become good, or as God is, until our motivation for doing so transcends expected, or even perceived rewards and blessings. Our sole motivation has to be personal peace. When we gain control of ourselves, instead of trying to control everything else, we are closer to “becoming” than we ever dreamed possible. This is spiritual independence.

  • How many of your words and actions, each day, are based upon your reaction to the words and actions of others?
  • How many of your words and actions, each day, are based upon aspects of life that are outside of your control?
  • What was the most recent thing you said, or did, in reaction to life, that you felt justified in doing, but which didn’t make you feel happy or peaceful afterward? It might even have made you feel worse-even though you were justified.
  • Finally, how much of what you do is because it’s a commandment with an expected or perceived blessing?

In the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, Christ gave sermons which we often call the beatitudes or the sermon on the mount. We often assume that the word “beatitudes” means BE ATTITUDES. But, the term beatitude is not English. It’s  a term adapted from the Latin: beatitudo, a noun meaning “state of blessedness.”

In other words, a beatitude is a “state or condition of being that results in blessedness.”

If you read the sermon on the mount, you’ll note that Christ doesn’t give instructions on how to “do” the beatitudes. He merely states in many different ways, “blessed are they who <blank> for they shall <blank>.” He seems to be implying that some blessings are not simply achieved by going through the motions or checking something off a list. Indeed, He makes it quite clear that some Christlike characteristics cannot be earned and that the blessed results are simply that: a natural result of becoming or embodying that attribute.

It is true that doing does lead to becoming IF our motivation becomes pure. So, let me restate that: the blessedness that accompanies each beatitude is a natural result of the person not simply doing certain actions, but becoming or embodying that Christlike attribute. It comes naturally to them. It IS who they are. They don’t have to sit down and think about BEING in these states. They simply are them and the natural blessedness results. For example, Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

So, what is the difference in doing righteous actions in expectation of receiving a blessing or actually becoming, or embodying a Christlike attribute and blessedness following as an natural result?

BECOMING = ACTIONS ARE INDEPENDENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS, INCITING SITUATIONS, OTHERS’ ACTIONS, AND INFLUENCES.

When we act based upon who we want to be and not based upon what we think such actions will bring us, our actions become independent. They become fully ours in a deep and inexplicable way. Such actions then become able to be assimilated into our very being because the full power of our choice is behind them. We become literally spiritually independent.

Note: I said the full power of our choice is behind them. No one is bribing or persuading us to do such choices. No one is promising to behave a certain way if we act a certain way. We are giving all that we are to a choice that is not motivated by anything other than personal peace and conviction. Our action is fully independent of anyone or anything (even God, in a sense).

DOING = ACTIONS ARE VARIABLE AND BASED ON A PERCEIVED REWARD, BLESSING, OR OUTCOME FOR OURSELVES, OR AN EXPECTED ACTION OR RESULT FROM OTHERS (OR GOD).

To act in the pursuit of a reward is not evil. It is a beginning grace. But, it is not sustainable. We must grow from grace to grace (D&C 93:11-20).

If we are going through the motions, and reacting to our environment based on perceived outcomes and expectations; then we will continue to alter our actions and words in an attempt to arrive at a certain, desired result. We will act to feel justified. We will act expecting others to change or alter their actions toward us. We will act expecting a certain blessing or spiritual result within a certain time frame or during particularly rough parts of our lives.

This type of action does not have sufficient power to help us become godly because the full power of our agency is not behind it. It is still dependent on some other factor. We have not committed to behaviors for the best reason, only for a good reason. And, ultimately, we are willing to alter our actions if a better reward is offered or if the expected or perceived blessing goes unmet (or delayed). Thus, we do not become, and we cannot be trusted to remain the same. We are changeable, and as such are not able to merit the natural results of blessedness that accompany becoming like Christ.

The problem with this kind of thought-process determining our actions is that it often leads to despair, spiritual temper tantrums, unrighteous dominion, and agnosticism.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf said in the recent General Women’s session of conference about the Authentic Disciple:

She lived joyfully not because her circumstances were joyful but because she was joyful.

He also said:

We are responsible for our own discipleship, and it has little—if anything—to do with the way others treat us. We obviously hope that they will be understanding and charitable in return, but our love for them is independent of their feelings toward us.

He goes on to say:

There may be many things about life that are beyond your control. But in the end you have the power to choose both your destination and many of your experiences along the way.

A few years back I read a book called The Story of Utopias. And, I found it incredibly interesting. Not because of the many different kinds of utopias that people had envisioned over the years. But because they all had the exact same flaw. They all wanted to create a perfect society and then place people in it, assuming that the perfection of the society would then make the people perfect by default. They expected that people going through the motions of their perfectly planned society would indeed create a perfect society. But, as the author (Lewis Mumford) pointed out, human nature was never a factor in any of their experiments. The one problem none of them could solve was creating the kind of human that could live happily and contentedly in that perfect society on a consistent basis; that wouldn’t eventually rebel, leave, or coup.

It occurred to me when I finished the book that, in a sense, this is the flaw God has conquered with the plan of salvation. He doesn’t give us a kingdom of glory and hope that we’ll conform to it. He asks us to become the type of person who will be happy in His kingdom. We become, and the blessedness of celestial glory is a natural result.

And then, if we do not ultimately find peace and joy in becoming as He is (independent of all other perceived rewards and outcomes), He has provided other kingdoms in which many of us will feel comfortable—because such a kingdom will correspond to the type of person we have actually become. It will be the natural result.

I find it interesting that the scriptures say, “God IS love.” They don’t say, “God does love perfectly.” They say, “God IS the same yesterday, today, and forever.” They don’t say, “God goes through the same motions yesterday, today, and forever.” God doesn’t have to run through a checklist of righteous actions each day to make sure He remains God and remains perfect. He doesn’t have to remind Himself to BE a certain way because He has BECOME a certain way. It is NATURAL TO HIM. He is in a constant state of blessedness because of what He has become.

