Worthy Vessels- Summary

I have often worried about not being “good enough” to be useful to God. I have also heard that exact fear from others, even as I saw them doing wonderful things in His name. These experiences have convinced me that we often have a deep misunderstanding of what it actually means to serve God.

I believe that there are many who are perfectly ready to be an instrument in God’s hands, but are simply uncertain of how to behave as such. It is not only our sins that we must overcome in the path of discipleship, it is also our ignorance.

I wanted to conduct this study to see how one is meant to be of use to their Maker and their fellowman. What is required of us? What is not? How does one overcome feelings of inadequacy? Over the last several days I have found some governing principles which can help gauge what sort of vessel one is preparing themselves to be.

The Vessel of God Must be Clean

There are no prerequisites to coming to God. No matter where you are at in life, the next step to approaching Him is already before you. There are, however, prerequisites to becoming his servant. The path of discipleship exists in two halves. The first is one of seeking forgiveness, being washed clean, and made ready to receive the Spirit of God. The second is being worked upon by that Spirit to do God’s work and help our fellow man.
Now yes, these two halves of discipleship are mingled with one another. One does not seek forgiveness only once. One repeats that first process many times, even after getting started on the second walk of discipleship. Even so, there is a first time of coming to God, where one lets go of all their worldly ways, and commits to a life of forever “trying again.” Often this initial purifying is symbolized by the ordinance of baptism. Every repentance afterwards is then to simply return to that first commitment.
Once one has entered into that pact with God sincerely, then they are cleansed by the Spirit, and made ready to do His work. It is true that all people can strive to do good things to their fellowman, regardless of whether they are trying to do it with God or not. They can work to be a sincerely good person in their own right. But they cannot be His agent to do His good until they have let Him clean them and have taken upon them His Spirit.
John 13:4-8- He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

The Vessel of God Must Be Willing

There are those that would confess their sins, partake of the emblems of Christ, enjoy the blessings of being cleansed, and then stop there. Many of us come to the gospel out of a desperation for forgiveness, not out of a burning desire to do service.
And perhaps that is sufficient reason to begin, but we misunderstand the whole point of Christ’s doctrine if we try to limit ourselves to these initial steps only. We are not just meant to be cleansed, we are to be cleansed for a purpose. If our faith is geared towards returning our soul to God that is good, but it is supposed to be geared towards bringing back many others to Him as well.
Of course the desire to do this work is not something that we have to try and muster up within us. It doesn’t work to “make” yourself want to serve others. Rather this is the result of God’s purifying us with His Spirit. That Spirit does not only expunge our sins, it puts desires into our hearts that were never there before. It lights a fire that makes us want to be useful to God and our fellow-man.
Ezekiel 36:26- A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
2 Timothy 2:21- If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

The Vessel of God Does not Have to be Powerful

But as we feel that desire to be useful to God, we might naturally question whether we even can be. We might desperately wish to serve Him, but hesitate because of our own flaws. We might think that after we have made ourselves smarter, wiser, or more convincing we will finally be ready to do His work. We think to ourselves ‘how can I accomplish His purposes when I still don’t even have my own life figured out yet?’
There is a half-truth to all of this, because yes, to be perfectly honest, we are flawed and we are inadequate. We, ourselves, are genuinely not sufficient to do the work of God. That much is true.
But there are two things to remember. One is that the growth of character we desire does not come first and then the service of God second. It is actually the other way around. By trying to do the service that we are inadequate for, we grow to become the sort of person who can do it. Though that growth which we will experience is not enough to qualify us to ever do this work alone.
And that is the second thing to remember: that no one is sufficient to do God’s work. Not your far more successful neighbor, not the future you that has figured everything out. It is called “God’s work” because it is His work to do. He does not ask you to do His tasks, He asks you to let Him do them through you. And no matter how personally powerful you might ever be, it will always remain His miracle that you can bless the lives of yourself, your loved ones, the circle of all those about you, and return glory to His name.
3 Nephi 18:24- Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed.
Exodus 4:11-12- And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?
Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

What Chance Do I Have?- Matthew 28:19-20, Philippians 4:13, Joshua 1:9

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

COMMENTARY

Go ye and teach all nations, and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
The very last passage in Matthew is that of the Savior calling his disciples to spread the gospel to all the world. It was a joyful call, but also one that was fraught with danger. Many of the disciples would ultimately lose their lives for this cause.
How does Jesus encourage and inspire them in this great undertaking? How does he give them confidence that they can even succeed? With the assurance that they will not be doing this work alone, he will be with them…always…even to the end of the world.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me
Be not afraid, neither dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest

When we consider the challenge of discipleship, we may very well doubt that we can meet its demands. Yes, we have what it takes to try…but to succeed? Going back to the original question of this research: what chance do I, as I am, have of remaining forever faithful? Well… none.
But what chance does Christ have of remaining faithful forever?
All.
So long as we think that we have to maintain our faith on our own, then our fears of failure are completely warranted. We won’t be able to do it! But if we accept that he will be the one strengthening and preserving us, then any fear is completely unfounded. Our success is guaranteed. The only question, then, is on which foundation are you building: yourself, or him?

What Chance Do I Have?- Moroni 10:20-22, 1 Corinthians 9:10

Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity.
And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God; neither can ye be saved in the kingdom of God if ye have not faith; neither can ye if ye have no hope.
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity.

Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

COMMENTARY

Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope
And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair
If we are unable to live in hope of our success, then all our discipleship will crumble in despair. If I have no hope of triumph, how could I act in faith? It would feel like a vain effort, and I would consign myself to inevitable ruin.
Hope is therefore not just some nice virtue to make our lives more pleasant, it is absolutely essential for our spiritual survival. For many, the entire struggle of discipleship is the struggle to simply maintain their hope.

He that ploweth should plow in hope
In which case one must understand that hope is not some vague thing that you either have or don’t have. Hope, like faith, can be exercised, can be cultivated, and can be grown. We must dare to hope, work ourselves up to it, strive for it continually. Even if you have only a little hope, plow and thresh in it, and the promise is given that you will partake of more.

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.

All or Nothing- Question

Many times while writing this blog, I have been focused on one study, and during it I have already seen the undercurrents of my next topic. It is as if these studies are a very long form of associative thinking, where one talking point finishes by reminding me of another. I like the idea of just following that flow, and this brings me to the new topic which I will be beginning today.

One of the themes from my previous study was that halfhearted discipleship does not work. Side projects, passive income, and à la carte menus have their place in life, but God does not belong in any of those camps. If anyone is going to try to follow Him, then they need to be serious about following Him all the way.

And this all-in mentality applies to other aspects of spirituality as well. What is it that the gospel offers us in return for our total devotion? What unique benefits are in it that we cannot find elsewhere? Well it has to be one of two things: everything or nothing. Either the gospel is the one truth that it claims to be, or it is an entirely hollow lie. Either you follow it because it is irreplaceable, or you abandon it because it has no value.

Starting tomorrow we’ll examine how this truth is taught in the scriptures, and consider how we can cultivate a proper reverence for the totality of God’s truth. In the meantime I would love to hear about your own experience becoming a wholehearted discipleship. Did following God always mean everything to you? If not, how did your relationship evolve to that point? Or are there any concerns that still prevent you from jumping all in even now?

That They Might Have Joy- Personal Example #1

One of the motivations for this study was that I have been feeling an increase of joy over the past year and wanted to examine the reasons why. As I’ve considered the matter I have identified three basic reasons. Today I’ll discuss the first.

My discipleship is in the best place it has ever been. A little over two years ago I decided to really try to be my best self. All my life I was raised in a religious environment, and I definitely “wanted” good things for myself and the world…but if you had asked me what I did to actively promote that goodness I wouldn’t have had much to say. That I just wished for goodness, maybe? Suffice it to say that I was a very passive follower of Jesus.

After some dramatic life events I knew it was time to take my faith seriously and finally listen to all of the things that my conscience was trying to say. I didn’t want to try and make one little change here or there, I felt a need to let the light of Christ pervade my entire life.

So I started exercising, I brought better focus to my work, I started meeting with a therapist, I made a habit of studying the scriptures with real intent, I decided to put my phone away and really be there for my wife and son. Most recently I’ve added reaching out to my brothers and sisters and nurturing a forgiving heart to the list.

Now I have a long way to go before I’m perfect in any of these practices. Several of them have been on-again/off-again, but I am making a point to not lapse back into complacency. I try, I waver, I recommit. And in that imperfect trying I already feel so much more awakened, so much more like I am living the way I was intended to live. It just feels so right.