Influence and Persuasion- 2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

COMMENTARY

The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance
I have concluded reviewing both Satan’s and God’s methods for winning souls over to their sides. Where Satan employs fear and coercion, God shows immense patience and mercy. Where Satan threatens those that do not conform, God waits for us to come to Him by our own volition, and forgives all of our earlier rebellion when we do.
If one thing is clear from this, it is that God is playing the long game. He sows love and care in our hearts over the years, increasing the desire in us to choose Him. Satan, on the other hand, seems driven by haste, requiring immediate results from us.
And indeed, the times that I am at my worst as a parent are when I feel constrained by a need for certain behavior right now. I am at best as a parent when I am playing the long game, simply nurturing love in my children until they choose to follow my example on their own.

Influence and Persuasion- Luke 15:18, 20, Hosea 3:4-5

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim:
Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.

COMMENTARY

I have sinned against heaven, and before thee
The children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a sacrifice

I have just recounted how God is committed to preserving our agency, and because of that has given us the very power with which we all abandon Him. And at times I find that very incredulous. Of course we will go astray if given so much freedom! The scriptures are full of stories of people that did exactly this: Adam and Eve, Cain, Judas, King David, and Samson to name a few. Each of these people used their agency to depart from God. Each of them were near to him, but then they chose to leave.
And this pattern is inevitable. So long as we have no reason to stray we will stay, but all of us do have reasons to turn faithless at some point or another. And then we have verses like the above. Verses of people lost and far from their God.

And he arose, and came to his father
Afterward shall the children of Israel return

But it is shortsighted to suggest that that is the end of the story. For every tale of departure is open to a sequel of return. And while some will not come back, many do. And so the scriptures also have stories about Jonah, Peter, Saul turned Paul, Alma the Elder, Alma the Younger, and the Israelites when they rebuilt the temple and committed to follow the Lord anew.
And when people come back to God, they do it with that same freedom that they used to leave Him in the first place. The freedom that is given and preserved by God. They do not return because He made them do it, they do it because they chose to. And this was His intention all along.
When I feel cynical that all the world will forever abandon God I realize that He has greater faith in humanity than I do! Where I hold doubt in my brothers and my sisters and myself He believes. Where I believe that one who is lost is lost forever He says, “let us wait and see.”

Influence and Persuasion- Moses 3:17, Moses 7:32

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

COMMENTARY

Thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself
The Lord said I gave unto them their knowledge; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency
God made stones that lack any freedom of will, and therefore obey His commands completely. But for His children He did not want mindless rocks. He wanted people that lived, and acted, and chose. And He wanted that, even if it meant they would not obey His will completely. Even if it meant they would use that ability of choice to choose against Him.
In the Garden of Eden He made His will perfectly clear to Adam and Eve, but He also made it perfectly clear that they could ignore His will and do the exact opposite. And sometimes this seems baffling! A part of us may want to shout out “Well of course they went astray! You should have put in more safeguards and controls! If there isn’t anything keeping us tied to you then we’re all going to leave you sooner or later!”
And yes, that is exactly what happens with each of us, isn’t it? So long as nothing pushes us to disobey we’ll stay innocent, but eventually Satan comes and tempts us with the fruit. We’ll look at that temptation, then look over our shoulder to see if God really isn’t going to stop us. And He’s really not going to. And we’re gone.
“You had us, God,” we sadly think. “But you didn’t make us stay so you lost us!” But as we will see tomorrow, this isn’t the case at all.

Influence and Persuasion- Moses 7:33, Helaman 14:30

And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;

And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

COMMENTARY

I have given commandment that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father
But behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood
God has a problem of us not choosing Him, and of us not choosing to love one another. We really ought to choose those, they are intended for our own good. I believe each of us knows we would be happier if we did choose them, but still we find reasons not to. Instead we hate and turn away from our own source of light and life.

For behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free
Very interestingly, though, God’s dilemma here is one of His very own making! He gave us the very tool of our disobedience! He gave us knowledge and He gave us agency, and that agency is exactly what we use to choose against Him.
In the above verses we learned what agency was given to us for, in what way we were intended to use it, but it also opened up the option for us to betray God, and that is exactly what humanity has chosen to use it for since the very beginning!
Let’s look at this more closely tomorrow, and afterwards we’ll consider how this dilemma of God’s is actually by divine design!

Influence and Persuasion- Matthew 23:37, Nehemiah 9:30-31 (NIV), Psalm 103:8

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples.
But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.

COMMENTARY

O Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee
By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention
Yesterday I looked at the example of how Satan tries to force certain behaviors from us, and the methods of fear and manipulation he uses when we resist him. Today I want to look at the example of how God influences and persuades His children when they resist the behavior He wants for them.
And as it turns out, the entire Old Testament is a lesson in exactly this! So many of its passages are focused around a chosen people who will not meet their better nature. God wants one thing, they want another, and we get to see how He deals with that conflict.

How often would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples
And the first of God’s methods I find is that of patience. We see that patience first in how he handles the rebelling of His children. He would gather them, but they refuse, and so He lets them go. He does not try to force them, He lets them choose, and then He lets them reap the natural consequence of those actions.
God cautioned Israel that their neighboring nations only meant them harm, but Israel still chose to make friends with them and adopt their philosophies and theologies. And rather than try to interject Himself, God just let things play out.

In your great mercy you did not put an end to them, for you are a gracious and merciful God
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy
And what is it that God is patiently waiting for? For His children to finally return. Even though they betrayed and abandoned Him, He still waits to give them love. Here we see His second and third principles: to be merciful and forgiving.
He lets us choose for ourselves, He lets us go when we choose to leave, but He’s still there for us when we return. In each step He waits for us to act under our own volition. There is none of the “forcing” we saw from Satan, only patience and mercy.

Influence and Persuasion- Moses 1:12-13, 19-20

And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.
And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?
And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.
And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.

COMMENTARY

Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me
Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded
Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell
Satan wants Moses to do something for him. His first approach is to “tempt,” trying to coerce Moses into behaving the way he wants him to. Moses is resistant to that, and Satan responds by getting loud and angry, now trying to frighten Moses into doing what he wants!
Coercion and fear. This one scriptural example gives us a very clear picture of Satan and his methods, and it is a picture that we are all too familiar with. For Satan has taught these tactics to all mankind, and we have been quick students of the form. I am sure we can all recall times that another person has tried to manipulate and frighten us into giving them what they wanted. I am sure we can all recall times we have used these tactics to get what we want, too.
Of course, this method requires a great deal of energy from the forcer, as they must submit the other against their will. And obviously the person being forced will not be converted to the cause, they will only remain subjugated so long as they are under the power of the controlling force. It is only their behaviors that are being influenced, not their inner desire. Thus, even from a pragmatic standpoint it is an unsustainable method, and sure to falter sooner or later. But more importantly, it is unquestionably immoral and abusive.

Influence and Persuasion- 1 Kings 18:21, Matthew 26:41, Exodus 8:28,32

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: entreat for me.
And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.

COMMENTARY

How long halt ye between two opinions?
And Pharaoh said, I will let you go…And Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak
We find multiple examples in the scriptures of people that are of two minds. The Israelites try to conflate two incompatible theologies into one. Pharaoh says he’ll let his slaves go, but his hard heart keeps holding on. The apostles want to stay up with their beloved master, but they’re just too tired to do so.
Clearly the strife between competing thoughts and desires is not only between different people, but also within us. We have different voices inside that want different things, and each side debates against the others.
The question of how to persuade and influence others is also a question of how to persuade and influence our own selves. The mystery of how to change the world for good is the same as the mystery of how to change ourselves. Indeed, coming into harmony with ourselves is a prerequisite before we can hope to bring harmony to those around us.

Influence and Persuasion- Personal Example #1

Previously I spoke of the contention that arises when two egos strive together, versus the unity that arises when two hearts do. And I actually experienced a recent example of both sides of this.