Concept Development and hidden features. Paper Boat which casts

My Experience With Learning How to Find the Power to Become

So, I’m the mother of a toddler, and, as each of you know, toddlers can try even the most saintly of individuals. A few months back, I increasingly found that I based my actions on the results I wanted from my daughter. I wanted her to do certain things and so I kept altering my methods in order to get her to act how I wanted. After months of struggles, I realized I wasn’t making any progress in becoming more loving, kind, patient, and a host of other Christlike attributes. I felt, in fact, that I was digressing at a rather alarming rate.

As time went on, other expectations in my life and blessings seemed to be either denied or delayed beyond what I felt both emotionally and mentally was possible for me to continue to endure. I was trying to be righteous because that was what I wanted to be, but also, still much of my motivation was fueled by the idea of future blessings and relief–none of which seemed remotely close to being fulfilled. Adding this all together, I passed several rather wretched days and nights. I’m sorry to confess that my actions during this time continued to reflect my desire and expectation to see certain results not only in my daughter, but from my poor husband, and especially from God. I was acting in ways that I thought would force God’s hand and make Him do what I was expecting. Becoming godly was not on the top of my mind. I was merely trying to exert control on my environment and “get what I wanted.”

On the third morning, I recognized, somewhat blearily, that my actions were not going to bring about any of what I desired—especially not peace. I remember pouring my daughter some cereal and making an effort to be patient and kind with her sweet little soul. It was in that moment that the thought occurred to me, “This is not the kind of person I want to be and it’s not working. It’s not forcing God’s hand. It’s not helping my toddler act how I want. It’s not helping my husband. It’s not helping me. And, even if none of them ever do what I want, and even if God never blesses me how I want or expect, I cannot be happy this way. This is not who I want to be. I want to be kind, patient, loving, etc. because that’s who I am, not based on what I think will happen, or what even could happen. I want who I am to be independent of my circumstances.

It wasn’t a literal pillar of light. But, it was a spiritual pillar of light that has changed my life. It has been so freeing! I thought I had to gain control by controlling the uncontrollable things in my life. It turns out, the way to gain control and peace was to gain control of myself. To decide who I wanted to be and to BE that, regardless of every other external factor. I don’t know if God would call my current state of being “blessed,” but I certainly feel empowered to become godly where before it seemed far more impossible.

By deciding who I want to be and mentally removing all other variables (aside from myself). Becoming is all of the sudden quite possible! I have always been spiritually independent. But, now that I know it, I can finally make use of it.

This, I believe, is what Christ meant when He taught the beatitudes. There are natural results that come from BEING godly. We simply have to decide who we want to be and practice being it. We have to own our issues and alter then independent of all other factors. Then will we find the power to actually become blessed and receive the natural result of that blessedness.

WE HAVE THE POWER TO BECOME. 

BT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BackToTheTree

Back to the Tree

By the Doctrine Lady

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

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

I look across a wilderness with shadows long and tall

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

The balcony it trembles underneath my tired feet

Then suddenly I am pelted with dark rains and bitter sleet

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

And find that even inside there is emptiness and pain

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

And see a small light flickering with continual repeat

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

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

 

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

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

The cement beneath my feet begins to crack a little bit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I walk and walk for hours and collapse upon the dirt

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

Determined to press forward now that day at last has dawned

I cast my eyes fast forward where a dirty fountain spawns

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impatience was my downfall, and some carelessness, and fight

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remember how it crumbled and the treatment of its crowd

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

I quickly grab back hold again of the rusty iron rod

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BT

 

Forever Families is one of the few notable doctrines that Latter-day Saints preach about that sets them apart from all other Christian religions. And yet, I’m shocked at how few of them actually understand why we preach that and what it truly entails. They see in their minds that this ideal is all about true love and never being parted from your loved ones. But, beyond that, they misunderstand the ideal of eternal posterity and eternal family completely. Likely because they were never taught. Likely because they didn’t always listen or pay attention. Most certainly because they didn’t take the time to study it.

Many people are drawn to the doctrine of eternal marriage and eternal families and yet they struggle with the doctrine of godhood. However, the two doctrines are one and the same. There is no eternal family without godhood. There is no godhood without eternal parenthood. Godhood is nothing less than perfect eternal parenthood.

God, our Heavenly Father, is the God of our universe—worlds without end. He is sinless. He is perfectly just. He is perfectly merciful. He is love.

God is bound by covenant to our Heavenly Mother. She is also sinless, She is perfectly just. She is perfectly merciful. And She is love.

Our heavenly parents have glorified, resurrected, celestial bodies. Not only are their bodies free from corruption, are perfect, and cannot die; their (celestial) bodies can create, beget, and organize eternal spirit children—in the same manner that we beget mortal children. And, as perfect eternal parents, they spend all of their eternal time helping these spirit children become like them—to become eternal parents, or gods.

The whole plan of salvation is about nothing more than helping each and every one of us become eternal parents, like our heavenly parents. The whole plan of salvation is designed so that we can become sinless, perfectly just, perfectly merciful, and become the embodiment of love. The whole plan is set up so that we can, if we so choose, receive a glorified, resurrected, celestial body. For, this is the only type of body that can enjoy “eternal life, (Moses 1:39)” sexual relations, and continue to beget children (i.e. eternal family, forever family) beyond the veil of death. All other resurrections i.e. immortality (Moses 1:39) (terrestrial, telestial, etc.) will glorify and perfect a body, but will not enable those bodies to enjoy sexual relations and beget spirit children. Modern revelation is fairly clear that all resurrected bodies are not the same (see Doctrine and Covenants 76, 88 for further study).

Forever family, or eternal family, is not simply about coexisting with another being (or beings) for eternity. It’s not about having everybody in our current family under the same celestial roof. Just as in this life begotten children grow up, leave home, and create their own homes; so also it is in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. “The same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which we do not now enjoy” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:2). That we may associate together is certain. That our lives are focused around each other is unlikely. We will (if we as family members all choose to inherit celestial glory) far more likely work side-by-side in our work and glory of “bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life” of our spirit children.

In Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4 and 132:19-21 we are taught that in order to become like God, each of us must enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, an actual order of God’s Priesthood Power (i.e. sealing ordinance of the temple) and keep our covenants, in order to receive godhood, or in other words, eternal parenthood. God is, and always has been, very exact with how He dispenses Priesthood power, authority, and blessings.

