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?

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Summary

This was a very soothing study for me. My childhood was full of agitation when it came to hearing God’s voice. I really, really wanted to, but just had no idea how. I know that this is a common struggle for many others as well, so hopefully some of you will find the scriptures that we have explored helpful.

One thing that stuck out to me from this study was how it reminded me of the importance of diving into the scriptures. All of my questions had answers, they were there for the taking, but I needed to be in God’s word to find them.

In fact, this experience has itself been a witness to me of the importance of God’s word. As I am about to discuss, God has answers and manifestations ready to share with us, we only have to turn the stones over to find them.

Seek With Action

I have been guilty of saying I wanted a closer relationship with God…and then doing absolutely nothing to achieve it. In essence what I was saying was “I want to feel the spirit more…but only if it comes free and without any work.” That’s about the limpest form of ‘wanting’ imaginable!
Receiving a witness from God is free in that it does not cost money, but it does take time and effort. His manifestations are not cheap experiences, to be handed out to anyone that is flippant or half-sincere. God is willing to give us signs and miracles, but He needs us to be serious about this first.
The Spirit is not going to attest to the run-of-the-mill behaviors that we are already doing. It has no need to encourage our default discipleship. Where the Spirit comes in full force is when we do something new, something that stretches us. If you consult your conscience, I am certain there is something that you know you should be doing but really don’t want to. Perhaps it is overcoming a vice, perhaps it is accomplishing a greater good.
Do it. Sincerely. And I promise you that God will show up.
James 1:5-8- If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

Accept What Comes

If you act sincerely, God will show up for you. But in what way depends on Him. My wife and I paid tithing for years without fanfare, it was easy to do. Then we reached a time where finances were tight, and we had to make an actual conscious choice to keep following that commandment. We did, and God showed up for us numerous times.
Each of those times He came in a different and unexpected way. One of the most surprising was when a contractor gave me one extra paycheck after I had finished working for them. I informed the company of the error, but it took them months to process the return. Well it turned out that a one-time-interest-free loan was exactly what we needed to get us through those particular months. We came through, they asked for the refund, and we sent it back without any trouble.
Is that how I asked God to handle the situation? Certainly not, that would have been ridiculous to expect. But I did ask that everything would work out, and it certainly did. When we ask God for miracles and witnesses, we should expect Him to have solutions, but we should keep an open mind for how they might arrive.
Isaiah 55:8-9- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

This is a Joint Effort

As a child I was very obsessed with getting rituals right. I thought that if I didn’t say all the right words, then God might shrug off my efforts to reach Him. He was the strict teacher, grading my every prayer, and refusing to show up until I got an A. Thus whether I ever connected or not didn’t really matter to Him, the onus was entirely on me.
But obviously that is not right. God does not merely hope for us to have a relationship with Him, he fights for it. He isn’t “okay” with the idea of you not receiving spiritual witnesses in your life. He didn’t reserve those for Moses and Mary, and shelve them for you. The truth is that He wants this connection even more than we do.
So perhaps He is mysterious, perhaps He appears absent and we don’t understand why, perhaps He hasn’t revealed Himself to us just yet. But it is not because of indifference. Though you cannot always see it, He is always championing for your every spiritual epiphany, tirelessly working for your good.
Psalm 27:14- Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.

Isaiah 49:14-16- But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Question

Scriptures, and the testimonies of others, are full of spiritual witnesses: moments where God showed up for an individual in a very personal and powerful way. It might be an angelic manifestation, hearing a heavenly voice, receiving a miracle, or just a powerful message spoken straight to the heart. Those that have not yet experienced these moments wish that they could. Those that have had them wish they could happen more frequently!

Much of my childhood I found myself trying to “make” spiritual experiences happen. I would try to convince myself that I was having one when I wasn’t, and fear that some might have happened without me even realizing it. As a father I am now anxious that my son have spiritual experiences, but I don’t want to repeat in him the same frantic, second-guessing game that I employed.

