We try to find God so that we may do good…
When in fact it is in doing good that we find God
We try to find God so that we may do good…
We try to find God so that we may do good…
When in fact it is in doing good that we find God
Thus far in this series I have discussed our need for approval and validation in our lives, how we can accomplish some of this through self-care, and how these needs are only completely satisfied when they come from God. We’ve since moved on to considering ways that we can feel that approval of God in our lives.
I have looked at how we receive God’s approval by keeping His commandments, and this is important, but gospel living is meant to be more proactive than simply avoiding forbidden fruits. In my experience, the place where I feel God’s pleasure the most is when I go beyond merely following commandments and actually start trying to put good into the world.
A key plot point in the film Chariots of Fire is Eric Liddell’s desire to be useful to God, while also pursuing a running career. He and his sister have committed themselves to a life of ministry and missionary work, and she is concerned that he is starting to lose his spiritual conviction, being seduced by the pull of fame and worldly praise.
Eric reassures his sister that this is not the case at all. He tells her “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” With this frame of mind, Eric trains for and ultimately wins gold at the 1924 Olympics. Along the way, his convictions to God are tested, but Eric remains faithful. The press highlights this drama in the papers, spreading abroad the story of the athlete who is first and foremost a man of God. After the Olympics, Eric does become a missionary, and the experiences he shared while running help him to give glory to God wherever he goes.
Eric’s sister’s concerns are understandable. Athletic prowess is a way that people can become self-centered and pursue their own glory, but as Eric attested, for him running was the way that he felt the pleasure of God. It was a special bond that they shared, a tool to further the kingdom. Given these facts, it was not only permissible for Eric to run, it was imperative!
In Matthew 25, Jesus recounts the parable of the talents. In the story, a ruler leaves to a far country, and before he goes, he distributes his wealth to three servants. One receives five measures of money (called talents), another two, and another one.
The servants that received five and two talents put the money to work, and by the time the ruler has returned they have doubled his investment. He praises them and then calls upon the servant who received only one. That servant revealed that he has hidden the money away, burying it in the earth, and has no profit to show for what he was given. He is declared to be an evil servant by the master.
The moral of the story is that God gives to each of us opportunities and abilities, and we are actually expected to do something with them all. Frankly, it isn’t enough to only keep from evil and enjoy the beauties of this earth. We are also expected to actively put more good back into the world. God’s sun rises, his wind blows, his water runs, and all of it brings glory and beauty to the world. We are also His creation, and there is just as much expectation for us to also be functional and beautiful. And when we are a vibrant, active in the talents God has given us, then we also bring glory and beauty to the world, and we are sure to “feel His pleasure.”
Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; - Doctrine and Covenants 58:27
An interesting effect I have seen in those living a life of addiction recovery is that they often start taking the “talents” they have received from God and seeking to do more with them. After being saved from their vices many of them have gone back to school, changed their careers, and leapt into the work that they feel called to do. Several have become therapists and counselors, helping others as they were once helped. Some have begun podcasts, sharing the stories of addiction recovery with the world. Others have become public speakers, using their hard-earned experience to motivate audiences around the world.
I, too, have felt called to a work. It was early on in my recovery that I recognized God had given me creativity and writing as a way to bring glory to Him and to “feel His pleasure.” As a result, I started writing a story blog, this spiritual blog, and a novel. Sometimes I’ve lapsed in this work, but when I commit to it with a pure heart, I really do feel His approval and validation. I feel that I am making Him pleased with me, because I am doing my part to shine a light into the world.
Remember what Jesus told to his disciples. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This is more than a suggestion it is a requirement if we are ever to have that sense of self-satisfaction that we all crave. If you find yourself longing for the world to shine a spotlight on you, it’s time to start considering instead how you can start shining your light into the world!
I have been examining our need for approval and validation in our lives, and how we can seek it from other sources than the people around us. Thus far I have discussed the practice of giving approval and validation to our own selves, and this certainly an important practice, but it isn’t the end of the story.
Today we will start to examine another source of approval and validation, one that is higher than any other. We will start by looking at the most perfect example of a man living with this sort of higher approval in his life.
The Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. - John 8:29
And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
And I knew that thou hearest me always. - John 11:41-42
And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. - Matthew 3:17
We often speak of the pain that Jesus endured, but he also must have had moments of wonderful rapture as well. Can you imagine knowing with the same surety that he did that God loved you, saw you, and appreciated everything that you did? Can you imagine hearing God’s voice literally speaking out loud to say that He was pleased with you?
Forget about the validation of other people, what further approval would you need if you were regularly having experiences like this?! I believe each of us knows, deep down, that somehow this is the sort of the validation that we were made for!
If we are the children of God, then we are wired to need His approval. Children need to know that their father sees and appreciates them. We speak so much of our need to be obedient to Him, but that’s only half of the story. We need to be obedient to Him so that we may feel His approval. You cannot get away from this need, it is part of your identity as His son or daughter.