God…has ordained that the highest order and class of beings that should exist in the eternal worlds should exist in the capacity of husbands and wives, and that they alone should have the privilege of propagating their species…Now it is wise, no doubt, in the Great Creator to thus limit this great and heavenly principle to those who have arrived or come to the highest state of exaltation…to dwell in His presence, that they by this means shall be prepared to bring up their spirit offspring in all pure and holy principles in the eternal worlds, in order that they may be happy. Consequently, He does not entrust this privilege of multiplying spirits with the terrestrial or telestial, or the lower order of beings there, nor with angels. But why not? Because they have not proved themselves worthy of this great privilege. (In Journal of Discourses 13:186) (Elder Orson Pratt, quoted by Douglas E. Brinley, The Keys of Marital Success—Part 2, Eternal Companions, pp. 90-91)

Brigham Young taught concerning the way we have children that “there is no other process of creation in heaven, on the earth,…or under the earth, or in all the eternities, that is, that were, or that ever will be” (Journal of Discourses 11:122). It is clear that God’s plan requires sexual intimacy, but he didn’t create us with compliance built in biologically. Instead he gave us a body like his, with all of the possibilities that entails. Our physical bodies are thus gifts, not givens. (Emily M. Reynolds, Talking About Sexual Intimacy, Eternal Companions, p. 147)

I have blogged before about God’s power not being absolute. He, in order to hold the powers, priesthoods, and position He has, must be bound by eternal law and covenant. If He were to soften, side-step, or go against any of these binding eternal laws and covenants “He would cease to be God” (Alma 42:13, 22-23, 25-26). I have also blogged about what true Motherhood and Fatherhood are and how we become such—it is through covenant that we attain such titles, not merely by birthing children. Such birthing makes us temporary, mortal parents only.

In fact, we, as mortals, and even as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, take for granted our opportunity to gain a body, marry, and learn true parenthood. So much so that we engage in sexual relations lightly, selfishly, and lustfully. So much so that we marry, divorce, cohabitate, and indulge in sexual addictions as though we were entitled to the satisfaction and pleasure by simply being alive. We are not. Whether we are heterosexual or claim other gender identities matters little. We are not entitled to eternal family or eternal parenthood unless we are willing to become like God.

There is no discrimination from God in this. All of us are born with issues that make it difficult for us to desire and pursue godhood (eternal parenthood). It doesn’t matter if it’s our sexual orientation, genetic obesity, missing limbs, propensity for sexual addiction (of any kind), mental depression, propensity for anger addiction or alcoholism, etc., they all make it difficult (heroic, even Abrahamic, D&C 101:4) to desire and pursue godhood. And yet, because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we can have these issues and still become like God if we try our best to accept and follow His will and commandments. It matters not the status of our progress in comparison to others; only that we continue to progress and try—and never give up. If we simply try with all our might, mind, heart, and strength, then His grace is sufficient (Moroni 10:32). If we simply do not give up and repent every time we fail. If we do what we can do in keeping God’s ordinances, covenants, and commandments; we will be healed of our weaknesses and issues and become godly because we met the conditions for His grace. Mortal weaknesses, inclinations, and struggles will, and can, be overcome through grace by our efforts in this life, or healed completely before our final judgment and resurrection. Not one of us is ultimately denied anything, certainly not godhood/eternal parenthood, because of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Thus God is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful (Alma 42) because of the atonement.

Eternal parenthood/godhood is not for the good or the better. It is only for the best (metaphorically speaking). Yet, if people decide to choose good or better, that does not diminish them. They will get what they want, ultimately, with some exceptions (Alma 41:10) wherein they want to find happiness in sin which simply cannot be had (now, or in the eternities). There is plenty of suffering in this life. More than we can bear. But, if we choose not to repent in this life we will be subject to the full weight of the law of justice. We will suffer for our own sins (Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19). This cleansing from sin will proceed the final resurrection and judgment. We cannot be assigned to a kingdom of glory (even if it is not the celestial kingdom), without confessing Jesus is the Christ, that God is just, and that we have sinned (Romans 14:11, Isaiah 45:23, Alma 12:15, Mosiah 16:1, Doctrine and Covenants 88:104).

It’s important to note that Satan, who showed himself unworthy to even try for godhood in his attempted coup of God’s throne and power (Moses 4:1-4), was cast out of heaven. He was not allowed to be born on this earth, to get a body, or to seek godhood. He was damned—literally. He is left without family and any eternal association forever (Isaiah 14:12-20). Family, we should all understand, is the crowning glory of life and most certainly of godhood. Other glories are available, but they do not include this crowning glory, and cannot. For those who inherit them, while good, are not godly and cannot be trusted with the powers of creation (see quotes above by Orson Pratt and Brigham Young).

templemarriage2

Many religions preach two eternal outcomes as locations. They are heaven or hell. The kingdoms, however, of which they preach are basically the terrestrial and the telestial. And, if one aspires to the ideals preached about these kingdoms, one will not be disappointed when this life is over—if that is one’s only aspiration. If our goal is simply to be basically happy. Then, that’s what we’ll get (Alma 29:4). If our goal is to bowl, play golf, chess, cards, Yahtzee, or other pursuits, forever, then that’s what we’ll get (though likely much better, as God knows how to give good gifts to His children, Luke 11:13).

On the other hand, if our goal is to enjoy the blessings of godhood, and eternal parenthood and family, which brings more happiness than we could possibly ever even imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9), then we cannot have the same expectations for our conduct in this life, nor in our eternal progression. And, it is possible to grasp this high goal and reach it, we will only trust God, have faith in Him, and believe it!

In Doctrine and Covenants 88 we read the following about the purpose of our souls and the differences in our resurrections based upon what eternal laws we are willing to abide.

14 Now, verily I say unto you, that through the redemption which is made for you is brought to pass the resurrection from the dead.

15 And the spirit and the body are the soul of man.

16 And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul (the spirit and the body).

17 And the redemption of the soul is through him that quickeneth all things, in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it.

18 Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory;

19 For after it hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father;

20 That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it (the soul) made and created, and for this intent are they (souls) sanctified.

21 And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.

22 For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.

23 And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.

24 And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.

28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.

29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.

30 And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.

31 And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.

32 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.

33 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.

34 And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.

35 That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.

36 All kingdoms have a law given;

37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.