I would like to explore this concept over the next few days, that of how we can properly pursue and recognize God’s witnesses to us. In the meantime, I would love to hear about your own experiences as well. What ways have you found to foster spiritual experiences? Have you had any control over when or how they occur, or is it entirely up to God? How have you been able to tell the difference between an actual witness versus your own mind playing tricks on you?

What Kind of Disciple Are You?- Summary

A wonderful, if difficult, aspect of writing this blog has been examining my own spiritual nature. I have written about principles that I feel strongly about, only to realize that I am not living them as fully as I could. There are many things I know well enough in my head, but that I am still awkwardly trying to follow with my feet.

Many of these disconnects I was happily ignorant of before starting this blog, but that is the nature of spiritual study: it illuminates your areas for improvement. As has been said many times before, the gospel comforts the afflicted, but afflicts the comfortable!

As awkward and frustrating as this self-realization has been, I do not regret it in the least. If you will allow me a moment of personal pride, I believe that I am a better person now than when I started this blog, and a good portion of the credit goes to this self-awakening. Throughout this study I have expressed some of the self-delusions I was suffering from, and hopefully you have felt encouraged to honestly examine your own soul as well.

You Are a Mystery to Yourself

It is commonly accepted that those we are closest to can surprise us with who they really are. We think that we know a person for years, and then one day they defy every assumption we had made for them.
What is more of a surprise, though, is that this person whom we have known for years and still surprises us, might be our very own selves. We are immortal beings, with traits and tendencies that we do not fully comprehend. We have weaknesses we did not know were there until tested. We have strengths we did not know were there until tested, too.
Beyond these hidden traits, there is also the self-delusion that so many of us employ. As part of our instinct, we observe the behaviors of those around us, and identify ourselves as having the same distinctions. But imitation does not reveal identity. Because this imitation is so natural to us, we play it very effectively, so much so that even we are fooled…at least until we take a closer look.
Matthew 26:33, 74: Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

It is Okay Not to Know Some Things

When one realizes that they have been wearing a spiritual mask, they may start to recognize that many around them are doing the same. However one should not make the mistake of assuming that all people are being insincere. There truly are spiritual giants in the world today. Individuals whose conviction is not pretend, ones who have truly witnessed the things that they bear testimony of. I have met some of them, and in their eyes the Savior is reflected.
This is not all, I have heard spiritual giants testify that once they were as second-guessing and weak as me! Never forget that Peter was not always Peter, once he was only Simon. And Paul was not always Paul, once he was only Saul. These men were weak once, and then afterwards they were strong. If we are still weak, then it is alright. All of us are born weak, and there is no shame in having to be refined. What matters is that we are seeking that refinement!
Also, there is no shame in feeling that the refinement is hard. It simply is, and is so for everyone. Never forget that even Jesus, the Son of God, had to grow into the role he was meant to fill.
Luke 2:52- And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
Isaiah 28:10- For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.

There is No Progress Until You Are Honest

So long as you maintain that you have no growing to do, well…you will have no growing to do! I know this firsthand. For a long while I was unteachable because I already knew everything. Then I experienced a miserable failure, and finally admitted that there was still a thing or two I needed to learn.
When Peter affirmed that he would follow Jesus to the death, Jesus prophesied that this was not actually true. Peter stressed that no, he really was totally committed to the cause. Like me, Peter had to fail miserably to see things honestly.
There is a term for these sorts of miserable failures: they are humbling. Or at least, they are if we allow them to make us be humble. And then, if we are humble, we are teachable. And then, if we are teachable, we are growable. Will those closest to us be disappointed to learn that we aren’t so magnificent as we pretended? Honestly, yeah, they might be. But now you are finally on track to authentic magnificence.
Luke 22:61-62- And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.

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.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- Personal Example

I spent two years of my life serving a mission in the Caribbean. It was a wonderful opportunity to see various countries and cultures, and be educated by the similarities and differences between them. One trend that stood out to me was how powerful of an influence one’s society could be.

