The Doing Muscle- Luke 9:61-62, Matthew 7:21

And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

COMMENTARY

I will follow thee; but let me first…
I can certainly relate to this idea of “I’ll follow, but let me first…” I want to improve, I want to do right things, I am convinced in my head of what those right things are, but I am not yet converted to them in my heart.
And I think it helps to recognize and differentiate between these two stages of becoming an active disciple. It is true that before anything else, we need to be convinced of the truth. Before we can worry about the problem of not following our conscience, we first need to become sensitive to what our conscience is even saying. Simply being able to identify what is right and giving a name to it is an essential first step.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father
No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God

But having that knowledge is not enough. Intending to do good simply is not the same as doing good. As we see from this verse, intending to do good alone does not make one fit for heaven.
And it is important to understand that there is no hateful retribution in Jesus’s proclamation of one being unfit for heaven. This isn’t about punitive punishments. The simple fact is that God is a doer, He is a being that has intentions and follows through on them. His kingdom, therefore, is one of doing, one of following through on intentions. If we haven’t developed within ourselves the same trait, then we simply will not fit in with that atmosphere. We wouldn’t feel that we belonged.
So if we want to join the society of the celestial, we must learn how to be doers.

For Our Own Good- Question

I can see why the commandments of God are often seen by the world as a burden. They do, many times, put restrictions on the things that we would otherwise do. I think it is fair to say that were it not for our conscience, we would all live a far more hedonistic and sensual life, catering to the carnal tastes that are in us all. Thankfully we do have our conscience, though, and as a result, overcome many passions for our own greater good.

But even with the help of our conscience, we inevitably come to another sticking point. Sooner or later we will encounter a commandment which we do not necessarily feel the importance of. Perhaps we totally get why it is wrong to steal and kill, and will gladly restrict ourselves from such behavior, but keeping the sabbath day holy? Living a chaste life? Paying our tithes? If we list out enough commandments, sooner or later each of us will likely find one that just doesn’t resonate in us as much as the others.

What is one to do in such a circumstance? Do we ignore the laws that we don’t understand? Is it possible to gain full benefit for following them in a state of “just going through motions,” where our hearts are not in it? I would like to consider these questions, as well as contemplate why we even come to this conundrum in the first place. In the meantime, I would be curious to hear how you have dealt with the laws that you did not fully understand the reasons for? Did understanding come eventually? If so, what did you have to do to gain it?

Personal Commitment: Month 3

July’s Review

Last month I examined my hesitancy to follow my own conscience. The nature of a conscience is that I’m not likely to be pricked by it, unless I am otherwise headed in an incorrect direction and need to be righted. But then, with any course correction, there is going to be friction. I have to overcome the resistance and pull into doing what I feel is right. Sometimes I succeed at that, sometimes I do not.

And something I have definitely noticed this month is that following one’s conscience is a spiritual muscle. Sporadic, occasional use is not enough to build strength. Regular, daily practice is the only way forward.

Overall I do feel that I improved. I followed my conscience far more this month, just by having that intention to do so. As I did so, I found a phrase that helped me a great deal in moments where I knew what I was feeling to do, but I didn’t know why doing it mattered.

“You don’t have to understand.”

Part of being guided by the spirit is acknowledging that most times you just aren’t going to know why it matters to do what you’re feeling to do. That’s why it’s called an act of faith. But doing it on faith is something one has to get used to. We’ve been trained our whole lives to think things through, to weigh pros and cons, and to be sure of what we do before we do it. And in general, that is a good practice to follow. But when it comes to the urgings of the spirit “you don’t have to understand.”

August’s Commitment)

This last month has been difficult, though, for maintaining healthy habits of self-care (exercise, meditation, getting enough rest, etc). My wife and I have been getting our home ready to sell and my team had a frantic deadline to meet at work. Thus far I’ve been able to keep pace with those new demands, but at the expense of a proper life balance.

At first I had this notion that it was alright to have things temporarily disrupted, but as that “temporary” period has grown longer and longer, I have come to realize that I need a way to find my balance even in the midst of everything else. I cannot just power through this, waiting for it to be convenient to be healthy again.

August is looking to be a very busy month as well, and so I want to come into it with a solid plan. It’s been a little tricky to come up with that. I don’t want to balance things out by trying to cram more stuff into already overflowing days. And I don’t feel that the solution is to give up on our efforts to move out of our house. We are stepping into a new phase of life that feels right, something that we should be doing.

What I’ve come up with for now is to be more deliberate with my time. When I am packing boxes I could be listening to scriptures on my phone. I could practice mindfulness, even in the act of tucking belongings into their corners. I could try to coordinate with my wife so that we do our work in the same room and are able to chat with each other.

I want to take my previous commitment for two-hour grounding exercises, and at the close of each exercise I want to state my intention for maintaining balance in the next two hours. That is my commitment for August. Come back on the first of September to see how it turned out.

Thank you.

The Captive Heart- 1 Samuel 15:24, Exodus 32:21-23

And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.