38 And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.

39 All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.

40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.

41 He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever.

I hope you had the patience to study that long excerpt of scripture, because it is so powerful.

So, now let me address something very important.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is comprised of doctrines, principles, and commandments. Principles and commandments are subject to individual application and interpretation (many times) through the Holy Spirit because they are how we apply doctrines. However, doctrines (which are fundamental eternal truths) do not change and are not subject to interpretation or change. Principles can also dual as doctrines.

Now, the purpose of this blog is not to strain and gnats and swallow camels (Matthew 23:24) as in the tiny differences that can be talked about between doctrines and principles. The purpose of this blog is to point out a very important, fundamental point. Here it is.

While the personal, societal, historical, and cultural applications of the principles and commandments of God may vary, fundamental Gospel doctrines and universal truths do not change.

For example, the Israelites had a different word of wisdom than we do. We apply the principles behind this commandment differently based upon prophetic direction. We can eat pork. They couldn’t. And on and on. But the doctrine behind the word of wisdom is the same. It is: by adhering to a word of wisdom, as revealed by God, we mark ourselves as Christ’s, that when the time comes for the separating the wheat from the tares, the destroying angel will pass us by (Doctrine and Covenants 89:21). All other blessings and proposed purposes of the commandment are both spiritual and physical, but can side track us from its main doctrinal basis. It’s a law for the weakest saint to mark themselves as Christ’s (verse 3).

So, when it comes to marriage, family, and sex, it is clear that we are seeing both outside and inside the church, an incredible softening toward the unconventional family unit, and even unconventional sexual orientations and claimed genders. Genderless marriage has been approved by government and all around people are trying very hard to be tolerant of what historically have been unconventional and unaccepted forms of behavior and beliefs. These children of God have previously been treated unfairly and unkindly, even persecuted, exiled, imprisoned, and mistreated.

Many, inside and outside the church, are beginning to assume that this softening in treatment (or the increase of understanding how to love the sinner but not the sin) of such individuals, who are beloved children of God, means a future change in commandments…or an eventual change in doctrine and therefore policy. I think if they make this assumption, in this they will be verily disappointed.

To me, the big leap that is taking place is that the church (which God allows to be carried forward by His flawed children who must learn and be saved individually and collectively) is beginning to realize that treating more unconventional sinners as evil criminals is not only wrong and un-Christlike, but that it is ultimately unproductive in spreading the Gospel. Historically, the fire and brimstone preacher would have condemned all of these sinning souls to hell without any mercy. The unwed mother, the inmate, the interracial couple, etc. Gratefully, we are, if slowly, getting beyond that un-Christlike understanding and reasoning. But, I think it would be wrong to presuppose an eventual change in principle, doctrine, or policy regarding God’s plan for eternal families, eternal parenthood, and eternal marriage.

Here are two examples. First, addictions have also been incorrectly assessed and misunderstood over the years. Where once people were disfellowshipped, or even excommunicated, for struggling with an addiction (smoking, alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc.), they are now counseled, supported, maintained in fellowship, and even allowed to serve in some capacities as they willingly work through and try to work consistent recovery. However, that all of these issues are still sins, and prevent us from being happy and becoming godly, has not changed—and won’t change. Simply our understanding of how to love and support the sinner has improved. And God seems to be content with allowing us to learn as we go.

Second, while Latter-day Saint women have for years and years enjoyed greater rights and privileges than women in regular society, and even in other religions (and still do); recently the assumption was made that society’s attempts to finally catch up with this trend meant that God would eventually let women officiate in Priesthood Leadership positions within the church on the basis that women in other churches can become paid ministers and because women can do what men can do—it was just assumed. There are many fundamentally incorrect comparisons made to argue for women being ordained to the Priesthood, but it boils down to the fact that even “the men” don’t get paid, and that the Priesthood is God’s and He determines how it is utilized, dispensed, and officiated in.

Anyway, while overall, the church sought to self-evaluate and include women where-ever it was possible that it already had not; yet, it did not, and will not, change that fundamental doctrine. God has doctrinally established covenant roles within His plan and those will not change. Just as God, the Father, has a different role than Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost within the godhead (and doesn’t belly-ache about it and neither do the other members of the godhead); men and women have different roles in godhood, the Church, and eternal parenthood. God isn’t going to change that. It’s biological, spiritual, and doctrinal.

I can look all around me and I can see successful heterosexual marriages that may never be eternal because the couples have no desire to get baptized, live the commandments, and receive those ordinances necessary to achieve their exaltation. No matter if they are two peas in a pod. That they get along is great. But that alone is not sufficient to make them worthy of godhood (i.e. eternal parenthood). To be eternal parents, not just eternal lovers, we must submit to the conditions required for godhood. Why? Because that is the only way to also be eternal lovers.

The same applies to people who are in genderless relationships or marriages. That they are happy together is great. That they are also extremely wonderful and spiritual and kind is great. These traits and beautiful things about them are not diminished by their sexual inclinations. But just like all of us, they must still submit to God’s conditions IF they want to be like Him. And, if they don’t, they will still receive a kingdom of glory—which we often fail to preach. This is the doctrine! And it’s wonderful, and it’s beautiful. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about giving us the chance to become like God. God will not force it upon us. Neither will He hand it over lightly. Yet, the plan also provides for those who are good but also simply don’t want godhood on its universally required and unchangeable terms.

They are not the lowest of the low as society has (and we have) always been want to treat them. They are divine, amazing, spirit children of God with godly potential. They will be blessed, and are blessed, for all the good they do (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21). But, they are also denied blessings (like any other) for not submitting to God’s laws and commandments. That’s the doctrine.

Together Forever… the question only now remains, “Is that what you truly want?”

BT

Doctrine: The law of opposition requires that true joy comes only in response to true sacrifice. Getting something easy only makes it less valuable, less meaningful, and less powerful. Sin and righteousness are both very hard. The only difference between them is that sin seems easier up front but ends up being exponentially harder in the long run (entropic), whereas rightness seems harder up front but ends up being exponentially easier in the long run.