The most difficult disagreements to navigate are the ones where each side feels a moral conviction. It is very easy to entangle pride and ego with your personal sense of right and wrong, and to feel insistent that your way is objectively correct.

The example I saw of this recently was when my wife and I were discussing the question of tithing. We’ve always subscribed to that practice, but there is definitely some room for interpretation within that law. Does that ten percent come before or after taxes? Does it come before or after benefits? If you realized you forgot to tithe a previous sum do you go back and cover that, or do you just let it go?

And generally I would say “do what your conscience tells you, and don’t worry if it is slightly different from someone else. So long as you are sincere in trying to follow the law, God will approve.”

And if my wife and I had separate incomes, I could tithe mine in the way that made sense to me, and she could tithe hers how it made sense to her. But we share an income, and when we received a sum that fell into that tithing-gray-area we each felt “right” about a different course of action to take.

And for the first while, each of us tried to convince the other of why we were right, and each of us felt a little ruffled about that. It did not become a very hostile situation, but there was definitely some friction in the moment. It was easy for each of us to feel unheard and judged.

Ego against ego. There was never going to be a mutual outcome from this.

Eventually we took a different approach, though. Instead of trying to “solve the problem,” we backed away and spoke about our stung feelings. We admitted to pride and frustration, to feeling unimportant and unprioritized.

We bypassed ego, and started taking heart-to-heart and spirit-to-spirit.

And then we didn’t feel like we were on two sides anymore, we felt like we were on one side together. It wasn’t important to me that we use my solution anymore, and it wasn’t important to her that we use hers. Neither of us had to be the one that won. Now, at last, we could kneel down together and ask God what to do about the matter.

And each of us came out of that prayer with a shared feeling, a warm assurance about the right thing to do.

And it wasn’t what either of us had been recommending. It wasn’t “my way” or “her way.” Nor would I say it was a compromise between our two extremes. It really felt like a third choice. A shared choice. Shared between me and she and He.

Influence and Persuasion- Contention

Before really diving into this matter of “good” and “bad” ways to influence and persuade others, I wanted to address the fact that words like “influence” and “persuade” feel like they are taking on a more negative definition of late.

When two people debate about their different desires or beliefs, they can easily find it a negative experience, where each has their feelings hurt and grows more divided from the other. Repeated experiences like these might start to make one feel that “influencing” and “persuading” are synonymous with “manipulating” and “coercing.” To proselyte starts to be seen as just forcing your opinions on others.

But while these conversations can turn negative, they really don’t have to. I am sure each of us can recall a situation where we had our minds changed, and it was done in a way that left us feeling edified and improved. We can have a conversation that is mutual, where each side contributes to a greater whole, and where truth is found in the intersection of core beliefs.

Or put another way, each of us has an ego, and when that communicates with another ego, only contention can occur. But also we each have an eternal spirit, and when that spirit feels directly spoken to by another eternal spirit, it awakens and remembers itself. Then we see the truth in what is being shared, and are convinced in a wholesome way.

And this is the sort of experience I want to pursue with this study. I want to understand what it is that makes those moments work, and how we can actively work for them in all of our interactions with each other.

Influence and Persuasion- Question

The mission of the gospel is to persuade all to come to Christ, convince us of the need for the atonement, and encourage us to embrace our divine role. As disciples we are expected to testify of and promote that gospel. It is assumed that we will be an active part of that persuading, convincing, and encouraging.

But persuading, convincing, and encouraging can be misconstrued into intimidating, manipulating, and coercing. Clearly a cause can be championed in a way that is good, but also it can be championed in a way that is evil. And there are many that begin with sincerely good intentions, but then fall into methods that are not so worthy.

Using the example in the scriptures as my guide, I want to identify what a divinely approved method of persuasion would look like, and what it would not look like. How does God, Himself, try to influence us? How does Satan? And what are the short- and long-term effects of those different methods?

In the meantime I would love to hear about your own experiences on the matter. Can you recall a moment where you felt persuaded by good? One where you felt intimidated by evil? What are wholesome ways that you have found to communicate with those that disagree with you? What have been the short- and long-term effects of that approach?