And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.

COMMENTARY

I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, because I feared the people.
What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them? And Aaron said, thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
Saul and Aaron were spiritual giants of their times. A king-prophet and a high priest intended for greatness. However each of them showed moments of weakness, times where they disrupted their streak of faithfulness by going contrary to their own conscience. In both cases, this sudden shift of spiritual trajectory was due to their fear of the people.
To fear the people is understandable. Being “swayed by the masses” or giving in “to peer pressure” are common foibles of humanity. When we are outnumbered we have a sense of possessing less mortal power. Our survival instincts recognize that the masses have the ability to shun us, brand us, or even kill us. When we succumb to that panic, we will do whatever we can to save ourselves. So yes, it is understandable, but losing oneself out of such fear it still as heart-rending as losing oneself for any other reason.
Indeed the guilt of wrongdoing is now coupled with the shame of weakness. It is a hard thing when each of us discovers that in spite of knowing what we ought to do, we do not have the strength to see it through.

Active Discipleship- Summary

This has been a very good study for me. I find it very easy to slip back into a state of idle complacency, and every time I catch myself in it, I need to find a source of inspiration to push back into intentional discipleship. At those times I find that motivational words and stories go a long way to building up my resolve. Perhaps this study will be another good resource for me to reflect on in those moments.
Indeed, the more I think about it, all scripture is meant to motivate us towards a life of active discipleship in one way or another. Reading them, I find myself compelled to do the things I am otherwise hesitant to do. Keeping the commandments, reaching out to others, finding productive ways to improve myself…each of these sound like a chore when I am not drinking from God’s words.
Here are some of the principles that stood out to me the most from this study.

God Does Not Call Us to Live Passively

The example everywhere in the scriptures is of active men and women who would go and do. David fought Goliath where others remained idle. Esther spoke up to the king where others were afraid. Jesus healed the lepers that others refused to approach. Testimony is built by those who go out and look for it, not by those who sit and wait for it.
Each one of us wants to live a meaningful life as well, but we want it to come to us easily. We want to live passively, but still feel like we are adventurous. I have watched myself go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to try and accomplish just that. I try to convince myself that my sedentary life is actually one of purpose, that my small trials are epic giants, that my passive hobbies are my great calling.
But no matter how I try to spin it, a hollow life is still hollow and I know it. I have called mediocrity significant, but the words always tasted a lie. I only can have the active, adventurous, and meaningful life that God meant for me to live when I do that which I find hard to do.
2 Nephi 1:21, 23- Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity;
Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.

The Conscience Distresses the Idle

What is the part of me that tastes the lie when I claim I am content with an idle life? That sense of in-authenticity cannot be explained by chemistry or biology, it something in my soul that discerns the truth from the error. It is something given by God.
When I feel the push to overcome my laziness and act, I know that it is divinity that is inspiring me. And therefore I know that I ignore those urges at my own peril. One of the greatest gifts God gives is to distress us when we are slothful. It may not feel like love to be made so agitated, but if He did not stir our hearts then we would live in a world without any heroes.
This isn’t to suggest that we must all become generals of armies or leaders of congregations. Not all of us are called to revolutionize the entire world. But we are all called to live a life that is meaningful, a life that blesses the world around us, a life that unveils the worth within us. Not every life calling that God gives is famous, but all of them are epic in their own way.
Romans 2:15- Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;
John 14:12- Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

We Only Have Peace in Doing

Hard as it may seem to live the life of active discipleship, it is actually far harder to live that of idle discontent. Just as it is hard to bear one’s cross and live worthy of heaven, but far harder to spend an eternity in damnation. So God does not trouble us without cause. He does not ask us to do things that are not for our own good.
There is only one true peace, and that is from pushing further and further into the good. Any other philosophy is a lie, meant to seduce us into sleeping away our great potential. There is a reason why slothfulness is considered one of the deadly sins. It is not some silly misdemeanor that we can wink at. Yes, Satan tempts us to sin, but he also tempts us to just not do good. If he catches us on either point he has won.
Christ’s promise is that his burden is light, that his cross is easy to bear. It seems unfathomable , but that is the promise even so. We will never know the truth of it until we try it, and find the warmth of heart that makes all our burdens melt into joys.
Malachi 3:14- Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?
John 14:27- Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

Active Discipleship- Romans 2:15, John 8:9, 1 Timothy 4:2

Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;

And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

COMMENTARY

Their conscience also bearing witness, their thoughts accusing or else excusing one another
And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron

Yesterday I mentioned that all of us need to feel a motivation to follow God. We need something to convince us that life is better with Him as our companion than remaining on our own.
Well, it turns out that God has a way to accomplish this, and it is ingenious. He simply puts a little voice in us that urges us to do what is right, and “sears” us when we do wrong. We might try and say “I don’t need God, I can just live how I want.” We might try…but our conscience will not let us rest with that decision for long. We might settle into worldly comfort, but we will feel “convicted” in our soul.
The argument for complacency is that it is peaceful, but there can never be true peace when the conscience is distressed. If there is peace in the heart, though, then all is peace, no matter what tumult rages without. Thus no matter how we try to reason away our complacency, our conscience will always trouble us back to active discipleship.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Luke 11:5, 7-9, 13