I get really frustrated with people who, over the years, have basically made the assumption that living righteously comes easy to me. I get frustrated, because when they make this assumption, they do it in the awestruck/pity context of saying that they would be righteous too if it came easier to them. They act like I’m some anomaly because I consistently try to be righteous (and healthy), and simultaneously resent me because I manage to keep going despite trials, stress, setbacks, and troubles.

Not only is their assumption semi-insulting, it’s also a reflection of their lack of common sense and reason. These people are basically saying the following to me:

IF something is easy, I’ll do it. IF something is hard, I won’t do it. Lucky for you that being righteous comes easy for you. I wish it came easy for me, because I’d want to do it if it was easy for me like it is for you.

These people are also basically saying to me:

Being unrighteous (or doing what I want despite commandments or sound advice) is easy, and that’s why I do it. So, instead of asking me to get stronger or work harder, I just wish God would make it all easier.

Now, I’m fairly certain these people don’t actually believe that the hardness or easiness of a thing is the whole reason for doing it. I don’t really think that they take the “path of least resistance” in everything in their lives. But, they seem to take this point-of-view when it comes to hard things, like keeping the commandments or getting healthy. They don’t want to admit to themselves that the real underlying problem is that they don’t want to keep the commandments or get healthy because they are not yet personally convinced that the effort to do such things is worth it to give up the perceived value of the things they will have to sacrifice. In other words, they don’t think effort and sacrifice = true happiness.

red ant rolls stone uphill

Now, here’s the doctrine:

Both unrighteousness and righteousness are extremely hard. The only difference in the two is that righteousness is harder up front and exponentially more rewarding  and joy-producing in the long-run; and unrighteousness is easier up front and exponentially less rewarding and misery-producing in the long run. Which, if you do the mental math means that unrighteousness is actually far more difficult because you’ll eventually have to do things the righteous way anyway, which will still be hard, initially when you finally get to it. In the long run, unrighteousness is non-sustainable. Righteousness is sustainable.

Unrighteousness is natural entropy (defined: natural decline into disorder or large-scale collapse). It will, if pursued continually, turn one’s (spiritual or physical) life into a living hell. On the other hand, righteousness is natural improvement, increase, or a natural rise. It will, if pursued continually, turn one’s (spiritual or physical) life into a living joy.

Righteousness is initial and up-front sacrifice of something we consider of temporary value (perhaps even extreme temporary value) for something of lasting and eternal value.

Sin is holding onto things of temporary value and ultimately sacrificing things of lasting and eternal value. (Or, in other words, sin is trying to get the lasting and eternal value of something in a way that cannot produce it.) [Makes sinning sound pretty stupid.]

C.S. Lewis says this in his book The Great Divorce:

That is what mortals misunderstand.  They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.  And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin.  Both processes begin even before death.  The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness.  And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost “we were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.

Here are some scriptures about peace, joy, and lasting feelings that come after initial, upfront, and early hard work and sacrifice:

  • That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)
  • …wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith (Ether 12:7)
  • And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36:20)
  • And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statues, and the commandments of the Lord in all things…we did sow seed…and we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of all kinds…And I did teach my people to build buildings and to work…And I, Nephi, did build a temple…I, Nephi did cause my people to be industrious and to labor with their hands… And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness. (2 Nephi 5:27)
  • For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad, [happiness nor misery, sense nor insensibility]. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one… (2 Nephi 2:11, brackets moved up from later in verse)
  • And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit… Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of our faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you. (Alma 32:37, 43)

Hard construction work

I could list volumes of scriptures. But, I wouldn’t want to deny each of you the joy that comes from discovering them yourself. But, the underlying doctrine regarding reaping true peace, joy, and fruit (i.e. lasting results) is sacrifice and hard work. It is NOT sitting around and waiting for something to become easy or easier. It is NOT waiting until the consequences of sin compel you to choose sacrifice. In order to get lasting joy and peace we must get stronger, not wait for things to get easier.

A lot of people wait until they are deep in the throes of depression, abuse, addiction, bankruptcy, incarceration, or other entropic ends before they consider living life the harder way (up front). The better, true, lasting way. Yet, in their current entropic/fallen state, they have nearly doubled the level of starting difficulty into their mental, spiritual, or physical health turnaround. Their choice is no longer simply about doing one or the other. It’s choosing the initially better, harder option, at last, while still dealing with the entropic consequences and aftermath of choosing the initially easier, worse option in the past. And, whether or not they are able to make the leap into “living after the manner of happiness,” they most likely will live with the extra weight of the consequences from their past unwise choices, for the rest of their life.

There is no “something for nothing” principle in all of the universe. Every choice has a consequence. It’s eternal law. No matter how we may fight it, we simply will never be able to get anything of value (and hold onto it lastingly) without considerable effort. [Which is worth it!]

There is no relationship, of any kind, that will magically last without significant, concerted effort. There is no career path or education that will magically fall into our laps without significant, concerted effort. There is no health or happiness of any kind that we can truly grab hold of without hard work and sacrifice. And, if we ever choose to sidestep into getting something that we want through lazy, faddish, shameful, or dishonest means, by the laws of entropy (since dishonesty is an entropic decision) that something will eventually be taken back away from us. We will lose it (Helaman 13:30-36).

Or, if we do not lose something by natural, entropic laws, we will cast it away ourselves because it has no value to us.

I’m not sure if the statistic is true. But, a lot of business articles out there claim that 70% of lottery winners (or people who get a big monetary windfall—implying that they didn’t have to lift a finger to get it) end up broke within five years. And the reason they end up broke is because the money has no meaning to them. Why does it have no meaning? Because they gave it none.

Determination concept

Things we have not worked for we are not prepared to receive. We haven’t thought about them. We haven’t pondered them. We haven’t planned for them. We haven’t done anything. Thus, we are not equipped to appreciate them or value them. And, because they came with no effort we part with them (or blow them in the case of spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical currency) with the same amount of thought—none.

Whether we like to hear it or not, nothing in life has meaning or value or power to bring us joy if we don’t give it meaning, value, and power by our blood, sweat, and tears. Our action in the pursuit of something is what gives that something meaning, value, and the power to grant us satisfaction—and lasting joy.

You don’t have to believe this. But, I guarantee that whether or not you put in the work to test it, you’ll eventually find that it’s true.