For example, it was not uncommon to hear of individuals changing their religion after moving to another country. Hindus from Guyana might very well become Christians after moving out to the islands, to better fit in with those around them. Similarly, Christians from the islands might become Hindus after moving to Guyana.

I, myself, come from an environment where a single religion makes up the majority of the culture. Many that move here join the religion, and so long as one remains in this bubble it is far easier to maintain that faith. It is very easy to believe that we are the way that we are forever, that we would never embrace a different walk of life. But if you have never lived in a culture where you are a minority, then you do not realize how tempting it is to change yourself just to fit it in.

Our default tendency is to believe whatever we are surrounded by. It is possible to believe more deeply than this, but that requires conscious, intentional discipleship. Whatever your religion is, it may be helpful to ask yourself if you are that religion because it is convenient, or because you actually believe in it. For example, I am a Christian, but is that because I am surrounded by Christians, or do I really and truly believe that Christ is the only way to spiritual perfection. Do I really believe that his teachings will provide me peace and fulfillment that I cannot find in any other place? I do, but I had to do real work to obtain that belief.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- Socrates and the Buddha

Socrates opened the minds of his followers to just how little actual knowledge anyone really has. He pointed out to them how so very much of what we say we know, is just things that we think to be likely, or are taking on authority. In fact, the only piece of information he claimed to really know, was the fact that he knew nothing.

Socrates had a point. As I think about it, there are extremely few things that I really know directly. I only take it on faith that the atom, Australia, and the 1970s exist(ed). I have never personally seen, measured, or witnessed any of these things. I do not doubt their existence, but I admit that all information I have of them is strictly secondhand.

The Buddha similarly cautioned against relying upon secondhand knowledge. Even as he presented to his followers the path to Nirvana, he instructed them not to take his word for it. To do so, he explained, would be insufficient. Rather than only being told the right way, one had to possess what he called “direct knowledge” of it. It was this direct knowledge that had led him to his own enlightenment, and also it was the only way for any other to reach enlightenment.

When one is willing to confess their ignorance, and let go of all the many things they do not know, they often discover that not everything is taken away. There still remains a nugget or two of the eternal. When we are no longer cluttered by the things that we think or assume, then we can discover the penultimate truths that we actually know.

This is a knowledge that surpasses mental cognition. It is a spiritual knowledge, one imprinted within us by God from before we were born. In our hearts we know, and we know firsthand, that God is our Father and that we are His children. We know that He is good, and that we are good, too. We know that He loves us, and that He wants us to be with Him. We know that He is happy, and that He desires us to be happy, too. These are eternal truths, and the direct knowledge of them are our most precious possession.

Indeed, when I consider how deeply rooted this knowledge is within me–so much more than anything else–I find it hard to accept that I know anything else at all.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- 1 John 5:1-3, Luke 16:13, Revelation 3:15

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

COMMENTARY

We keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous
There are two types of disciples: those that are social disciples and those that are actually disciples. Social disciples maintain a connection to the environment of the gospel. They like the culture that surrounds it, but they aren’t very devoted to the actual doctrines being taught. They are afraid of judgment, and because of that try to keep the commandments, but have little love for them.
I have certainly been one of these social disciples. I was raised in a gospel-centric home, and that made it easy to take my beliefs for granted. Of course I was a Christian, it was all I knew, how could I possibly be anything else?
But then passages like this one from John stuck with me, because absolutely there were commandments that felt grievous to me. Since I was convinced that I was already best pals with Jesus, I didn’t feel any need to know him better. And because I wasn’t actively trying to know him better, there were all manner of vices that I was susceptible to.

No servant can serve two masters
I would thou wert cold or hot
For a long time I was too terrified to admit that I wasn’t really a Christian in my heart, just someone who happened to have a lot of trivia knowledge about Christianity. But frankly, once I was able to admit that I was “cold” in my discipleship, then at last I could begin looking for ways to bring my temperature up.
Furthermore, I found that God wasn’t disappointed by my admitting that I wasn’t following him very well. Quite on the contrary. He was already abundantly aware of my tepidness, and thrilled that I was finally ready to do some honest work.