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves;
And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.
I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

COMMENTARY

Because of his importunity he will rise and give him
The parable of the friend at midnight is somewhat amusing. A neighbor comes, asking for food in the dead of the night. At first the homeowner refuses, but relents after some persistence from the neighbor. It is very similar to the story of the persistent widow in Luke 18, who nags an unjust ruler until he gives her what she wants, just to finally be rid of her.
Now the point of these parables is not to suggest that we should pester God into giving us things that He does not want to. You cannot nag Him into solving your every problem like a genie. Rather, Jesus is saying that even if flawed friends and rulers can be convinced to grant a correct desire, then certainly God will be even more willing to do so.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened
If ye know how to give good gifts: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

But even if God is willing, Jesus suggests that we still need to ask. I have found that God has had many spiritual blessings that He was ready to give me, but He wouldn’t do so until I asked for them. This is clever. For one thing, it fosters a relationship between He and I. To ask Him for something, I must be praying to Him, and thus I have a strong self-interest to talk to Him regularly, the very thing that He wants me to do.
Additionally, if I decide to ask Him for something, I often have a moment of checking in with myself. For example, if I am going to ask for a greater portion of the Holy Spirit, even before I get the words out I might realize that I am actively living in a way that offends it. Indeed, I have gone to God intending to ask why He was not manifesting Himself more in my life, but along the way changed it to asking forgiveness for shutting Him out myself.

Divided from God- James 4:8, Doctrine and Covenants 67:12

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind.

COMMENTARY

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you
Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God

We have examined how we feel a divide from God, one that can confuse us and even frustrate us. We have also considered how this separation is appointed to us by divine wisdom, to aid us in developing godlike attributes like faith and patience.
However, I cannot claim that all separation from God is according to His divine plan. Because if I’m being honest, most of the times that I have felt a lack of God’s presence, it was because I was living a life where His spirit could not abide. I actively made choices to keep him at bay. I didn’t want Him to get too near because of my shame.
Absolutely I believe that God is willing to work with the sinner…but the sinner also has to be willing to work with Him. You don’t have to be perfect to hold God’s hand, but you do need to be reaching. If ever you feel that God isn’t as available as you wish, you might consider whether you feel right in your conscience.

That They Might Have Joy- Psalm 149:5, 1 Peter 1:7-8

Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds.

That the trial of your faith might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
In whom ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

COMMENTARY

Let the saints be joyful in glory
Ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory
As I tried to identify what exactly the “joy” promised in the gospels is, I noticed a subtle association between that word and “glory.” In fact in these two examples joy is being associated with “glory” in both of its forms: first as a verb, meaning to take pleasure in, and then as a noun, meaning to have achieved honor or renown.
In each case “joy” and “glory” seem to be describing a state of deep spiritual gladness and contentment, an exuberant celebration of that which is good. Another word that comes to mind is “rapture.”
And just what goodness is it that we live in rapture of? And joy in? And derive glory from?
First and foremost the goodness of God. We are children who take immense pleasure when our Father reveals Himself in our lives. We just feel more right when we sense His presence and feel His blessings.
Secondly we glory and joy Christ, Jesus. He is our elder brother and our conduit to God. He did all that we wish we could, and he promises us that one day we can live in full harmony with our consciences, just as he did.
Which leads us to our third source of joy: ourselves. We rejoice when we feel ourselves reciprocating the goodness of God and Jesus. There is deep contentment and joy just in having a clean conscience, in doing what we know we should, in being better than we were the day before, in being more like them. This is life eternal.

Justice and Mercy- Galatians 3:11, Romans 3:23, 2 Nephi 2:5

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

COMMENTARY

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off
I mentioned yesterday that the gospel is given as God’s highest law, one for which the promised blessing is salvation, the greatest of all His gifts. But given the facts that this law demands perfection and that we are all incapable of perfection, the only logical conclusion is that one would be better off avoiding this gift entirely! Who cares what the reward is if you have a 0% chance of obtaining it? Better that you don’t make any promises to God and therefore never break them. Right?
But even those that reject this higher law still are culpable for their inability to keep even the basic law of their own conscience, a law which is inescapable. As the above scriptures make abundantly clear: if salvation is the reward for obeying the laws, then damnation must be the punishment for breaking them. And we have all broken them, and so we are all damned.

Now obviously I am pausing for dramatic effect. You know and I know that this isn’t the end of the story. Each of these doom-and-gloom verses are immediately followed by declarations of hope. Tomorrow we’ll examine how mercy enters the scene, and does so in a way that still preserves the sanctity of justice. Before we do that, though, I think it is worthwhile to pause and consider the sober realities of what life without a Savior would be like.