BT

Doctrine: The Gospel is only impossible to us inasmuch as we refuse to have faith in it, refuse to believe in it, and refuse to try to live it. What we believe will directly correlate to what we feel is possible. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most possible thing on earth.

impossible4

Climbing Mount Everest seems impossible to do. Yet, people have done it. And the people that did it desired to climb it, read about past people who tried to climb it (both those who succeeded and failed), prepared and trained to climb it, and then eventually, in time climbed it.

Running a marathon seems impossible to do. Yet, people do it every day. They desired to run a marathon, they read up on food and training, prepared and trained to run a marathon, and then eventually, they ran one.

Walking seems impossible to someone who has just been through knee surgery. I know. Because I’ve seen people go through it. So, how do they walk again? They desire to walk more than anything else. Thus, they are willing to stretch, ice, elevate, rest, and participate in physical therapy until they can walk again.

C.S. Lewis said:

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.

Alice in Wonderland believed six impossible things before breakfast, thus, fictionally, she was able to visit other worlds and accomplish great things, especially going against societal norms. The principle is similar. What we believe will directly correlate to what we feel is possible.

The point here is this, I’ve heard so many people say that they are leaving the church because God asks too much of them. They say it’s impossible to live the law of Christ. They say trying to become like God is impossible.

However, they fail to note (when they are saying this) that many people have succeeded in living the law of Christ. Many people have lived it, do live it, and are trying to live it every day. So, what makes it impossible? I’ll tell you.

People who think God’s plan is too difficult, that His expectations and commandments are too steep, and that the Gospel is impossible have a few common problems:

  • First, they don’t understand grace properly.
  • Second, their desires for eternal life (life “like” God) are likely surface desires only and not the true desires of their heart. Such an accomplishment seems like Mount Everest and they do not have sufficient desire to put in the hard work to climb it—though it is technically possible.
  • Third, they don’t know God well (because of a lack of faith, prayer, study, and at least attempts at keeping the commandments) and because they don’t know Him they don’t really understand what it is they are being asked to become; therefore, developing a strong desire to be like Him is difficult to do.
  • Fourth, perhaps they used to want eternal life but their current life and desires have superseded that original desire and so they have set it aside as a “nice thing” but no longer find it appealing—again, too much work. They truly believe that they will be happier living life their way and that belief guides their actions. They can’t trust God’s promises because they haven’t come to trust Him and they haven’t tried the experiment to see if He can be trusted.
  • Along with this, most people who think the gospel is impossible find that it is impossible to live when they aren’t willing to repent—and, it is, especially since repentance is the 2nd principle of the Gospel.
  • Finally, the Gospel is impossible to those who want salvation and exaltation on their terms, and not God’s. Since God is bound by law and covenant in order to have the exaltation that He enjoys—because that’s the only way to get it—then He can’t break those laws and covenants to give us exaltation or He would cease to be God (see blog post, God’s Power is Not Absolute).

If You Understand Grace, then the Gospel is Not Impossible

The purpose of Grace is to allow us to learn to become godly, and to give us the power to become godly, without being condemned by the learning and becoming process. God’s commandments, ordinances and covenants are not a list of things to do or to check off perfectly so that then we can become godly. They are things we enter into and do so that as we try to do and become them grace can make actual changes in us. Thus, it’s the trying that matters, not perfection in trying. But, we have to try. If we don’t try, then grace can’t function to make the changes necessary for godhood.

I have had piano students over the years who always got frustrated if they couldn’t play a song perfectly with only a few tries. These students would often quit lessons or at the least struggle with practicing as they should. However, when I could encourage them to practice, it would always surprise them that in time they could master the song. Thus, their parents (who paid for the lessons) didn’t pay for the lessons so that their child would play perfectly the first time every time. The parents paid for the lessons so that the child could learn to play well and love playing. They paid for the lessons so that their kid would learn to love music, appreciate it’s depth and intricacies, enjoy the spirit of the songs, and hopefully be able to serve in the future with the talent they had gained.

This is grace. Christ suffered for everything: sin, injustice, injury, physical infirmity, etc. so that we can take “becoming like God lessons” and learn to love Christ, God and the process of becoming like them. Grace pays for the lessons so that we can get good at aspects of godhood, learn to appreciate the depth and intricacy of what it takes to become like God, enjoy the Gift of the Holy Ghost as He teaches us more and more of God’s truth and light, and eventually learn to serve as a God—bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of others.

If you understand this basic principle about grace, then you can never say the Gospel is impossible or that the law of Christ is too hard. You can only say that you don’t understand it and haven’t taken the time to try.impossible possible

If You Truly Desire to Become Like God, then the Gospel Does Not Seem Impossible

I know a lot of people who say things like, “I wish I could play the piano like that,” or, “I wish I could teach like you,” or, “I wish I could sing like that,” or, “I wish I could become a doctor, lawyer, etc…” And yet, they don’t really wish it. What they like is the idea of it. They like the idea of something but not enough to put in the work for it.

The scriptures have records of people being saved and exalted, even translated. To say that it’s not possible indicates that there is a lack of true desire. It is possible. We have evidence of it. But, we also have evidence that you have to really want it in order to achieve it. Godhood is not something we achieve by a casual desire. And, would you really want a god that received godhood without having to work for it?

In Doctrine and Covenants 137:9, it says:

For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

Note, God does NOT say “according to their works and the desire of their hearts.” People often read this verse and understand it that way, but that’s not actually what He says. He says, “according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” Meaning, that God judges us by the true desires of our hearts which are evident in our efforts (i.e. sincere actions, attempts at trying, true focus, etc.)

Do you want the salary of a self-made billionaire but you aren’t willing to do what that man/woman did to get it? Then, you don’t really want what they have. You only think you do. But, then, once you learn what they had to do to get it or how many times they failed before achieving it, then you lose the desire to have their enormous sums of money. Why? Because you don’t want that much money bad enough to go through what they went through to get it.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is in place to help us become like God, is only impossible to you if you think the end result isn’t worth the work. And, guess what, technically, that’s okay. That’s why there are multiple kingdoms of glory. And, whatever law you consider to be worthwhile and possible; the one you desire to live, that is the one that will govern the ultimate eternal kingdom you receive. But, you are also limited to the blessings of  that kingdom and you can’t choose otherwise once you get there (Doctrine and Covenants 88:36-40; 131:1-4).

