The Epic Life- Summary
Many of these studies have begun when I feel myself caught between two competing ideas, each of which seems worthy, and each of which I suspect is correct in its own sphere. In this case I was caught between my desires to live a life that is grand and purposeful, and the sense that I should be content with the simpler things of life.
On the one hand I didn’t want to fall into complacency by never striving for something greater. On the other hand I didn’t want to fall into vanity by overlooking the good I already had. As is often the case I found a happy medium between two extremes. Because yes, it is possible to have inappropriate cravings and it is also possible to have inappropriate passivity, but there is also a quiet passion in between.
Here are a few of the main points I learned from this study. They highlight the common pitfalls that lay on either side of that middle path, and what we can expect to find by following that strait and narrow road instead.
The Good Life
First and foremost I learned that God expects us to live with passion. God expects us to be doers. He wants us to accomplish many good things in this life, to be an active and essential piece in His plan. After all, are we not all called to join the body of Christ? And is not the body of Christ a vehicle for doing? Does it not have a mission to reach out and save the entire world? And how is the body to accomplish this, if not by all of its parts surging to the cause?
God loves heroes. He is the inventor of heroes. God raised up Noah to build the ark, Moses to part the Red Sea, Jonah to reclaim the people of Nineveh, Esther to plead for her nation, Samson to fight the Philistines, David to topple a giant, Elijah to call down fire from heaven, Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and His own son to reclaim us from death and sin. And that same son, the greatest hero that the world has ever known, he attested that those “that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12).
If you are here in earth life then you are here for a reason. If you can feel God’s spirit move upon you then it is to move you into action. God has not lost His need for heroes, He has not lost His need for workers in the field, and He has not stopped offering His strength to those that will champion His cause. If you are willing to clean yourself and apply wholeheartedly for a position you will find that He still has a great mission in reserve for you. He has yet another epic tale for your voice to speak.
2 Timothy 1:7- For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Nephi 1:23- 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.
Satan always has counterfeits for God’s virtues. Where God is love, Satan is lust. Where God is confidence, Satan is the thirst for control. Where God is joy, Satan is diversion. And certainly Satan has his counterfeits to distract us from the truly epic life as well. In my study and personal experience I have been able to identify at least two of these counterfeits.
The first is the fame of the world. God has given to us an incredible energy that is meant to be spent in our great calling. But if we do not have a great calling to pour our strength and devotion into, then that strength and devotion must go elsewhere, and in many cases it has gone to a shrine of gold and glory. We covet possessions and conveniences, titles and recognition, adoration and attention. We hope to stand as king of the hill for a moment, vainly assuming that if we even managed the feat we would be remembered for it.
Another of Satan’s distractions is in complacency. It is true that there is a place in the gospel for quiet repose, a greatness from doing the small and simple things, a building up of the kingdom just where one stands. But truly doing the small and simple things with any degree of consistency is itself a very challenging undertaking, one that the complacent will never succeed in. Never make the mistake of believing that contentment and humility are the same as complacency and passivity. God might very well invite you to focus your strength locally, but never so locally that it doesn’t escape your own orbit!
Mosiah 12:29- And again he said unto them: If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches? Why do ye commit whoredoms and spend your strength with harlots, yea, and cause this people to commit sin, that the Lord has cause to send me to prophesy against this people, yea, even a great evil against this people?
2 Nephi 28:21- And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
The Cost and Reward of Greatness
Having considered these counterfeits to the truly epic life, it is important to acknowledge that Satan possesses one great advantage. It is that the truly epic life always come at great cost. Frankly none of us fit the gate, in one way or another we are out of shape. Some of us are too proud and must be humbled. Some of us are too passive and must be pushed out of our comfort zone. Some of us are too wounded and must accept healing. Some of us are too guilty and must endure purifying. Perhaps the one constant is that each of us are blocked by the fear of whatever it is God is asking us to do. Fear alone is enough to kill any hero before they are born.
No wonder we are told that “wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat,” while on the other hand “narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
But no matter the ease of the first path, its destination is made perfectly clear: destruction. And no matter how difficult the second, its destination is also made unambiguous: life. There is no convenience worth dying for and there is no cost that life is not worth. It is not an easy way before us. In fact, without grace it is an impossible way, and even with grace it still is just plain hard. But if it were not hard, neither could be it truly great. Nothing of substance comes cheaply.
Doctrine and Covenants 58:28- For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
Luke 14:27- And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
The Epic Life- Jacob 4:14
But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.
But behold, they despised the words of plainness, and sought for things that they could not understand. Their blindness came by looking beyond the mark.
I have already mentioned how we make the mistake of seeking greatness through worldly possessions and fame, usually because that path seems more accessible than the overcoming of self necessary for spiritual enlightenment. There is yet another way that our desire for greatness can become misaligned, though.
As we see in today’s verse, that way is to “look beyond the mark.” I have known those that were caught up trying to achieve some great and important thing, even a spiritual thing, all while leaving the fundamental things that mattered most undone. There was a funeral for a man whose church members came to attest what a volunteering and sacrificing person he had been, how he had always been willing to pitch in and help wherever another member of the congregation needed it. The family of the man responded by saying that was nice, but they had never known such a person in their own home. In their life he had been an entirely absent figure, too busy taking care of things that were “more important” than his own family.
We must be careful that we do not become so obsessed with finding greatness that we fail to see the opportunities for it right in front of us. Continuing with the example of one’s own family, it is all too easy to say “many people in this world have their family, so there isn’t anything particularly noteworthy about that.” Then we might take that sector of life for granted, and look for something more unique to satiate our desire for greatness, forgetting how rare a truly happy family is in this world, and how long-reaching an investment in the home is to the lives of those that were blessed there.
As each of us seeks our own personal greatness, we ought to pause several times to consider if there is any greatness already before us that we have been overlooking because of our vanity.