And that is why saying “I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be happy” is misguided. Or rather, it is misguided when it is applied to more than just the human race. Each of us has inside of us a hole that only God can fill, and so long as we keep trying to fill it with the approval of other people, or deny that the hole exists at all, we are going to be left agitated, incomplete, and perpetually frustrated.
Most of the time, we don’t even consider the absence of God’s approval when we try to make sense of this frustration inside of us. We might even ask Him to bless us with the approval from others, and then wonder why He didn’t answer that prayer! He doesn’t, because in His wisdom He knows that isn’t what we really need.
In conclusion, the world doesn’t meet the need for acknowledgement and approval that we need, nor indeed can it. This need for praise is based in our relationship as children of a Heavenly Father, and His is the only approval that can satiate our souls.
Which is all well and good to understand…but now how do we get to hear those sorts of messages from Him? We’ll take a look at that with tomorrow’s post.
6 And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.
Obviously we should all do our utmost to preserve good and prevent evil. This verse gives an important reminder that God will be championing these same causes as well, independent of us. Things were looking like they might have gone a bad way for Abimelech, Sarah, and Abraham, but God intervened and did not let that happen.
I have had times in my own life where God has intervened to prevent me from evil, He has even saved me from my own willful foolishness. I have also had times where I wanted to help another, but had no way to do so, and God assured me that He also wanted that person to be helped, in fact He wanted it even more than I did, and He would take care of it.
So yes, we should do what every good thing that we can, but the good that we cannot do we should surrender to God, trusting that He is capable of bringing good and preventing evil all by Himself.
In a world without the gospel, every loss is permanent.
In a world with the gospel, only the good is permanent.
It does not matter what else we accomplish if we are not a good person.
If we have become a good person, it does not matter what else was left unaccomplished.
For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
If ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again.
At times I have looked at the people around me and said “I don’t think it would be worth investing in this community. I’m only here temporarily. I could give my all to this place, but nothing lasting would come of it, so why try?” At other times I have tried…just once. I’ve invited my neighbors over for dinner, engaged them in some small talk, and if things took off we became friends…but if not, then I’d be polite, I’d smile and wave from across the street, but we would never become anything more than “acquaintances.”
Why would I try to have a relationship with someone if that relationship was not beneficial to me? Why would I engage with someone if there wasn’t something about them that was interesting or pleasant to me about them? What would be the point?
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
Well thank goodness God doesn’t feel the same way! There isn’t a whole lot of value He can get out of His association with us either. Yet He spreads love to children that will never be able to pay Him back for the investment. He spreads love to children that don’t ever acknowledge what He does for them. He spreads His love to children that even label themselves as His enemies! He gives all of them breath and life and beautiful sunsets and depth of emotion and the offer of His peace.
God does not limit His love to the places that return a profit and neither should we. We should not decide our relationships based simply on what they can do for us. For even if this world was falling apart and beyond all reclamation, it would still be worthy for us to pour our love into it. For even if doing so did not have the desired effect on the world, it would still have the desired effect on us.
And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?
And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.
And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.
And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.
And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.
And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
Peradventure there be fifty righteous: wilt thou not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? If I find in Sodom fifty righteous, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.
Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
Sodom and Gomorrah was a place of intense wickedness, filled with a populace that had given up any pretense of morality or decency. When considering the destruction of those people, though, all Abraham could think of was the potential innocents that might be lost as well. His great concern was not about the guilty escaping their rightful punishment, it was about the guiltless being unjustly condemned.
And God readily agreed with Abraham’s pleas. For fifty good, for forty-five, for forty, for thirty, for twenty, for ten…He would regard the few righteous over the thousands of evil.
How often do we do the same? I think it is often easier to point to the other side of our political and social divides and describe the “others” as being all bad. All the rich are corrupt and should have their feet held to the fire. All the liberals are immoral and should be censured. And if any among their ranks are not actually guilty by action, we still make them guilty by association. We are very quick to call fire down on all the “wrong-thinkers,” with no regard for the innocent mingled in their ranks.
I have just considered the examples of David and Daniel, two Old Testament heroes that found their great calling in life, and did so in ways that were both different and similar to each other.
David decided to fill the role of a hero as a conscious and deliberate choice. The behavior of everyone else around him was to shrink and be fearful, and he could have easily done the same, but he set himself apart and elected something different. That election elevated David above the norm and made him stand out.
Daniel decided to hold to his principles, also as a conscious and deliberate choice. At first these principles were the everyday expectation of his culture, but then Israel fell into the hands of strangers and those norms rapidly dropped out from underneath Daniel. Daniel still held to them, though, setting himself apart to maintain this same level, even while the world fell beneath him.
In each case, David and Daniel set themselves apart. Whether in embracing a new behavior or in maintaining an old one they were standing for what was right, and doing so at a level that was higher than those who surrounded them. And this seems to be what defines the epic life, the hero, the divine calling. It is to do the right thing when others will not.
This is Noah building an ark when no one else was. This was Joseph turning down temptation in Potiphar’s house. This was Ruth leaving her old culture to live as a Jew. This was Jesus not throwing a stone at the woman taken in adultery. These were all heroes. And what made them heroes was that they did what was right even though it was different from what everyone else was doing.
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?