So, it’s no use saying the Gospel is impossible simply because it seems hard to you. You only need to admit that you don’t have the desire to actually do the work it takes to live it.

If You Know Your God (and Christ) then the Gospel Doesn’t Seem Impossible

If you are asked to become like someone, but you don’t know anything about them, then initially, you’re going to consider such a request an impossible task. You may even ask, “Why would I want to become like God?” And, this is a great question.

Those of us who want to become like God want to because we want: 1) eternal family (or family with us forever and not just for this life), 2) a glorified, resurrected, celestial body, that has the ability to procreate and produce eternal offspring, 3) a perfect character (including perfect love, perfect justice, perfect mercy, etc.), 4) a perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future, and 5) the power to create worlds with the sole intent of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of others.

But, if you haven’t taken the time to get to know God by talking to Him, trying to emulate Him, and testing out His trustworthiness and promises, then you aren’t going to believe that He is what He says He is. You aren’t going to see the value in becoming like Him. You aren’t going to trust that it’s possible.

The prophet Lorenzo Snow taught:

As man now is, God once was
As God now is, man may become

So, if you think that becoming like God is impossible, it’s not because it isn’t. It is (Moroni 10:32-33) possible. But, you don’t think it is because you don’t know Him. And, unless you get to know Him, it will always be impossible to you (St. John 17:3).

If Becoming Like God is Your Primary Desire in this Life then the Gospel Doesn’t Seem Impossible

The second commandment is: Thou shalt have no other Gods before me (Exodus 20:3).

Thus, if we put a desire before the desire to become like God, then we have begun desiring or worshipping another God. And, the sad thing about this is that there is no other thing/person/situation that has the power to ultimately give us anything that we want. Everything that has it’s center in this life (and not in Eternal Life, i.e. life like God) is temporary and will end when we die. Only those things that are sanctioned by God, entered into by His guidelines and commandments, etc. will continue after this life (Doctrine and Covenants 132:7).

So, the Gospel is impossible to you if you have put something/someone in your life before your goal/desire to become like God. It is impossible because you have given your agency to a false god. Thus, that false god has no power to give you what you ultimately want. Thus, the Gospel is of no effect in your life, or only to the extent that you allow it.

So, to say the Gospel is impossible because you trust the power and authority of whatever false god you have chosen over Christ and God, the Father; then, of course it is impossible. But only because you are putting your trust in something/someone with “0” power. The moment you begin to put God first in your life again, your life will regain the power to bring you ultimate joy and happiness. The Gospel will then again become possible.

When You are Willing to Repent, the Gospel Doesn’t Seem Impossible

Salvation (and differing levels of grace and mercy) are disbursed on the conditions of repentance and faithfulness we give to God and His Gospel. When we aren’t willing to repent, change, and try to become godly, then the Gospel seems impossible. But that’s because as long as we aren’t willing to meet the conditions God has established for His grace and mercy (bought through the blood, example, and Atonement of Jesus Christ), then technically, the Gospel is impossible. God doesn’t forgive us without true repentance. We don’t get to become gods simply by being born into this life. The only thing we get for being born is an immortal, resurrected body.

Grace is spiritual money. God is the spiritual gazillionaire. We can’t demand His spiritual money on our own terms. We have to meet the conditions He has set. And, the conditions He has set are also those that will ultimately bring us more happiness and joy than we could ever imagine. Whatever you think you can imagine, God can do way better. But, of course, because you can’t imagine it, it’s hard to understand the scope of what He offers.

So, don’t say the Gospel is impossible simply because you are unwilling to repent fully. Admit to yourself that you have rendered the Gospel inoperable (and the fullness of the Atonement) by your own pride and unwillingness to submit to the will of God (Mosiah 3:19).

Mia Wasikowska is Alice in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Conclusion

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most possible thing on the earth. The only things that render it impossible we have complete control over: our desires, our willingness to act on those desires, our love of and desire to learn about and become like God, and our willingness to repent and submit to the conditions God has set upon His abundant and incredibly accessible grace.

Want steps to make the Gospel FEEL possible? Check out my next blog post.

BT

Doctrine: Trust your Christlike feelings. Understand the difference between guilt and shame. Understand the formula the Holy Ghost uses and how false prophets try to mimick it. Remember that true prophets uphold agency, accountability, personal responsibility, and personal testimony.

Feelings. We all have them. And, if we understand them and listen to them, they can teach us a lot. And, as I’ve been pondering about how to tell the difference between a false prophet and a true one, I have noted that feelings play a significantly large part.

Obviously, Christ has taught us how to judge (see scriptures in previous blog The Very Elect are Being Deceived). But, sometimes, when feelings come into play, all that quick and accessible logic gets blurred by our feelings. As I pondered which feelings blurred our minds and which cleared our minds, I came upon something which to me is rather interesting and telling.

Trust Your Christlike Feelings

Feelings that have their foundation in Satan make it difficult to think, obscure truth, cause confusion, increase depression, despair, and exacerbate passionate emotions like anger, vengeance, entitlement, arrogance, ingratitude, fear, distrust, and resentment (Alma 12:9-11). On the other hand, feelings that have their foundation in Christ make us think and ponder more deeply, reveal truth, clarify our thoughts, make certain memories and experiences more poignant, increase hope, faith, and strengthen emotions like forgiveness, a righteous sense of justice, gratitude, humility, courage, trust, and charity (Doctrine and Covenants 84:45; 50:23-24).

So, as I got to evaluating the false prophets and anti-Christs in the scriptures, I began to note quite clearly and accurately, that ALL of them, when they preach, excite feelings that have their foundation in Satan—which in consequence lead us to act unwisely, narrowly, foolishly, and too quickly. False prophets and anti-Christs cry for justice but motivate us with satanic emotions to act in un-Christ-like ways. By using such satanically motivated excitement, they actually dull our ability to think rationally, think long-term, use reason and logic, and to consider the end result of our actions.

On the other hand, true prophets in the scriptures (and presently), when they preach excite feelings that have their foundation in Christ—which in consequence lead us to act slower, wiser, with the long-term in mind, and more carefully. True prophets and true advocates for Christ cry for mercy and also justice but motivate us with Christlike emotions. By using such Christ-centered tactics to properly motivate, they increase our ability to think rationally, use reason and logic, to consider the end result of our actions, and to take the time to ponder, research, and seek personal revelation.

True Prophets Will Increase Our Feelings of Guilt NOT Shame

Unlike shame, which comes from Satan and fundamentally makes us feel worthless, useless, unworthy, and miserable; guilt comes from God and is in place because of His love for us. Guilt reminds us that we are better, that we can be better, and that we should be better; all of which are fundamentally trying to draw us upward toward God. Guilt incites us to feel sorry for giving offense to God (and others) and includes sort of a spiritual pressure to repent and change. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

Shame, or worldly sorrow, is not guilt. It drives us toward the feelings of pride, resentment, entitlement, and fundamentally leads us to try to hide our sins and nurture them in the dark.

It’s important that we understand the difference between guilt and shame. And, a true prophet will incite guilt, not shame. A False prophet will incite shame, not guilt.

Now, let’s talk about anger. Can a true prophet make us angry? Sure. Defensive? Yes. However, I would suggest that when we get defensive and angry at something they’ve said it’s because of the following reasons:

  • We see clearly that we need to repent and we aren’t ready, don’t believe it’s necessary, or simply don’t want to (1 Nephi 16:2-3)
  • We haven’t paid the price to “know God” and how He works like we should, so we don’t recognize His hand in commandments, prophetic counsel, and church organization and policy (Mosiah 5:13, St. John 17:3, 1 Nephi 2:12, St. John 10:14, Exodus 5:2)
  • We think we know better than God and His servants (Exodus 5:2, Doctrine and Covenants 121:37-40)
  • We want God to give us His glory, power, and blessings on our terms, not His; we don’t like conditions placed on what we want (Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-40) or think we deserve

False Prophets Attempt to Mimick How the Spirit Works

In Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3 we read:

Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation…

I point out a few key words: mind, heart, dwell, revelation

Often people ask the question, how do I tell the Holy Ghost from my own thoughts and feelings. Here, I suggest is the answer. Note the formula: God will tell us in our mind and our heart. Not just mind. Not just heart. But, heart and mind. The heart, I would suggest is our feelings. The mind, I would suggest is our reason, logic, and current knowledge and understanding.

Next, note the word dwell. The information will dwell with us. It is not a temporary thing. It will persist. Then, the word revelation, which doesn’t denote a mere feeling, but an understanding, an enlightened thought, etc.

Now, let’s put it all together. 1) it sits well in our mind because it jives with our accumulated knowledge and understanding or sense of reason and logic, 2) it ALSO sits well in our heart or is accompanied by a Christ-like feeling, 3) it is not a fleeting thought that disappears or becomes a stupor (Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9), it persists, and 4) it contributes to our understanding and enlightens us.

So, to feel excited or temporarily happy and elated about something that we know from our memory we’ve been taught is counterproductive or likely unwise, then we should see a big X and hear an uncomfortable buzzing sound. To be presented with something that seems to have lots of logic and sense and is accompanied by apparent facts, but doesn’t sit right in our hearts, then we should see another big X and hear another uncomfortable buzzing sound. If an idea is fleeting and doesn’t enlighten us or contribute to our overall understanding of life and God, then big X and the buzzer.

False prophets somehow understand this fundamental formula. So, when they preach to us they try to mimick it. They try to present logic and reason, they present that data using emotional events or tactics, they try to show us how the knowledge they are giving us will impact our lives, and they try to convince us that they are enlightening us because we are currently “in the dark” or being fooled.

Thus, we return to the step: trust your Christlike feelings.

True Prophets Uphold Agency, Accountability, Responsibility, Personal Revelation and Testimony

In my study, it seems that false prophets and Anti-Christs talk about individuality and independence and then attempt to convince you of such independence through the use of GroupThink (the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility) or crowd mentality. They are masters of peer pressure using others who have already come over to their philosophy. They will tell you that you are pursuing your own needs but then will instruct you to do so by following their crowd followers. They will say something to the effect of, “Abandon this crowd you are following and stop being fooled by this tradition and be your own person. Do what makes you happy. Stop being deceived” (Alma 30). And, then, they will say, “Go do what everyone else is doing. Find your individuality by doing what my followers are doing instead of following this one closed-minded group.”

False prophets are incredibly persuasive and it is so easy to get swept up. Take the time to examine the logic and reason a person/self-proclaimed prophet is presenting. Examine the emotions they are trying to invoke. What do their tactics lead you to do? Do they use fear and shame? Do they try to make you feel deceived and stupid and that they are saving you? Do they fire up your sense of justice on a topic you barely know anything about and then give you the facts you think you are lacking to increase your trust? Do the emotions they invoke lead you to act rashly, angrily, foolishly, or too quickly? Do they tell you to “experiment upon their word” but then promise you that if you do you’ll find out what they’ve already discovered so you can save yourself the trouble? Hence, actually discouraging you from looking deeper. Do they invoke GroupThink?

True prophets will teach truth and that truth will not be easy or popular. True prophets point us away from a worldly majority toward God. God is their majority. True prophets encourage repentance and hope in Christ. True prophets preserve God’s laws and ways despite the fact that the world disagrees with such ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). True prophets will not force truth on us but will expect that we “experiment upon the word” for ourselves (Alma 32:27, St. John 7:17). They will not tell us that doing so is a waste of time because they understand that personal testimony is the only kind of testimony that matters (Moroni 10:4-5) and the only sure way for us to know godly truth through the Holy Spirit. True prophets will teach us to do what’s right despite the crowd, or group (1 Timothy 4:12). True prophets will not set aside individual accountability. They will uphold agency by upholding law, consequences, conditions, and so forth—as God does (Alma 42:17-22).

Conclusion

We can tell the difference between true and false prophets. ALL the guidelines, examples, and facts are in the scriptures. Ponder God’s instructions on how to get truth from Him. Then, stick to those instructions. Get to know God better than you know anything or anyone else. Then, you’ll be able to recognize with clarity those things that come from Him or from false prophets and anti-Christs.

BT